American in Portugal


I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).


After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.


That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.


Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.


Examples?


Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?


Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.


The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.


Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.


Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.


Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote here.


Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.


“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).


“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage remained fixed in 2021 at 775.8€ (US $940/UK £665.90) per month or 9,310 euros (US $11,275/UK £7,991) per year, taking into account 12 payments per year. Accordingly, the national minimum wage has been raised 35 euros per month from the previous year, or 4.72%. Put another way, Portugal’s national minimum wage rose to 665 euros per month before tax in 2021, but is based on 14 (not 12) monthly payments. The Portuguese government maintains its objective of gradually increasing the minimum wage to 750 euros per month by 2023.


We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.


We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.


Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.


Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!


(Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.)

Climate-Changed

It’s here, huffing and puffing and blowing our houses in.

Not to belittle Covid rising or myriad international crises and challenges, but the greater good demands that we stop what we’re doing and confront climate change—here and now.

Wildfires. Heat waves. Tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis. Heat waves. Flooding. Draughts. Icebergs. Air Quality. Haze.

All are symptoms — accessories and accomplices — of earth’s painful diseases.

Fuel spills and non-biodegradable plastic are destroying our oceans and their inhabitants. The Amazon is emitting more carbon than it’s absorbing. Flooding in Germany and Belgium defies explanation, as does passengers trapped in waist-high water inside a submerged subway and cars floating through streets, as deadly floods sweep through central China. Record high temperatures – some 50 degrees above normal – suffocate people trying to breathe in western Canada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Dozens of wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, with the region experiencing unrelenting draught while smoke stretches all the way to the East coast. Seemingly everywhere, haze obliterates the sky. And, in an ironic twist, smoke from the “bootleg” wildfires is changing the weather.

“There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province,” reports the Canadian Broadcasting System. “There are also 69 evacuation alerts, affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties. Three hundred of Canada’s 800 fires at the moment are raging in B.C. (British Columbia).”

Elsewhere, William Brangham reports on PBS from California’s San Joaquim Valley, “The demand for water has threatened the drinking supply for hundreds of thousands of rural residents—including the farmers who grow a significant part of the country’s food supply.”

Here in Portugal, 21 municipalities and districts have been placed at maximum risk of fire. As a Facebook friend put it following days of sweltering heat, “We’re making like lizards and keeping to the shade.”

Plastic pellets escape into the environment during every stage of their lifecycle–from production to transportation and during final product manufacturing. Together with single-use plastics which continue to line supermarket shelves, despite being banned by the government (in Portugal), they absorb toxins such as dioxins from water and transfer them to the marine food web and human diets, increasing the risk of adverse effects to wildlife and people, along with fishing and survival.

The bacteria that make up “red tide,” Karenia brevis, already have killed more than 613 tons of marine life and fish around Tampa, Florida, as sewage stops everyone from bathing at an Algarve (Portugal) beach when a burst pipe causes sewage to be discharged into the sea.

Following his sky shuttle, space cadet Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame and fortune announces the commercial potential of his billionaire joy ride: All that dirty, polluting manufacturing and industrial waste will be moved from earth into outer space, leaving the earth a much more splendid place … even while the universe becomes a more contaminated “dumping ground.”

Already, global warming has become climate chaos. In the future, will it be universal?

Satellite data have shown that the world’s biggest iceberg is no more. Weighing billions of tons and bigger than many cities when it broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf in 2017, the iceberg has completely melted away. Scientists warn that this could be a sign of the quickened pace of global warming.

Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it “a natural step,” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but we used to predict that the devastating effects of climate change and global warming would hit us in twenty to fifty years—worrisome for our children and grandchildren, but not nearly so deadly to us.

Climate scientists for decades have warned that the climate crisis would lead to more extreme weather. They said it would be deadly and it would be more frequent. But many are expressing surprise that heat and rain records are being broken by such large margins.

That’s the difference between prophets and profits.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C will be a “pipe dream,” predicts US climate envoy John Kerry, if China waits as late as 2030 – not even a decade away – for the peak of its emissions.

And the USA? Russia? The UK and EU? Africa and Asia?

Several developed countries, including the US, this year have significantly increased their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union last week unveiled an ambitious plan to put climate at the center of just about every development and economic initiative it has.

Yet many activists say that their pledges still fall short of the action needed to contain average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the International Panel for Climate Change says is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts of climate change. They also criticize governments that make ambitious pledges while continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects, including coal mines, and oil and gas facilities.

“When you look at what’s happening in Canada, where they had temperatures of 50 degrees (C), and what’s going on all over the world, it is clear this is the result of climate change,” Niklas Pieters told CNN, as he helped his parents clear the debris from their ravaged home in Schuld, Germany. “I don’t want to have to get used to this.”

Wake up and do something, people: climate change is upon us.

Maybe we all should watch The Day After (again) on Netflix?

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Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins

Clouds have always been a metaphor.

On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.

Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.

But it’s more than that …

How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?

Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.

Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …

… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.

Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.

Unprecedented.

How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.

Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.

Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.

According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).

Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?

Can we truly have both sides now—maybe more?

Or will clouds get in our way?

Dear CNN …

As one of our last vestiges of the USA in the EU – more precisely, Portugal – we really wanted to like and follow you, CNN. Of course, we realized that you’re not Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, but still …

You’re everywhere, all over the place, trying (too hard) to be liberal.

Even if (like Netflix) you’re a hybrid version, feeding us different programs and personalities than those available in the states, you’re still the closest thing to a USA-branded newscast that we receive here.

So, I should warn you not to take viewers like us for granted. Here’s what I mean:

I enjoy having my morning java with soothing voices and visages. Like Rosemary Church and Kim Brunhuber, who air here in Portugal at 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM, respectively. Trouble is, except for their calm demeanor and attractive wardrobe, all of the “news” they share are video clips I’ve already seen already–several times on different programs, earlier.

