April 17, 2024

Greece Unveils New Tax Bill

ATHENS — Just a few hours after gaining approval for crucial rescue loans to avoid a messy default, Greek authorities late Thursday unveiled a new tax code demanded by the country’s foreign creditors that will increase the burden on middle-income families, self-employed professionals and farmers.

The bill, which has been the subject of vehement media speculation in recent weeks as austerity-weary Greeks are in no mood for more financial pain, was submitted in Greece’s Parliament late Thursday and will be discussed by lawmakers ahead of a vote, most likely after Christmas, a Finance Ministry official said.

The legislation is expected to be approved as objections by junior partners in the fragile coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have been to details of the plan rather than to its general thrust.

The government hopes to raise €2.5 billion, or $3.25 billion, by raising the tax on those with middle incomes, trimming child benefits and revoking tax breaks for farmers.

The authorities are also taking aim at around a million self-employed professionals ranging from doctors to plumbers — more than a third of the country’s work force — who have been widely accused of shirking their obligations to the state.

The abolition of a tax-free threshold of €5,000 will mean that the self-employed will be taxed from the first euro they earn.

“The proposed legislation is part of wider plans to create a just and effective tax system, reorganize the tax collection mechanism and apply a stricter framework against tax evasion,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement accompanying the 74-page bill, which also raises the tax on corporate profits to 26 percent from 20 percent while lowering the tax on distributed dividends to 10 percent from 25 percent.

The tax bill, dubbed the “mini tax reform” by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, is the first of two tax overhauls. The mini bill is part of Greece’s commitments to creditors to save €13.5 billion over the next two years – through austerity measures and tax hikes — to reduce the country’s budget deficit and make debt sustainable.

In return for the promised measures, Greece’s creditors agreed this week to release €50 billion in funds to help Greece avoid default through the winter.

Early next year, the government plans to introduce a more thorough overhaul of the tax system, introducing immediate jail sentences for large-scale tax evaders rather than suspended terms currently given.

In Athens, opposition to the austerity Greek authorities have pledged to creditors is all too evident.

Greek farmers have been the first to actively oppose the tax bill, blocking road junctions in central Greece with tractors earlier this week.

Local public workers are on strike over plans to push thousands of employees into a fast-track redundancy program aimed at streamlining the bloated civil service.

Judges and prosecutors, who started a go-slow action in September to protest new salary cuts, have decided to extend their action through Jan. 19. The action has already led to thousands of cases piling up.

Parliament staff also walked off the job earlier this week, prompting authorities to withdraw, for the second time in a month, a bill aimed at reducing their wages to the level of other civil servants.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/business/global/15iht-greektax15.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

European Parliament Adopts Uniform Patent System

BRUSSELS — It only took four decades of wrangling.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament adopted a uniform patent system for Europe. If the plan goes into effect as expected by early 2014, it would try to remedy the country-by-country approach whose time and costs have long been an impediment to innovation across the European Union.

Achieving the new unified system could conceivably provide encouragement for another, far more ambitious project that European leaders will be grappling with at their summit meeting this week: a uniform system of banking regulation and supervision for the euro area. But the long, tortuous route to the patent agreement might also serve as a cautionary tale.

The banking union has already bogged down in national battles that some experts warn could drag out the process for years — particularly if changes to the bloc’s treaties are needed to give the central bank new and wide-ranging supervisory powers, or to set up a joint financial backstop to ensure the orderly winding down of failing banks.

“What’s clear is that the E.U. continues to operate on a hopelessly optimistic time scale,” Mats Persson, the director of the research group Open Europe, wrote in a briefing note on Tuesday. Mr. Persson was referring to the time it would take to set up a “proper safety net” for Europe’s banks, including a bank resolution fund.

In the case of the patent system, decades of discussions resulted in an unsatisfactory compromise, according to Bruno van Pottelsberghe, the dean of the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. The new system will “still be a mess” and “we should not expect any of a change in Europe’s innovative performance,” Mr. van Pottelsberghe said.

Meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday, the European Parliament voted 484 to 164 to pass the key plank of the new patent system. Nation-by-nation vetting of the new system will formally start in February, when governments are expected to sign a treaty creating special patent courts.

The system would supplement the current patchwork of patent rules in the European Union; under the current system, a ruling in one of the union’s 27 countries has no automatic bearing on another. The patchwork approach has made protecting inventions and innovations in Europe 15 times more expensive than in the United States, harming competitiveness, according to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

The cost of patent protection should initially drop to around 6,500 euros, or $8,400, from about 36,000 euros, or $46,500, the commission said. That change is largely because the new so-called unitary patents granted by the European Patent Office in Munich would no longer need to be validated in all of the countries where protection is sought. Nor would they need to be translated into all local languages. Instead, English, German or French would suffice.

Benoît Battistelli, the president of the European Patent Office, said the decision on Tuesday would “equip the European economy with a truly supranational patent system.”

Yet the long, tangled history of working toward a common patent — repeatedly shelved after bumping up against national interests and with squabbling over languages — is a timely reminder of how much easier it is to make commitments to a unified Europe than to put unity into practice.

In the case of the banking rules, also known as banking union, European governments still must overcome differences over the system’s most fundamental element: a single banking supervisor operating under the aegis of the European Central Bank.

European finance ministers are expected to work through the night on Wednesday in Brussels debating whether a new supervisor would oversee all 6,000 lenders in the euro area. France, Germany, Sweden, Hungary and Britain are among countries with concerns about the plan. The timing for an agreement “is likely to slip, as member states remain far apart on a number of key substantive issues,” Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, wrote in a briefing note on Tuesday.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/business/global/eu-reaches-agreement-on-system-for-patents.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Syria Rebels Find Skype Useful, but Dangers Lurk

When Syria’s Internet service disappeared Thursday, government officials first blamed rebel attacks. Activist groups blamed the government and viewed the blackout as a sign that troops would violently clamp down on rebels.

But having dealt with periodic outages for more than a year, the opposition had anticipated a full shutdown of Syria’s Internet service providers. To prepare, they have spent months smuggling communications equipment like mobile handsets and portable satellite phones into the country.

“We’re very well equipped here,” said Albaraa Abdul Rahman, 27, an activist in Saqba, a poor suburb 20 minutes outside Damascus. He said he was in touch with an expert in Homs who helped connect his office and 10 others like it in and around Damascus.

Using the connection, the activists in Saqba talked to rebel fighters on Skype and relayed to overseas activists details about clashes with government forces. A video showed the rebels’ bare-bones room, four battery backups that could power a laptop for eight hours and a generator set up on a balcony.

For months, rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad have used Skype, a peer-to-peer Internet communication system, to organize and talk to outside news organizations and activists. A few days ago, Jad al-Yamani, an activist in Homs, sent a message to rebel fighters that tanks were moving toward a government checkpoint.

He notified the other fighters so that they could go observe the checkpoint. “Through Skype you know how the army moves or can stop it,” Mr. Yamani said.

On Friday, Dawoud Sleiman, 39, a member of the antigovernment Ahrar al-Shamal Battalion, part of the Free Syrian Army, reached out to other members of the rebel group. They were set up at the government’s Wadi Aldaif military base in Idlib, a province near the Turkish border that has seen heavy fighting, and connected to Skype via satellite Internet service.

Mr. Sleiman, who is based in Turkey, said the Free Syrian Army stopped using cellphone networks and land lines months ago and instead relies almost entirely on Skype. “Brigade members communicate through the hand-held devices,” he said.

This week rebels posted an announcement via Skype that called for the arrest of the head of intelligence in Idlib, who is accused of killing five rebels. “A big financial prize will be offered to anyone who brings the head of this guy,” the message read. “One of our brothers abroad has donated the cash.”

