The English Disease

I know it’s kind of weird to discuss a defect of Dutch-writing people in English, but it bothered me that much I just had to mention it. So here goes. My personal rant on misspelling and general neglecting of rules in writing Dutch.

Whenever someone is ranting on a defect, there’s a website on that subject. This is also true for the wrongful use of spaces in Dutch writing. The website specifically targets the errors like “spatie gebruik”, “kern competentie” and “ontwerp keuze”. We Dutchies all know these should be “spatiegebruik”, “kerncompetentie”, “ontwerpkeuze” yet there are hordes of people determined to neglect it and expect anyone to know what is meant.

Thing is: you’d expect certain spelling and grammar errors in text written by people with lower education. When working with people who, without exception either are bachelors or masters, it comes as a surprise. You’d expect these people to have been able to write according to the rules at some point in their lives. Why not now?

So here you go: when you have to correct 50 or so spelling errors in the near-final (and probably 10th) revision of a document, something is wrong. Is this true in your organization (or client-organization)?

Packaging payments

This week, our world is about to get a little less polluted. The Dutch government has effectuated regulation conceived last August in conjunction with the corporate world and the municipalities to collect and process the plastics in the garbage separately from the other waste.

No worries there, separated collection of garbage makes it easy to process it, as the separation is already done by the polluters. This saves money and energy, and thus the environment. Tis far the good news. The bad news is that separated collection actually takes a lot of money and effort, as the entire infrastructure to actually collect the stuff has to be put into place. Think in stuff such as bins, trucks, personnel, storage and processing plants. They all cost us dear money. But hey: in an effort to pollute less, why not?

The agreement can be summarized as follows: the corporate world pays packaging taxes, of which half is directed towards a fund (‘Afvalfonds’) to pay for the processing of the separatedly collected packaging garbage, and the other half is directed straight towards the government’s treasury. This should increase the amount of recycled garbage from 20% to 42%.
Nice, clean and simple regulation, with a clear focus.

Immediately after the announcement of this regulation, the supermarkets announced all products with packaging affected by these new rules would become more expensive (1% up), as they would have to pay a certain amount for every piece sold. This week, the price-increase kicked in and the CDA has woken up. Of all parties, the CDA (whose state-secretary Pieter van Geel actually signed the agreement) have complained about the increase in price as it negatively affects the consumers, us.
Somehow, CDA could be on to something: why does this taxation lead to an increase of exactly 1%, and not a fixed price of a few cents? Likely unintended, this question should be answered by research which is to be conducted by the NMA.

Furthermore, half of all paid taxation is headed directly for the treasury, yet it is not clear whether that money is destined for improving the environment (if possible at all). It seems to be used for lowering the social fees to be paid by employers, which is hardly an environmental-friendly destination. PvdD and SP: raise your voice! It is done right now by the VVD, the ones initiating the current destination of the money, which is also strange. Oh well, they must’ve forgot. 😉

Eventually, the taxation of packaging would lead to less garbage to dispose of completely, and more recycling. Whether this will happen is the question, when the garbage is simply chucked to China to be processed, the environmental burden is simply relocated, and not lowered. It is cheaper though.
Finally, with an indicated lowered amount of garbage to be collected by the municipalities, the fees for collection would have to be lowered. When that happens, I will definitely blog about it!

Why bilingularity sucks

Well, we probably all know the issues in Belgium these days.
After a period of 192 days, a new government has been formed under the supervision of Yves Leterme, which had to cope with a huge amount of concessions. The agreement was almost non-functional as both sides were dug in deep.

Today, and in the short week hereafter, this might all be work for nothing. A new dispute has been formed over the voting-district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). As it is partly french-speaking and partly Flemmish-speaking, the Flemmish want to divide the district into two new ones, with both languages having one district. This is much to the dismay of the French-speaking inhabitants of Belgium, and the are threatening to give up the parliament. The prime-minister wants to explore the matter for a few months, where his very own party wants to put the division to the vote.

What will happen is completely unpredictable. When the cabinet falls, new elections will probably be issued with an even more uncertain outcome. What do you think? Should we annexate the Dutch-speaking and make them into a new “provincie”? Or should we ignore them and their federal state and see it fall apart?