Maybe I should skip watching your programs the day before and watch them, instead, the morning after … with Rosemary and Kim?

Actually, I’m not particularly enamored with your evening line-up here … even when you’re juggling the timeslots. Let’s say that I sit down with a glass of wine at 5:00 PM (17H00), a reasonable time to “relax” with with Christiane Amanpour … even if the woman I see now sits behind a desk and anchors a talk show, rather than out in the trenches or hobnobbing with all the high-highfalutin dignitaries and diplomats you show when promoting her show.

(Speaking of promotions, do you realize how many times over the course of an hour, you promote Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy” series premiering here on June 20th, although it’s already been shown in the USA months ago? Dozens! It almost makes me yearn for those spots of that Gambian woman who eats oysters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Melmac dishes … or the country’s only female professional Kora player teaching her son to bang a mean xylophone.)

Anyway …

If dinner is late, Amanpour morphs into Hala Gorani, who I used to like. Really! Now, she’s sloppy—easily distracted, stumbling over her words, and barely able to connect the dots when it comes to making sense out of stories playing over and again. For this, you dropped Brianna Keiler? Why bring back a lackluster has-been, when creative talent such as Keiler and Ana Cabrera are tried-and-true winners?

We turn off the tube for dinner when Richard Quest (who claims to mean business) airs. The man is downright irritating and uncouth. He doesn’t listen to his guests, but interrupts them incessantly. He slathers and spits. Those bonus 20 minutes recently inserted for Quest’s World of Wonder program is a total waste of time. Yours and mine. But what I dislike most about Richard Quest is his gravely, overworked voice—something between a grimacing growl and a rumbling roar.

Yeah, voices can be a big turn-off. You should know that, CNN.

Maybe then, you wouldn’t air so many promotions for Connecting Africa’s screeching Eleni Giokos, whose diction is fingernails against a blackboard heard throughout our house. You want me to sit through an entire hour of her (along with all your other Africa-related programs)?

While some of your reporters can speak clearly and consistently, others — especially your White House correspondents — pack more words per second into a two-minute monologue than Portuguese sardines in a can. Don’t they need to come up for air?

Sorry to tell you that I’ve also lost patience with “Breaking News” Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room and conspiracist-charging Jake Tapper on The Lead. The former makes my blood pressure spike, while the latter is so annoying with his incessant whining and putting words in his guests’ mouths. Yet you give each of them hours to whittle away at my weariness.

Except for Fox News and MSNBC, which give you a run for your audience in the USA, it’s said you have little competition in the USA, CNN.

But that’s not the case here in Portugal, where my Internet package includes Fox and Bloomberg newscasts, as well as Al Jazeera. Whenever you (re)run something insipid, I can turn to EuroNews and Globovision, as well English language newscasts from France, the UK, Israel – even Korea and China – for more balanced and qualified opinions.

You boast that: ”More people get their news from CNN than any other source.”

Come on, CNN …

Hyperbole! Or in your case, alternative and fake news?”

Studies show that the majority of people today get their news through the social media.

In 2019, Pew Research concluded that 55% of the American public gets their news from social media. Even though Fox News is the most-watched television news station in the USA, your online presence is more than twice the size of Fox’s. The average USA prime time audience for Fox News is about 2.9 million (Nielsen). CNN’s USA average prime time viewers total 2.7 million. NBC, the current news leader, averages 8.8 ,million and ABC about 8.6 million.

As with most news content providers, you depend upon the usual suspects: The New York Times and Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International. You also borrow and share from your rivals and reports floating around the Internet. Then, your “experts” — almost always a former-this or secondary official — opine about the issue.

According to your own “fact” sheet:

Your two dozen branded networks and services are available to more than 2 billion people in more than 200 countries and territories.

● You have 36 editorial operations around the world and around 3,000 employees worldwide.

● Your coverage is supplemented and carried by more than 1,000 affiliates worldwide.

● You reach 90 million households in the U.S.

● Your digital network is the number one online news destination, regularly registering more than 200 million unique visitors globally each month.

● Internationally, you reach more than 402 million households and hotel rooms worldwide.

Maybe so.

But I’d be thrilled if my Portugal package replaced CNBC with MSNBC.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Gun Shots Reverberating Round the World

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network, via Reuters

Incredibly, at least least 110 people were shot and killed, with another 223 injured in 217 separate incidents over the last 72 hours in the USA.

Nearly every state has experienced gunfire.

Just weeks ago, I chronicled the massacres:

Eight people were killed and many more injured at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, a couple of days ago.

Actually, there have been at least 24 mass shootings over the past five years, according to a database compiled by the Violence Project.

Each new attack is a gruesome reminder of all that came before it:

On March 22, a gunman opened five at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, killing ten people, including a police officer. CNN reports that the Colorado attack was the seventh USA mass shooting massacre in seven days.

On March 16, eight people — including six women of Asian descent — were killed at spas in the Atlanta area. That same day, a shooting spree across five miles in Springfield, Missouri, left five people dead–including a police officer and the gunman. Also on March 16, five people preparing a vigil in Stockton, California, were victims of a drive-by shooting.

Four victims were taken to the hospital after a shooting in Gresham, Oregon, on March 18th. Five people were shot on Saturday, March 20, inside a Houston club. In a different part of Texas, eight people were shot by an unknown assailant in Dallas that day. Also on March 20, one person was killed and another five injured during a shooting at a party in Philadelphia.

These deaths are a predictable outcome of the USA´s lack of political will to make major changes in firearm legislation.

What’s worse, we’ve grown weary hearing — and seeing — these gruesome statistics.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades, according to the Washington Post. But we’re barely into the second quarter of 2021.

