Friday, December 27, 2013

Golden visas offer the keys to Europe

At a time when Britain is worrying about an influx of workers from poor European Union countries, Portugal is enthusiastically encouraging rich entrepreneurs from outside the EU.
Romanian and Bulgarians, especially those likely to seek welfare benefits, are causing panic in Britain because immigration restrictions are to be lifted on January 1.
Meanwhile, Chinese, Russian and other foreign nationals are being wholeheartedly welcomed here in return for investments under the so-called Golden Visa scheme. 
In return for buying property for upwards of half a million euros ($700,000), or capital transfers of more than a million, a golden visa allows non-EU citizens to reside in Portugal for five years without having to pay tax on foreign-earnings. It also gives the right to move around in the Schengen area, which includes nearly all the countries across Europe, but not the UK.
After the initial five years, visa holders may become Portuguese passport holders and thus full citizens of the European Union.
A recent YouGov poll for The Sun newspaper in the UK showed that 72% of Britons wanted their government to limit immigration from other EU countries, fearing that immigrants might take their jobs or strain public services.
The European Commission rebuked Prime Minister David Cameron for saying he  aims to restrict the relocation of migrants from poorer to richer EU states, saying EU membership confers only a qualified right to freedom of movement.
Portugal being one of the poorer states does not have an immigration problem. On the contrary, the mass exodus of Portuguese job seekers to richer countries, including Britain, continued this year at about the same rate as last. Official estimates put the figure at between 100,000 and 120,000 annually leaving their homeland.
High unemployment and severe austerity make Portugal an unattractive country to many outsiders too. Recent reports say even refugees arriving from Syria and other Muslim conflict zones don’t want to stay here. Portugal is merely a stepping-stone.
It seems to be merely a stepping-stone for many of those applying for golden vistas too. Unlike the Romanians and Bulgarians who are hoping to stay in Britain, many of the Chinese and other foreign investors are using their golden visas to set up yield-bearing arrangements in this country that will allow them to live or do business elsewhere in Europe.
For example, they are looking for easily rentable properties in prime Lisbon locations or condominium resorts in the Algarve. Estate agents are scrambling to make sales. Many highly attractive properties are on offer at prices that have dropped by nearly a third since the country was forced to apply for a bailout in 2011.
Agents say plush apartments are available in Lisbon at the same price buyers would have to pay for properties half the size in Beijing or Shanghai. With this in mind, delegations from Portugal attended China’s largest international real estate fair in Shanghai this month.
The golden visa scheme attracted little interest when it was introduced over a year ago. It now seems to be taking off, with applications rolling in mainly from China, but also Russia, Brazil, Angola and India.
According to an official tally released early this month, the scheme had brought in a total of €222 million from 256 visa holders. More than 300 applications were said to be in the pipeline. Nearly all were expected to be approved, which would bring the total investment since the scheme was set up to around €600,000 million.
Introduced by the centre-right coalition government, the golden visa programme has the tacit support of the Socialist opposition party. The only severe critics are the far-right National Renovator party whose leader, José Pinto-Coelho, claims the country is “prostituting itself.”
If so, it is not the only one. Other EU countries in serious financial straits - Spain, Greece and Cyprus - have their own golden visa programmes. So too do some of Europe’s wealthier nations, including Germany and the Netherlands.
As the year ends, the poor are as problematic as ever, while the competition to attract the rich is fierce and rewarding.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top judges spark pre-Christmas crisis

