Letter of the Law in Fine Print

I’ve got to give the Portuguese credit: Most of their laws are for the greater good of us all, even if increasing bureaucracy results from their administration.

In August, the Food and Economic Safety Authority (ASAE) carried out a national operation aimed at the services provided by tourist and local accommodation establishments, monitoring compliance with the general operation rules and the specific rules in the context of the pandemic prevention.

With 297 operators inspected, the main infractions were a lack of or out of date outdoor identification plaques displayed with the establishment’s classification; lack of the complaints book in the electronic format; and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas. Compliance with the COVID digital certificate or negative test of 2,227 customers was also verified, but no irregularities were detected.

A temporary suspension of two—not even 1%–establishments resulted, due to the lack of (or out of date) outdoor identification plaques displaying the establishment’s classification, and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas.

Anyway …

Yesterday, I was reading the most recent issue of AFPOP’s Update newsletter. For those unfamiliar with AFPOP, the acronym originally stood for the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal; now, to better reflect the members it represents, AFPOP’s name has been changed to Association of Foreign Residents and Visitors. Among its benefits are the newsletter and, in partnership with its insurance broker (Medal) and insurance underwriter (Allianz), probably the most comprehensive health care coverage at the lowest prices … especially for the “senior citizens” among us.

While skimming the pages of the August (2021) Update, I came across four briefs dealing with new and existing laws in Portugal:

● Ever experience difficulty in reading the small print—especially on contracts? As of 25 August, that all changed: “[S]mall print and tiny spacing between lines are expressly prohibited in contracts with general contractual clauses, previously signed by organisations ranging from banks and insurance companies to gyms, telecom companies, and energy suppliers.”

Now prohibited are clauses written with smaller than 11 point (or 2.5 mm) font size and spacing less than 1.15 lines.

Of course, it’s not just the size of the font that prevents a better understanding of the contract. So, the law also establishes a control system to prevent what is referred to as “abusive clauses” in the wording of the contract which, itself, causes problems, “sometimes written with such technical complexity that the consumer has serious difficulties in understanding what they are reading, for example regarding clauses on early termination of contracts or loyalty periods,” notes AFPOP.

No more free shopping bags—whatever the material—came into force on 1 July this year. Part of a larger ban on the sale of all single-use plastics encouraging consumers to reduce the use of disposable and waste products, shoppers will now have to pay for their packaging … at prices set by the trader.

To prevent forest fires, any outdoor fires (including bonfires), launching rockets or fire-induced hot air balloons are forbidden when the Secretary of State for Forests declares a “critical period” for fires. It’s also mandatory to clear vegetation, cut trees and mow tall grasses around your property. If you don’t do it before 15 March, you could be fined a lot. In 2018, fines ranged from 140 to 5,000 euros in the case of individuals and from 1,500 to 60,000 euros for corporations. More recently, fines have been doubled!

Traveling in a motor home offers some freedoms, but you need to be aware of the rules and restrictions—especially as regards where parking overnight is—and isn’t—allowed. Since January this year, staying overnight in motorhomes isn’t permitted in nature reserves (except where expressly designated). In the rest of the country, except for places clearly approved for overnight stays (for which there’s no time limit), you can park in the same municipality for a maximum of 48 hours. As of 1 January 2021, the bill could be huge for parking in the wrong places: Non-compliance with this new regulation can be penalized with a fine of 60 to 300 euros—or more.

Actually, there are lots of laws and associated fines for violating Portugal’s decrees about vehicles … whether parking or driving …

Speeding fines are charged on a sliding scale depending on how far above the limit you are driving. For example, if you’re between 30 and 60km/h over the speed limit on a rural road, you could face a fine of up to €600. But if you’re going between 60 and 80km/h above the limit, the fine could be as high as €1,500.

Speed limits in the country are set in accordance with the “character” of the area within which the vehicle moves. Hence, in “built-up” areas, the speed limit is 50km/h; on rural roads, it’s 90km/h; and, for motorways, it’s between 50-120km/h.

Which means it is illegal to drive on motorways at a speed of less than 50km/h, or a fine can be imposed!

The legal blood/alcohol limit for driving when drinking in Portugal is under 0.5g/l (grams of alcohol per liter of blood) for all drivers. Those tested and found within between 0.5 and 0.8g/l face fines of between €250 and €1,250—along with license suspension between one month and one year.

Portuguese citizens can own firearms for hunting, target shooting, pest control and collecting. There’s no Second Amendment clause allowing for “well-regulated militias,” nor is self-defense considered a legal reason for owning a firearm. Legally, only licensed gun owners can lawfully acquire, possess, and/or transfer a firearm or ammunition. Portugal’s gun law also limits the number of firearms each person can have at home.

To gain a gun license in Portugal, one must be over 18-years-old and pass a background check which considers both criminal and mental health records. The person is also required to interview undergo thorough police scrutiny. The police have final say in whether to issue or reject a Firearms Owner License (FOL), which must be renewed every five years. Failure to renew may result not only in revocation of a license, but confiscation of all guns.

People in Portugal aren’t the only ones subject to rules and regulations. Even pets (theoretically) are protected under Portuguese law.

