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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Postscripts to Paradise

In 2019, the “radical right” political parties Chega and Vox made headlines by winning representation in the national parliaments of Portugal and Spain. Drawing on new research, Lea Heyne and Luca Manucci shed light on the voters who backed the two parties.

“Until recently, populist radical right parties were widely assumed to be fringe actors in Portuguese and Spanish politics,” they claimed in the 17 November 2021 issue of EUROPP, the blog published by European Politics and Policy, a multidisciplinary academic blog run by the London School of Economics and Political Science. “This ‘Iberian exceptionalism’ was rooted in the idea that such parties would be unable to break from the stigma associated with the authoritarian regimes of António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco. Portugal and Spain’s experiences with authoritarianism effectively gave them a form of ‘immunity’ against the radical right that did not exist in other European states.”

Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that, “This argument has since collapsed in light of the rise of Chega, which became the first radical right party to obtain a seat in the Portuguese parliament in October 2019, and Vox, which became the third most popular party in the Spanish general election held just a month later, in November 2019. The emergence of Chega and Vox has ensured that both Iberian countries now have populist radical right representation in their national parliaments for the first time since their transition to democracy in the 1970s.”

Indeed, even before the international pandemic which set people against people and governments against governments, 2019 proved to be a pivotal year of critical political incidents and innuendo.

“On the American continent, it seemed easy to understand (Jair) Bolsonaro and (Donald) Trump’s electoral success,” postulated Luís Gouveia Junior in a March 5,2021 editorial published by DemocraciaAbierta, a global platform that publishes Spanish, Portuguese and English voices that influence debates on democracy, justice, citizen participation and human rights in the Latin American continent, in Europe, and the rest of the world. “Brazil and the USA both faced undeniable problems, and the two candidates provided simple, if racist and undemocratic answers. Bolsonaro was a strongman who proposed to crack down on the violence and crime that plagues Rio de Janeiro. Trump was a voice for the part of his country that blamed immigrants for taking their jobs.”

But, how does that explain André Ventura in Portugal?

“On the face of it, says Gouveia, “the social context would suggest that there’s little potential for a far-Right surge. Roma people, who are targeted by André Ventura’s rhetoric, represent less than 0.5% of the country’s population.”

The question, then, is how does Ventura manage to make his pitch under such adverse conditions?

“One possible explanation–that the far Right presents itself as the only anti-system voice, and appeals to voters who are disillusioned with the system–brings the examples of Brazil, the USA, and Portugal together,” Gouveia proposes. “The anti-system argument is not new, with authors such as Boaventura de Sousa Santos having discussed it at length within the Portuguese context. What is interesting, however, is that the anti-system discourse alone seems to be enough for the far Right to gain political ground.”

# # # # #

Over the 2019 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,” reported 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 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. Later, 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 when black actor Bruno Candé was murdered after a man shot him four times in what ENAR 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.

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

In March 2021, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, , called on Portuguese authorities to more resolutely address the increasing level of racism in the country, as well as to take additional steps to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

The Commissioner is concerned about the rise of racially-motivated hate crimes and hate speech targeting especially Roma, people of African descent, and people perceived as foreigners in Portugal. She recommends implementing a comprehensive action plan against racism and discrimination, urges the authorities to firmly and publicly condemn all instances of hate speech, and politicians to refrain from using or tolerating racist rhetoric.

Evidently, the Commissioner’s voice carried some weight. Portugal said it will review its anti-racism laws, including those concerning fines and sanctions, the government announced in its so-called national plan against racism published in July (2021). In its National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021-2025, the government committed to “assess the possible revision of the legislation on combating discrimination and hate speech … in the scope of administrative offenses.” The government also announced its goal of “strengthening the system of sanctions for misdemeanors, viewing the framework of fines and sanctioned conducts”. Article 240 of the criminal code will also be revised in light of the international instruments that bind Portugal “to accommodate all the prohibited discriminations,” Sofia Branco reported the same time in an article released by Lusa, Portugal’s national news service.

Nonetheless, a former TV commentator whose penchant for provocation won her fame (or at least notoriety) in Portugal by describing calls for racial justice traitorous, and by referring to Black Portuguese people by an old-fashioned word that translates to something like “Negro.” Susana García ran for mayor of Amadora, a city adjacent to Lisbon with one of the largest Black populations in Portugal.