The approach of Christmas brings fresh worries to Portugal and its hopes of returning to something like financial stability next year.
Once again, the biggest threat to the government's efforts to exit the country’s bailout – and to the continued existence of the present government itself - comes not from politicians but judges.
The latest decision by the nation’s Constitutional Court has blocked a highly unpopular bid to cut public sector pensions. It is the fourth time judges in the highest court in the land (pictured below) have blocked government measures this year. They may do the same to plans to cut the salaries of public sector workers.
As with earlier rulings on austerity measures, the Constitutional Court judges have stymied efforts to cut spending ahead of Portugal’s planned exit from its €78 billion ($107 billion) bailout next June.
The latest decision outlawed a key measure in the 2014 budget calling for cuts of up to 10 percent in civil service pensions over €600 a month. The 13-member court unanimously declared the proposal “unconstitutional” as it was a “violation of the principle of trust.”
This brought renewed calls from street protesters as well as opposition politicians for the government’s resignation. Arménio Carlos, leader of Portugal’s largest trade union, CGTP, condemned the government’s austerity policies as “attacks on human rights.”
An ever-growing number of citizens are claiming that the coalition government is more like a dictatorship than a democratic institution and that it has lost touch with public opinion and the people’s needs. Protesters want President Aníbal Cavaco Silva to veto the controversial State Budget and call early elections.
The pension cuts would have saved an estimated €388 million, funds the government must now find elsewhere to comply with the country’s bailout deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The most likely alternative savings will involve hikes in VAT, which are sure to spark more public outrage.
While there is serious disenchantment with the present centre-right coalition, the question arises: would any other set of politicians in the country be able to do any better? Incompetence and inefficiency are thought to be rife in just about all sectors and at all levels of the administration and the civil service.
Portugal has so far received €71.4 billion of the bailout money it was promised. The government hopes it can follow Ireland’s lead and exit by staying on target to meet the bailout requirements and return to normal financing in the bond markets.
Not everyone is pessimistic. In the days leading up to the latest court ruling, the European Commission expressed qualified optimism that Portugal would be able to find an alternative way to meet its 2014 budget deficit target. “Such measures, however, could heighten risks to growth and employment and reduce the prospects for a sustained return to financial markets,” said a commission spokesman.
The Financial Times today quoted Charles Schulz, a senior economist with Germany’s Berenberg Bank, as saying that Portugal still had a good chance of leaving its bailout programme in June. “The economy is growing, political risks are limited and the government is reforming the economy. But the errors of the past will continue to weigh on Portugal’s prospects.”
On hearing of the court’s rejection after the first session of an EU summit in Brussels last night, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: “It’s not an easy situation but I think Portugal will find a way to solve it.”

What do you think?

Is the government on the right track, or has it got it all wrong?Your comments below please. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Drug law reform: a bold new initiative

Uruguay has joined Portugal in the forefront of drug law reform by becoming the first country in the world to make it legal to grow, sell and smoke marijuana.
When the law approved by the senate in Uruguay comes into force and marijuana is being grown legally within its own borders, Uruguyans over the age of 18 will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams of pot per month from licensed pharmacies.
Twelve years ago Portugal became the first country to fully decriminalise the personal use of all kinds of drugs. Decriminalising did not mean legalising. Personal use remained unlawful but was no longer regarded as a criminal offence. Trafficking or dealing remained a serious crime.
‘Quantities for personal use’ is defined as one gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, five grams of hashish or 25 grams of marijuana leaves. That is the maximum allowed for a 10-day period.
Illicit drug use in Portugal is treated as a misdemeanour that demands counselling or vocational training rather than prosecution. On the premise that addicts are ‘sick’ rather than ‘criminals,’ the solution now lies in national health centres rather than the courts and prisons.
The policy is still controversial. It seems to be working well even if not deemed an unqualified success. The number of addicts seeking rehab has gone up. The number of HIV cases among intravenous drug users has significantly dropped. Usage has not dramatically increased and Portugal has not become a haven for drug tourists. Most of the doubters have come to accept that even if it has not radically improved the situation, at least it has not made it worse.
Opponents of the law change in Uruguay claim state control will be a “social engineering experiment” likely to expose more people to a drug that critics consider more harmful than its advocates make out.
Supporters of legalising marijuana characterise it is a sensible response to the global ‘war’ on drugs that by common agreement has hopelessly failed everywhere. They believe that state control and setting the price as low as about €0.72 ($1) a gram will help push traffickers out of the market.
Although the pioneer of drug decriminalisation, Portugal has always been a dedicated partner in international efforts to curb the drug trade.
Portugal is itself on well-established intercontinental drug routes. Seizures and multinational arrests in this country are commonplace. Open borders within the European Union make the traffickers’ job easier, but the police are vigilant.
This summer, for example, Interpol supported by Europol led an operation involving 34 countries that targeted cross-Atlantic smuggling of drugs and illicit firearms. It resulted in 142 arrests, the seizure of 15 vessels, 42 guns and nearly 30 tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana with an estimated value of €600 million ($822 million).
Dealing in drugs is like any other trade. It is about supply and demand and moving goods from their place of origin to the market place. Eradicating drug trafficking may be impossible, however, as it is globally so massive and secretive. Powerful cartels run by terrorist groups as well as criminal organisations, supported by money laundering involving some of the biggest banks in the world, are using poverty and the marginalisation of segments of society in Latin America, Asia and Africa to expand drug production and black economies.
Drugs generate about €300 billion ($400 billion) a year and account for about 8% of all international trade. Only time will tell if legalisation and decriminalisation at the national level can make any real dent in organised crime on such a scale.
Meanwhile, just as those with drug policy reform in mind in the United States, Britain and elsewhere have been closely following Portugal’s bold initiative, Uruguay’s ‘experiment’ is sure to be watched with great interest.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela and the Portugal connection

