Justice League of America

Article III, Section 1:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The U.S. Constitution provides for a Judicial Branch including one supreme Court. It also appears to assume that the Supreme Court will include a Chief Justice, stipulating that the Chief Justice shall preside over any Presidential impeachment trial in the Senate. However, the Constitution is silent on other matters, such as the size and composition of the Supreme Court, the time and place for sitting, and the Court’s internal organization … leaving those questions to Congress.

In addition to setting the size of the Supreme Court, Congress also has determined the time and place of the Court’s sessions, as well as the salaries of its justices. Supreme Court decisions establish that the Exceptions Clause grants Congress broad power to regulate the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

Annual pay per justice as of January 1, 2023, is $274,200 … except for the chief justice, who receives $286,700.By no means paltry sums.

The Supreme Court currently comprises nine justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The justices are nominated by the president and confirmed with the “advice and consent” of the United States Senate, per Article II of the United States Constitution.

Congress also has significant authority to determine what cases the Court has jurisdiction to hear. The Constitution only grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over the relatively narrow categories of Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party.” In all the other Cases subject to federal jurisdiction, Article III grants the Court appellate Jurisdiction … with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as Congress shall make.

According to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, “Like all Federal judges, Supreme Court Justices serve lifetime appointments on the Court, in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.”

Show me, please, where it says that in the Constitution.

As with guns, words – i.e., “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” – have been taken out of their original (and implied) context and prostituted to assume other, subsequent meanings.

Take corruption, for instance.

Corruption may involve many activities including bribery, influence peddling and embezzlement. Political corruption occurs when an officeholder or other governmental employee acts with an official capacity for personal gain.

Which brings us to where we find ourselves today.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing more questions about his finances, with a new report about thousands of dollars of income he’s reporting from a real estate firm with ties to his wife, Ginni Thomas. On his financial disclosure forms, Thomas reported rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership, The Washington Post reported.

That Nebraska firm no longer exists, having been closed 17 years ago.

The latest revelation about problems with Thomas’s legally-required financial disclosure forms raises questions about how seriously he took his obligation to disclosure his finances to the public. Public officials are required to fill out such forms to show if they have any conflict of interests between their personal finances and public duties.

Thomas is facing calls for an investigation and his resignation.

The supreme court justice claims he was advised that he did not have to disclose luxury trips paid for by GOP megadonor Harlan Crow because Crow and his wife are “personal friends,” said Thomas in his first statement on the matter.

Before then, conservative activist Ginni Thomas has “no memory” of what she discussed with her husband during the heat of the battle to overturn the 2020 presidential election, according to congressional testimony.

Ginni Thomas recalled “an emotional time” in which her mood was lifted by her husband and Mark Meadows, then Donald Trump’s chief of staff, a transcript of her deposition with the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol shows. Thomas has been a prominent backer of Trump’s lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

At 74, her husband is the oldest and most conservative member of America’s highest court, which has played a crucial part in settling disputed elections.

Speaking of wives of the supreme court justices, two years after John Roberts‘s confirmation as the Supreme Court’s chief justice in 2005, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, made a pivot: After a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, she refashioned herself as a legal recruiter, a matchmaker who pairs job-hunting lawyers up with corporations and firms.

Roberts told a friend that the change was motivated by a desire to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, given that her husband was the highest-ranking judge in the country. “There are many paths to the good life,” she said. “There are so many things to do if you’re open to change and opportunity.”

And life was indeed good for the Robertses, at least between 2007 and 2014.

During that eight-year stretch, according to internal records from her employer, Jane Roberts generated $10.3 million in commissions paid out by corporations and law firms for placing high-dollar lawyers with them.

That eye-popping figure comes from records in a whistle-blower complaint filed by a disgruntled former colleague of Roberts, who says that, as the spouse of the most powerful judge in the United States, the income she earns from law firms that practice before the Court should be subject to public scrutiny.

Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation to the Supreme Court was embroiled in controversy when multiple women accused him of sexual assault. One of them, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before Congress about the alleged attempted rape she suffered at his hands in high school. The 2023 film Justice is a horrifying and infuriating inquiry into those claims, told largely by friends of Ford, lawyers and medical experts, and another of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims: Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of his at Yale.

Most damning of all, it features a never-heard-before audio recording made by one of Kavanaugh’s Yale colleagues—Partnership for Public Service president and CEO Max Stier—that not only corroborates Ramirez’s charges but suggests that Kavanaugh violated another unnamed woman as well.

As Democrats remember with still smouldering fury, when Mitch McConnell was majority leader, he refused to grant Merrick Garland–now Attorney General of the United States–even a token hearing after he was nominated to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama in March 2016 to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat. The day Garland was tapped, McConnell declared, “It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.”

Garland was never granted a hearing, a slap in the face to democracy and to America’s first black president.

Another supreme court justice, Samuel Alito said the decision he wrote removing the federal right to abortion made him and other US supreme court justices “targets of assassination” but denied claims he was responsible for its leak in draft form.

Alito wrote the ruling in Dobbs v Jackson, the Mississippi case that overturned Roe v Wade, which established the right to abortion in 1973. His draft ruling was leaked to Politico on 2 May last year, to uproar and protest nationwide. The final ruling was issued on 24 June.

A nearly $2 million sale of property co-owned by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch to a prominent law firm executive in 2017 is raising new questions about the lax ethics reporting requirements for Supreme Court justices.

Property records from Grand County, Colorado, show that the Walden Group LLC–a limited-liability company in which Gorsuch was a partner–sold a 40-acre property on the Colorado River to Brian Duffy, chief executive officer of the prominent law firm Greenberg Traurig. Duffy and his wife, Kari Duffy, paid $1.8 million for the property on May 12, 2017–just one month after Gorsuch was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The financial disclosure report filed by Gorsuch for calendar year 2017 lists a sale by the Walden Group LLC for a profit of between $250,000 and $500,000. However, the section where a buyer should be listed is blank. It’s unclear if that’s a violation of ethics rules.

And, so, these questions and doubts beg to be settled by Justice League overseers.

The Justice League is an all-star ensemble cast of established superhero characters from DC Comics’ portfolio. Although these superheroes usually operate independently, they assemble as a team to tackle especially formidable villains.

The cast of the Justice League usually features a few highly popular characters who have their own solo books, such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, alongside a number of lesser-known characters who benefit from the exposure. The Justice League was created to boost the profiles and sales of its characters through cross-promotion and helped to develop the DC Universe as a shared universe, as it is through teams like the Justice League that the characters regularly interact.

Beyond comic books, the Justice League has been adapted to several television shows, films, and video games included.

More recently, it has been shadowing the United States Supreme Court.

MEO & Me

There are some bureaucracies that frustrate me.

Others annoy and make me angry.

MEO – the largest telecommunications provider in Portugal – belongs to the latter.

So, when I read that MEO has been hit with a €2.46 millionfine imposed by Portuguese media regulator Anacom, which found that MEO had violated rules applicable to the termination of contracts on the initiative of subscribers … nor had it confirmed complaints about contracts submitted by customers … and also provided incomplete information on the means and contacts available for submitting termination requests, I cheered.

Because my household and I are among MEO’s most recent victims.

Did you know that once your “loyalty period” (fidelização) – usually 24 months – is over, you are free to change companies and/or plans. Whichever offers you the most for the least.

At the time, our bills for both houses were totaling 140-150€ per month.

We trekked over to the large MEO store in the Forum shopping center, only to learn that its function is only to sell MEO packages and products. We couldn’t discuss the better terms we had seen advertised, nor could we cancel, change, or remove a second móvel which we no longer used, from our account. That would have to be done by phone, the salesman informed us, asking for a good time to have a customer service representative contact us. We could negotiate a better deal during the call.

