I have spent around a third of my life in Argentina, a third in the USA and a third in Spain. While I have friends from all over the world, most of my friends are from these three countries. And there is a very big difference in the tone of their social media commentaries. My American friends talk about their lives in a positive tone and are in love with innovation, with ways of making the world a better place. Occasionally, generally at election time, they speak about politics.

My Argentine and Spanish friends, on the other hand, share an obsession with local politics that makes reading most of their social media commentaries tedious and sad. I am so tired of their whining that at this point I am actively looking for ways to filter out of my social media for political commentary. Both countries suffer from similar problems, an inept and corrupt leadership that makes it hard for citizens to move on with their lives. The tone of the commentaries is always something like “I can’t believe that such and such politician would say or do such a crazy wrong thing”. Most of my friends are disgusted by all politicians and complain across party lines. In the case of Argentina there are still a few who love the Kirchner government while most by now hate it. In Spain there is a general sense of embarrassment for all politicians that is more realistic but the conversation about them never ends. There is always some new topic, lately it is the Barcenas corruption scandal.

People in Spain and Argentina never seem to come to the conclusion that their political class is just rotten and probably will always be like that, and that they can either emigrate or put up with it. They are like children of divorced parents whose only obsession is for their parents to get together again. And that they never will. But as children of divorced parents can overcome the trauma and thrive, so can citizens of these nations. Argentines, Spanish and citizens of all troubled nations (which all countries are to some extent) should learn to live well in their own countries in spite of their political classes, something that is actually very doable. But in order to do this they have to stop talking, commenting or getting involved in political discussion, and focus that energy instead on their families, friends and especially on their work. I can give you countless examples of Argentines and Spaniards who have done amazing work in spite of the crisis. The most striking example is Amancio Ortega who, working out of a little town in the northeast of Spain, La Coruña, has managed to become the third wealthiest man in the world (net worth estimated at $55 billion ahead of Warren Buffet) building Inditex. On a smaller scale, the same can be said about Marcos Galperin, an entrepreneur who is building Mercado Libre into a multi-billion dollar company from Buenos Aires, or my own company Fon, which we built in Madrid and is now the largest WiFi network in the world. And Spain has many more large and thriving companies that are ignoring the political impasse and moving on. Mango, the fashion retailer, is another example. And in other fields like the arts, movies, architecture, fashion, technology, science, many productive, creative and extremely smart Argentines and Spaniards have decided to focus on their expertise and are managing to thrive in spite of the negativity that surrounds them.

So my advice to friends who live in troubled countries is to ignore politics. To stop blaming their environment for their shortcomings and to move ahead in life never even mentioning Kirchner or Rajoy and other political “leaders”.

In the meantime as a favor to me, if you know of a way to filter political commentary in Spanish away from my Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter do let me know. I just want to know what my friends are up to, or what they are doing. Not what the Spanish and Argentine politicians are up to or doing, because their ability to screw up their countries out of ineptitude and/or greed is endless.

I used to think Israel was different from its neighbors, but lately less and less so. My religion is better than yours is no formula for peace in the region. As a secular Jew I would feel so uncomfortable if I lived in Israel with a government who makes comments like this.

Eli Yishai via Wikipedia

Eli Yishai via Wikipedia

It is also understandable how Europe, which is mostly secular, feels alienated from Israel now and USA which is mostly religious, identifies with the country. Israelis like to say that Europe is just anti semitic but while some of that is true, especially Spain (google “es dificil ser judío en España”) what is also true is that in Europe no politician speaks about God in general and least of all as if God liked Jews and not Muslims. Personally I think there is a very low probability that God exists but even if it did there is a proportionate lower probability that it belonged to any religion. I think that God in itself is an extremely unlikely entity but it did exist what would be the link between God and one particular religion? To me God inside a religion is a flag that some carry to do good but most carry as a symbol of their own tribe against others. In many cases God inside a religion is used to justify murder and that makes religion alien to me.