The death of Nelson Mandela and the global outpouring of condolences to his widow evoke reminiscences of Portugal’s influence on the couple’s lives and on the history of South Africa as a whole.
Portuguese explorers in the 15th century were the first Europeans to set foot in southern Africa. The Portuguese established initial trade links but went on to colonise neighbouring Mozambique and Angola to the east and northwest, leaving the central and southernmost territory to the Dutch and the British.
Portugal’s close association with the region continued right up to the second half of the 20th century when it played a pivotal role in the downfall of apartheid.
After Mandela’s imprisonment in 1964 on charges of inciting armed revolution, fiercely racist white politicians and security forces remained dominant in South Africa despite international condemnation of apartheid.  With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, commercial relationships thrived with the United States, Britain, France and other leading western countries.
Portugal on the other hand simply could not afford to sustain its opposition to the Russian and Chinese-backed liberation movements in Mozambique and Angola. The ‘Carnation’Revolution’ at home in 1974 was largely in opposition to the Portuguese dictatorship’s long and financially draining colonial war.
The Portuguese troop withdrawals and subsequent granting of independence to Mozambique and Angola hugely encouraged the determination of South Africa’s blacks and increasing numbers of like-minded whites.
Portugal’s exit from Africa in the second half of the 1970s gave real hope to the anti-apartheid movement spearheaded by the African National Congress of which Mandela remained an iconic figure while languishing in jail on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.
Among the much more racially tolerant Portuguese there had never been segregation in Mozambique or Angola, but after independence many emigrants moved across the border to South Africa. They enriched the multi-cultural though increasingly tense situation there.
Overwhelming international pressure in the late 1980s led to the collapse of the laws separating whites and blacks in South Africa. In 1994, Mandela, who had served 27 years in jail, was elected the country’s first black president. There then developed a much more personal connection between Portugal’s sphere of influence and President Mandela. 
With Mozambique in the throes of a post-independence civil war between the army of the ruling Frelimo government and South African-backed Renamo rebels in 1980s, the president of Mozambique Samora Machel, a fierce opponent of the neignbouring apartheid regime,  had been killed in a still mysterious plane crash  near the border of the two countries. 
Machel’s widow, Graça, had been born into a peasant family in rural Mozambique. She won a scholarship to high school in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, but she was the only black in a class of white students.
“Why is it that I’m made to feel strange in my own country? They’re the foreigners, not me. Something is wrong here,” she remarked much later.
Another scholarship brought her to the University of Lisbon as a language student who became deeply involved in political and humanitarian issues.
On returning to Mozambique she joined Frelimo,  trained as a guerrilla fighter and became a schoolteacher, a contrasting but, as it turned out, sound preparation for her deployment as Mozambique’s first post-independence minister of education, a job she relished until well after her husband’s death.
Graça Machel first met Mandela, 27 years her senior,  soon after his release from Robben Island in 1990. In 1998, two years after Mandela’s highly publicised divorce from his second wife Winnie, Nelson and Graça married on his 80th birthday.
How ironic that two passionate rebels of different nationalities and almost different generations, both branded ‘guerrillas’ - or in modern parlance ‘terrorists’ - ended up contributing  so much to peace and reconciliation, not only in southern Africa, but across the world.
On reflection perhaps it is not so strange. As Mandela told the court before being sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But, my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Oh that today’s political leaders had half that sort of moral commitment.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is unisexism for all the way forward?