Says Nicholas Casey in a 26 September (2021) New York Times piece, “Ms. Garcia’s high profile and her combative persona mean she has tapped into a question far larger than who should be mayor: Namely, how a former colonial power like Portugal should deal with today’s debates about racial justice.”

Ultimately, Garcia lost the mayoral race–handily–to socialist Carla Tavares.

# # # # #

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

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, in June 2020, 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 using the term “maricon” because she didn’t know any better.

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, in 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.

That said, in a 22 November 2021 article in the daily Journal de Noticias entitled “LGBT Community More Discriminated in the Workplace,” Zulay Costa reports, “Those who deviate from the conventional norms in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation have added difficulties in accessing the labor market and are even more subject to job insecurity.”

The findings are contained in the Council of Europe’s study on diversity in the workplace.

“Candidates who are openly gay are 1.5 times less likely to be asked for an interview, and lesbians are offered a salary 6% lower than heterosexual women. There are cases of insults, harassment, threats, attacks, jokes, and prejudice,” according to the study.

Data from the Fundamental Rights Agency reveal that in 2019, in Portugal, 20% felt discriminated against at work, with the European average being 21%. Costa’s article goes on to say that, “L’Autre Cercie (a French organization working for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the work world) points out that 25% of LGBTI people have suffered at least one attack in their workplace. The situation of transgender people is the most worrying: 43% report having suffered discrimination in their professional life in the last two years, 13% more than lesbian, gay, or bisexual 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.

In 2020, 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

It feels different now, 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 Donald Trump winning reelection, potentially after a chaotic, “Big Lie” post-election period in which he and others continue to to dispute the results of the 2020 vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, stoked or condoned by the former 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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Belts and Suspenders: “Weather” or Not No Longer Is the Question

Climate change is real, without a doubt.

Just ask the scientists. Or any legitimate fact-checker.

Those who deny the reality of climate change and global warming are the same foolish, mistaken people who claim that Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a hoax and refuse to wear masks or maintain social distances.

All of a sudden, climate change is here—up close and personal. We’re witnessing it with our own eyes. Who can deny the devastation ravaging the USA’s Pacific coast (and parts of the midwest) caused by “uncontrollable” forest fires?

“Bobcat” fire in California

Faster and more furious hurricanes threaten the Western hemisphere – even unprecedented back-to-back dynamos along the USA’s Gulf coast – while typhoons, monsoons, and tsunamis invoke nature’s wrath in the East. Already this year, we’ve run out of names for these tempests and will need to revert to the Greek alphabet.

Flash flooding is now commonplace, even as raging forest fires devour California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado … as well as Spain and Portugal. Meanwhile, droughts of dry and parched land have come home to roost.

Earthquakes are occurring everywhere. Even in Spain and Portugal!

The Amazon is ablaze, while the Everglades are being turned into suburban housing. The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. And our oceans are bloated by unimaginable amounts of plastic, choking their marine inhabitants.

In effect, we’re losing our belts and suspenders, as Atlas shrugs and we drop our coverings: We’ve been warned!

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are at record levels, and emissions that saw a temporary decline due to the pandemic are heading towards pre-COVID levels, while global temperatures continue to hit new highs,” according to a major new United Nations report.

United in Science 2020,” released September 9th, highlights the increasing and irreversible impacts of climate change on glaciers, oceans, nature, economies … along with its cost on people across the globe; manifest more and more often through disasters such as record-breaking heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and floods.

Speaking at the launch of the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that there is “no time to delay” if the world is to slow the trend of the devastating impacts of climate change, and limit temperate rise to 1.5 degree-Celsius.

“Whether we are tackling a pandemic or the climate crisis, it is clear that we need science, solidarity, and decisive solutions,” said Guterres.

If there’s any hope for the planet’s survival, it won’t come from survivalists building bunkers and shelters to protect themselves from the doom and gloom … or from the Trumpers, for that matter … but from youngsters.

In 2019, Time magazine chose 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg as its Person of the Year. The young lady had made a splash that year leading protests around the world, speaking at the United Nations, meeting with the Pope, and sparring with the president of the United States on Twitter.