“Will whoever calls speak English?” I asked. My faltering Portuguese was substantial to engage in conversations, ask and answer questions, and talk to my doctor and pharmacist face-to-face. But over the phone? No way.

“No,” replied the salesman. “But you can ask to speak to someone who does speak English. Can you do that—ask to speak to someone who speaks English?”

I nodded and agreed to receive a call from MEO at 4:00 pm that afternoon.

“Be certain to answer the call,” the salesman warned, “you will only receive that one call from MEO.”

Sure enough, at 4:30 (Portuguese time), the call came from MEO.

Posso falar com um empregado que fale inglês?” I asked.

Sim senhor. Mas ela precisará ligar de volta para você. Está ocupada falando com outro cliente no momento.”

I agreed. After all, what other choice did I have.

Twenty minutes later, an English speaking MEO customer service rep rang me up. We spoke for about 20 minutes, and she seemed to understand exactly what I wanted. Now, how much would the two plans – we had one for each house – cost? She asked if she could put me on hold while plugging all the data into her system to determine the monthly charges. “Only if you don’t disconnect me,” I replied, having experienced the agony of being cut off, of being disconnected, and trying to reach that same person again. “No worries,” she assured me. “If anything should happen, I will call you right back.”

She called back within a few minutes and ran through the numbers with me. Bottom line: For the two plans with the services we wanted, the total cost amounted to €104. A substantial savings over what we had been paying. She told me that, within an hour, I would receive the contracts for both properties in my email. All I needed to do was to click on the “Validate” button to create new contracts and cancel my former ones.

The contracts came, albeit with slight discrepancies from what we had discussed. The one for our second house at €29.99 was fine … but the bigger, main package linked to our principal residence was eleven euros more than she told me, bringing the total monthly cost to €111—not that great a savings.

Frustrated, I Googled “Portugal Internet Plans” and discovered NOWO, a company being bought by Vodafone that currently lags behind MEO, NOS, and Vodafone. Based on its advertising, NOWO appeared to be the best value in terms of our needs: For 90€ per month, NOWO would provide us with 1 Gbps with 360° coverage, a TV package including all the channels we watched (or wanted to), four TV boxes, 5,000 minutes or SMS on our móvel, a fixed telephone line with 9,000 minutes nationally and 1,000 minutes internationally at our two locations.

That would amount to a savings of at least fifty euros (50€) per month.

The next morning, we headed over to the one (and only) NOWO store in Castelo Branco. The lone salesperson was lovely—friendly, outgoing, helpful, and alternating her English with my Portuguese. Unfortunately, NOWO wouldn’t work for us; it had no broadband (fiber) service available at our home in the Alentejo and the best it could do for us in Alcains was to provide half the speed we currently have. She was as disappointed as we were.

“Before you go,” she asked, “would you mind if I take a look at the contracts that MEO proposed?”

Seeing no reason not to, I handed them to her. She looked at the first contract—the €29.99 monthly service to our second property, in Alentejo. “This looks fair and reasonable,” she nodded. “Let me take a look at the other one,” the bigger bill assigned to our primary residence in Castelo Branco.

“€81.89 per month,” she questioned, shaking her head negatively. “That’s way too much. You shouldn’t be paying more than 60€ or so for this package.”

“Do you have any suggestions?” I asked.

“Yes. Go to the MEO store a few doors down and show them this contract. Tell them that there must be a mistake to pay so much … “

That’s what we did.

The gal behind the counter took one look at the €81.89 contract proposal and made a series of faces ranging from curiosity to incredibility. She hit a key on her computer which, in turn, caused something to print out. It was a flyer and she handed it to me. Evidently a major mistake had been made by someone.

Except for a second MEO TV box (€2.99/month), everything included in that €81.89 was also included in her offer for €56.99!

Between the two houses, our monthly MEO bill would be 50€ less than we’d be paying. Exactly what we were hoping for. Yes, ma’am, we’ll take it.

If only life with MEO were so simple.

We had two choices: Either cancel our current contract and sign up for this plan under my partner’s name (MEO wouldn’t allow it to be put in my name). Or receive another call from MEO’s negotiating team and renegotiate.

Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to renegotiate.

Again, the MEO store employee made all the arrangements for an English-speaking negotiation agent to contact us at a given time with all of our particulars. Including the mistakes made by the previous agent. She was quite pleasant and accessed our previously proposed contract. “You spoke with Carmen, is that correct?” she asked. That was correct, as were all the other details she had about us, our dealings with MEO, and even information about our discussions with the latest salespeople we had spoken with at the MEO store.

“And you want to renegotiate your contract?” she confirmed. “Exactly,” I replied. “We want the €56.99 package MEO is offering.”

“Let me see what I can do,” she said.

Over the next ten minutes, she came back several times, thanking me for my patience and saying she needed just a few more minutes. Finally, she came back on the line prepared with an offer: “I cannot give you that €56.99 package. The best I can do is to give you the same package for 66€.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why can’t you give me the same package for the same package that the MEO store can give.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s not in my script. I cannot offer that price to you.”

“MEO is giving me no choice but to cancel my contract and write a new one under my partner’s name at the MEO store,” I argued.

“You certainly can do that,” she agreed. “But then, you would lose all of the MEO points you have earned—18,444 so far.”

MEO points? I’d never heard of them before. What were they?

“For each euro you pay to MEO, we give you one MEO point. You can use these points to purchase many items … from telemóvels to small and large appliances and many other valuable items.  Just look at everything you can choose from on the MEO website. For a difference of nine euros each month, is it worth giving up all your MEO points? They’re non-transferrable. If you accept my offer, the points will stay with you and be transferred with your new contract. If you cancel your current contract and go with the one offered at the MEO store, you will lose all your points.”

“Let me think about it,” I said. “I’ll take a look at what’s available on your website.”

“No problem,” she said. “But before we can do anything in either case, we will need to remove your second móvel, which you no longer use or want, from your account before we can proceed.”

“Is that something I can do now with you?” I asked.

“No,” she answered. “We have a separate department that handles removals of specific services contained in your contract. If you hold on briefly, I will transfer you to that department. I will also send them all the details we’ve discussed.”

“Will the person you transfer me to speak English?” I continued.

“I cannot say for sure,” she said. “But you can ask to talk with someone who speaks English in that department.”

“Okay, go ahead and transfer me.”

The person on the other end spoke rapid-speed Portuguese, but no English. I understood what she was telling me, though: The English speaker in this MEO department was currently engaged with another customer. But she would call me back within the hour. I confirmed that she had all my correct contact and account information. She did, repeating my name, phone number, and contract ID to me in Portuguese. Yes, all the information was correct.

While waiting for the call back, I meandered through MEO’s website “store.” There really wasn’t anything we needed … but, who knows, we could have taken advantage of our points and redeemed them for products. Discovering how the point system worked was another exercise in futility. While we earned one MEO point for each euro we paid MEO, it didn’t work that way with purchases using points. Much like my Travel Rewards credit card, each point earned didn’t equal one euro to spend. One hundred points earned equaled one euro to spend. So, my 18,444 MEO points were worth €184.44. Sure, nothing to sneeze at. But was it worth it? Especially given all the grief MEO already had put me through?

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was that the designated English speaker from MEO’s service “removals” department never called back. We waited three days. No calls from MEO, nor even a new contract in my email.

Despite my annoyance, this whole round-and-round-we-go had become a matter of principle for me by now. My partner and I agreed that the MEO points be damned. We would cancel our contract and sign up for a new one under his name. Doing so would achieve our overall goal: to reduce our monthly MEO bills substantially. We’d be saving over fifty euros each month, even if we had to go through the motions and inconvenience of bringing our routers and MEO boxes into the store to cancel our account and having MEO’s technicians schedule a time to come and bring us other ones. No installation work was needed … just bringing us a new router and two MEO TV boxes.