If the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were Twitter Revolutions, then Syria is becoming the Skype Rebellion. To get around a near-nationwide Internet shutdown, rebels have armed themselves with mobile satellite phones and dial-up modems.

In many cases, relatives and supporters living outside Syria bought the equipment and had it smuggled in, mostly through Lebanon and Turkey.

That equipment has allowed the rebels to continue to communicate almost entirely via Skype with little interruption, despite the blackout. “How the government used its weapons against the revolution, that is how activists use Skype,” Mr. Abdul Rahman said.

“We haven’t seen any interruption in the way Skype is being used,” said David Clinch, an editorial director of Storyful, a group that verifies social media posts for news organizations, including The New York Times (Mr. Clinch has served as a consultant for Skype).

Mr. Assad, who once fashioned himself as a reformer and the father of Syria’s Internet, has largely left the country’s access intact during the 20-month struggle with rebels. The government appeared to abandon that strategy on Thursday, when most citizens lost access. Some Syrians could still get online using service from Turkey. On Friday, Syrian officials blamed technical problems for the cutoff.

The shutdown is only the latest tactic in the escalating technology war waged in Arab Spring countries.

But several technology experts warned that the use of the Internet by rebels in Syria, even those relying on Skype, could leave them vulnerable to government surveillance.

Liam Stack contributed reporting from New York; Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-turn-to-skype-for-communications.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Estonia Gets Highest Marks for Internet Freedom

What’s up with Estonia? The tiny Baltic nation affords its citizens the greatest measure of digital freedom as measured by Freedom House, a Washington  advocacy group.

Freedom House’s rankings are based on things like access to the Internet and online free expression laws. Estonia has a national digital identification system, allows its citizens to vote online and has announced plans to teach computer coding to public school students as early as first grade, according to the technology blog UbuntuLife.

Estonia is a standout at a time when, according to Freedom House, online censorship has grown, from widespread blocking and filtering in some countries to laws that regulate what can be said online to physical attacks on bloggers and other online critics.

The group’s report, which measured the restrictions in 47 countries from January 2011 to May 2012, found that “restrictions on Internet freedom in many countries have continued to grow, though the methods of control are slowly evolving and becoming less visible.”

The report comes on the heels of a global debate about free expression after a crude video that ridicules Islam was posted on YouTube. It was blamed for setting off violence in several countries worldwide. It led a handful of countries to block YouTube altogether.

In 19 of the 47 countries mentioned in the report, Freedom House said, citizens who posted content online, whether in a blog or on social media, were “tortured, disappeared, beaten or brutally assaulted.” The report was packed with examples. In Bahrain, for instance, the moderator of an online forum died in police custody in April 2011; in Jordan, a blogger was stabbed in the stomach; and in Sri Lanka and Uzbeskistan, those who criticized the government online have “disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

Physical attacks were not limited to critics of the government. Freedom House cited the example of Mexico, where bloggers who had written about organized crime were murdered, with notes that referred explicitly to the victims’ postings online.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/estonia-gets-highest-marks-for-internet-freedom/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Small-Business Lessons From Harley-Davidson’s Turnaround

A Harley-Davidson Museum in MilwaukeeDarren Hauck for The New York Times A Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Creating Value

Are you getting the most out of your business?

This weekend, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Harley-Davidson turned itself around using “lean” manufacturing strategies. Lean, or just-in-time, manufacturing is the Toyota production system, which started with W. Edwards Deming and his work with statistical quality control. Whenever I see this kind of article about a large company, I think about how the thoughts and principles can be applied to the smaller companies I work with.

As I read this one, three things occurred to me.

1. The idea behind lean is to create capacity — not to reduce employee headcount. In this case, Harley-Davidson reduced its headcount by more than 1,000 people using lean techniques. Harley-Davidson probably can do this just once. If it continues to use lean strategies to reduce headcount, it will see employee enthusiasm for the program wane.

People don’t want to see their jobs go, and they don’t want to see their friends’ jobs go either. If the layoffs are an economic necessity, they can work. But you can only have so many economic emergencies before people say enough is enough.