Murder of the mussel

Yes, it does say murder. Our nation has been renowned for it’s mussels for ages, as ‘Zeeuwse Mosselen’ are world famous for their taste and fat.
Dutch mussels differ from all other mussels as they are treated well in every stage of their life, to benefit both the fishers and consumers and the mussels.

Nowadays, all production involving livestock has to be ‘durable’ (‘Duurzaam’) yet it has remained unclear for about half a century now what it means exactly. One can only guess it involves a humane life for the animals, no destructive impact on the (direct) environment and perhaps even fair pricespaid to the producers. All’s fair, yet the unclear definition has lead to environmentalist groups prosecuting all types of animal industry. The mussel is the newest in a row.

In my opinion, the production of mussels ís durable. For three or four generations, Dutch have fished for mussels in the Waddenzee, and all this time it has been good for both the fishermen (who made nice profits) and the mussels (the population is comparable in size, both total and per mussel, and location). The fishermen involved practice a type of gardening: small mussels are relocated to pieces of sea where they grow faster and to bigger sizes. These are then taken out of the water to be consumed whenever they are the appropriate size, but only after being placed in the Westerschelde for a relative short period of time to loose all the sand. After all, they are ‘Zeeuwse mosselen’.

Another example is the following: before the mussel-production was forcefully transferred from the Oosterschelde to the Waddenzee about 50 years ago, (the Oosterschelde was closed off from the North Sea due to the protection of our shore with the DeltaWerken) there were no Common Eiders on the Waddenzee. They now live and prosper there, diversification of an indigenous specie as a result of mussels.

The first week of March has been catastrophic for those involved in the production of mussels. The most influential advisory council in The Netherlands (Council of State) has withdrawn the semi-annual permit issued by the ministry of agriculture after lobbying by environmentalist groups. What’s ironic is that Vogelbescherming and the Waddenvereniging both also cheered after the withdrawal. No more production means less bird on the Waddenzee, what’s to cheer?

For 2008 and 2009, the production of mussels is available, yet limited. Starting in 2010, there will not be any Dutch mussels available. Possibly ever. The best mussels will be lost, and for what cause? That is still unclear, yet there is a connection to be found: dhr. W. van Dieren, who possibly made a deal with NAM to abolish the production of Cockles and Mussels in exchange for the drilling for oil in the Waddenzee. This is speculation, but the appearance of the member of ‘The Club of Rome’ is quite possibly not coincidental.

Budget neutral sucks!

Inheritance tax probably is the most disliked and misunderstood form of taxation our country has. Whenever a departed dear one grants a part of their ‘fortune’ to you, you’ll have to pay taxes for receiving it, even when you have not yet received it (for instance, when your mom still lives in the parental house when your dad passed away).

Let’s face it: inheritance tax is obsolete and weird, as you’ll pay taxes over money that already has been taxed in the past, and possibly even re-taxed every year if the sum exceeded €20.000 (1.2% wealth tax).
State secretary of Finance de Jager has rightfully declared he intends to discard this kind of taxation, but he also mentioned that this would have to be done ‘budget neutrally’. in other words: the state cannot afford to loose the 2 billion euros of income generated from inheritance taxes each year. Therefore, De Jager needs to get that money from somewhere else. As this is not easily achievable, De Jager only makes the regulations surrounding inheritance easier. Not less.

Partners and children of the deceased, who now pay between 5% and 27% of the inherited sum, will be paying the same in the future, yet nephews, uncles, nieces and aunts will pay lower amounts. They now have to pay up to 68%, which is quite a lot. It also is a high percentage compared to our neighboring countries. (Dutch link)
Any cheers possibly appearing on the faces of those who think the law is put out of order will have to be fading away fast after reading this, as they quite possibly will not or very limitedly profit from the announced measures by De Jager.
However futile, the commitment of De Jager is to be applauded as it paves the way to more rigourous intervening when it comes to the inheritance taxes. Like in Sweden and Portugal, who declared inheritance taxation to be re-taxing owned money and completely abolished their laws accordingly.