Students protest, demanding global action on climate change as part of the “Fridays for Future” movement in Madrid. Youngsters in Spain are using social media to create groups aimed at pressuring politicians and civil society leaders

Here in Portugal, six youths have filed an “unprecedented” climate change lawsuit against almost all of Europe – 33 countries! — for failing to take adequate action on the crisis that they say threatens their human rights.

The case was filed on September 3 in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. It is the first climate case brought directly to this international court. Lawyers for the young plaintiffs will argue that European governments’ current plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change and therefore constitute human rights violations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“If successful, the 33 countries would be legally bound, not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change, including those of their multinational companies,” the charity Global Legal Action Network, which is providing legal support for the case, explained in a press release.

“It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.”

That is what Donald Trump said during a televised summit in California focused on the catastrophic wildfires ripping through the state and other regions of the western United States. He claimed that “exploding trees” were the catalyst.

Trump—a notorious denier of climate science and the global consensus that human activity and fossil fuel emissions are driving planetary heating—has met his match in the youngsters who are so much smarter and wiser. My money (if I had any) would be on those kids!

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 One-Two Punch

Two, 90-minute Netflix “documentaries” have knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me ailing and wailing about the unfairness of it all … and that there’s little I can do to create constructive, creative, proactive change.

The Social Dilemma (highlighted and linked in an earlier post here) focuses on the giants of technology – Facebook, YouTube, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and others – with former supervisory employees and critics of these companies sounding the alarm.

What began as helpful “tools” for our personal space and productivity have evolved into manipulative, psychotic platforms that know more about us than we do about ourselves … including how much time we spend looking at a given image, what we supposedly #Like or makes us #Angry (and other designated reactive emotions) … and that, instead of tools for creating personal products, we ourselves have become the product. Based upon our digital DNA, we are being sold – with “how-to-use us” instructions — to the commercial and political marketplace.

Two take-aways that struck me quite personally, which I can’t seem to shake, are that: (1) Each of us is fed distinctly different news, comments, posts, replies and reactions, and (dis)information based on the sum total of what this artificial intelligence knows about us; and (2) Because of these algorithms, we only are able to reach like-minded people in sync with our personal data. All of our posts with distilled information and links for fact-checking – designed to reach others with different views, opinions, and perspectives – hardly ever reach our intended audience.

The brazen abuse and manipulation by these social media are chilling, frightening, and but a harbinger of what’s yet to come.

Starring Meryl Streep, the other Netflix docudrama that blew me away is The Laundromat (linked below). This is the story of how the rich, indeed, are very different from the rest of us … using shell games and companies to cheat, steal, manipulate, and get away with murder. Literally.

In response to these two Netflix films (along with my own observations and personal experiences), I am making some deliberate changes to my online habits. First and foremost is distancing myself from the worst players.

Here’s what that means for my own use of Facebook, as well as the other social media giants … especially as they relate to maintaining my own sanity and balance:

I will no longer post proactive positions about climate change (evidenced by the hottest weather ever on record, expanding forest fires that cannot be contained, fiercer and more frequent hurricanes devastating people and property, torrential rains and flash floods that take incredible tolls … typhoons and tsunamis, earthquakes that are shaking our very foundations, and the resulting pollution that is suffocating us). Because the climate change deniers believe what they do; nothing I can say will change their beliefs; and my posts probably won’t be reaching them, anyway.

• Similarly, I won’t be posting about dealing appropriately with Covid-19 (mask-wearing, social distancing, testing, avoiding large gatherings—especially indoor), for the same reasons. Not only has this pandemic been politicized, polarizing us yet further … but just as too many are climate change deniers, certain segments of the population are totally anti-vaccines.

• And, for the same reasons, I will no longer continue posting about Donald Trump, Trumpsters, and Trumpism. If his cultist fan club refuses to recognize and acknowledge the travesties he’s committing – and getting away with – in “real” time, right before their eyes, they are choosing to do so. My words and sources will neither engage nor convince them. “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless,” states Proverbs 14:16.

Other behavioral changes I will try my best to make vis-à-vis Facebook and other social media include:

Not responding to “click-bait” suggestions of posts and people or groups which algorithms – based on my online behavior – recommend that I check out and consider.