Portugal is in the middle order of world rankings when it comes to gender inequality. The gap is closing in several key areas, but there is little chance of this country ever catching up with remarkable developments in Sweden.
As one of the world’s most equal countries, Sweden has reached near parity in political representation, employment opportunities and wages. Not content with doing far more than most countries to eradicate gender discrimination, Sweden is forging ahead even further - into the uncharted territory of gender blending neutrality.
Plans are afoot to do away with gender altogether – well, almost. Just for starters, the most popular toys currently available in Sweden include sets of naked dolls in which each doll shows a different expression – a smile or a frown – but nothing that would identify it as representing a girl or a boy. 
Reporting on efforts to get rid of the idea that men and women are different, Time magazine recently noted that a growing number of Swedes are replacing their words ‘he’ (han) and ‘she’ (hon) with a new word -  hen. As unfortunate as it sounds in English, Swedish politicians are now using hen in parliament and it is routinely used in some leading newspapers.
Unisexism is not entirely new, but promoting gender neutrality on a national scale is viewed by many, even in Sweden, as feminism and political correctness gone mad. Yet Time ventured to predict that if Sweden succeeds, “the rest of the developed world may one day look at gender-neutral pronouns and gender-neutral dolls as every bit as essential to democracy as equal voting rights.”
Portugal has made very significant advances in gender equality over the past decade. That said, concerns have been raised about recent setbacks attributed to the on-going financial crisis and austerity measures.
Even if and when the good economic times return, neutrality is not going to work in this country. Expressive dolls might catch on, but the highly sexist Portuguese language is surely going to scupper unisexism.
It doesn’t make much sense to monolingual English speakers, but Portuguese nouns are either masculine or feminine - or in some cases bisexual, so to speak. The word ‘sex’ is itself masculine (sexo) with no feminine equivalent. A ‘journalist,’ whether a man or a woman, is always feminine (jornalista). The word for all sorts of people can sexually change depending on who it is describing (doutor / doutoraamigo / amiga). And just to make life a little more multifarious, any accompanying adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun.
Because of this linguistic complication, the equality focus in Portugal will probably remain on such matters as closing pay disparities (at present women doing similar work earn on average 30% less) and increasing the percentage of female members of parliament (currently just under 30%).
Among the other niggling imbalances, at last count more than 81% of Portuguese women do the laundry, 74% prepare the meals, nearly 66% wash the dishes and 63% take care of the house cleaning on their own. Men only shine when it comes to chores such as house repairs (60%), administrative tasks (41%) and shopping (39%).
Eradicating inequality in Portugal may not need legislation or feminist campaigns. It is happening naturally. Far fewer girls than boys are dropping out of school nowadays. Once largely illiterate and confined to the kitchen, women are well outstripping men in gaining university degrees and positions in traditionally male-dominated professions such as medicine and law.
The English word ‘idiot’ is almost the same in Portuguese (idiota). It is feminine and there is no masculine alternative. That is definitely going to have to change.

