Thursday, December 11, 2014

Public sector salaries in Spain

The brouhaha about how much high-level public sector employees is kind of missing the point:

  1. Yes, you need higher salaries if you are going to attract the best people
  2. However, all the current high-level public sector employees are PP flunkies who are barely qualified for their position

What is the solution? A starting point should be minimum qualifications and open competition for these positions.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who is the lucky seller of oil hedges?

Everyone thought that US shale oil producers would get killed by the drop in oil prices. Turns out that they were smart enough to hedge their production back when the prices were high. For example, Miller Energy hedged 1.4 billion barrels of oil at around $95 until the end of 2016. Someone is going to have to mark-to-market $36 billion in losses (and that’s just for one of the producers), and I wonder who the lucky owner will be.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gender violence/abuse and protection orders

Spain has a very dysfunctional way of dealing with gender violence, and especially in protecting children from abusive environments. A recent story in El Pais showed that 97% of men with protection orders against them still visit their children. Since 2008, 20 children have been killed during these visits.

From seeing someone go through the court system here in Sant Cugat (everything goes through the court in Rubi, which is pretty bad), here are some of the things that shocked me:

The speedy trial:

  • If you call the police while you are being abused, they will take away the abuser and put in him jail pending a hearing which happens within a couple days.
  • This hearing IS THE TRIAL, so if you don’t have your shit together and can present a coherent case with evidence, etc, it can be difficult to even get a protection order. There isn’t really a chance to work with a lawyer, collect evidence, get translations, etc.
  • If you believe you were treated unfairly, you can appeal, but it will probably take years to get anywhere.
  • Basically if you are in an abusive relationship, but haven’t got the courage to call the police yet, you should at least be talking to a lawyer to prepare a case so that when you do finally make the call to 112, you won’t lose your chance to make a case.
  • Expect your ex to lie outrageously. Remember that there is no penalty for lying in court if you are the defendant.
  • Be very careful of how you answer questions like, since it can mean the difference between shared or exclusive custody later on:
    • “Is your partner a good father?”
      • If you say yes, this will be held against you. The correct answer is: “No. A good father does not hit his wife”
    • “Does he hit the children?”
      • Again, if you say no, this will be held against you. The correct answer is: “He has a tendency for violence. I don’t know how he acts when he is alone with the children.”

Child kidnapping:

  • Expect your partner to take your kids and try to use them as a negotiating ploy. If there is no court ordered custody agreement, your partner keep the kids as long as he likes as long as he tells you where they are.

Evidence:

  • Witnesses may be afraid to testify: there should be a provision for the identity of witnesses to be protected, but as far as I know there isn’t.
  • Audio recordings: even if you have a recordings of your partner yelling or threatening you, it is difficult to get these admitted in court.
  • Medical evidence: there isn’t a standard way for the court to get a doctor to testify as to the nature of any wounds etc. Good luck finding someone in the short amount of time you have before your speedy trial.

Criminal vs civil tracks

  • There are two completely separate “tracks” that your case can take, criminal (try to send your ex to jail) or civil (getting a divorce/custody hearing).
  • Unless you are pursuing the criminal route, you can’t present evidence of criminal behavior in the civil route.
  • Neither can the criminal route determine your divorce settlement.

Leaving the country

  • If the kids have a passport, put it in a safe place.
  • Almost all countries (with a couple exceptions like Japan and Cuba) will immediately force your kids to go back to Spain (with or without whoever took them) with barely a judicial hearing.
  • Your partner can file criminal child kidnapping charges against you and/or gain full custody of the kids while you are gone.
  • Fundamentally you don’t gain anything by doing this, and it will be held against you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

How realistic are the economic plans of Podemos?

Given the ridicule heaped on the economic proposals of Podemos, my impression is that they are not actually that far outside what is possible if you run some basic numbers.

How much room does Spain have in raising taxes? Currently Spain collects about 37% of the GDP in taxes, for a total of about 500 billion euros. Germany (who we must all now worship as the model of economic success) collects 45% of their GDP in taxes and is doing quite well. If Spain raised their taxes this amount, there’d be about 100 billion euros of additional spending capacity.