Limiting the number of #Likes I post. After a friend thanks me for wishing him or her a happy birthday, there’s no need for me to #Like that #Like!  It’s far easier for Facebook to identify and quantify my emojis than to qualify any comments I may make.

Refusing to allow myself to fall down the rabbit hole. How many times have I read something of interest, then clicked on its link, pouring through post after post feeding my concerns and insecurities, while venturing farther into the quicksand?

Reviewing and refining my #Friends list. “Unfriending” someone seems so nasty and final; but I’m asking myself, “Who are these people? How do I know them? What kinds of interaction or communication have we engaged in since becoming #Friends?”

Deleting some of the Pages and Groups I have joined or liked. Look at your personal information: How many groups did you join that you really no longer participate in … or Pages you liked because you’ve been asked (by a FB friend or the Page itself) to #Like it?

Not giving any more personal or professional information to the social media. I don’t need to publish my cv or resume in my profile. (While I can delete some of the profile information I have already provided, the titans of social media already have saved everything I ever shared—despite my deletions.) I’ll be moving forward ever more cautiously.

Disengaging from the social media by spending less time there and using it for more constructive purposes. Yes, there certainly are some definite positives about our use of the Internet to engage with others. But, let’s be honest: Haven’t we become “conditioned,” like Pavlov’s dogs, to respond to the sounds of online alerts, alarms, and attention-getters?

Now, here’s a link to Netflix’s The Laundromat:

www.netflix.com/title/80994011

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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The “New Normal”?

Repeatedly, I’ve heard these words (^^^) used to describe the way we’re living now—especially the uncommon behavior(s) we’ve adapted to and adopted.

Trouble is, they’re neither new nor normal.

Despots, disasters, and debacles have a long history of turning our “standard operating procedures” into inappropriate behavior and questionable conduct.

It hit me the other day when I saw almost everyone in our immediate vicinity, as well as images beamed from across the globe, wearing facial masks–which is a good thing!

Except for those who refuse to wear them.

Because, like so many other matters, masks have become political statements of which side you’re on. Basically, it boils down to “You’re not the boss of me; you can’t tell me what to do” vs. “Please, people: it’s not about you, it’s about public health and the greater good.”

Yeah, right. Try convincing conspiracy theorists that their preferred sources of news and information are either confused, conflicted, or callously (and covertly) compromised in spreading their own versions of reality for certain reasons, ends, and purposes.

And all those alternative visions are producing a feeding frenzy for the media, where each and every tidbit is taken and shaken as utterly imperative “Breaking News!”

The media feasts on food for its fodder.

Talk about thickening plots …

Isn’t it weird that stock markets are soaring to their highest levels ever, when 30 million Americans aren’t working and can’t buy food for their families or pay for the roofs over their heads? Yeah, I know: they’re betting that the future will be better by far than the past. How many people are still collecting – or applying for –unemployment paychecks? Or scratching subsistence from food banks and the largesse of others? How is it that so few have so much, while so many have so little? Why is it that some people hate immigrants (who pay taxes), but not billionaires who don’t? Isn’t that, too, riddling the new normal?

When did it become about keeping folks out of the USA, rather than welcoming them in? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” speaks not about the rich or the elite, but the wretched, despised, and despairing. Children separated, yanked, from their families and kept in cages like captive animals. Rather than bulding walls, we should be opening doors and creating sanctuaries.

Atlas shrugs and havoc reigns.

Has there always been so much selfishness and hatred blowing in the wind? Or, are we yet a generous and good-hearted people?

We’re used to political party put before principles. Now, however, we have angry pretenders preceding both parties and principles. Follow the leader, you know, no matter how crazy.

It’s happened before … when times weren’t “normal.”

If it isn’t politics and protests, then there’s the weather. Crazy, climate change weather with uncontainable fires, scorching heat, flash-flooding rainfalls, the Everglades drying up as the Amazon burns, earthquakes, more frequent hurricanes, monsoons, typhoons, tsunamis.

Our increasingly endangered wildlife bespeaks species disappearing while they’re hunted for personal pleasue and stolen for keepsakes. Meanwhile, we continue to dump toxic waste into waters already bloated by plastics and packaging.

Which is why some fault our overindulgences, lack of care to protect the environment, and continuing dependency – guns for gas – on non-renewable energy sources as the biggest and baddest “new normal” of all … except, of course, for the pandemic.