Monday, November 4, 2013

McCann case: Anger over new suspect

When Scotland Yard launched its Madeleine McCann investigation, it called for ‘restraint’ from the British media. Meanwhile, a Portuguese law forbids police here from divulging inside information about on-going criminal investigations. So how come newspapers in both Britain and Portugal have identified and published sensational stories about another implausible ‘prime suspect’ in this case?
The stories are causing outrage, especially among relatives of the now deceased ‘suspect,’ but also in the much wider community in Portugal.
Hard on the heels of reports in the UK that police were looking variously for a paedophile gang, foreign perverts, gypsy robbers, English cleaners and some fair-haired individuals possibly from Germany or Holland, the Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã last week began publishing a series of articles claiming police were investigating an African man.
The ‘new suspect’ was a former employee of the resort where the McCanns stayed in 2007. Phone records placed him near Praia da Luz at the time. As an immigrant from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, he was living with his partner and their son in the nearest town, Lagos. He was arrested in 1996 for petty theft, but had no record of any serious offence.
The Correio da Manhã stories were copied and in some cases embellished in many British and other foreign newspapers. The Daily Express, for example, claimed the suspect was “a violent thug who was a threat to children.” It gave a Portuguese ‘police profile’ as the source of this information.
In many of the regurgitated reports, Portuguese detectives were said to be examining the possibility that the ‘suspect’ had kidnapped Madeleine in an act of revenge against his former employers for his dismissal a year earlier.
This idea made no sense at all, said the brother of the Cape Verdean's Portuguese partner. “It wasn’t as if what happened there with him losing his job destroyed his life. He got work elsewhere soon afterwards.”
A Portuguese TV reporter calmly and sensibly described the recently discovered information about the man’s cell phone use as “a loose end that needs to be tied up.”  
But the British tabloids went overboard. More personal details about the man emerged, including his name. The Daily Mirror published a close-up photograph - but of course he looked nothing like either of the five-year-old e-fit images released by Scotland Yard three weeks ago.
The ‘new suspect’ died in a tractor accident in the north of Portugal in 2009, two years after Madeleine disappeared. There is that old saying, “you can’t defame the dead,  but what about the torment and humiliation these stories have inflicted upon those left behind?
This again raises serious questions about the workings and integrity of both the press and the police. How and why did details of this individual and the Polícia Judiciária’s interest in him become available? Has this man really become ‘key’ to the investigation, or is something else afoot here?
The  suspect’s widow told the Portuguese weekly newspaper, Sol: “It is disgusting that they are now trying to set up a dead man as a scapegoat.”
The Federation of the Organisations of Cape Verde based in Lisbon also believes the dead man is being used as a scapegoat. It described the allegations against him as “shocking” and “not credible.”
The truth about this matter needs to be told. Sadly, the truth about many aspects of this extraordinary six and a half year old mystery is as cloudy as ever.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Animal lovers fear new watchdogs


The Portuguese government is believed to have entered into a secret bilateral agreement with the United States over the sharing of sensitive personal data. Sources say the agreement focuses mainly on material gathered by the US National Security Agency (NSA) relating to animals in apartments.
In addition to intercepting millions of phone calls, text and email messages each month, it is thought that NSA may be priming satellite cameras to feed images to the Portuguese police.
The revelation coincides with leaked information that the Portuguese government  wants to introduce a ‘Pet Code’ that would restrict the numbers of animals in any one apartment to two dogs and four cats.
While officials this week tried to play down the proposed new law, it has sparked public outrage. Many have expressed concern that it smacks of pre-1974 revolution elitism because owners of houses will not be affected, only apartment-dwellers who tend to be the less well-off.
It has also been described as “blatant discrimination” because the new law is expected to apply to dogs and cats but leave apartment-dwellers  to keep as many pet pigs or boa constrictors as they like. It is also seen as another example of inequality as the number of dogs are expected to be limited to two whether they are chihuahuas or great Danes.
“It is the thin end of the wedge,” added Fido Basset, president of the Association of Foreign Pet Owners in Portugal. “They will start with cats and dogs and before you know it we will have to cut down on the  number of white mice, budgies and goldfish we can keep.
Animal lovers are hoping the global indignation at NSA’s spying in allied countries will prevent any new bilateral arrangement with Portugal going ahead and thus make the Pet Code unworkable. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