My favorite use of lean is to create capacity for more business with the same headcount. I find that employees get excited and stay excited when more business comes into the company. If using lean techniques to make the company better allows for more job security through efficiencies, employees are all for it. If you cut employees in for a piece of the action through bonus programs, so much the better.

2. Installing lean in large companies is much different than installing lean in small ones. Large companies have lots of resources, both economic and human, that they can throw at arrangements like this. Small companies do not.

Still, I’m a big believer in lean activities in small companies. I’ve seen successful implementations increase profits by 50 percent or more. While large companies can afford to do more than one lean project at a time, the small company successes I’ve seen take it one step at a time.

3. Often, we see these activities led by those who have been through M.B.A. programs. The problem I often see with M.B.A.’s in smaller companies is that their educational training is for making positive changes in large companies. But those changes don’t always work in smaller companies with fewer resources. And an understanding of the strategies that do work in small companies is often totally foreign to those with advanced business degrees.

I’ve got nothing against M.B.A.’s. I’ve just come to believe that those with advanced degrees often need to have a complete reset in their beliefs about how successful change is done in a smaller company. Thankfully, there are several programs in the country that concentrate on small businesses.

I found this article very provocative. What do you think?

Josh Patrick is a founder and Principal at Stage 2 Planning Partners where he works with private business owners on wealth management issues.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/small-business-lessons-from-harley-davidsons-turnaround/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: HBO Names Plepler as Chief and Promotes Top Managers

Richard Plepler.Fred Prouser/Reuters Richard Plepler.

5:21 p.m. | Updated
HBO announced a transition in its top management on Thursday, elevating Richard Plepler to the role of chief executive, replacing Bill Nelson, who will step down at the end of the year.

The change, announced by Jeffrey L. Bewkes, the chairman of HBO’s parent company, Time Warner, amounted to a shift upward for the network’s entire top management team. Mr. Plepler had been co-president with Eric Kessler, working under Mr. Nelson. Now, Mr. Kessler will become sole president, reporting to Mr. Plepler.

Michael Lombardo, who has been president for programming since 2007, will continue in that role and will also report to Mr. Plepler.

The naming of Mr. Plepler as chief executive completes his remarkable ascension at the network, which he joined in 1992 as head public relations executive.

Mr. Nelson had a 30-year career at HBO, mainly in business affairs positions. Mr. Plepler has been more of an active public voice for the network and has been deeply involved with the creative side of the company. With Mr. Lombardo, he has been responsible for much of the programming on HBO since 2007.

Mr. Kessler, who is credited with the success of HBO’s on-demand system, HBO Go, and with expanding the network’s global reach to 100 million subscribers, will also become chief operating officer.

In praising Mr. Nelson, whom he called a “world-class C.E.O.,” Mr. Bewkes specifically cited the period since 2007 as a time when HBO was able to “re-establish its pre-eminence in programming.” He said the new management team had been the driving force behind that creative renaissance.

The most popular shows during the tenures of Mr. Plepler, Mr. Kessler and Mr. Lombardo have included “True Blood,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones,” “Girls” and “Veep.” All but “True Blood” have been nominated for Emmy Awards this year as either best drama or best comedy in television. The network has also continued to dominate the Emmys for television movies, and owns the favorite this year in “Game Change,” which dramatized Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential campaign.

HBO installed the previous management group under Mr. Nelson after a slow period when its previous supremacy in cable programming, led by shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” came to an abrupt end.

Mr. Nelson had previously been chief operating officer, responsible for marketing and distribution.

Bill Carter writes about the television industry. Follow @wjcarter on Twitter.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/richard-plepler-to-replace-bill-nelson-atop-hbo/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Working Until 70 May Not Solve Savings Shortfall

Research from the nonprofit Employee Benefits Research Institute throws cold water on the notion that working until age 70 will set most Americans up for adequate retirement income.