I don’t think we are quite ready for such measurements, and the inheritance taxation will remain to be the most dreaded form of taxation in The Netherlands for quite some time to come.

Fear of Islam is ruling The Hague

Each and every day there seems to be news about Geert Wilders, his Islam-critic film Fitna, "Boerkinis", troublesome (islamic) allochthonous youth and more.
One could say it’s the Islam, or rather the fear around it, that’s keeping the reporters and our politicians busy.

To start with Fitna, the recently completed but still unviewed critical film about the Islam and the Koran by Geert Wilders is stirring up dust since plans to make it were unveiled. There have been protests in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, a detahwish has been proclaimed by a religious leader in Iran, and even people have been killed in the demonstrations against the film. Why, I hear you ask? Apparently because of the inability of the inhabitants of the country in question to protest without killing some of the people marching on their behalf. But that is not at question here. Fact is, that Wilders has agreed to showcase the film one day prior to its public unveiling to our National Coordinator Terrorismprevention, Joustra, one the sole condition it is not to be banned after that.
Why even bother to showcase it at all before its release? To give the NCTb a head start of one day in coordinating the actions necessary to prevent terrorism?

Furthermore, the cabinet and its ministers are nearly daily criticising Fitna, or warning the maker about the social concequences his film might have. Last week, Balkenende has warned Wilders that the response from our country might be more violent than expected and he has advised him not to release it if it will trigger such responses. Pieter van Geel (leader of the Tweede Kamer fraction of the CDA) and Maxime Verhagen (CDA) both have urged Wilders to take his responsibility and not release the film at all last Thursday.
Wilders himself responded, as can be suspected, with the words: "Jullie kunnen de pot op".
The politicians are so busy trying to stop the film because it would trigger radical actions from the islamic community in our country that they are overseeing the damage they are doing to our country as it gives a really bad image towards other countries.

The question remains what would have happened when Fitna was not given the attention it has gotten recently.
One could only imagine what would’ve happened with the Iranian government threatening to boycot us, the religious leaders in Afghanistan who would thus not call to murder all infidels and those opposing the Koran. I know it is a long shot, but my guess is it would not have been like this. Rhetorical and polarizing: at least my question is not being criticized by the government (yet).

Is this the end of Balkenende IV?

Employment , forced termination of employment, legal issues surrounding employment and the current cabinet Balkenende IV don’t go together very well.
After the near crash of the current cabinet last year, minister Donner has said today he thinks the regulations regarding the termination of employment should be re-evaluated and perhaps even adapted to respect employers more.

Today, regulations around employment are strongly in favor of the employee, and make for a very sturdy labourmarket. It is hard to let an employee off for an employer, making the employer more picky to choose a potential employee. Besides this, and luckily for our economy, there is a shortage in people. This leads to a better market for newcomers.
Besides this: the current regulations are too strong for a flexible labourmarket such as in the United States, although it is highly unlikely that system would fit our culture in Holland.

I am in favour of creating the regulations less strict and in favour of the employee, to give employers the power to terminate employment based on the well-faring of the organization. This increased mobility makes for a better position of the organization in the international competition.
The views of Donner are controversial, and the position of the CDA-minister is being questioned by the PvdA as we speak. Also, Groenlinks has requested a ‘spoeddebat’ regarding this issue as they feel the minister is actively undermining the current political vision that is being put out there by our government nowadays. Will our cabinet topple over due to this (ongoing) debate about employment regulations?
I personally doubt it as it’ll be ignored once minister Donner is forced to take back what he said…

Disclaimer: I know this post is not as well structured as usual, I’m working on it though.
I published it as it now contains my view, be it not as well formulated as you might be familiar with.

Fundraising for the pro

In the USA, the race is on. All candidates for the democratic and the republican parties did it, previous to and even during their campaign. Fund raising through dinners, shows and private parties.
Anyone with money and a little affiliation is welcome. Luckily, the fund raising is not anonymously, all gifts have to be registered and published.