According to current legislation, it is now mandatory to register pets in the Pet Information System (Sistema de Informaço de Animais de Companhia—SIAC). Registration fee per pet is 2.50 euros and is compulsory for all animals born in or present on Portuguese territory for a period of 120 days or more. Pet owners who don’t comply face fines of no less than 50 euros … which can reach €3,740 for private persons and €44,890 if you represent an enterprise.

What’s more, as of 21 August, prison sentences have been toughened for those who mistreat or kill pets in Portugal.

Killing pets “without a legitimate reason” in this country may now imply prison sentences of between six months and two years, or imprisonment corresponding to 60-240 days. Sentences can be even heavier if there is “perversity” in the act. This toughening of sentences is the result of a change to the law that condemns the mistreatment of pets passed in 2014.

While some expats and immigrants can afford to shrug off these stiff financial fines and/or imprisonments, the majority of the population–Portuguese people—cannot.

Perhaps that’s among the reasons why Portugal consistently ranks among the top five most welcoming and peaceful countries in the world, as well as one of the most tranquil and beautiful destinations to visit or live.

Maybe if more countries put stronger teeth in their own laws and enforcement, violence and illegal activities would be reduced … and societies would become more civil.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current issue and subscribe to future ones at no cost at our website: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. And follow Portugal Living Magazine’s daily posts, news, briefs, and photos at www.facebook.com/PortugalLivingMagazine.

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Dead Giveaways

You’re officially a USA (or UK) citizen, but you currently have legal (tax) residence in Portugal, where you now own property.

Do you need to create a separate will in Portugal to deal with it?

Technically, no.

According to Danielle Richardson in “Planning your wills and estates in Portugal” (distributed and updated by Expática on 16 October 2020), “There is no legal requirement to draw up a will in Portugal,” says Richardson. “Furthermore, inheritance law in Portugal recognizes wills that have been drawn up abroad; even if they include instructions for property and assets in Portugal.””

As with most countries, for the purposes of a will, assets include any cash or savings, property, and any other items or instruments of value.

However, if you have sizeable assets in Portugal, “it is likely that Portuguese inheritance law will deal with them,” Richardson cautions. “Therefore, it is worth considering having a Portuguese will, even just as a safeguard.”

International attorneys Sandra Jesús and Stéfanie Luz of Caiado Guerreiro in Lisbon agree:

“Under the EU Regulation known as Brussels IV, the laws of the country where someone habitually resided will apply to the property upon their death. This means that Portuguese law could potentially be applicable to your inheritance, in spite of your nationality.”

To ensure that the applicable law will be the one that you choose (either Portuguese law or the law of your nationality), it is advisable to clearly state the choice of law in the will.

In certain circumstances, the law of the country where a property is located may become applicable. For example, if the deceased was an owner of property in Portugal, and the law of his/her nationality or residence determines that the law of the country where the deceased’s property is located takes precedence, then Portuguese inheritance law becomes relevant.

A Portuguese will also allows you to avoid delays in the administration of the estate, as it will enable you to proceed with the probate process following death without having to wait to receive documents from other jurisdictions as part of the probate process.

Remember, though, that Portugal follows forced heirship rules which state that legitimate heirs are entitled to a minimum of 50% of the deceased’s estate. And, if there is more than one legitimate heir, this portion usually increases to 60%.

Legitimate heirs include spouses, biological and adopted children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. The only way these relatives can be excluded from an inheritance is if the deceased has specifically asked for it on the grounds of unworthy behavior. Even then, the courts can challenge this request and reasoning.

Beyond the forced heirship rules, with a few exceptions, you can distribute your estate however you want. For example, the deceased’s last doctor, the priest of a religious establishment, and personal administrators cannot inherit any part of the estate.

Portuguese inheritance law states that the laws of an expat or immigrant’s home country should apply. Therefore, if you want Portuguese inheritance rules to apply to your estate, it must be stipulated so in your will. If the spouse of the deceased is a different nationality, s/he can apply the laws of his or her country of residence. So, if you have relocated to—or retired in—Portugal, Portuguese inheritance law can be applied.

If there is no will, and no spouse (ascendant or descendant), the estate passes to the siblings and their descendants, other collateral family up to the fourth degree, and finally to the State. Each subsequent class of heirs is only called upon if the previous class is not present.

Fortunately, if you don’t want to choose between a Portuguese will and one in your home country, you don’t have to. This is because Portuguese law allows people to have two wills. You can have one will in Portugal and one in your home country. Nevertheless, you must draft them so that one doesn’t accidentally negate or revoke the other. For this reason, it is wise to consult an attorney or solicitor if you want to have more than one will.

While there is no inheritance tax in Portugal, there is a type of tax–Imposto do Selo. This is charged at a flat rate of 10%, with several exemptions. No ‘legitimate heirs will pay this tax: spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. Further, it is only charged on Portuguese assets, such as Portuguese properties or other valuable items.

Property inherited by minors or other persons not of legal age may be registered in the name of the minor in Portugal’s Public Registry; however, minors do not have the power to administer property until they reach legal age. A guardian may be appointed from the immediate family provided he/she has capacity to perform the relevant guardianship duties. If no one in the immediate family is available the court can appoint an independent person to fulfil the task.

With all due respect, it never can be said that last wills and testaments are the basis of “dead giveaways” in Portugal!

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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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