Gun control is a weapon of mass destruction among politicians — especially Republicans — who enjoy the largesse of the National Rifle Association, despite the NRA’s decades of deception, corruption, bribery, and fraud.

Hiding behind the Constitution’s Second Amendment that reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” gun enthusiasts and their congressional loyalists steadfastly refuse to deal with the destruction.

When will they realize that the only ¨militias” around these days are far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others that planed and participated in the January 6th attack and insurrection on the US Capitol?

Well regulated? Who’s kidding whom?

Come on, folks: How did we ever allow “open carry” laws to be legislated into existence?

When did we lose all sense and sensibility? Or civility? And sensitivity. Raw power at the end of a gun barrel is a consequence of the extremism grown rampant in America. Why talk and negotiate, when we can scream, threaten, and kill?

Studies and proposals to reduce gun violence include sensible actions which must be mandated and enforced by the government: Expand background checks; raise the age to buy guns; ban assault weapons; restrict the sale of “bump sticks” attached to semi-automatic weapons; and increase “red flag” laws that give courts more authority to confiscate weapons from people considered to be threats to themselves and others.

All boil down to one simple solution: reducing easy access to dangerous weapons through sober, sensible laws.

Because not only are guns used by madmen in massacres, but brutally, at times, by police.

Guns aren’t only political grenades, they hold each of us individually hostage.

As Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, someone I never met, succinctly put it:

“I need to run some errands this morning. To ensure I arrive alive, I won’t take public transit (Oscar Grant). I removed all air fresheners from the vehicle and double-checked my registration status (Daunte Wright), and ensured my license plates were visible (Lt. Caron Nazario). I will be careful to follow all traffic rules (Philando Castille), signal every turn (Sandra Bland), keep the radio volume low (Jordan Davis), and won’t stop at a fast food chain for a meal (Rayshard Brooks). I’m too afraid to pray (Rev. Clementa C. Pickney) so I just hope the car won’t break down (Corey Jones).

“When you run errands today, be sure not to dance (Elijah McClain), stop to play in a park (Tamir Rice), patronize the local convenience store for snacks (Trayvon Martin), or walk around the neighborhood (Mike Brown). Once home, don’t stand in your backyard (Stephon Clark), eat ice cream on the couch (Botham Jean), or play any video games (Atatiana Jefferson).

“I guess I’ll watch a movie around 7:30pm, I won’t leave the house to go to Walmart (John Crawford) or to the gym (Tshyrand Oates) or on a jog (Ahmaud Arbery). I won’t even walk to see the birds (Christian Cooper). I’ll just sit and remember what a blessing it is to breathe (George Floyd) and I definitely won’t go to sleep (Breonna Taylor).”

The gunshots and murders of innocent people by shooters are being heard all around the world–including Portugal, one of the world’s three most peaceful countries., where I live.

Whenever the news covers yet another shooting in America, I can’t help but feel that my Portuguese neighbors — Spanish, too — look at me incredulously, seeking an explanation.

There is no explanation for these shots heard around the world.

But I am relieved that we live in Portugal.

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Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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A Capital Solution?

“Para trás fica o Portugal rural, com as suas cidades e aldeias envelhecidas, onde prolifera o desemprego e o abandon das infraestruturas.”

Some startling statistics from (the bank) Montepio’s *magazine:

> In 2018, more than 40% of Portugal’s population lived in the Lisbon and Porto metropolitan areas—a trend which will continue to rise.

> To maintain its population, Portugal will need 50,000 new inhabitants per year—all the way through 2040.

> Cities and towns in the country’s interior – especially those close to the border – need at least 10,000 people per year over the next two decades to put a stop/hold to their population decline.

> 60% of Portugal’s people live within 25 kilometers of the coast.

The author asks: Can technology – including broadband digital access and telecommuting or working from home – reverse the cycle of rural exodus by building new, sustainable societies from the north to the south of interior Portugal?

Portugal’s Parliament

Vacating age-old villages isn’t an occurrence isolated to Portugal. In Spain, France, Italy and other countries, too, the same fate occurs: small and remote locations are left to decline, decay, and loss when young people leave seeking jobs and opportunities elsewhere, leaving only the elderly to cope with the dwindling resources that remain.

While many immigrants and expats enjoy the expansive lifestyle afforded by beaches and life’s little luxuries found in major municipalities and metropolises like Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, and even Coimbra – mirrored by comparable cities in Spain – others (perhaps even more of us) are attracted to the charm of Iberia’s interior villages and life off-the-grid on organic quintas, fincas, and farm land.

Through its “Work in the Interior” program launched February 3, 2020, Portugal’s government is offering financial incentives of up to €4,800 to anyone – workers and students, especially – who will help to repopulate the region. To encourage hiring, financial support will also be given to business and companies.Due to its popular “Golden Visa” program which encouraged foreigners to invest in Portuguese real estate, Lisbon, Porto, Algarve and other coastal cities have become too expensive for the Portuguese people. With all of the positive publicity about Portugal, buying property in these areas above others continues to be popular (even though the government recently revised and removed many of the program’s potential benefits).

Some, like the article’s author, propose that broadband digital will figure prominently in the regentrification of Portugal’s interior–by creating telecommuting jobs and work-from-home opportunities. Perhaps that might be a bright side to the current Covid-19 pandemic: Historically and traditionally, Portuguese companies have been hesitant to embrace new ways of working. Maybe now, their reluctance might be minimized after having experienced their labor force working off-site remotely and successfully.

Financial inducements and greater penetration of speedy and accessible broad bandwidth are but two of the tools being considered and implemented to bring back a flourishing interior. But there’s another, more integral and resourceful option that shouldn’t be overlooked … one that real estate and property agents are well familiar with: location, location, location.