Corona virus. Covid-19. But not the “China” virus.

“COVID-19 has me obsessed with how close to death I am, at tables set up in the street, in roaring traffic, with only a flimsy plywood partition between me and a brutal, bloody finish,” posts an articulate friend online. “I just don’t sit in the avenues, only the cross streets; it’s safer …” Yeah, let’s hear it again for the new normal!

It’s not normal – neither new nor usual – for contradictory information to be flying around, with statistics and sound bites. Whether it is what it is or isn’t lacks definitive answers or a common denominator. That’s senseless and stupid. Not to mention confusing (I just did!).

Like sending children to school in the midst of this crisis. Or hanging out in bars. Or not nationally mandating mask-wearing and social-distancing. Or participating in round-em-up rallies. And who’s going to take the vaccine (when it’s available) and who’s not, after all?

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small …”

Nor is it normal for artificial intelligence, like Facebook, to know more about our personal lives than we, ourselves, do. Not only are the so-called “social” media collecting every last lick of our digital DNA, but they’re using the data to determine what we do and where we go from here … selling our most intimate “psychographics” to any and all bidders.

Endless squinting at tiny mobile screens when people gather, close enough to look deeply into each other’s eyes and share elbow-kisses. But they prefer immersion in their digital devices over face-to-face contact. It may not be new, but it sure ain’t normal.

There are some who contend we’re actually living in the realized visions of Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies. Whatever. To me, it feels like we’ve either stepped through the looking glass, down the rabbit’s hole, where Cheshire cats and “Off with their heads!” are the norm … or that we’re inhabiting Twilight Zone nightmares from which we can’t shake off the sandman’s dust.

Insanity.

But only if we truly accept this as “normal.”

Let’s face it: totally abnormal is what it is, instead.

Please don’t cry for me, America … or Portugal and Spain, for that matter. Let’s wail for our world and work together to fix it, returning us to a real sense and semblance of normal.

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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The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

Professor/pastor probing media, religion, gender, international living, and allied cultural norms.

These words inscribed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites profile how I imagine myself.

So, there: now you know enough about me.

Reading between the lines, however, would inform you that we had moved around the USA quite a bit – living in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Florida – as career changes and professional opportunities beckoned. Fluent in Spanish, I traveled throughout Mexico, South and Central America, as a liaison for international adoption agencies.

As mentioned, my better half and I had long considered living in another country and experiencing a different culture. Learning a new language to converse and communicate, we believed, was an admirable goal. Some people are so defensive of their own ways and means that their sense of identity and nationalism is threatened when other ways are engaged in and embraced.

With credentials from the University of Madrid, a vacation bolt in Andalucía, and a growing circle of friends there, Spain seemed a natural first choice for us. But the process of applying for and being granted retirement residency in Spain can be onerous and demanding at best, next to impossible at worst.

Many countries of the European Union are also part of what’s known as the “Schengen” zone. The same Schengen application form is used to apply for residency in any of its 22 EU nations. But the interpretations of myriad functional requirements often vary from country to country.

Take finances, for example.

All Schengen countries want to know that you have the financial means to provide adequately for yourself and your dependents, without being a burden on the country and its economy. All countries seek proof that you have the necessary wherewithal—albeit from Social Security, other pensions and annuities, investments and savings, bank accounts, even credit immediately available via “charge” cards.

Spain dictates specific annual earnings expected retirees must receive: “The minimum income required is 400% of the IPREM (Public Income Index) annually plus the required percentage per each additional family member.” At the time, that meant, for a retirement visa and residency in Spain, one was expected to receive no less than $2,500 per month or $30,000 a year. Add $7,500 more for each dependent. I’m told that now, for some reason, those amounts are slightly less.

Wow!

How many Spaniards – especially those living in small towns throughout the country – earn that kind of money? Very, very few! For a country where the cost of living is so relatively low, I maintain Spain is shooting itself in the foot by requiring such high income levels from prospective retirees who would likely support the economy by spending money on their homes, food, and lots of leisure time activities.

Consider Portugal, now: €14,000 annually is an approximated income you have to make to get a “D7” residency visa in Portugal. But it can change depending on the number of “dependents” (wife, children, etc.). That amount is basically considered 100% of the minimum wage (MW) required for the husband/or wife (the visa’s owner) + 50% of the MW for his wife/her husband. For each child, it’s 30% of the MW. Portugal’s 2018 monthly minimum wage was 580 euros … although in 2020 it’s almost 700 euros..