Back to our country, and the reality of our politicians. In The Netherlands, political parties are state-funded based on their number of votes in the last election. More voters means a bigger cheque from the state. Simple and clear. No party is being maltreated or neglected, every party is being treated the same. Just the way we like it.

Not too long ago, mrs. Verdonk has left her party (VVD) to go about on her own. With more than half a million personla votes during the last elections, she felt it was her right to keep the spot in our Tweede Kamer. Undeniably right. But, she did not want to found a party. Like Geert Wilders (PvV), she’s aiming for a ‘beweging’ (movement) which has no members, and unlike Wilders, her movement is not even registered with the Kiesraad (the authority registering parties for elections in our country)

Because of not being a true party, Verdonk’s movement ‘Trots op Nederland’ (TON) is not eligible for funding by the state, and as she cannot afford to finance the movement on personla basis, private funding is needed.
Only recently, a dinner party was organized in the Passenger Terminal next to the IJ in Amsterdam. For only €500 per person, you could enjoy dinner with Verdonk, and for those not being this wealthy the afterparty only was €75. Dinner fund raising has been a subject in the Tweede Kamer for years, as it is not regulated. At all.
For instance: all gifts over €4538 have to be registered and communicated, but failing to do so does not incur a penalty. Go figure.

The new law which has been planned for years, private gifts above €20.000 cannot be made, and all gifts over €2.000 have to be registered and communicated. More importantly, not complying to these regulations involve penalizations to encourage parties a little more.
What do you think?
Fund rasing good or bad?

Constitutional discrimination

Yes, the title does indeed say "constitutional discrimination", as this is what the European Commission thinks of the practice in our country.
Recently, the European Commissioner of Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla has sent the Dutch government a letter concerning the treatment of homosexuals, and the more strict compliance to a European regulation stemming from the year 2000.

This guidance is prohibiting discrimination on religion or conviction, age, handicap, sexe, or sexual preferences. Our country will be tried before the European Court of Justice in two months if we do not comply.
This is where Spidla is hitting a nerve, as our ‘Algemene wet Gelijke Behandeling’ does not allow confessional institutions to refuse homosexuals a job solely on the basis of their sexual preferences. It does allow for the refusal of the person, if his or her acting or behavior is in contradiction with the principles the employer tries to carry out. This nuance in our law is for example used by Christian schools to refuse gay employees, where the cohabitation of the person is important to the foundation of the rejection.
The hurt is directly dependent on our constitution, for it houses a contradiction which has remained unsolved ever since the conceiving of the constitution. Article 1 says discrimination is prohibited, but according to article 6 anyone can believe and confess to their own belief(s), individually or in communion with others, while article 23 regulates the freedom of education, ánd the freedom to employ teachers.

With the letter from Spidla, Holland is faced with a diabolical dilemma.
Do we disavow centuries of history and our very own constitution for Europe? Or do we declare constitutional discrimination to be inalienable to our nation?

Crisis on the international moneymarket

Bad, bad American banks. Giving mortgages to people who have a high risk of not being able to pay the monthlee fees, and reselling the packaged mortgages to other institutions.
Oh well, it has happened, and we cannot do anything about it.

With the prices of housing stagnating, and the dollar decreasing in value, a crisis of unknown propotions seems inevitable. With many mortgages turning out to be non-collectable, decreasing prices of homes and a worsening competitive position, the American economy is up for something. Standard&Poor has calculated banks and financial instututions affected by the imminent happening already have written off about 146 billion dollar, and another 265 billion is to follow.

These dazzeling numbers, perhaps a bit overestimated, have to be concerning for all those involved, yet our government stays relatively cool under it.
Balkenende en our minister of Finance Bos have both claimed we are in quite a good position, and are only sideways affected by any bad mishaps, if they occur.
This relative lack of interest is awkward, and not appripriate for the current times.

With our country and its economy relying on the financial sector (ING, ABN AMRO, Rabobank) any bad developments among one of these banks is disproportionally affecting our day-to-day life. A risk our leaders will have to be aware of, yet they do not show it.
Proclaiming positive messages when not appropriate is giving false hope to the citizens, and can thus be claimed to be lying.
This is not what they intended, now is it?