Look no farther than Portugal’s next-door neighbor, Spain, whose capital is quite centrally located. Sure, there are plenty of places from north to south and east to west with large, self-sustaining municipalities and resort areas — notably Málaga, Valencia, Alicante, Bilbao, and Barcelona — but the interior regions — Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba, Burgos, Badajoz, Toledo, Salamanca — do equally well, supporting their nearby towns and villages.

Brasilia

More to the point, consider Brazil. The largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world created a completely different solution: Founded on April 21, 1960 to serve as the country’s new national capital, Brasilia was planned to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location atop the Brazilian highlands in Brazil’s central western region. With a unique status, Brasilia is an “administrative division,” rather than a legal municipality. The novel city’s accession as the new capital of the country prompted the development of an extensive interior region.

According to Brazil’s 1960 census, there were almost 140,000 residents in this new federal district. By 1970, this figure had grown to 537,000. By 2010, its population surpassed 2.5 million. Seeking public and private employment, Brazilians from all over the country migrated to Brasilia’s satellite cities, towns, and villages.

Why can’t Portugal consider doing something similar?

Leave Lisbon (and all its attractions) where it is, along with its problematic airport. People will still want to live there, as well as in its affluent outskirts like Cascais and Estoril. But reduce the congestion, pollution, and skyrocketing prices by moving the government and its operations elsewhere … to the country’s interior.

Many factors would need to be taken under consideration and the country’s core would compete for the privilege of hosting a new capital city in Portugal, boosting employment, infrastructure, and prosperity in the process.

Which of Portugal’s interior regions would best suit these purposes?

My own personal favorite, of course, would be Castelo Branco!

* “O digital pode salvar as cidades do interior?” Texto: Carlos Martinho. Inverno 2020 (#33)

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Cashing Out of Medicare

I finally did it.

I ended the “should I or shouldn’t I?” tug-of-war with myself.

I decided to give up Medicare Part B.

After living three years in Spain and Portugal, first as expats and then immigrants, we began to question whether we’d do better by cancelling our “Part B” coverage which cost us $144 per month deducted from our Social Security payments and having more disposible income in our pockets. Sure, we knew that there’d be fines, fees, penalties, and interest if we wanted to rejoin Medicare Part B … but we have no intention of returning to the USA. At least not to live there. Here in Portugal, we have comprehensive, state-of-the-art health care provided both by our public coverage under the country’s universal National Health Service (SMS) supplemented by our excellent private insurace that runs us two thousand euros (€2,000) per year for the two of us–one 70, the other 57.

For those living in the USA, Medicare has formed the foundation of health care coverage for Americans age 65 and older. Here’s how it works:

A portion of Medicare coverage, Part A, is free for most Americans who worked in the U.S. and paid payroll taxes for many years. Part A is frequently considered “hospital insurance.” If you qualify for Social Security, you will qualify for Part A. You’re covered whether you want it or not, as long as you have more than 10 years (or 40 quarters) of Medicare-covered employment.

Part B, which many think of as traditional health insurance, isn’t free. You pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B.

Part A generally covers medically necessary surgery and certain hospital costs; Part B may cover doctor visits while you’re an inpatient. Part B is a voluntary program which requires paying a monthly premium for all months of coverage.

Individuals entitled to Medicare Part A cannot voluntarily terminate their (free) Part A coverage. That’s not permitted by law. Generally, premium-free Part A ends only due to loss of Social Security “entitlement” … or death.

You can, however, voluntarily terminate your Medicare Part B.

Say you’re 65, no longer working, and don’t want to pay premiums for Part B Medicare insurance. That’s OK. But if you opt out, the costs will be higher if you want to get back in.

“In general, when you’re 65 or older, you should decline Part B only if you have group health insurance from an employer for whom you or your spouse is still actively working and that insurance is primary to Medicare (i.e., it pays before Medicare does),” says Social Security.

But what if you are an American immigrant, living outside the USA?

To “disenroll” from Part B, you’re required to fill out a form (CMS-1763) that – under most circumstances – must be completed either during a personal interview at a Social Security office or on the phone with a Social Security representative. For those of us living abroad, we must deal with it through our US embassy.

Social Security insists on an interview to make sure we know the consequences of dropping out of Part B — for example, that we may have to pay a late penalty if we should want to re-enroll in the program in the future.So, why did I decide to disengage myself from Medicare Part B?

Several reasons:

• Neither Medicare Part A nor B covers any health care costs incurred outside the USA. And we live in Portugal and Spain. In other words, we’re paying for nothing–especially because, given the circumstances, we have no plans to go back and live in the USA again.

• The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B is $144.60 for 2020, up from $135.50 in 2019, which Medicare deducts from my Social Security check. That comes to $1,626 a year—for something I can’t or won’t use. The money will serve me better in my pocket than in the government’s deficit-ridden purse.

• But, most importantly, we found a better and more cost-effective option!

It’s called “travel insurance,” albeit a rather extraordinary plan:Offered by AFPOP through Medal (AFPOP’s insurance brokerage), it covers both me and my spouse for a year anywhere we go — including the USA – for up to 60 days per trip. It’s renewable, regardless of our age; there’s no age limit to enroll, nor higher costs the older you are … neither is there a limit on the number of trips we can take. Moreover, it’s international in scope—including, believe it or not, the USA!

Two plans are offered: Silver and Gold. We chose the Silver, which includes accidental death or permanent invalidity (100,000€), additional indemnity for severe loss (€25,000 for paraplegia, 50,000€ for tetraplegia), and indemnity for dependent children (€5,000 per child). We’ve got five million euros of third-party liability, repatriation, and extensive coverage for health care-related expenses: Medical expenses (10,000€ for sudden illness & 1,000,000€ for accident, which are more than enough here in Portugal) … hospitalization (full coverage, and we’re still covered by Medicare Part A in the USA) … urgent dental treatment … medical expenses in Portugal after returning, when due to an accident or illness occurring abroad … search & rescue … funeral expenses (up to 7,500€– in Portugal or elsewhere).