The 600 euro a month basic income, multiplied by 47 million residents would come out to about 30 billion euros. However, much of this would find its way back to the government in forms of taxes collected (since it is likely people would spend this).

Spain is actually incredibly stingy when it comes to social transfers in general. For people with less than 50% of the median income, only 14% of their income comes from social transfers, vs 47% in Germany.

The belief that the only agency capable of making change is the European Central Bank (which by design is supposed to be independent of elected officials) is to me a stunning abdication of the responsibilities of national governments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I love CurrencyFair

After paying God knows how much in commission transferring money back and forth between the US and Spain, I finally found a solution that isn’t a complete rip-off.

(In terms of pure money exchange, the best is Interactive Brokers and charges absolutely minimal commissions. You actually trade the currency, so the price you get has no spread whatsoever. The downside is that this it is a brokerage and isn’t meant to be used as a money transfer service and there are restrictions on moving money out too quickly after moving it in)

CurrencyFair works quickly as well, and I’ve gotten exchanges within 0.1% of the current rate. The way it works is that you send the deposit to CurrencyFair via ACH or SEPA. Then you use the internal market to exchange the currency. The internal market has a built-in spread of 0.15% (however, if you put in a bid at 0%, it can get hit).

Sometimes the order book is a bit sparse and you have to wait to get a good rate (they will step in and give you a commission of 0.4-0.5% if no one else is willing). Once you’ve done your exchange, you can directly transfer the money to your US or Spanish bank account, and it arrives within a day or two.

It’s also useful even if you don’t want to do currency exchange, since some banks here charge commissions even to just accept foreign bank transfers.

Note that they don’t accept US residents, but they do accept US citizens that live in Spain with no problem.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Catholic sexual abuse finally gets investigated in Spain

Given how the Catholic church has sexually abused kids at a massive scale in just about every country in the world, it was always surprising to me that Spain hasn’t yet joined this list.

Given the history of corrupt practices of the Catholic church in Spain, my guess this has more to do with better cover-ups than anything else.

A group of pedophile priests is finally being investigated by a judge Granada, which seems to have finally moved the church to actually do something.

Maybe the church can bring back excommunication and burning-at-the-stake, and then perhaps I’d take their efforts seriously.

Monday, November 17, 2014

IdCAT: an insecure digital certificate for foreigner in living Catalunya

More and more government services in Spain ask for a electronic DNI in order to authenticate access to services or sign documents. As a foreigner, you obviously don’t have a DNI, and even the residency cards don’t have chips.

Luckily the Catalans have a solution for this called idCAT. It not only works for Catalan stuff, but also with Agencia Tributaria and Seguridad Social.

I tried getting one today and it was actually quite easy:

  1. Go to www.idcat.cat and fill in the requested information (sol·licitud)
  2. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a receipt or anything, the information is in there somewhere.
  3. Go to one of the municipal government offices listed with together with your passport/ID and NIE certificate.
  4. You give them a four digit PIN
  5. They will print out a piece of paper
  6. Go home and use the information on paper to download the certificate onto your computer

What no smartcard? If you are worried about security at this point, you should be. By default the private key for your certificate gets installed on your computer without any protection whatsoever. Anyone can copy this key off your computer and use it to impersonate you without you even knowing.

Allegedly you can revoke your key, but keep in mind that the infrastructure for revoking digital certificates has always been a bit broken, and I wouldn’t be surprised if half the sites that accept them don’t check for revocation.

If you want to be a bit more secure, what I would do is:

  1. Run “Manage User Certificates”
  2. Click on “Personal”, “Certificates”
  3. Right click on the certificate with your name on it issued by “EC-IDCat”
  4. Click “All tasks”/“Export…”
  5. Say “Yes export private key”
  6. Select “.PFX”
  7. Select all the options (include certificates, delete private key, export all extended properties)
  8. Save it on a file and give it a secure password
  9. Re-import with “All tasks”/”Import”
  10. Disable export, and keep the password as “high security”

Now whenever you hit a site that wants the certificate, it will also ask you for your password. This isn’t totally secure, since the web browser still loads the private key at some point. The best solution would be to load the key onto a smartcard, but I haven’t gotten around to figuring that out.