“That doesn’t make sense,” I told the gal at the MEO store. “We already have the router and boxes in place, working fine. Why not let us keep them instead of playing this ‘musical MEO’ with our time and equipment?”

She shrugged. I guess she didn’t get the reference to American “musical chairs.”

But I was reminded of that quintessential refrain: “Once, shame on you; twice, shame on me.”

P.S. Despite the machinations involved in dealing with MEO—and, I suspect, its brothers in arms—one of the customer service reps I spoke to gave me a good piece of advice: Once your “loyalty” period has ended, check the offers MEO (or NOS, Vodafone, NOWO) are offering, which change every month. You could end up saving a bushel and a peck!

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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Inside-Out Voices

Featured

Back in the day parents, teachers, and caretakers would warn or advise their kinfolk (typically children) to “use your inside voice” when they were becoming too loud.

Even outside.

Described as a modulated, relatively calm voice considered polite and socially appropriate when speaking indoors (at home, in school, or at the office), an inside voice is opposed to an outside voice: the latter a strong, elevated voice considered acceptable when speaking outdoors to be heard above a crowd or other background sounds.

Inside or out, an inside voice means that you’re thinking about the eardrums of others and that you know how to communicate without hollering.

Such is not the case in Spain.

Spain is loud.

People — especially women — tend to use their outdoor voices everywhere and all the time. Especially in the streets and right outside their front doors. That’s where they socialize. The streets are their living rooms, reception areas to interact and communicate.

Perhaps that’s because, for the most part, houses in Spain (and Portugal) were built with spaces too small to accommodate gatherings and inside voices. So people, their families, and neighbors congregate in the street, speaking up without realizing how loud is their talk.

My grandmother looked down on the street (although she also disapproved of jeans and bell bottoms, popular at the time). She came from money, married into more, and lived in a 12-room apartment on the fourth floor of Madrid’s prestigious Salamanca barrio (neighborhood). There was plenty of room for guests to gather in one of her several sitting rooms. “Sólo los Fulanos de tal se quedan por las calles” (Only nondescripts stay out on the streets), she would say.

Of course, those were the days of Francisco Franco, “caudillo de España por la gracia de Dios” (leader of Spain by the grace of God), according to the coins, when one never used outside voices while walking the streets patrolled by stern faced guardia civil with firearms.

So, maybe using outside voices is a social thing learned from childhood: to be heard over one’s male siblings and family members, girls tend to lift up their voices. It could be, too, that screaming and screeching are learned and reinforced on unsupervised toddlers when they’re ignored rather than disciplined for running amok and yelling at the top of their lungs in supermarkets and other public places, where inside voices are expected.

Spain is loud, a country of outside voices and sounds.

Facing us on the same street is a family comprising a middle-aged woman, her elderly mother, a twenty-something young man without work and living at home, and two very young grandchildren. A husband appears periodically. From early morning until what we consider late at night (10:00 pm), they are in their doorway using loud, outside voices.

And it’s not only them.

Some women, especially, terrify our dogs with their loud, high-pitched voices. Men, too, project their bass and baritone tenors decibels beyond normal hearing levels. Sometimes, we’re not certain whether they’re having a heated argument or just an everyday discussion … so we mind our business and don’t get involved. Due to the often industrial nature of their workplaces, men can be heard using outside voices inside.

Why do the Spanish shout when talking?

Sometimes, people may shout to be heard. This is not necessarily rude but indicates full engagement with the discussion. One often hears Spaniards call out and even heckle during speaking engagements and performances. This is expected to be taken in jest.

“I live in Madrid and share a flat with a few Spaniards,” says Sofía. “It depends on the crowd, to be honest, but I found that Spanish girls in particular tend to get pretty loud, even for me (Italian f). I used to live in Germany before moving to Spain and I am not surprised to find the difference in decibels a bit jarring.”

Nuno, a Spaniard, responds: “We love being loud. Loud means friends. Loud means fun. Loud means interesting. Loud means fiesta. There’s nothing worse than a silent bar.”

Spain is a loud country.

The bread man leans too long on his horn during his morning runs up and down the streets. Machismo throttling of motorcycles going the wrong way on one-way streets is deafening, as if the whine of the loudest motors denotes riders with the biggest cojones (or vice-versa). The vendors at the outdoor market bark as part of their sales routine. Even the rumbling of cars with diesel engines momentarily stopped albeit beating and belching — along with their fumes — are enough to disturb the peace. Heck, there’s even slang in Spanish (ruidoso/a) or (escandaloso/a) to describe the noise. Language textbooks make note of Spain’s noise:

• Mike didn’t like going to the city because it was always so noisy.
A Miguel no le gustaba ir al centro porque siempre era muy ruidosa.

• María was happy when school started because the noisy children were gone for a while.
María estaba contenta cuando empezaron las clases porque los niños ruidosos se irían por un rato.

Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance, and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behavior. According to research by the American College of Cardiology, noise pollution is linked to an increase in cardiovascular problems. The stress of constant noise results in the more frequent release of cortisol — the infamous stress hormone — which damages blood vessels.

Noise has emerged as a leading environmental nuisance in the WHO European Region, and the public complains about excessive noise more and more often.

The noise levels in Spain are generally a little higher than one might find in other countries. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the only country higher on the decibel tables worldwide is Japan.

No matter where or when, Spain is loud.

“It doesn’t matter what time it is, or what type of environment. I have been having breakfast at 8:00 am in a restaurant with Brits and Swedes and there is conversation. I can make out every word they say from across the room … until one Spanish family arrives,” shares a Brit. “They arrive at the table with their speaker phones on because, apparently, they think I need to hear both sides of their loud conversation. And they ignore their children to the point that the kids are screaming for attention. When they do decide to acknowledge the kids, they scream even louder.”

Attempting to sound a bit more diplomatic, I’ve often said that the Portuguese evidence more soul, while the Spaniards are more spirited.

Nonetheless, much as I have been tempted to (nicely) ask a Spaniard to speak more softly, I remind myself that I am an expat for a time in their country. I have no right to intrude on their culture … or communication modus operandi, for that matter.

Yet, even foreigners are entitled to a fair share of accommodation and hospitality …

Last night, I was awakened after midnight by the voices of a man, his young son, and their dog cavorting in the street in front of our house. The ruckus continued for more than half an hour, awakening my dogs who began barking. Finally, I went to the window and said, “Es medianoche. Cállense, por favor” (It’s midnight. Please be quiet.).

And, no, I didn’t use my inside voice.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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Editorial: Phone-y Magazines

Our options for reading entertainment and enjoyment grow fewer and farther between.


There’s always been competition: Look v. Life, Time v. Newsweek, People v. Us, The Saturday Evening Post v. Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal v. Good Housekeeping, National Geographic v. Smithsonian, Playboy v. Penthouse, et al.


Yet only the strongest survived.


And even then, only after a fashion.


Gone, by and large, are in-depth stories and original narratives, replaced by “posts,” catchy photos with captions, and different spins on the same subject matter cluttering our lives.


Time – or our lack thereof – is one of the major thieves of being engaged in a magazine. Reader’s Digest realized that in its condensed versions of bigger magazine pieces. Heck, even Cliff Notes and Classics Illustrated understood that we had other things to do with our time than read long-time classics.


Magazines filled a niche, appealing to our special interests, creating communities of like-minded people who read what most interested them specifically—including the ads. Indeed, magazines were one of the first media to sell advertising targeting consumers by psychographics as well as by their demographics.


Few take the time today to appreciate the balancing act that comprise magazines.


Like newspapers and newsletters, they’re periodicals published at given intervals … most often weekly, monthly, or that frequency reserved for the realm of magazines: fortnightly.


But unlike their brethren, they weren’t designed to be all things to all people or to cover some subjects to many. Nor were they constrained by geographic boundaries or time-sensitive data. You could leave a good magazine on your bedside night stand or beside the bathroom throne, eager to thumb through its pages and pick up where you left off.