Also included: loss or theft of luggage (3,000€); luggage delay (750€); loss or theft of essential travel documents (2,000€); trip cancellation (€5,000); trip delay (37.50€ per hour); legal costs (15,000€); detention (5,000€); bail bond (50,000€); kidnap, ransom, and illegal detention (125,000€); political evacuation (10,000€).

Unfortunately, pre-existing “clinical” conditions and health problems aren’t covered. But, as we have none to speak of, that didn’t matter to us since the travel insurance isn only for medical issues we might encounter outside of Portugal (where we’re fully covered).

I don’t mean to come across as an advertising mouthpiece for this particular plan. But, do some homework and research: First, try to find 24/7/365 unlimited travel insurance plans with such comprehensive coverage and so few restrictions … rather than those for a single trip. Next, see if they’ll even sell you a policy if you’re older than 65. Finally, look at the price and what you get for your money.

Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

The best part of all is its cost!

We’re paying €351.64 per year for the two of us (the more expensive Gold Plan, with some higher benefit amounts, would cost €552.57).

Converted to US dollars, that equals about $400 or so at today’s currency exchange rates.

Now, compare that to the $1,626 I’d be paying for Medicare Part B this year.

And therein you have the bottom line.

*Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Say It Ain’t So, Spain & Portugal

Over the summer, Mamadou Ba, the head of an anti-racist organization in Lisbon, received a letter. “Our goal is to kill every foreigner and anti-fascist – and you are among our targets,” it read. A few weeks later, it was followed up with a message telling him to leave Portugal or let his family face the consequences. That message was accompanied by a bullet casing.

Image: Mamadou Ba

Ba’s experience is “one of a growing number of racist incidents perpetrated across Portugal that have led the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to call for an urgent institutional response,” reports UK’s The Guardian newspaper, which lists additional anecdotes and evidence of racism and growth of the far right in Portugal:

A black woman and her daughter were assaulted in January this year because they didn’t have a bus ticket. Angolan-Portuguese Claudia Simoes was kicked by a policeman and placed in a chokehold outside a bus station in front of her daughter, after forgetting her child’s bus pass. In February, two Brazilian women were attacked by the police outside a Cape-Verdean club, and in the same month, Porto football player Moussa Marega, born in Mali, abandoned a game after fans shouted racial slurs.

A worse attack took place on a Saturday afternoon in July, when black actor Bruno Candé was murdered after a man shot him four times in what ENAR has described as “an explicitly racially motivated crime.”

In early 2019, police officers in Lisbon, called to intervene on an issue between two residents in the Bairro da Jamaica neighborhood, were captured on video beating and pushing several residents. The following day, young Black Portuguese held a demonstration against police brutality. Police forces intervened and responded by firing rubber bullets. This then sparked accusations of institutional racism within police forces.

Portuguese far-right Chega party leader André Ventura holds a banner reading “Portugal is not racist” during a Lisbon demonstration. 
Photograph: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

“In recent months, there has been a very concerning rise in far-right racist attacks in Portugal, confirming that the hate messages are fueling more aggressive tactics that target human rights defenders from racial minorities,” the organization (ENAR) said.

Endorsed by 16 members of the European Parliament and 72 civil social organizations in a letter condemning recent cases of police brutality and racist attacks, the European Network Against Racism also sought action from authorities,

Ba, who heads the NGO SOS Racismo, agreed: “There has been an obvious escalation in violence – a clear result of the growth of far-right terrorism in Portugal over the past few years.” Last year, the Portuguese commission for equality and against discrimination received 436 complaints regarding cases of racism, an increase of 26% on 2018.

Despite the growing number of discrimination complaints, hardly any have resulted in a conviction. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of convictions for “crimes of discrimination and incitement to hate and violence … is less than three,” according to police statistics provided to the Guardian.

Government data show that crime in Portugal has actually decreased steadily by 20% over the past 12 years.

Racism. Hatred. White supremacy. Police brutality. Extremism. Prejudice. Discrimination.

People shout slogans during a demonstration called by SOS Racism organization under the slogan ‘Against institutional racism’ in Madrid, Spain.
Image: EPA/RODRIGO JIMENEZ

All symptomatic of the so-called “alt-right.”

According to Wikipedia, alt-right is “an abbreviation of alternative right, a loosely connected far-right, white nationalist movement based in the United States.”

Except that the white nationalist movement is spreading.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

We left the USA for Portugal and Spain in March 2017 because of the alt-right’s growth. Disgusted by the politics, the police brutality, the discriminatory treatment of Black people, the anti-Semitic swastikas, the finger-pointing and curses hissed at LGBTs, the misogynistic attitudes against women, the marginalization of minorities, the brutal caging and deportation of immigrants, and the overall worship of capitalism, we packed our bags … said good-by … and emigrated from the United States to Spain and Portugal.

For 15 years, we had owned a vacation “bolt” in a small Spanish town (Olvera) in Andalucía, where we spent a number of weeks getting a foothold as expats in a “foreign” country. We decided to make our permanent residence in Portugal, however, so we could keep one foot in Spain and the other in Portugal.

Our status changed from expats to immigrants.

It’s been about three years now since we began dividing the days of our lives between Portugal and Spain. Throughout that time, we never have had cause to suspect or doubt the progressive attitudes in Iberia. For us, ultra-conservative-instigated hate crimes were a thing of the past.

