Andalucia Steve the dream

What's the opposite of a Baby Boom?

Recent Report Shows Falling Birth Rate in Europe Due to Recession

In a press-release that got far to little coverage last week, on the 10 July, the Max Planck Institute in Germany announced a demographic research paper demonstrating that there had been a Europe-wide fall in fertility during and as a result of the 'great depression' in Europe.

(I leave you to study the stats and thumb through the graphs)

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. Sensible people are going to try an put off having children until they have money in their pockets. With European joblessness hitting 12.5% in May 2013, there has never been a worse time to procreate.

Yet here is the thing, this high unemployment figure would not be so bad had Europe been set marching on the beat of the austerity drum. A falling population means declining markets, and in fact more austerity because it is more difficult for the next generation of tax payers to provide pensions for the elderly.

Austerity isn't working - how long will it take to get that message across?

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US Bugging for Terror or Money

Are the latest revelations about US survailance more commercial?

New NSA leaks revealed by the British media organisation the Guardian indicate the extent to which monitoring has been done to allies of the US, not just it's potential enemies.

German online news-source Der Spiegel said documents and slides from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA bugged the offices of the EU in Washington and at the United Nations in New York.The would have been meetings largely to do with trade.

It also said they enacted an operation from Brussel's NATO headquarters in order to infiltrate phone and email networks at the Council of the European Union's headquarters in Brussels.

To me this is where the breach of trust exhibited by the American's shows its most ugly head. There are indicators here that the information being fished for is commercially sensitive. The Council of the EU controls an annual budget of over 100 billion euros. Having inside information as to where that money is going is of great value to US companies wishing to market into Europe. What safeguards are in place to prevent such information being used by either the govrnment to influence policy or even being sold on to the private sector?

The answer is none which is why it is so dangerous. We must pressure the US now to limit the global reach of it's power to snoop.




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I loved Jurassic Park

Michael Archer: How we'll resurrect the gastric brooding frog stimulates a debate on the ethics of evelution

Like so many people I was entranced when Jurassic Park hinted that there will come a time when extinct species will be reanimated. The book and film suggest this will be a bad thing. I've always had a theory that your views on evolution reveal a lot about your politics.

Consider for example that someone breaks into your house and steals something. If the government of the day gave you an option to terminate that persons life so as to stop future burglaries, would you think that is a good or a bad thing? It's interesting because there is no evidence that this person has any genetic code that makes them a burglar nor what degree of social stress or environmental upbringing let them to the action for which you could execute them.

Right wing people tend towards eugenics because of a simplistic view of evolution where nature does her work, the weak are culled and the strong survive.

This is probably how it has been for all of time, the fittest have survived because the have been victims or victors or opportunity. The thing about humans in the 21st century is that we have the power to change that. Our purpose should not be to seek the ultimate survival race but instead chase the ultimate diversity. We need to look at all providing an environment for as many of the variations presented to us by DNA as we can find and populate the universe with the most appropriate lifeforms.

Capitalism really should not be killing the poor in the third world - it should be creating lichens on Neptune.

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My First Telecommute

Today is the twentieth anniversary of my first spell of working at home.

It was a Saturday, twenty years ago today that my life changed forever. 

I'd been working since 1984 for the British Government as an IT manager, and at the time I was inc charge of a small network of SCO Unix boxes, supporting a userbase of about three hundred people. Various admin chores needed to be done when everyone was logged out, things like making tweaks to the password file or tuning the tcp/ip settings. Because I worked in Kensington and lived twelve miles away in Surrey it mean't a journey of about an hour and a half each way. I didn't mind getting the overtime but the commute on a Saturday really used frustrate me because I hate wasted time.

I was aware that being tcp/ip based, I could log in remotely to my network. This was pre-web my network wasn't connected to the internet. Being a government department, security was of absolute importance and I didn't think I'd ever get permission to dial up and log on.

The a device fell into my lap that changed everything. It was dial-back MODEM. If you youngsters don't know what a MODEM is then it is a device for connecting computers together over the phone by modulating and de-modulating the streams of bits.

Anyway the important thing here is dial-back. This particular brand (sorry can't remember for sure - think it may have been US Robotics) had a feature that allowed you to program in a phone number so that when you dialed in from outside, the modem would call back on the number specified. Incoming calls were otherwise blocked. Access to the network could be set to be only via the call back. 

I felt a deal coming on. I thought it through for a day or two and presented my sales pitch to my boss at the time. Here's roughly how it went:

"Listen I've had an idea." I'm fed up with the Saturday commute, especially when the train fills up with Millwall fans, so why don't I use this here callback modem to make a connection to my PC at home so that I can work remotely? It's completely secure because it can't accept any incoming connections, and it logs the times of the calls. That means you have an accurate record of the time I'm actually working and another plus is you don't have to pay me travel time!"

He bought it! I couldn't believe it. The following Saturday was 26 June 1993 - I connected, the modem called me back, and I sat working at home in my pyjamas. It was so cool! It felt like it was the future. It was.