Newspapers came to us in sections – national and international, local, sports, entertainment, classified advertising – while magazines, like sandwiches, were divided among columns and departments, with features filling the well in between. For their part, newsletters were a mishmash of topical content condensed into four to 16 pages.


“All the news thats fit to print,” the slogan of the New York Times, is perhaps the most famous phrase in American journalism. Words dominated images, cramming as much information as possible onto the front page. And if an article didn’t fit in the space allotted, it “jumped” to a page farther on back. It took People magazine to rethink the anatomy — down to the fonts (sans serif “Helvetica” rather than more formal “Times”) and type faces — and using more expensive color photography only on the cover and paid advertising, with black and white the editorial mainstay.


Along came the Internet and challenged all that …


If newspapers, magazines, and newsletters wouldn’t give up the ghost to be swallowed and spit out in bits and bytes – numbers! — they could try, at least, to exist side-by-side boosting their namesakes. Especially if they (or parts of them) were free.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by search engines, taught Madison Avenue money managers that, “the key to getting more traffic lies in integrating content with search engine optimization and social media marketing.”


There it is, folks: Publishers want traffic and numbers rather than readers and loyal subscribers. No longer does it matter who reads an article, editorial, even comic strip, but how many people search for it and (best of all!) “click through,” scanning the first words.
Search engine optimization is the practice of optimizing web pages to increase a website’s visibility “organically” in the search engine result pages (SERPs).


SEO is completely different from search engine (paid) advertising. With paid advertising, you’re paying search engines like Google to show your website on the search result page. Instead, with SEO, you’re optimizing your website so it organically shows up on the first page of the search result. The number of visitors who come to your website through these search results is defined as organic traffic (because they found your website themselves).


Imagine that!


Portugal Living Magazine used Facebook advertising to increase its own numbers: reach (how many people saw the ad) and engagement (how many people clicked and responded to it). An ad reaching 3,402 people in our defined audience, for instance, reached 2,131 through a mobile app feed and 593 from an Instagram feed. The other 679 came from a slew of sources.


To promote our website, a more aggressive ad on Facebook reached 19,200 people: 211 engaged, 198 clicked on the link, and 13 reacted. Cost per click: €0.08. And where did they see the ad itself? Three-quarters (73%) or 12,888 viewed it via a mobile app, while slightly more than a quarter (27%) or 4,776 saw our ad on the right hand side of their desktop.


When three-fourths of the population see information on a mobile application compared to one-fourth who see it elsewhere, there’s no question that we are a mobile society. We depend on our mobiles not only to make calls and send messages or to get directions and seek answers to questions, but to read and watch on those miniscule screens. Witness the success of Amazon’s Kindle and other computerized “pads” especially designed for reading.


I’ll briefly share how that impacts a 100+ page magazine like Portugal Living Magazine next.

For now, let’s just say that magazines are migrating to websites, where they’re configured quite differently for readers, writers, publishers, and advertisers.


Bottom line?


The whole no longer is greater than the sum of its parts.


Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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A Truly “Christian” Man

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter waves to the congregation after teaching Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia on April 28, 2019. Carter has taught Sunday school at the church on a regular basis since leaving the White House in 1981, drawing hundreds of visitors who arrive hours before the 10:00 am lesson to get a seat and have a photograph taken with the former President and First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I was teaching journalism — specifically, a course entitled News Editing — at George Mason University in January 1981, when I could find no established precedents or protocols, no style guides or textbooks, to cite to my students about the layout dilemma.

On January 20, 1981, two distinctly remarkable, historic, front page news-making moments occurred simultaneously: After 444 days, Americans held hostage by Iran were released; and Ronald Reagan, a former actor and California governor, was inaugurated president of the USA. The hostages were formally released into United States custody just minutes after Reagan was sworn into office as the country’s 40th president on January 20, 1981.

How would or should newspaper editors handle the coverage, my students and I debated: Was one more important, more timely, more consequential than the other? Which story should be featured more prominently? There was no question that both stories demanded front page placement. But where on the page? Traditionally, newspapers place the most important stories at the top of the page; being on the right-hand side implied that a story was more important than others on the page. The Washington Post devoted its front page to these two stories, although one was placed “above the fold,” the other on the bottom half.

Guess which story took priority and preeminence?

Jimmy Carter was bedeviled by two behemoths during his single, four-year presidency.

On November 4, 1979, a group of militarized Iranian college students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Soon, 52 United States diplomats and citizens were held hostage. A diplomatic stand off ensued. Lasting 444 days, this terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Carter presidency, as well as a personal ordeal for the president himself.

President Carter pursued a policy of restraint that put a higher value on the lives of the hostages than on American retaliatory power or protecting is own political future.

Allegations of conspiracy between Reagan’s presidential team with Iran until after the election to thwart Carter from pulling off an “October surprise” abounded. And thus began the changing of the guard–from partisan distinctions to ugly words and vicious divisions.

The other dragon that President Carter couldn’t slay was economics. Between high inflation and fixed mortgage rates hitting over 14%, it was also about the money … as it always is.

Jimmy Carter has always been a good man. Moreover, he’s been a good Christian man–not just in terms of religious etymology but in practical ways, too. He practiced the words preached by the itinerant Jewish rabbi from Nazareth.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained what it looks like to live as his follower and to be part of God’s Kingdom. These passages from Matthew perhaps represent the major ideals of the Christian life.

They also reflect peanut farmer Jimmy Carter’s life and legacy.

• Blessed are the weak, for they shall inherit the earth.

• Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the “salt” of the earth.

• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

• Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

• Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(About that thirst blessing above, let’s not forget that Jimmy was overshadowed by his younger brother, Billy, and the infamous Billy’s Beer. Indeed, the Georgia farmer brought a colorful cast of characters with him to Washington.)

At 98, Jimmy Carter is one of America’s most active former presidents. His efforts at peace-making, international negotiation, home construction for the impoverished (Habitat for Humanity), and the eradication of diseases in Africa earned him the world’s respect. Forty years after leaving office, he continued to remain an actor on the world stage and at home.

As president, his tireless efforts to bring Israel and Egypt together in a peace agreement during the 1978 negotiations at Camp David may be seen today as the most consequential contribution any U.S. president has made towards Israel’s security since its founding. The treaty earned the Israelis everything they so long had sought: a separate peace treaty that ended not only the state of war with their most threatening neighbor, but also the freedom to carry out other strategic and military objectives without concern for igniting a regional war.

Despite serving a single term, Jimmy Carter ranks as one of the most consequential U.S. presidents when it comes to environmentalism. He installed solar panels on the White House, urged Americans to turn down their thermostats while sporting a sweater, and pressured Congress into putting tens of millions of Alaskan acres off limits to developers.

In 1982, with his wife Rosalynn, he founded the Carter Center dedicated to the protection of human rights, promotion of democracy, and prevention of disease. His determination to promote the rights of women led him, in 1920, to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades, over its rejection of women in leadership positions. He explained his decision to quit the church in a 2009 article entitled “Losing my religion for equality,” which later went viral. “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God,” he wrote in the article.

The Nobel Peace laureate and longtime human rights advocate campaigned to end violence and discrimination against women since leaving the White House in 1981, calling it the “human and civil rights struggle of the time.”

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carter said that Southern Baptist leaders reading the Bible out of context led to the adoption of increasingly “rigid” views. Defying the largest Protestant denomination in the United States whose leaders also voted to condemn homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and adultery, he stated, “In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture … I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God.” Carter continued as a deacon at the Baptist church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, where he was a faithful Sunday school teacher drawing congregants and visitors alike to rub shoulders with this humble, heart-warming man.

Carter, 98, decided to spend his last days with his family, supported by palliative care rather than medical intervention.