Until recently …

Religious discrimination and hate crimes are on the rise in Spain, and are being pushed by rhetoric from far-right political movements. The country’s interior ministry sounded the alarm in its most recent report, which revealed a 120 percent increase in incidents connected to crimes of religious intolerance in 2017, with 103 cases registered compared to 47 the previous year. Elsewhere in Iberia, police from Portugal’s National Anti-Terrorism Unit arrested 20 ultra-nationalists in an operation that involved searches across the country as part of an investigation into attempted murder and other hate crimes.

“Portuguese police officers told to remove racist tattoos within six months amid concerns over rising far-right,” asserted a recent headline in the Independent, a UK newspaper. The ban refers to “racist, extremist or violence-promoting symbols, words or drawings” and also covers earrings, bracelets and rings, Portugal’s police force said in a statement.

Police gave no estimate for how many officers might be affected by the ban, which coincides, according to the Independent, with increasing racist violence in the country.

After moments of disbelief, I couldn’t help but wonder why the government had targeted the racist tattoos of these Portuguese police, rather than the racism under their skins.

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Down with Racist Violence, Justice for Claudia Simoes,’ referring to a woman assaulted by police during a demonstration against racism and fascism in Lisbon in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on June 6, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, protesters demonstrated against racism and fascism in Portugal, amid fears over the country’s far-right movement.

The Council of Europe, a European human rights organization, referred in a 2018 report to numerous grave accusations of racist violence against Portuguese police, while complaints to the country’s anti-discrimination commission rose by a quarter last year.

“The move comes after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, declared in August that there would be ‘zero tolerance’ of racism in the country as authorities launched an investigation over a number of email threats, allegedly sent by a far-right group,” according to the news report. “The threats targeted several people, including two black lawmakers who were told to leave the country and threatened with murder.”

In early September, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe and American intellectual Cornel West joined dozens of activists and academics around the world in signing an open letter calling for solidarity with the Black movement in Portugal, demanding accountability and concrete change to transform the “reality of structural racism and its manifestation in police brutality, racist violence and racial harassment in Portugal,” writes Beatriz Ramaldo da Silva in a September 2020 article for Aljazeera.

Turns out that Portugal has become a target of alt-right ideology.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, professor of Sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, frames the rise of Portugal’s far right within the context of wider global movement:

“There has always been a far-right base as is the case in Spain, Italy, Greece – the far-right was in power for 50 years in Portugal – and this basis never disappeared.”

This series of recent events described at the beginning of this post has unveiled increasingly disturbing signs that far-right internationalism is turning Portugal into a strategic target. “Clear illustrations of such signs include the recent attempt, by some intellectuals, to play the card of racial hatred in order to test existing divisions both on the right and the left and thereby influence the political agenda, the international meeting of far-right parties in Lisbon in August, and the strike called by the newly created National Union of Dangerous Goods Drivers, to take place at the same time as the Lisbon meeting,” claims openDemocracy, a self-described “independent global media organization.” 

Is Portugal so important as to deserve such strategic attention?

Yes.

Portugal is vitally important because, from the point of view of the international far right, it is the weak link through which it can carry out its attack on the European Union. 

People like to imagine Spain as a liberal paradise with sun, sea, and sangría, but its racism continues to be an open secret, according to the Olive Press.

With approximately one million black people living in Spain, that represents about 2% of the population–much lower than the 13-14% of African-Americans in the USA. While chances of seeing acts of racism are less in Spain, entrenched racism is still very much real.

In a June 2020 article, the Olive Press, an English language Spanish newspaper noted that:

Image: La Sexta

• Every Christmas, locals around the country use black face as they dress up as King Balthazar for the Three Kings Parade, a tradition that goes back to 1885;

• In 2017, a black British stage actor was refused entry to a Málaga nightclub. A worker at the club later told the Olive Press that it had a “no blacks” policy;

• Just last year (2019), a Spanish Guardia Civil officer, who killed an innocent Moroccan man after veering him off the road and shooting him eleven times as he fled on foot because he was “convinced he was a terrorist,” had his sentence for the crime reduced;

• Elsewhere, a Honduras woman selling sweets on the beaches of the Costa del Sol was allegedly strangled and dragged along the floor by police, who told her that she “was not human”;

• Increasingly worrisome is the flagrant racism that continues to be shown by young people in Spain, particularly in the world of football (soccer), where racial slurs are printed on the back of jerseys worn by members of immigrant teams.

Image: The Olive Press

It’s impossible for white people to know how gut-wrenching such discrimination feels, but it means that we must rally around and support the likes of Black Lives Matter and similar movements fighting for justice in the USA and around the world.

“So, while we may not be in the US, don’t disregard the fight (against racism) as an American problem,” the Olive Press urged. “Tragically, both in Spain and around the world, the fight to end racism will not be over anytime soon.”

Same-sex marriages have been allowed in Portugal since 2010 and offer equal rights to the couple regarding property, taxes, and inheritance … since 2016, married couples of the same sex can adopt and foster children. (Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, along with its adoption rights.)

People often ask us about homophobia: do we feel it or are we aware of it in either Spain or Portugal. Not really, I’d respond. Except for an elderly (90+) woman talking to her equally old widowed neighbor in Portugal referring to me with the word “maricon” because she didn’t know any better, we have never felt ridiculed or denigrated anywhere in Iberia. We’re accepted, just as we are.

Others, however, have had different experiences.

Attacks by far-right Vox party on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are testing years of political consensus on the issue in Spain, which in 2005 became the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. Vox has pledged to curtail gay pride parades, heaped ridicule on diversity lessons it wants to scrap in schools and has even drawn parallels between homosexuality and bestiality.

Since the 2005 approval of the same-sex marriage bill by the parties of the left, center-left and center-right even the main conservative People’s Party (PP) which vehemently opposed it has changed tack, various bills in defense of LGBT rights have been approved. Some of its politicians have come out as gay and married their partners.