Unless it has changed, financial means or financial subsistence in Portugal doesn’t require proof of income, simply proof of access to funds. Savings, bank accounts, investment funds, etc., all count as money to which you have access.

“You can qualify for permanent residency in Portugal simply by showing a reliable minimum income of at least 1,100 euros per month,” U.S. News & World Report reported. “This program is not intended specifically for retirees and is open to anyone. You can apply and qualify at any age, and the income you show can be earned or passive.”

In other words, money in banks … savings and retirement accounts … investments … even a line of credit on your “charge” card will count towards meeting your financial means in Portugal, as long as you have access to the money. The same holds true in many other EU countries: Italy and France are particularly popular, among others.

The process of applying for the right to reside in a Schengen EU country includes completing and/or acquiring much time-consuming paperwork, lots of patience, and more money than might be imagined. Included among the documents (some only available for a fee) required to be submitted with the official visa application: Original passport, a copy of the passport, and another accepted form of identification (driver’s license, state ID, or voter’s registration card). Plus a copy of this. A notarized document explaining why you are requesting the visa … the purpose, place, and length of your stay (and any other reasons you need to explain). Proof of permanent retirement income from an official institution (social security and/or private source) to live without working. Proof of accommodation: either a lease or title deed of property you own. Proof of other sources of income or properties (if applicable). Proof of health insurance with full coverage, necessarily including repatriation coverage. Criminal History Information/Police Background Check, which must be verified by fingerprints. It cannot be older than three months from the application date. The certificate must be issued from either the State Department(s) of Justice from every state you’ve lived in during the past five years. This document must then be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the corresponding Secretary of the State. Alternatively, FBI Records, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, are acceptable. (A local police background check will not be accepted; but you must also get a police record from the countries where you have lived during the last five years.) A recent doctor’s statement signed by the physician on the physician’s or medical center’s letterhead (not older than three months in) indicating that you have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005. Married? Your spouse must submit the same documents as you, together with a marriage certificate (original, issued in the last six months, plus a photocopy). Minor children must also submit the same documents as the applicant, along with original birth certificates issued in the last twelve months … and a photocopy.

Quite a list, huh? But, that’s only the beginning!

For Spain, every document submitted must be translated into Spanish … and not just by anyone. Only “certified” translators identified – many of whom charge @ $40 per page to translate – are acceptable. Despite being fluent in Spanish and having taught the language for quite a few years, I wasn’t on the list and couldn’t do our own translations.

But, for us, the real sticking point was the annual retirement income requirement. We owned (without a mortgage) our home in Spain and could live quite comfortably in our small town on my monthly Social Security payments. Nonetheless, $1,700 per month supplemented by a $250 private annuity didn’t come close to the $2,500 Spain required. Especially not when factoring in my spousal dependent.

We could enjoy visiting Spain twice each year for up to 90 days per visit when separated by 180 days … but we couldn’t live there full-time.

Bem vindo, Portugal!

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Presidents and Precedents

Since my public school days, I’d seen a president assassinated, the murder of his assassin, and the capture of his assassin’s assassin … all reported by the media, often “live” on our black and white TVs.

Later, I saw that same president’s brother assassinated as he, too, campaigned to become our country’s number one man.

I’d seen a Democrat – from Texas yet! – inherit the presidency, but decide not to seek another term because we had become so deeply entrenched in a war triggering marches on Washington and uprisings at campuses across the country (where students were shot dead by “first responders”).

I’d seen a president and his vice-president, both disgraced by scandals, resign from the two highest offices in the land.

I’d seen our first “unelected” president, when a guy-next-door congressman – but not the Speaker of the House – succeeded his predecessors.

I’d seen a well-meaning peanut farmer from Georgia elected president, a decent and truly Christian man, relegated to the back burners of history … remembered more for his brother’s beer than his own accomplishments (which finally are being realized and accredited).

I’d seen a beloved, second-rate actor become president and be shot (along with others) in front of our televised eyes … and, yet, despite the outcry, no real gun controls were effected.