We should nod our heads, hold hands together, and allow our hearts to embrace these words from the scriptures according to Jimmy Carter: “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”

Journalism That Matters?

CNN Commercializes Its Beauties and Beasts

Even for those of us living in Portugal, there’s plenty of news available in English, especially via computer and “smart” TV.

Among the staples that come with our Internet packages are “news” channels Al Jezeera (Qatar), BBC (UK), Bloomberg (USA), CCTV and CGTN (China), CNN (USA), Euro News (EU), France 24, KBS World (Korea), Sky News (UK), i24 (Israel), NHK World (Japan), and TRT World (Turkey). All in English. Snippets from other news outlets can be accessed as well via their YouTube feeds.

Can you guess which channel uses the following slogans?

• “Facts First”

• “Journalism that Reflects the World We Live In”

• “Go There”

• “Capturing the Moment”

• “Journalism That Matters”

If you guessed CNN, good for you. (Or maybe not.) You may be viewing too much of this cable-sourced channel that uses these catchphrases as part of its “This Is CNN” branding campaign.

Surely, anyone who watches CNN has heard and seen one of its famous faces in a “I’m (name) … and THIS is CNN” promotion.

Pay attention to how they emphasize the “… and THIS” part of the sentence: dramatic, seductive, exclamatory, emphatically, defensively, declaratory, et al. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is, perhaps, the only one to say the word (this) nonchalantly, without shouting it out over his name or the other words.

While I tend to channel hop and surf to get different perspectives on the same happenings, I confess that I spend more time with CNN than with all the others combined. Because I’m American. Perhaps that’s why I’m so opinionated and annoyed at what used to be known as the Cable News Network.

I’ve gotten to know CNN’s people—their actions, voices, looks, and demeaner. Some of them drive me nuts; others deserve accolades and more airtime than they’re given.

Women, especially, are featured in the promotions.

Can any CNN-watcher hear the words “I am Nigerian by blood, British by birth, and American by residence,” without identifying CNN’s own Cleopatra—Zane Asher? She adds: “It is important that those same strands of inclusivity that flow through me are mirrored in the stories that we tell.”

Am I the only one a bit dismayed by the inclusive promotion with diminutive (size one?) Lady Julia Chatterly’s hip gyrations in the continuous commercials for her First Move show?

CNN men should be roasted or toasted, too, when the shoe fits.

Wolf Blitzer, for instance, surely befits his name. I get nervous and edgy every time I’m in his situation room with breaking news.

Or the ubiquitous Richard Quest who’s hardly ever on his own primetime program anymore? How anyone can be so obnoxious, crude, rude, and in-your-face infuriates me. We all know people who don’t listen because they’re too busy getting their own next words ready. That’s Richard Quest. Maybe the network sees him as an asset, but, to me, he’s just an ass that turns me off whenever his gravelly pitch folk voice grinds. “On assignment” or traveling around his world of wonder, it’s good to see the stand-ins whose presentations are always better? It’s time to say “Good riddance” to Richard Quest and his Clarabell ringer.

Actually, the one thing on CNN that bothers me more than that horrid man is watching gruesome images of the devastation in Turkey and Syria (or Ukraine) violated by that little box on the lower right hand of the screen updating the status of stock markets worldwide. Yeah, poor people are suffering but the wealthy merchants of gloom and doom can’t be left without their score cards.

It’s what Quest would call one of his “profitable moments.”

In other news, replacing Hana Gorami with Isa Soares was a brilliant move on CNN’s part. While the former was repeatedly caught live and on-camera looking bored, fidgeting, and forgetting her lines, the latter is dynamic … whether on air or on the ground. And she’s Portuguese—fluent in her native language, English and Spanish as well.

Isn’t it time to retire the promo for Erin Burnett’s OutFront show? A “potential breakthrough in treating Corona virus,” and whether “all this spending” could lead to “a bigger economic crisis” are gone with the wind already. And that poor girl so delighted that a viewer paid her rent that month must have a year pre-paid by now. “Shut up,” she said. Yeah.

Meanwhile, girl-next-door Kaitlan Collins makes a better chatterer than Chief White House Correspondent, in my opinion. That honor now goes to Phil Mattingly, who’s doing an excellent job in show biz now as the former Eddie Munster. Can he fit any more words into his brief broadcast bites? Only dashing Frederik Pleitgen seems able to speak so quickly yet coherently.

Back to Kaitlan: What threesome could be any cuter for an early morning chat fest than Kaitlan Collins, Poppy Harlow, and Don Lemon?

Poppy Harlow, Don Lemon and Kaitlin Collins, the new co-anchors of “CNN This Morning.”

Smart, sassy, and stunning with a mane of auburn hair is Bianca Nobile … but why play hide-and-seek with her (former) half-hour show to pair her with regal Max Foster as co-hosts on the catch-as-can CNN Newsroom? Never mind that he’s handsome and has his own share of good hair.

(Speaking of hair, does any man have more perfectly coiffed hair than John Berman? Ivan Watson’s got great hair, too. And what happened to cutie correspondent David Culter?)

One thing CNN is guilty of, as are most round-the-clock newscasts, is repetition. How many different hosts and reporters can tell the same story – Breaking News! Breaking News! Breaking News! – from different faces and voices? A really big story (Trump’s or Biden’s or Pence’s supposedly classified documents removed from the White House, Library of Congress, or National Archives) breaks. Now that we’ve been told about it, bring in the crowd to give their thoughts, implications, and guesses on the outcome.

Overdone after so many videoclips and playbacks with the has-been experts, it’s time for panel discussions. Honestly, I do enjoy the banter between and among Dana Bash, Abby Phillip, and Van Jones.

Cheers to the “second tier” of CNN anchors—those who fill in for the name “brands” without pomp and circumstance: Fredericka (Fred) Whitfield, Brianna Keilar, Pamela Brown, Jim Acosta, John King.

Clarissa Ward deserves an Emmy, Nobel, and/or Pulitzer prize for her documentary commercials, as well as for her sensitive, sensible, heroic work in Afghanistan and Turkey!

BREAKING NEWS …

When push comes, it’s good to remember that there’s more than one CNN in town. The new CNN Portugal (in Portuguese) can learn some important lessons from the intrusive tactics of its American counterpart.

We can, too …

Perhaps it will motivate more of us to focus on our Portuguese.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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War Cry

According to Webster’s, war is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations … a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism … a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.”

For its part, Oxford’s simply says that it’s “a situation in which two or more countries or groups of people fight against each other over a period of time.”

When the 1,728-page Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary appeared in 2001, Linton Weeks in The Washington Post reported Encarta’s top American editor as saying, “it will start the Third World War of Dictionaries.” Added Michael Agnes, editor in chief of Webster’s New World dictionaries, “It will shake things up.”

Encarta lasted until 2009.

RIP.

The “legal” definition of war can be found in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which identify two categories of armed conflicts (or wars) – international and non-international.

Which begs the question: When does war before a world war?

Declares Webster: A world war is “a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world.”

Some examples the dictionary cited:

• The situation defused after initial investigation suggested the missile came from the Ukrainian side in accident during missile defense – but highlighted the potential for a miscalculation to spark a world war.—Simone Mccarthy, CNN, 18 Nov. 2022

• That money supplies the Russian army, which is still invading Ukraine, killing Ukrainians unmercifully, bombing Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure into oblivion, risking a potential world war, and threatening the world’s food supply.—Daniel Markind, Forbes, 21 June 2022

• Former officials at the Departments of Defense and State were skeptical that Russia would intentionally target Poland, knowing a provocative attack could spark a world war.—Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY, 16 Nov. 2022

NATO – the North American Treaty Organization –comprises 30 nations today. Two more, Sweden and Finland, are hoping to join the pact when it meets officially later this year. Still, like the European Union by and large, most “Western” NATO nations are defending Ukraine and supplying it with increasingly sophisticated arms, tanks, drones, aircraft, and weapons of war.