Jack VanDerhei, research director at E.B.R.I., says some studies have suggested that by working to age 70 — five years past the traditional retirement age of 65 — nearly 80 percent of preretirees, including lower-income Americans, could have adequate retirement income. But such models, he said, don’t fully take into account changes in the retirement system, such as the shift away from pension plans and toward 401(k) accounts, or the potential for a catastrophic health event that would require a stay in a nursing home.

When those factors are accounted for, he said, the outlook is less optimistic, especially for lower-income workers. E.B.R.I.’s analytical model, he said, indicates that for those in the lowest quarter of incomes, workers would have to toil until age 84 before 90 percent of them would have at least a break-even chance for success.

That doesn’t mean, he said, that he is advocating that everyone work until their 80s, or that working that long is feasible. But it does suggest, he said, that it is a risky notion to think that you can work until you’re 65 and then simply work five more years if you don’t haven’t saved enough. If a couple near retirement age has one member who become ill and requires a lengthy nursing home stay, he said, a good chunk of their savings may be exhausted. “How can you ignore that?” he said.

It’s much less of a gamble, he said, to save more while you’re working, if you can: “It’s much less risky than waiting until you’re 65 or 67 and seeing what happens.”

How long do you plan on working?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/working-until-70-may-not-solve-savings-shortfall/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: A Tool for Those Who Fall Behind on Student Debt

Have you fallen behind on your student loan payments? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this summer introduced an online tool to help you evaluate your options.

The “Student Loan Debt Collection Assistant” asks a series of questions to help you determine what steps to take if you’ve missed payments or think you may in the future. It starts by asking if you have federal loans — like a Perkins or Stafford loan — or private loans. (If you aren’t sure, the site has a link to the National Student Loan Data System, where you can find the answer). Federal loans generally have more protections for borrowers who fall behind on payments.

If you’ve missed payments already, the tool advises you to contact your loan servicer — the company that collects and keeps track of your payments — to see what can be done to avoid going into default.

If you have federal loans, for instance, you should ask your servicer about alternative payment arrangements, like income-based repayment plans, which may significantly lower your monthly payment.

Fewer protections are available on private loans. In some cases, you can be considered in default if you miss just two payments.

The site says that even if you are in default on a private loan, you have rights. For example, debt collectors attempting to obtain payment of a private student loan cannot garnish your wages without a court order, or seize your federal or state tax refund.

Take a look at the tool and let us know what you think. Have you fallen behind on your student loans? What steps did you take?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/a-tool-for-those-who-fall-behind-on-student-debt/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Gadgetwise: A Tablet That Moves Closer to Becoming a Laptop

The Archos 101XS tablet features a magnetic keyboard that doubles as a cover.The Archos 101XS tablet features a magnetic keyboard that doubles as a cover.

The French electronics company Archos is hoping to bolster its presence in the United States with a new line of Android tablets that include an integrated keyboard.

Arriving in November, the first offering is the $400 101XS, a 10.1-inch tablet that weighs 21 ounces and is 0.31 inches thick. Two more tablets, a 9.7-inch and an 8-inch, will follow.

The tablet’s innovative feature is the Coverboard, a keyboard that doubles as a cover. Secured to the tablet with magnets, the Coverboard slides off easily. The tablet can then be docked in the Coverboard for typing.

This seems like a great advancement, unless you don’t need to type. Then what do you do with the Coverboard? Unfortunately, it doesn’t secure to the back of the tablet the way it does to the front, which makes it tricky to use, say, when you’re commuting on the subway. You have to find someplace to stash the cover. Once you do, however, the tablet is easy to hold and use.

The tablet is powered by the Android 4.0 operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, but will be upgradable to Android’s next OS, Jelly Bean. Being an Android device, it comes with the full Google family of services and apps. But sometimes, family members are not on speaking terms. I had problems with several Google apps like Gmail and YouTube.