Yet, this month — October 2020 — homophobic “slogans” were painted on rainbow benches in Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Image: The Olive Press

Bigots in Pilar de la Honrada, a city-town-district of Alicante, smeared ugly graffiti on rainbow colored benches installed by Pilar’s council to celebrate June’s World Pride Day as an acknowledgement of local LGBTQ residents. Two of the benches were emblazoned with the words “Gays Out.”

“We will continue to fight this type of violent behavior with the goal of continuing to build a society that is more tolerant of diversity,” a statement issued by Pilar’s council said, as the benches were being restored to their original rainbow state.

ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ advocacy group, released its annual Rainbow Europe Country Ranking, funded by the European Union, which ranks 49 European countries from most to least LGBTQ-friendly. The ranking is based on how the laws and policies of each country affect the lives of LGBTQ people, and the nongovernmental organization uses a number of indicators, including nondiscrimination policies, hate speech laws and asylum rights to create its list.

Of Europe’s ten most LGBTQ-friendly countries, according to ILGA-Europe’s 2020 ranking, Spain and Portugal rank sixth and seventh, respectively.

Lisbon Gay Pride

Lisbon Gay Pride, officially known as Arraial Lisboa Pride, is the largest LGBTQ event in Portugal. It’s an important event that aims to shine a light on the various issues of injustice that still affect the LGBTQ community. A much loved and celebrated event, it attracts huge crowds each year – with over 70,000 visitors attending in 2018. Since 1997, Lisbon’s Gay Pride has aimed to bring visibility to the ‘queer’ community. Pride is equal parts celebration and political demonstration of achieving equal rights for LGBTQ people.

Attempting to atone for a 500-year-old sin, both Spain and Portugal are offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews whose families were expelled in the 15th century. Historians debate the number of Jews expelled; some estimate 40,000, others say 100,000 or more. 

The Jewish Museum of Belmonte, Portugal, houses an historic stone with this inscription.

Yet Portugal’s government found itself reconsidering the plan to change its ‘law of return’ for Jewish people. The ruling party of Portugal stepped back from an attempt to severely limit applications for citizenship from descendants of Sephardi Jews, a threatened move that Jewish leaders and organizations had charged was anti-Semitic. In mid-May, members of the Socialist Party submitted a draft amendment to change the 2015 law that grants citizenship to people who can prove they are descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition, a 15th-century campaign of anti-Semitic persecution in Portugal and Spain. Under the proposed change, beginning in 2022, only people who had lived in Portugal for two years would be eligible for citizenship. This change would have sharply restricted the number of people who could apply. Currently, there are no requirements for applicants to live in Portugal or learn the language. Experts brought by the Socialist Party testified that within 100 years, a few thousand returning Jews could swell to 250,000 people and pose a demographic threat to Portugal’s identity.

“I felt like I was in a room in the inquisition in Lisbon and they were asking me to prove my Judaism,” said Leon Amiras, a lawyer in Israel who works closely with the Porto Jewish community on applications for citizenship. Though he was not present at the hearing, his personal family story was mentioned. “Suddenly these two members of parliament are testing me and trying to figure out if I’m ‘Jewish enough,’ [to deserve citizenship],” he recalled, as reported by the Times of Israel.

Earlier this year, Portuguese cartoon artist Vasco Gargalo was criticized for creating an antisemitic political cartoon published in the weekly Portuguese news magazine Sábado. Media reports were disseminated showing Gargalo’s cartoon, which depicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing an armband like that of the Nazis but with a Star of David rather than a swastika on it.

Meanwhile, Spain’s foreign minister condemned a carnival parade featuring gun-toting Nazis and lines of dancing Jewish victims in June this year, a day after Israel’s ambassador expressed outrage over the spectacle. The display, which also featured a parade float designed like a gas chamber, was the second such incident this week after a Belgian town earned a stiff rebuke from the European Commission.

Carnival float in the Spanish town of Campo de Criptana features uniforms of Nazis, concentration camp inmates, and crematoria trains, in February 2020.
Source: YouTube screenshot via JTA

This year feels different, say immigration lawyers and others who work in the cottage industry of Jews permanently crossing borders. Much of the drive to leave has to do with the prospect of President Trump winning reelection, potentially after a chaotic post-election period in which he or others dispute the results of the vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are also chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, some of it stoked or condoned by the president.

The history of bigots linking disease and depressing news with Jews, immigrants, people of color, or other minorities is a long and ugly one. The Holocaust teaches us that in times of instability and fear, people who didn’t previously express or tolerate racist views may find them less offensive … or even appealing.

In one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies, Dr. Martin Luther King preached: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Whether in the USA or Spain and Portugal, enough is enough is enough.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Protesting the Status (Quo)

Across the United States – in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Louisville, Kentucky; Baltimore, Maryland; New York City and Rochester, NY; Minneapolis, MN; Philadelphia, PA; California, Colorado, and elsewhere nationwide – people are protesting, calling for fairness, equality, and justice.

Mainly, they’re peacefully protesting systemic inequalities: racism, economic injustice, government inaction or overreach, lock-ups and lock-downs.

They can’t pay their rent or mortgages, forced to choose between putting food on the table or medicine in the mouths of their loved ones. They’re agonizing over the toll Coronavirus is taking personally and professionally. And they are unleashing their anger and frustrations on others.

Between April and May 1st this year, protests against government-imposed lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to demonstrations in more than half of the “United” States. Shortly thereafter, on June 6th, half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the USA for Black Lives Matter protests.

Mass shootings hit a record high last year (2019), violent hate crimes are on the rise, and police brutality continues, prompting increased polarization and protests.