Are we already in a world war? If so, is it “cold” or “hot?”

Marshall McLuhan infamously stated that “the media is the message”; i.e., we tend to believe what see and hear via our preferred media. So, maybe the matter is mine: I’m watching too much TV, reading too many newspapers, spending too much time online distilling the “social” media.

I am sick of hearing about China continuing to threaten Hong Kong and Taiwan. Of North Korea testing nukes and guided missiles while saber-rattling at its southern step-brother. Of Brazil copy-catting the USA in terms of insurrections. Of revolutions in Venezuela, Peru, Haiti. Of conflict in Syria, insanity and instability in Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian crusade, El Salvador’s never-ending gang wars, cartels and drug lord crises in Mexico. Of London Bridge falling down while leavers and stayers, pro- and anti-monarch loyalists, Tories and Labour, duke it out daily as people try to go about their business worrying about how they’ll pay their bills.

And America?

If referring to the USA, the country is a gun, a powder keg, where mass shootings and massacres occur continuously. Where the divided states and absurd politicians annihilate each other as the three branches of government are caught up in turf-minding and guessing which officials will be the next ones to be found with smoking guns – aka classified documents – in their homes or their hands. Where law and order are quaint concepts defined today by who’s doing the policing. And dearly beloved Canada, that place where Americans wanted to escape to as far back as I can remember (Vietnam), now finds its population at odds over Hollywood handsome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Inflation and strikes are everywhere, along with territorial disputes and civil wars. Snipers lurk and attack total strangers unmercifully online. When countries and peoples are so polarized that they no longer can talk civilly to others, we’re at war.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Global Protest Tracker, since 2017 over 400 significant antigovernment protests have erupted worldwide; more than 132 countries experienced significant protests; 23% of these significant protests have lasted three months or longer; 135 significant economic antigovernment protests occurred worldwide.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, we have blood on our hands.

And the bottom line, I believe – whether measured by militant politicians or organized crime, billionaires and oligarchs, oil and energy blackmail, drugs and even domestic disputes – is money.

Blood money.

So far, so good in Portugal and Spain … although we’re told that grift and corruption do occur here, too. We’ve learned enough Portuguese to get the gist of the news broadcast on the TVs prominent in every bar, café, and restaurant. And there’s always CNN “breaking news” to inform us of the latest catastrophes–man-made and “natural.” But at least our streets here are quiet. Portugal and Spain are accessories, not accomplices, to the wars. We’re paying more, but we can still sleep soundly and eat regularly. We’ve bought some time until drawn into the brawl.

Comfort: Maybe that’s the real problem? Like safety and security, we crave and will do everything possible to defend it.

Have we become too comfortable?

I don’t know. But I do know that I got an email and postal letter from our Internet provider today, informing me that prices are going up.

“Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than to your comfort zone,” noted Jimi Hendrix’s sidekick, bass guitarist Billy Cox.

Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug and escape the ravages of modern media into the illusory pages of a good book. To tilt at windmills or venture down the rabbit hole again.

Like Don Quijote and Alice in Wonderland.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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Selling Portugal

First and foremost, let me say that we love Portugal … despite its quirks and eccentricities. There is nowhere else we would want to live, except for our periodic vacations at our pied a terre in Olvera, Spain.

It’s been five years now that we’ve been living in Portugal. Though Portugal hadn’t been on our radar — we´d had a vacation bolt in Spain for 15 years — friends who lived near us in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, urged us to consider the little country between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean where they had bought some property in Alpedrinha, a charming village between Castelo Branco and Fundão.

Why Portugal and not Spain?

As non-EU nationals, the bottom line for us was this: Portugal wanted us and did everything possible to make our residency there easier; Spain didn’t.

Over these years, we’ve seen a lot of hype and disinformation spread about Portugal. For us and many others, it’s a great place to live. But too many people get caught up in all the hype and the hoopla: How many different media and magazines have decreed that Portugal is the top place to be … to visit … to live … to retire?

Do you have any idea how many Americans from the USA (alone) are moving to Portugal in increasing numbers?

Enough to command cover and feature stories from Condé Nast TravelerPolíticoThe Los Angeles TimesCNN, and many others.

Why all the hype and hoopla about this tiny, westernmost European nation?

Lots of reasons … including the selling of Portugal.

“Portugal is a good country to live in,” reports the Goa Spotlight newspaper. “Security, the friendliness of the people, the open and tolerant culture, education, among many other aspects, are factors that lead Brazilians to seek out the country. However, promises of an El Dourado, designed by youtubers from Brazil, are bringing people from the other side of the Atlantic in search of a reality that does not exist.”

The reality of Portugal is framed by what happens on the planet. The war continues to leave its marks on post-pandemic growth, and the economic recession threatens, above all, those who cannot extend what they earn at the end of the month.

In addition, with rents rising – last year they rose by an average of 37%, with the energy bill rising, gas, water, food and transport at more expensive prices, it’s complicated for anyone looking for a better life easier, or at least with surmountable challenges, in Portugal.

Truth be told, Portugal is being oversold.

I suspect that many professionals who can’t find appropriate work (and pay) in the country are pumping up the rhetoric and joining the bandwagon of those selling Portugal. Grocers specializing in food products generally hard to find are shipping them to your doorstep in Portugal. Therapists are dealing with post-expatric syndrome and a host of other unsettling behaviors. Lawyers are catering to the big slice of business that comprises the market of people needing NIFs, bank accounts, and houses. Property agencies are a dime a dozen. Relocation experts promise to facilitate the transition. Packed tighter than sardines in a tin are webinars, blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels catering to expats, immigrants, and foreigners. We have countless scores of people and groups teaching Portuguese in a variety of formats. Others are arranging round-trip scouting trips to the destination(s) of client interest(s), as well as charter flights bringing people and their pets to Portugal. Customized trips and tours are at your disposal, as are money lenders and currency brokers. Portugal itself is subsidizing numerous public relations undertakings that lure people — as tourists, travelers, and residents — to its land of the fado and saudade.

And, yes, some of them advertise in Portugal Living Magazine. (Think of us as a Portuguese Robin Hood–charging advertisers so we can provide free subscriptions to readers!)

Still, there’s a point to be realistic and not conjure up expectations of cobble stone streets with porto flowing freely. It just doesn’t work that way.

“The sales gimmick of Portugal having the best beaches in Europe, the warm weather, low cost of living, and hospitable people was charming and very appealing. However, as reality set in, I discovered a different picture–more of a western country being operated as a third world country, or an eastern bloc bureaucratic central system,” one critic said.

This particular person itemized his disappointments with and complaints about Portugal:

Regarding responsibility: The irresponsible behavior of the Portuguese citizens exacerbated the (Covid lock-down) problem. For example, the Portuguese government imposed a travel restriction over the 2021 Easter Weekend, so 50% of the country (5 million residents) traveled to the Algarve a day before the travel restriction started to go to the beach, only to spike the covid-19 numbers with this super spreader practice. So, Portugal went from easing the restriction phases of Mar/Apr/May to a delayed roll-out easing rules for Aug/Sep/October plan, with no consequences to law breakers.

Regarding taxes: The Non-Habitual Resident tax system for expats went from 0% to 10% overnight, with the stroke of a pin starting from 31 Mar 2020. Also, that NHR expires after 10 years, leaving expats’ pensions at the mercy of the Portuguese income tax brackets of 14.5%-48%. Another thing that I didn’t learn till later was the effect of obtaining Portuguese citizenship on tax exempt pensions under the current 1994 tax treaty with the US, where federal pensions (from Fed, State, and local governments) would be subject to Portuguese income taxes once the recipient is both a resident and a citizen of Portugal. Thus requiring the recipient to stay under the 183 days per year to avoid being a tax resident, provided that the expat’s primary residence was not considered by Finanças as being in Portugal, a big grey-area open to interpretation, especially if you own a property in Portugal!