Long are the days of Israel being led by agnostics or atheists like Golda Meir who when asked if she believed in God she said. I believe in the Jewish people and the Jewish people believe in God. Now Israel is being led by people who think God is on their side. Pretty dangerous.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 18:  People work from an i...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Friends outside of Spain have been asking me about the ongoing movement that has become known as #spanishrevolution. Here’s the summary of what this movement is about:

People have become increasingly frustrated by the many problems in Spain: over 20% unemployment rate and over 30% youth unemployment rate, incompetent politicians unable to deal with the effects of the crisis, extremely high housing prices both for rental and purchase, a mortgage system that ties mortgage holders for life to the bank if the real estate is sold for under the loan amount,  and a general discontent with the status of the political landscape (especially the effective two-party system of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). The #spanishrevoution is an internet movement that was started by leading figures in the internet including top bloggers and internet entrepreneurs to harness the distress of the Spanish people into action ahead of this past weekend’s elections. The most active supporters of the movement have moved from the internet to the streets gather in camps at key locations of many Spanish cities, like the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, where they discuss the changes they want to bring about and are planning to stay for the time being. Each camp is autonomous, there is no central organ coordinating the movement and many sleep in public squares in protest.

The #spanishrevolution did not start as a unified movement, but is rather the result of an informal merger between different movements with similar, but not equal, goals. There seems to be broad consensus that the protests on May 15th (aka the 15M movement) organized by Democracia Real Ya (DRY) were the spark that ignited #spanishrevolution. The tagline of Democracia Real Ya is: we are people, not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers (in Spanish: “no somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros”). You can read the manifesto of that movement in English here. The protests were a huge success: more than 80,000  all over Spain took to the streets to protest against citizens being left behind during the crisis and against corruption.

DRY proposed to follow the lead of two role models; Iceland and the Arab revolts. In Iceland, citizens were able to make use of democratic powers to put some of the persons responsible for the crisis behind bars and to initiate important constitutional reforms. What DRY wanted to leverage from the Arab revolts was the incredible catalytic effect provided by the social networks, the mobile networks and internet in general.

Some of the most important figures/initiators of the 15M movement are Fabio Gándara (who has been part of the movement since the beginning), Jon Aguirre Such (DRY’s spokesperson) and Olmo Gálvez (whom El País calls a social networking “crack”). It’s interesting to point out that all three of them are quite young, between 26 and 30, and didn’t know each other until shortly before 15M. The people who have joined #spanishrevolution, however, are very heterogeneous, covering all age ranges, professions and social classes.

After the May 15th protests, a small group of participants decided to camp out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid (known as #acamapadasol). More and more people joined #acampadasol, and eventually the “acampadas” spread out to other cities all over the country on the 18th, fueled by a surge of outrage that spread like wildfire after police removed the peaceful protestors from Plaza del Sol. By that time, #spanishrevolution had already been born. While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol, and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain.

While DRY never “officially” merged with #spanishrevolution and still wants to be a movement of its own, it basically has the same goals and therefore supports the movement. There was another movement that is often mixed with #spanishrevolution, called #nolesvotes. Fon my company, supports #nolesvotes by giving out free Foneras and passes so people have free access to the internet during their sit-ins.  #nolesvotes translated means “don’t vote for them”, referring to all the political parties that passed a ridiculous law (the Ley Sinde, on which I will not elaborate here) which was a slap in the face for the rule of law in Spain. Just as with DRY, #nolesvotes, started by the lawyer Carlos Sánchez Almeida, is/was a separate movement, but again had goals that overlapped with the general idea of #spanishrevolution. Most people don’t make a distinction between the individual movements anymore and rather see them as unified under the concept of #spanishrevolution now. Leaders of nolesvotes include my friends and partners Ricardo Galli and Eduardo Arcos, fellow professor at IE Enrique Dans and leading Spanish entrepreneur Julio Alonso.

On a side note, some people also voted with chorizos inside the envelopes. A chorizo is a typical Iberian sausage, but the term is also used to refer to corrupt politicians. While the initiative #votachorizo prompted voters to print out a picture of a chorizo, some literally put a slice of sausage in the envelope to voice their discontent with corruption and incompetence in Spain’s political landscape.

In the end, what started with a few ideas and different initiatives on the web has become a huge movement on the streets all over Spain and in many other countries. As I already mentioned, most of the initiators didn’t know each other at the beginning and only met in person a couple of weeks before the 15M event. The main platforms enabling them to join forces were social networks like Facebook and Tuenti, and of course platforms like Twitter and hundreds (or even thousands) of blogs that supported the movements and spread the word. The sit-in at Plaza del Sol even has its own TV channel, with a mind-blowing 11 million accumulated views so far. Around 45 million people live in Spain.