After about a year of doing this, I was happy, my boss was happy and everything was good. Then there was some sort of top down security review and I was banned from doing it, but by that time I'd already set a path to accept voluntary redundancy and go into the private sector. 

On and off now I've been working at home for many of those intervening years, but nothing has matched the buzz I got on that first special Saturday.

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Capital Eugenics

Are we near a point where the rich have no further need of the poor?

Thanks to Hitler we tend to forget that until he made the concept unfashionable by the systematic murder of a whole spectrum of ethnic minorities, that eugenics was a highly and widely respected social philosophy for many years.

Following on from Darwin's theory of evolution, his cousin Francis Galton first championed the cause and giving the name eugenics to his work. His central premise was that the survival of the fittest should apply to humans as well as animals, and perhaps give a a prod to speed it up a bit. His baton was carried by many governments in the twentieth century who avidly sought to cull numbers by enforce programmes of birth control, genocide, and programmes of ethnic cleansing.

Of course the error here is clear to any reasonable person. The 'prod' is a judgementalism - one human making the decision to end anothers life is always subjective so is wrong. People must have equal opportunity to succeed or fail by their own efforts, and any measures to interfere with that, any human intervention that favours one group against another creates an unlevel playing field which is morally repugnant.

I believe eugenics is still going on, and capitilism is it's weapon. The increasing gap between rich and poor that has taken place over the last thirty years or so is neither an accident, or a natural consequence of greed, but a deliberately orchestrated plan that has a goal.

Our overlords know that automation has a single and inevitable outcome. No more jobs - at least none for the masses. We're seeing at the moment a program by google to do away with car drivers. What is the logical conclusion of that - how many millions of people all over the world will that deprive of work.

Elswhere, the building trade is soon to be overhauled with machines that 3D print directly from architects plans. This will effect millions more. Most manufacturing will be decimated by 3D printing, even fast moving consumer goods when food printing is cracked.

The thing that worries me most about this issue is that the capitalists who have made their money from the labours of the poor no longer have a use for them. They are unlikely to wish to fund vast social programmes so I see only two ways the situation will pan out. Billions of people will get increasingly poor and quietly allowed to die, or as we're seeing with Syria at the moment, an almost deliberate effort will be made to trigger a world war that will eliminate vast numbers of people unneeded by the ruling elite.

What we need to do urgently then is to add capitalism to the dustbin of history where it belongs and make a new start where the efficiencies of automation are shared by all and not the top one percent. I think it will be a much better place to live.

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Propellor Safety

I'd like to pledge my support for the campaign to intoduce propeller guards

Recently a story hit the headlines that really upset me. It was of the two people who died and the others who received life changing injuries as a result of a boat propeller. If you not familiar with what happened here is a link

Basically the family enjoying the ride fell overboard, the kill switch was not engaged and so the boat started to circle around them and eventually the propeller of the outboard motor cut them to peices. I thought it was a terrible story that stayed with me for a long time.

I know nothing about boats but while watching a really old James Bond movie and seeing a propeller I was suddenly struck by a thought. Why don't boat propellers have guards. It's too obvious! If you saw an electric fan in an office there is no way you would expect it not to have a guard. Just because the prop is underwater does it logiacally make any difference? I thought not, so I did a quick search on Google to see if I was missing some fundamental point- perhaps they collected seaweed or otherwise malfunctioned with a guard.

Infact the reason boating propellers don't have guards is far more sinister. The industry resist it. According to the there has been a long running debate where the manufactures have thwarted attempts at legislation and come up with some amazingly stupd studies (that people can drown if they get sucked into a guard - like that is worse than getting hacked to bits).

Like many things in the world, this is plain old capitalisms fault. It would drive up costs to add a guard, so the idustry will resist for as long as it can, and in the absence of legislation (which the manufactures lobby against) people will continue to die needlessly.

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Libor to be put in Control of Euro Regulator

The scandel ridden Libor lending rate to be removed from Britain

The FT has just published an interest story. Apparently they have seen a draft european regulation that seeks to remove the Libor from London and put it under the control of a new regulator based in Paris. Apparently this is the beginning of a bigger project to oversee the pricing of all manner of commoditities and even possibly property.

In my view this is the beginning of the end for Britain's old boys network. For over four hundred years, London has been a financial centre that has led the world. Through much of that time there have been occasional scandals such as the south sea bubble. Charles Dickens covered scandals that we would recognize today in  Nicholas Nickleby and Little Dorrit. However there has always been a sense of 'honour among theives' in the city that seemed to prevent things going too far. In the last forty years or so that gentlemanly spirit seems to have been replaced by pure greed.

The city will recoil at what is clearly an insult, and though the proposal may never get voted in it represents a slap in the face for UK chancellor George Osbourne who has been battling to restore the Libor's tarnished reputation.

The question is will Britain try to stay in Europe in an attempt to maintain the status quo or leave Europe in an attempt to develop an independant trading profile like Switzerland and try to maintain in an attempt to retain its old boys network. My guess is either way it's damned. Mrs Thatcher bet the farm on the UK financial sector and now that is viewed by the world as rotten to the core with greed and corruption there is nothing else for the UK economy to cling on to.