I’d seen a father and son each elected president—the first for a single term, the second for two;

I’d seen a president selected by a partisan Supreme Court when the votes were so close and the election errors so many that day after day, week after week, a “winner” still couldn’t be called.

I’d seen a likable boomer – one of my own generation – impeached while in office because of alleged improprieties dealing with questionable real estate transactions and this president’s penchant for women, including consensual sex with a young intern whose stained, blue dress immortalized the evidence of his infidelities.

I’d seen the first black man elected President of the United States, yet denied his rightful responsibilities during eight years of impasse with a do-nothing Congress.

And I’d seen the first woman nominated to be our country’s commander-in-chief … only to be trumped by a lying, cheating, tax-evading, bankrupt, conflicted con man who abused and took advantage of people, denouncing them daily with tweets and promoting a helter-skelter agenda of favoritism to the rich.

Flabbergasted, flustered, and furious, I began asking everyone who’d listen a series of “since when” questions.

# # # # #

Since when:

• Did the executive branch of our government become so authoritarian that the legislature cowers instead of confronting the mess (or rushes off to retire with its ill-begotten gains and lifetime pensions)?

• Did members of Congress become “leaders” of this country, rather than representatives of the people who elected them … as if we were mere pawns in some preconceived, haphazard game of high stakes chess or roller skating championships?

• Did it become all right for nepotism to be an acceptable way of governing this country, where non-credentialed family members wheel and deal with emissaries from foreign countries for personal gain right there on site in the White House?

• Did it become legitimate for subordinate staff and aides to claim “executive privilege” and refuse to testify before Congress and/or its designated special investigators?

• Did we become a people who cheer – whose religious leaders bless – malicious, slanderous, hateful, and divisive words of a toxic, laughing stock president and his henchmen?

• Did our country stand alone, apart from the rest of the world (especially our allies and trading partners), in such critical matters as climate change, first-strike warfare, trade wars and economic tariffs … all based on the nonsensical ramblings of one man whose ignorance is only surpassed by his ego and arrogance?

• Did we have such a revolving door of executive and administrative staff – ambassadors, advisers, agency heads, justice officials – coming and going … due, in large measure, to firings or their fear of being associated with criminals and/or criminal offenses?

• Did responsible statesmen so deliberately ignore and refuse to investigate multiple alleged crimes and charges of injustice against a lifetime judicial nominee, so as to effectively rush through the confirmation of a new justice with dubious standards and questionable morality? Especially when that judge will serve as jurist in a potential trial of high crimes and misdemeanors (including treason) committed by the man who nominated him?

• Did our principal international nemesis (Russia) become a country whose leaders and politics are coddled and colluded … or where independent “back channels” between the Kremlin and White House are surreptitiously planned by players from both regimes?

• Did our government cater exclusively to the richest 1% of the country, while denying the other 99% even scraps from the banquet table?

• Did the administration in power benefit and take so much in personal pursuits and paranoid pleasures … a country whose president spends one-third of his time playing golf, a third tweeting or watching TV, and another third grand-standing before his base?

• Did it become legal to ambush trillions of dollars in new debt a year for tax cuts to appease the already privileged and patrons … only to warn that Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs we were required to pay into must be minimized?

• Did our chief executive dedicate himself with such glee to so swiftly and unilaterally dismantling myriad social welfare and infrastructure programs that guided and protected our people, basically to strike his predecessor president?

• Did it become acceptable to acknowledge – without corrective measures – that more than two-thirds of what a president says are proven lies?

• Did money so effectively dictate the rules of the realm, rather than the voices and votes of the people?

• Did the legitimate, mainstream press – always considered the fourth pillar of government – degenerate into an “enemy of the people” … while hurried and bizarre social media platforms became the pedestals for fake news and alternative realities?

• Did we end becoming a melting pot of diversity, benefiting from the talents and hard work of immigrants seeking to contribute to a better life?

• Did democracy despair and break down in the USA?

# # # # #

Since when did all these heinous things happen in a country birthed by liberty, freedom, and justice for all?

Since November 2016, when Donald Trump was (s)elected president and commander-in-chief of this hitherto generous, gallant, compassionate country … although some will maintain that planning for much of this usurping had been long in the making—by a complicit Congress, curtailed court system, and conspiring officials, whose patrons pull their (purse) strings … to divert attention from their back room back-stabbing. And by too many people who should know better, but prefer to gloat in their deplorable despair and disdain.