Included with the tablet is the OfficeSuite Pro 6 app, which allows users to view, edit and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. I tried to use the app’s word processor to type this post, but the keyboard was too small for my hands. After spending much time hunting and pecking, I decided to save the file to Google Docs and finish it on my laptop.

Navigating the media center was easy, and the screen’s display was decent, but the sound from the speakers was tinny and small. I’d get better sound if I opened my window and listened to the TV playing in my neighbor’s apartment downstairs.

Article source: http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/a-tablet-that-moves-closer-to-becoming-a-laptop/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: British Regulators Plan Changes to Libor Oversight

Martin Wheatley, managing director of the Financial Services Authority, the British regulator that will conduct the review into the rate-setting process.Jerome Favre/Bloomberg NewsMartin Wheatley, managing director of the Financial Services Authority, the British regulator that will conduct the review of the rate-setting process.

LONDON — The system at the center of a rate-rigging scandal is set to be overhauled as regulators respond to public anger over the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

Martin Wheatley, the regulator in charge of a plan backed by the British government to restructure the rate-setting process, outlined steps on Friday that could lead to wholesale changes to Libor, which is used as a benchmark rate for more than $360 trillion of financial products, including mortgages and loans.

The changes may include the replacement of the current system, which is overseen by the British Bankers’ Association, a trade body, with one overseen by government officials. They will also most likely make it a criminal offense to manipulate benchmark rates.

“The existing structure and governance of Libor is no longer fit for purpose, and reform is needed,” said Mr. Wheatley, who is managing director of the Financial Services Authority, the British regulator. “Trust in a vital part of the financial system has been badly damaged, and timely action is needed to restore it.”

The tough words came after one of Britain’s biggest banks, Barclays, agreed to a $450 million settlement with American and British officials after some of its traders and senior executives were found to have manipulated the rate for financial gain.

A number of other global financial institutions, including Citigroup and HSBC, are under investigation for their roles in the scandal. Analysts estimate that the combined fines and penalties for the financial services industry may exceed $20 billion.

Mr. Wheatley’s review will produce recommendations in late September about how the rate could be changed.
On Friday, the British regulator said the inquiry might lead to the use of actual trading data to set the daily benchmark rate.

Currently, a number of banks are polled each day about what their lending costs would be if they tapped the markets for financing. During the recent financial crisis, so-called interbank lending between firms was sharply curtailed, which led bank executives to submit incorrect data for Libor, according to regulatory filings.

“Libor is also intended to represent unsecured interbank borrowing costs for a range of maturities, but as this type of lending has severely declined since the financial crisis, submissions are more heavily reliant on judgment,” Mr. Wheatley said.

The review will focus on potential criminal sanctions against individuals who manipulate the rate. American and British authorities are considering the prosecution of traders implicated in the scandal, and European officials want to write new legislation to make the manipulation of Libor and other benchmark rates a criminal offense.

The overhaul of Libor will also involve increased governance of the rate-setting process, after authorities found deficiencies in how the system was overseen.

In discussions dating back to 2008, American and British central bankers had raised concerns with the British Bankers’ Association about how the rate was governed. In response, authorities forced the trade body to increase the auditing of banks’ Libor submissions from late 2008 to improve transparency.

“Any new governance framework should ensure that the compilation process itself is subject to a much greater degree of independence, transparency and accountability,” Mr. Wheatley said on Friday.

British authorities said they would work with their American and other international counterparts as part of the wide-ranging review.

Banks are expected to provide feedback on the potential changes by early September.

Because the benchmark rate underpins trillions of dollars of financial products worldwide, any changes to Libor would be phased in over several years, Mr. Wheatley said.

With regulators continuing their investigations into the activities of global firms, banks are likely to face pressure to support the changes.

“The past few months have presented a series of very significant reputational challenges for the financial services industry,” Mr. Wheatley said. “It’s clear from the reaction to the Libor scandal that consumers think it’s important.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/british-regulators-plan-major-overhaul-of-rate-system/?partner=rss&emc=rss