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Spain's New Reform Program

The Rajoy government announces its 'eased' austerity plan

Rajoy recently addressing congressThe Spanish government has announced a new National Reform Plan, which will be sent to Brussels with the goal of seeking a two year extension to the deficit target required by the EU. Here is a brief summary I've gleaned from the Spanish newpapers, El Pais and El Diario and La Verdad.

The changes were announced in a press conference this afternoon and will be described in more detail to congress next week.

The government conceded that it lost 1.3 million jobs since taking office and that it does not expect to see any new ones for the next two years. Job are expected to continue disappearing this year and will only start to recover in 2015.

Changes to pensions were announced included extended the retirement age, increasing the years in which contributions are paid and decoupling the pension rate from inflation.

Vice President, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría described eight of the new measures of reform. Among them, the government will extended for an additional year the rise in income tax, announced further increases in excise tax, an additional rise of societies tax (via elimination of deductions) and a tax on bank deposits.

No new spending was mention, but emphasis was placed on the steps forward that would be taken in the liberalisation of professional services, a more appropriate taxation for entrepreneurs, improving public administration by removing administrative barriers through a thorough reform of all levels of government, funding for SMEs, more energy reforms and the development of markets.

Fortunately since I'm a blogger and not a newspaper reported I can say humbug. Even in Franco's day he provided jobs for people by an extensive programme of dam and road building. To me there seem few crumbs of comfort here for the poor people of Spain to be rejoicing about.

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Spanish unemployment over 6.2 million

Spain is number one for unemployment in Europe

Spain - Number One in European Unemployment

I saw this on Facebook today and the owner said share to the world, so here it is. Six million, two hundred and two thousand, seven hundred people are officially unemployed in Spain right now. 240,000 - yes that's nearly a quarter of a million, lost their jobs in the first three months of 2013 (according to the national office of statistics).

Thing to note here is that the Spanish don't have much in the way of unemployment benefit. One has to pay in to the system for at least a year to get three months ub and you have to work five years to get the maximum duration which is still only a year. Then you don't automatically qualify for some other social security benefit. There are low benefits for families with children (cerca 400 euros monthly) or other odd benefits such as 'sobre 45' a benefit of twelve months duration that you can get on a year on year off basis if you are over 45 years of age and have previously paid into the system and qualify on various other criteria. The upshot is though there are a load of people in Spain who don't get any money at all for being out of work. They depend on family, friends, soup kitchens, bins and the back of restaurants and crime. They also work in the black economy.

Spain's black economy is huge. It's not as is often portrayed as an ingrained corrupt characteristic of the Spanish people. It's not as is often said of the Greeks, that people have a distaste for paying tax. In Spain, it seems to me that the main problem is that the system is skewed to deter people from working legally. There is not level at which VAT (IVA) is not applied to businesses in Spain, no allowance as in the UK. The equivalent of national insurance contributions in Spain is a flat rate of 240 euros per month, a horrendous burden for a single person starting out in business alone.

The tax rate is reasonable but filled with traps that catch the unwary. One way to pay depends upon you agreeing a level for a year. People I know have done that and been driven out of business when their income fell.

As such black money is very widespread and very popular. I've seen hundreds of itinerant agricultural laborers milling around at the bottom of town, waiting for farmers to load them into the back of a truck to pick fruit in the summer sun all day for a few euros and hour. I've seen offices, not of small businesses, but chains, which have two sets of books, one for black money, one for white, both of which go to the accountant. I've known employers to declare the minimum wage to get an employee on to the social security system and pay that employee half the declared amount in cash, and the employee says nothing because it's the norm - they say they need the work and everybody does it!

This situation gets worse all the time as more overly bureaucratic legislation comes down from northern Europe. The government implements something that the public servants dish out, the managers of firms either ignore or choose to deal with and if the do incur a cost, pass it down to the helpless employee. Just today I've learned that from the first of June, no property can be sold or rented without an energy certificate conveying it's carbon footprint. Will this sell more houses in a desperate property market? Or will it delay prevent sales, delay salaries and drive even more estate agents out of business? Watch for the unemployment figures in the last quarter of 2013 and I fear you'll see proof that it's the latter.

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Spain Announces Easing Of Austerity

Marino Rajoy To Announce Changes on Friday.

Pic 23/04/2013The austerity news is coming thick and fast. Barely two week after the Reinhart/Rogoff paper was discredited, politicians have been making noises that the end of austerity is near. Now the FT has reported that Spain will be the first government to announce an easing of the measures currently in place. 

In an article that follows the pattern of many other announcements by Rajoy, the idea is 'mooted' by government sources before the official announcement to test the water.

The article says plans will be unveiled to reform to the pensions system, labour market, service sector and fiscal management.

Of particular interest are measures the liberalise the protected professions of which Spain has 174 that have barriers to entry due to specialist entry qualifications. These professions are backed by powerful lobby groups and it will be a battle to get such measures through.

I'll blog more on Friday when the official anouncement comes out but this sounds like the first good news for Spain in a very long time.

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