We lived in a place and time where – by and large – our elected representatives are beholden to their patrons, rather than to their constituents. They answer to no one (except themselves and their keepers) and exempt themselves from the rules that they make.

We lived in a place and time where the disparity between the income of corporations and their executives is radically beyond the grasp of working people. And, yet, despite all the loot the rich have accumulated and stashed, it’s not enough.

So, our Congress was intent on denying the safety nets ordinary people depend on, while giving even more money to those hoarding what they already have.

We lived in a place and time where our legitimate mainstream media, hitherto the bastion of freedom and justice, had been summarily dismissed and replaced with alternative facts, truths, and realities. Yellow journalism and slanted nonsense were held above our responsible press.

We lived in a place and time where political gerrymandering had corrupted our Electoral College such that twice – twice! – within a generation, the people’s choices for president were overruled and citizens denied their right to vote.

We lived in a place and time where we were isolated from the rest of the world, often the brunt of its jokes. We were the only nation in the world not to sign on to global environmental protection agreements and accords. We vacated our promises to trade with, protect, and support other countries (which now question whether we can be trusted anymore).

We lived in a place and time where moneyed people against public education, investment people who caused our near financial collapse, opportunistic people who inflated the prices of critical medicines, energy executives who knew naught about diplomacy, hunting advocates, and people whose memories failed them on imperative legal matters, were now running the very government offices they had hijacked … but scientists and otherwise knowledgeable people were forbidden — ostrasized — for speaking truth to power.

We lived in a place and time where a destructive, conflicted, ignorant, narcissistic, self-serving, delusional, degenerate man believed that his own, private empire should benefit from the country’s public business. Because, he believed, he was above the law.

We lived in a place and time where some of us signed petitions, wrote letters to editors and our representatives, made calls, knocked on doors, used every technological advantage to speak our hearts and minds, march on occasion, gather for community and committee meetings … but our representatives declined to address us.

Indeed, we lived in a desperate place and time.

What kind of desperate measures, if any, should we personally be taking?

Each must do what we believe best, according to our own particular situations, strategies, and peculiar circumstances.

For us, the decision was to leave.

We will always consider ourselves American citizens, register and cast our votes in USA elections, care about the land where we were borne.

But to intake and inhale this poisonous venom, a contagious cancer that has spread across the United States and, through it, the world?

No!

Internalizing the strife, we were grief-stricken, mentally exhausted, spiritually drained, and physically disabled.

The time had come for us to move on …

We would emigrate from the USA and become immigrants in Europe.

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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Rx Rip-Off

Three years ago today, I had a doctor’s appointment. My physician gave me a prescription for three — just 3! — tablets of a medication not covered by my Medicare Advantage plan.

“They’re quite expensive,” he warned, “so you will probably want to shop around for them.”

As his nurse reviewed the doctor’s notes with me before leaving, she bent over and whispered, “Look online, hon. I’m sure you can find these drugs for far less from Canada … or elsewhere.”

“Are you kidding?” I joked. All I needed was more inbox spam for male enhancers.

So, I called every pharmacy in the area. The mail order division of my Medicare provider. And U.S. online drug stores.

Bottom line:

TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SIX DOLLARS ($286) FOR THREE TABLETS!!!!!

Then, I went back online and looked at Canadian pharmacies. A legal, licensed, accredited Canadian “dispensary” requiring a bona fide prescription would charge me US $19.80 + $9.00 shipping for eight — not three — of the same brand tablets. But, I’d have to have my doc rewrite the ‘script for eight tablets instead of three.

Living in Portugal and Spain now, pills and pharmaceuticals cost a whole lot less–23 Euros for six “comprimidos” of the same drug from a different supplier.

Portugal and Spain subsidize their pharmaceuticals and set the price for them.

I still can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with this picture: $19.80 for eight of the same, non-branded tablets from a Canadian pharmacy vs. $286.00 for three from a U.S. drug store and about US $27 to purchase them here in Portugal. Per pill, that’s @ $95 (USA) vs. $3.60 (Canada) vs. $4.50 (my Portuguese pharmacy).

That’s not right. It’s wrong. Very wrong!

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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