Regarding the cost of living: While in general the cost of living in Portugal is lower than most places in the USA, some things just aren’t that much cheaper in Portugal. Many posts rant about how cheap the food is here, where lunch shouldn’t exceed 10 Euros, and dinners shouldn’t exceed 20 Euros, and never tip more than one euro. Well no one tells you that locals have two menus, where an Algarve restaurant owner emailed me his Portuguese patrons’ local-priced menu, but handed his walk-in customers the overpriced touristy priced menu. I ordered a breakfast cheese omelet, a coffee, bread, and water, for which I was charged 17 Euros! The concept of exploiting your expat residents is appalling to me. The grocery stores are not cheap, and are comparable to USA prices, unless you elect to forfeit all “luxury” foods and brands you’ve grown accustomed to back home. Residential electricity cost in PT is 211.4% of that in the USA. The average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is $0.149 per kWh, where in Portugal the average residential rate [with the 23%IVA tax] is 0.262 Euro per kWh ($0.315 per kWh). The gasoline price in PT is 228% of that in the USA: The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.043 per gallon, where in Portugal the average price of gas is $6.95 (1.527€ per Liter/5.78 per gallon). Even though renting can be affordable in Portugal, the entire Algarve region spikes rents to three or four folds in the tourist season month’s May through September, asking their tenants to pay up or evict them, resulting in the entire expat population in the Algarve desperately pleading for accommodations on expat groups. Cars cost at least twice as much as they are in the USA, simply because of the outrageous taxes imposed on imported cars and the added VAT and road taxes. Used cars are unreliable and are triple and quadruple what a reasonably priced used car should comparably cost in the USA.

(Note: I disagree with several of the points the writer made above. For one, the price of electricity. Numbers can be tricky and used every which way to justify a point. Personally, we have lived from Florida to Wisconsin and places in between, where our typical monthly electric bills were U.S. $300-500. In Portugal, we’re paying €125 on average for two separate properties with aircons, washers, dryers, dehumidifiers, and hot water heaters in use. Our Internet “package” — including a fixed line telephone, a mobile phone with more minutes and data that we’ll ever use, over 100 channels — more with a “Smart” TV — and high-speed broadband is 70€ per month. Compare that to Comcast! And property taxes? For us in the USA, it was well over $3,000 per year vs. €125 in Portugal. All things considered, our cost of living is covered by my monthly Social Security payments–about US $2,000.)

Regarding health care: Everyone touts the great prices of medical care in Portugal. That may be true in emergency medicine (life, limb, or eye sight), which one could very well require if you drive enough in this country, being cut off around every corner at high speeds for no apparent reason. However the public health system is grossly inadequately equipped and understaffed, where my diabetic expat neighbor is waiting over three months to get his eye exam scheduled. I attempted to schedule an appointment with a public clinic doctor to no avail for eight months now; every time I go to the clinic they say it’s not possible or no doctors available in the next month, and refuse to schedule future appointments that are beyond a 30-day window. The fact is that the public health doctors in Portugal moonlight at private clinics during the tourist season for more income, and their staff at the public clinics cover for them. 

(Note: Free, national health care plans — from Canada to the UK and beyond — suffer similar problems. Voilà: enter another money-making service catering to confused and frustrated foreigners in Portugal–the health concierge, whose team helps you navigate the system, make appointments with doctors and dentists, and resolve any concerns you may have. All for a fee, of course. On the other hand, private health insurance is a bargain in Portugal. My partner, 59, and I, 73, together are paying €2,000 for the most comprehensive coverage we’ve had anywhere … and it includes all of Iberia, Spain as well as Portugal.)

Like everywhere these days, Portugal — and the European Union — has its share of liberals and alt-righters. There are robberies, both burglaries and advantage-taking. Not everyone is nice–some people are downright nasty. Fuel is more expensive here, at least three times its cost in the USA. It gets bone-chilling cold all over the country, a different type of cold that we’ve not experienced elsewhere. There’s mold and bugs and flies and creepy crawlers. And lots of houses that continue to be inhabited since they were built (and hardly upgraded) in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Yes, there are some people who have different attitudes about domestic pets than we do. We cringe when we hear of their abuse and abandonment. They may cringe when they see us treating our dogs and cats as children, rather than pets. But, increasingly, I see Portuguese people walking their dogs on leads, picking up after them, buying specialty foods at upscale pet shops, and taking their “familiars” to the vet to be diagnosed, treated, and inoculated.

My friend João (don’t we all have at least one?), whom I respect immensely, responded to a litany of complaints about living in Portugal with these words:

“We describe things as we are, not as they are. As objective as one can be, the overall joy of living in one place cannot be calculated from some parameters on a bullet list. I must say that as a former expat myself, what some considered negative points were truly the things that made me happy. Take into consideration that the grass is always greener … and there will always be people (seeking to) overrate their products–countries included.”

One of the questions asked of would-be members to the largest Facebook group for expats, immigrants, and others interested in moving to Portugal is “What do you like most about Portugal?” By far, the majority of those answering say “Everything!”

Give me a break, please. Most of them have yet to set foot in the country, but they already know that they like everything about Portugal. Yeah, right.

A friend, Rudi, posted this on her Facebook feed today: “I love my little village. I spent this morning emailing and calling four companies to ask if they could send me an invoice for work they had done at my place and materials they had delivered. After four texts from me, the wood guy finally did send me an invoice for wood he delivered the first week of October. I don’t think I ever before had to beg to pay my bills.

That’s the paradox of Portugal.

For some reason, I’m reminded of these lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Those who come to Portugal because they’ve been sold on it being paradise are in for some surprises and reality checks. But just what is “paradise,” anyway? One person’s paradise may put another in the doldrums.

For us, it’s living in peace–safely and securely. It’s having a diverse group of multi-lingual friends who enjoy being together. It’s marveling at the splendors of the world within driving distance. It’s integrating to the culture rather than making it subordinate to ours.

We experience that in Portugal.

“At the end it’s a wonderful country to experience but it’s not paradise,” commented Jon Collier in a post. “That’s a place you create in your heart.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds.” To read the current issue and subscribe — free of charge! — please visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Masquerade

I found myself thinking about masks today.

Some people continue to wear them when out walking, shopping, even driving in their cars.

Most people no longer wear them, except where it’s obrigatorio–in pharmacies, health centers, and other such places.

Others should — but don’t — wear them. Like the waitress in the restaurant we ate at on Saturday. Her cough was continuous. Not the dry, hacking kind … nor the wet, sneezing kind that’s symptomatic of colds or the flu with phlegm. Hers was an incessant cough, like something scratching relentlessly at her throat. When she didn’t have anything in her hands — a plate of food, a pitcher of wine, a menu — she’d cough into her hands. Not once did she wash her hands while working or waiting on customers.

“Deves chevar uma máscara,” I told her in my best Portuguese while she stood over our table taking our order. Não, she shook her head. She’d have nothing to do with wearing a mask. Except for her father (maybe her husband?), nobody else was handling the food. And he was too busy moving ice cream around in the freezer to notice or be bothered about the need for good hygiene–especially around food.

Even during the height of the pandemic, most people in Portugal understood the need to wear masks to protect themselves as well as others. It didn’t require a government mandate (although one was issued), nor was it a matter of government interference, intervention, and/or disinformation. Certainly, there were those who believed in government conspiracies and refused to wear masks. But they were few and far between. The same could be said for Spain, where the protective face shields are called mascarillas instead of máscaras.

While there was some grumbling at times, mask-wearing never became the cause celébre provoking country-wide revolutions and demonstrations as has women not wearing face covering hijabs in Muslim countries–especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor was mask wearing (or not) the divisive political issue at rallies and riots in the USA (and elsewhere).