The local and legislative elections of May 22nd gave encouraging results for the #spanishrevolution.  Like an internet start up it seems to have reached its first million people as that is the number of people who have not voted the large 2 political parties.  On this election the vote for alternative parties and the votes “en blanco” or for nobody in particular grew by a million.  Now PP supporters like to argue that this was really a strong defeat of the ruling socialists whose votes went down by 1.6 million and a win for PP whose votes went up by 400K but this does not explain why PP did not get all or most of the votes of PSOE.   While the exact effect of #spanishrevolution on the election will not be known what is clear is that small parties and general discontent grew at the expense of the ruling party and so did the conservative opposition.

Here are two excellent articles in Spanish about the topic that I used to prepare this post, one by El País and another by Alt1040.

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I don’t understand why the Obama administration had to say that Osama Bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed, that he was not threatening the life of the soldiers who were in the compound. Why feed the terrorists with stories that they can use for recruitment purposes? Why not just say that he died in the operation without giving more details than that?

Terrorism is an industry and its main input is angry young men. USA has to realize that certain moves, like Abu Gharb publicized pictures, Guantanamo tortures, air bombings in Fallujah, killing of thousands of innocent civilians in the search terrorists in Afghanistan, and now saying that Osama Bin Laden was unarmed, all these are the stories that feed the terrorists at their key moment, recruitment.

If the purpose is to disengage with terrorism USA should not make it easier for terrorist recruiters to get new people who hate USA.  Al Qaeda’s life used to be much harder when all they had to say was “The infidels are in the holy land so let’s go and murder thousands of them when they go to work”.  Let’s fight them without giving them arguments to multiply and grow.  USA should study the many terrorist movements in Latin America and Europe that ended up completely extinguished.  It was not revenge that did it.  It was careful management of public opinion combined with effective police and judicial efforts.  While my preference would have been to put Osama Bin Laden on trial I can also agree with those who said that capturing him would have made terrorists do all sorts of hijackings and threats to public safety.  But if that is what drove the administration to decide to kill him, then why decrease public safety by confessing that he was murdered and making terrorists even more angry?.

At FON we are using the tactics of democracy in business. We are, for example, planning to run city wide elections among foneros to select our city managers instead of going to headhunters to find us the right person. Also at FON, at least so far, we don´t advertise and we don´t have a PR firm. As in the world of politics, at FON we speak, or in our case, we blog.

Now, as I look further into the political process of well functioning democracies (yes, they do exist!) I am surprised by one finding. Democratic politics seem to produce more competitive behaviour than business practices. Take, for example, the case of mobile phone pricing in Europe and the obvious collusion that exists among the three to four leading operators in each country on fixed to mobile rates and on roaming rates. At the same time, compare this monopolistic behavior, so prevalent among three to four players per country, to the tremendous competition that exists on almost every issue between Labor and Conservatives in the UK or between Partido Popular and PSOE (the socialists) in Spain.

Why is it that two political parties can behave more competitively than three to four mobile phone companies? The answer, in my view, lies in the different types of monopolies that politics and business creates. Democratic politics is in a way a quasi monopoly on government…that is temporary. Therefore you either win and have almost all the power (Aznar before the last election in Spain) or lose and have practically no power (Aznar now). In this type of scenario, competition for obtaining the monopoly right to power is fierce. But when companies can do well colluding, each one making huge profits and dividing the market, the number of players is less likely to have an impact on monopolistic behavior. As a result, we have an incredibly non competitive per minute pricing in the mobile phone world in Europe. And this is but one example in which corporate behavior leads to monopolistic practices. There are many others.

Thirty years ago in China there was no competition. Even in 1988, when I first visited China, there was very little competition. But after a failed experiment with Marxism, the Chinese started in the late 80s a much more successful trial of Ricardean economics and…it worked. China as we all know has been growing at a sustained of over 8% per year for 15 years in a row and is now the main consumer of most of the world´s commodities. Now that the Chinesehave  experimented with competition in business with such enviable results I believe that it is a matter of time until China experiments with competition in politics.
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