Police – local, state, the National Guard and even the Border Control – are called in, often exacerbating the problems. Violence follows and incites more violence, as hateful White House rhetoric spurs outcries against what the president calls his “law-and-order” platform. The result, however, has been increased antagonism and turf-minding. Apart from verbal incriminations, weapons include gunfire and bullets, tear gas and other chemicals, buildings burned, blazing tempers and imported vigiliantes, vehicles battered and overturned. Lately, more than 104 separate vehicles have been plowing through crowds and injuring protestors.

The bottom line is that people – often neighbors, long-time friends, even family and churches – are taking sides and triggering showdowns, sometimes violently, against each other and the powers-that-be. You’re either with me or against me, depending on who you are voting for.

American citizens are trying to prevent other American citizens from voting. Not just trying to intimidate them into not voting, but physically trying to prevent them from doing so!

It increasingly feels like America is reaching a boiling point, more raging bonfire than flash in the pan. Already beset by a national recession and a deadly pandemic now surpassing 200,000 deaths, this week has stoked new fires, including a Supreme Court battle to fill the Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, Trump refusing to promise a peaceful transfer of power, mass protests after police officers faced no charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, and the swirling of literal fire tornadoes out West, while hurricane after hurricane pulverize our Gulf Coast . As American anger heats up, it’s incumbent that we bring a fresh lens to its origins and the core beliefs it threatens to topple, along with ways we can work together to douse the flames.

“Enough!” people are pleading, if not demanding. “Fix the problems!”

Trouble is, just as the financial gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, so, too, is the economic crisis. Many of the problems are difficult (if not impossible) to fix, because they’re so deeply rooted and systemic, driven by centuries of loot and looters, masters and slaves, carpetbaggers and indentured servants, inbred privilege and attitudes, government for the people becoming self-serving government, plebians and plutocrats, myriad moguls for whom more and much more are never, ever, enough.

Financial necessity has forced suburban populations to head for inner city food banks and health care clinics … creating a foggy, finite understanding of the implications inherent to why Black Lives Matter.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, U.S. billionaires gained $565 billion additional dollars since March 18th. At the same time, surging unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Experts say the top 10% of households own more than 84% of stocks … so a rising market helps people who already are among the wealthiest in the nation. Analysts attribute this widening wealth gap to the stock market, while meager consumers suffer the effects at their local groceries and supermarkets.

If we have never seen such economic instability since the Great Depression, we haven’t seen such social distancing since the Civil War. Or climate change and pollution so quickly creating environmental consequences and our planet’s ability to sustain life.

How can we look at what’s happening before our very eyes and not realize that we’re leading up to an even more deadly Civil War, if not already in the midst of one?

Worse, the riots are occurring all over the world.

At least sixteen countries — ranging from the UK and France to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Kenya, and South Africa — have seen major demonstrations over police violence against Black or minority populations and related issues, such as systemic racism and the legacies of colonial empires. In France and South Africa in particular, the pandemic has served to crystallize the problem of police brutality: authorities enforcing lockdown regulations have used force disproportionately against Black citizens.

But new protests are also breaking out for reasons other than police violence and racism. Some are rooted in how governments have responded to the pandemic. Among them, Brazil and Israel stand out. Ecuador, which faces one of the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 among developing nations, recently saw thousands protest the government’s decision to close some state-owned companies and cut public sector salaries, in an effort to close a gaping $12 billion budget deficit.

Citizens in Iraq have resumed protests over corruption, high unemployment, and the violent repression of protesters, with demonstrators in central and southern Iraq clamoring for the removal of governors who they deem to be corrupt. In Mali, tens of thousands have demanded the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar amid persistent intercommunal violence compounded by economic stagnation, a dearth of political reforms, and widespread government corruption. Saudia Arabian women have protested for fewer restrictions on their rights, even as Syrians protest the killing machine of their country’s leader and the Lebanese protest the lack of responsible leadership from their do-nothing government. The separatist movements provoke perennial protests in Spain, even as the second massive shutdown in its capital and biggest city because of Covid-19 stoke the fires of discontent.

Protests, by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, began Aug. 9th after an election that officials said gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opponents and poll workers say the results, in which Lukashenko was tallied with 80% support, were manipulated.

In some countries, governments have capitalized on the chaos of the pandemic to persecute critics, criminalize dissent, ban public demonstrations, and further concentrate political power. Consider China and Russia, for example.

How can society achieve the consensus it needs to function if everyone regards rivals as “Nazis,” “traitors” or “enemies of the people”?

“Trump, the torchbearer, has at times fueled racial tensions and stomped on his perceived enemies, citizens and institutions alike,” writes Nick Fouriezos, senior politics reporter for OZY, an international media and entertainment company launched in September 2013 by former CNN and MSNBC news anchor, journalist, and businessman Carlos Watson and Goldman Sachs alumnus Samir Rao. Ozy describes its mission as to help curious people see a broader and a bolder world.

“Some have become radicalized by the president’s behavior, meeting fire with fire — from erecting guillotines to accosting Senators to defending violent looters as collecting what society owes them,” Fouriezos continues. “Meanwhile, the American Fringes have continually hijacked the discourse, worming their ideas into some of America’s most revered institutions. The loss of civility playing out on the national stage has had ripple effects, reflected in an apparent uptick in nastiness nationwide, with ordinary citizens bickering over face masks in stores, trolling each other on social media and facing off over campaign signs next door. In a multiethnic, multicultural and increasingly crowded democracy, respecting commonality while acknowledging differences has been the surest way of moving forward — but it has become a casualty of rising American anger.”

If political tensions are bringing the USA to the brink of a second Civil War, is what’s happening around the globe a harbinger of something bigger?

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.

Stay tuned …

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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