Today when I see people wearing masks, I assume it’s because of common sense: people caring for themselves and others. Although their facial apparel makes them stand out in the crowds, I respect them for going against the grain and taking care.

Russ and I suffered through bad colds, or maybe the flu, for two weeks recently. When not bedridden or staying inside, we wore masks. In the supermarkets. In shops. On the streets.

As Covid restrictions and travel advisories become realities again, mainly because of China’s international travel while cases of this plague-like virus and its variants are surging, it’s well worth remembering that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When in doubt, wear a mask.

There’s no law requiring you to do so … but there’s no law saying you shouldn’t.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. To read current and past issues … and subscribe — free! — visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com.

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Portugal Budget Busters

Have You Factored These Costs into Your Finances?

So, you’ve come up with what seems like a comprehensive budget for living in Portugal?

You’ve factored in housing (mortgage or rental) costs. Utilities–gas, electric, water bills. Gasoline. Groceries. Insurance: health, home and auto. Recreation and eating out. International and child-related expenses. Even taxes, travel, and contingencies.

Here are some buggers you may not have thought of that can impact your budget, no matter how grand or frugal:

Via Verde If you’re driving on Portugal’s highways, you’re responsible for all those tolls–whether you pay booth by booth or invest several shekels for that gadget affixed to your windshield that allows you to sail through now and be charged later. In either case, depending on how much (or little) you drive on toll roads, consider adding ten euros per month to your budget.

Fares You live in a metropolitan area served by a network of trains, trolleys, and buses? You may not have tolls to pay, but consider what you’ll be shelling out daily for commuting costs. Create a new budget item for fares, commuting, and transportation costs.

Bank Fees Unlike some countries which pay you interest for the privilege of holding and investing your money, Portugal (and Spain) charge you for “renting” space at their banks. Add five euros each month … just for maintaining your account. To this, your bank will also charge you transaction fees. Take transfers, for instance. Regardless of the amount or location to which you’re transferring funds, you’ll be charged a fee–plus IVA! At our bank (Montepio) we’re currently charged €1.15 per transfer + €0.05 IVA. Use this convenient service enough and you can spend another fifteen or twenty euros each month for fees on top of the amount of your transfers. Speaking of transfers, don’t forget to figure on the fees charged by (Transfer)Wise and other currency transfer companies. My Social Security payments go directly into my USA bank (credit union) account, from which I transfer almost 80% of it each month to our Portugal bank account. All things considered, the transfer fees on that amount to about 30€ per month.

Vet Visits and Pet Licenses Certainly, you take good care and responsibility for members of your furry family. Excluding pet food, which is part of your grocery budget, have you added the costs of keeping your pets in Portugal? Each must have a rabies shot and be micro-chipped. Each requires an official EU passport. Each must be registered at your local town hall. And, in addition to routine veterinarian visits and periodic inoculations, pet medications and special diets are downright expensive. They’re usually covered by insurance–public or private. We spend between €150 and €500 each year to care for our three miniature schnauzers.

Pharmacy Except for top-of-the-line health care coverage, prescription and over-the-counter drugs aren’t covered by insurance. Prices for most medicines are prescribed by the state, but can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. Add at least €100 per year to your budget.

Pellets and Wood for Heating Whether you’ve got one or more fireplaces, a pellet or wood-burning stove (or two) to keep you warm during Portugal’s damp and cold weather, remember that your appliances must be fed. Pellets can run between €3.69 and €3.99 per bag … and you’ll go through at least three per week during the winter season. Similarly, if you don’t have the space or the inclination to deal with multi-kilo barrages of wood, you’ll pay about the same to purchase tidy packages of wood covered with plastic from your grocery, hardware, or agricultural supply store. Figure between €50 and €75 monthly.

Tax Preparation Yes, you have to report and submit income tax filings every year here in Portugal, which can be frustrating — a pain in the arse — when winding your way through Portugal’s Finanças portal. The cost for a professional (accountant) to prepare and file your taxes here is actually rather reasonable: From most accounts we’ve heard, tax preparation costs €50 per person–whether your filing as an individual, married couple filing jointly, or married couple filing separately. So, put in €50-100 per year for having your taxes done. And don’t forget to add in the preparation fees and taxes you may also owe to your country of citizenship.

IVA (Value-Added/Sales Tax) Almost everything you buy here already has IVA factored into its price and includes the 23% due to Portugal and 21% to Spain. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Look carefully to see if stores and salespeople are trying to be more competitive by showing prices exclusive of IVA along with the words “… plus IVA” in small print. Big-ticket items like vehicles, especially, can deliver a wallop when you first see the price listed as €30,000. But, turn the page, and you’ll notice an additional €6,900 for IVA, making the actual price €36,900 or more.

Property Tax In addition to what you paid in taxes when purchasing property and transferring it from the previous owner to you, in Portugal you also will have to pay annual property taxes. The property tax is fixed annually by each municipality and typically ranges from 0.3% to 0.45%. While properties in rural areas are taxed at 0.8%, properties in more urban areas are taxed within the mentioned range. If a property has been re-valued since 2004, it will fall between 0.2% and 0.5%. If a property was valued before 2004, the rate will be between 0.4% to 0.8%. In some cases, there will be exemptions from the taxes on property (IMI). For example, if you will use the property as a permanent home or if you rent it out, it will be exempt from property tax for three years. Also, the rate will depend on the patrimonial value of the property. IMI (Imposto Municipal sobre Imóveis) is paid annually, either: in a single instalment, in April, if the tax is below EUR 250; in two instalments (April and November) if the value is between EUR 250 and EUR 500; and three instalments (April, July, November) if the amount is more than EUR 500.

Road Tax If you own a vehicle registered in Portugal, you must pay the Single Circulation Tax (aka “road tax”) every year. Probably, you’ve already received an email from Finanças regarding payment of this tax. It is a mandatory tax for everyone who owns a vehicle in Portugal. The amount of tax paid is different for vehicles registered before and after July 2007. Owners of cars registered before July 2007 pay an amount of tax directly related to the age of the vehicle and its cubic capacity. The tax on vehicles registered after July 2007 also takes into account the vehicle’s CO2 emissions and its engine power. Mine is €103.12 … but most people pay more.

Subscriptions Forget (or not) about magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals to which you subscribe. I’ve not counted them in here. Instead, I’m referring to the annual fees which Internet providers and suppliers charge you each year. Netflix, HBO, the Disney Channel. Microsoft Office 365. Malwarebytes or other protection services. WordPress and other Internet-related expenses … especially if you host a blog or vlog or do business online.

Tips and Gratuities Giving or not is a matter of choice–yours. Whether at restaurants in taxis, at the beauty salon or the car wash, there’s no expected amount to give. After embarrassing quite a few services with our (American) 20% tips, we learned that some people don’t leave tips. And that’s perfectly acceptable. For us, although we still feel awkward about leaving pennies on the dollar, we’ve found that 5% is a reasonable and perfectly appropriate gratuity.

Though not really an additional expense, here’s a worthwhile reminder: It takes a while to get used to European weights and measures. For instance, fuel is sold by the liter–not gallon. When looking at price signage, if you see unleaded (95) gas listed at €1.95, it’s for a liter. There are four liters to a gallon. So, a gallon of gas would cost €7.80. At today’s very favorable exchange rate, in dollars, that gallon costs just over US $8.00.

And then there’s this: Though eating out at cafés, snack bars, and restaurants is often quite cheap, it’s the extras that add up. See that table set with a basket of bread, a bowl of olives, and a variety of spreads — butter, cheese, etc.? While often served courtesy of the house, in not too few places there’s a surcharge for these nibbles: usually between one and five euros, which will be added to your bill.

Don’t want (or need) it? They’ll be removed from your table before the first course arrives.

No charge!