More bizarre twists in McCann saga

It turns out that Kate and Gerry McCann suppressed for five years ‘critical evidence’ that became the centrepiece of the recent BBC Crimewatch programme on the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine.
Findings by ex-MI5 agents long kept under wraps by the McCanns included the two e-fit images described in the Crimwatch programme by Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood as of “vital importance.”
The images are of a suspected kidnapper seen by an Irish family in Praia da Luz the night Madeleine went missing.
They were given to the McCanns by a handpicked team of investigators from Oakley International hired by the McCanns’ Find Madeleine fund in 2008.
Henri Exton, an MI5’s former undercover operations chief who led the team, told the Sunday Times he was “utterly stunned” when he watched the Crimewatch programme and saw the evidence he had passed to the McCanns presented as a new breakthrough.
He said the fund had silenced his team with a lawyer’s letter binding them to the confidentiality of a report they had compiled that contained controversial findings. Mr Exton said the legal threat had prevented them from handing over the report to Scotland Yard’s investigation until detectives had obtained written permission from the fund.
The Oakley International report, delivered in November 2008, gave little credibility to Jane Tanner’s 9.15pm sighting and focused instead on the 10pm sighting by the Irish Smith family. The investigators recommended that their e-fit images be released without delay.
For some reason the images were not published even in Kate McCann’s 2011 book Madeleine, though it devoted a whole section to eight “key sightings” and carried e-fits on all of them except the Smiths’.
In its Insight report, the Sunday Times quoted one of the Oakley International investigators as saying: “I was absolutely stunned when I watched the programme . . . It most certainly wasn’t a new timeline and it certainly isn’t a new revelation. It is absolute nonsense to suggest either of those things . . . And those e-fits you saw on Crimewatch are ours.”
The hushed-up report is said to have questioned parts of the McCanns’ evidence, contained sensitive information about Madeleine’s sleeping patterns and raised the highly sensitive possibility that she could have died in an accident after leaving the apartment herself from one of two unsecured doors.
The Sunday Times quoted a source close to the Find Madeleine fund as saying the report was considered “hypercritical of the people involved” and “would have been completely distracting” if it became public.
In fact, the Portuguese lead detective Gonçalo Amaral considered the Irish sighting to be very important back in May 2007 when the Smith family first reported it to the Policía Judiciária. Details of the sighting and ‘hypercritical information’ were in the public domain early in January 2008, three months before the Oakley team arrived on the scene.

Ebullience at the huge response to their Crimewatch programme turned to embarrassment in certain quarters when it was revealed yesterday that the BBC had cast a porn star in the ‘reconstruction’ of events the night Madeleine disappeared.
With such films as ‘Tight Rider,’ ‘Dr Screw’ and ‘From Dusk Till Porn’ on his CV, the actor Mark Sloan was engaged by the BBC to represent one of the McCanns’ holidaying friends with whom they dined each night, Dr Matt Oldfield.
 “How could the casting director not know of his background when they picked him? It’s all over Google. Did no one check? It is unbelievably stupid,” an agent, who did not wish to be named, told the Daily Star.

Meanwhile, although a new Portuguese police investigation only became official last week, a PJ team in Oporto in the north of Portugal has been reviewing the case for some time, and another PJ team in Faro in the Algarve has been assisting Scotland Yard with their inquiries. It is believed that the new Portuguese investigation will be conducted by group of PJ detectives working independently of Scotland Yard.

Things seem to be hotting up, though there is still no end to the mystery in sight.

*  The Sunday Times published the following apology to Kate and Gerry McCann and Madeleine's Fund on 28 December 2013.
“In articles dated October 23 ("Madeleine clues hidden for 5 years" and "Investigators had E-Fits five years ago", News) we referred to efits which were included in a report prepared by private investigators for the McCanns and the Fund in 2008. We accept that the articles may have been understood to suggest that the McCanns had withheld information from the authorities. This was not the case. We now understand and accept that the efits had been provided to the Portuguese and Leicestershire police by October 2009. We also understand that a copy of the final report including the efits was passed to the Metropolitan police in August 2011, shortly after it commenced its review. We apologise for the distress caused.” 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

So what’s on the menu next week?


Last week it was trans-fatty acids. The week before it was processed foods and sweet stuff. As of today, but representing a U-turn on a month ago, it is saturated fats that are all bad.
Leading food producers and supermarket chains have today pledged to cut down on saturated fat content in their products as this is now regarded as the major cause of obesity.
Company bosses say the new initiative will improve customers’ waistlines and (more to the point) improve their own bottom-lines.
While anti-saturated activists campaign against tasty treats such as pies, cakes, biscuits and cheese, advocates of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are concerned that hardly anyone knows the difference.
Asked to comment, a leading homeopathist said, almost the only thing certain in life nowadays is that if the cholesterol doesn’t get you, the statins will.”
Dressed in a smart, figure-hugging outfit at a recent meeting of slimline EU leaders, Angela Merkel warned that if fat content was allowed to fall, food prices would rise and so would the number of pensioners.
Bearing in mind that breast milk contains more than 50% saturated fat, it may be a bit late for most of us to wonder if there is anything safe to eat or drink anymore.
A spokesman for Portugal's ministry of health said this week that the best solution to obesity, cholesterol and heart disease was more austerity. He suggested a wholesome Mediterranean diet - half portions only - with plenty of red wine so we can all stay happy in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Bom appetite...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Corruption rampant around the world

In its latest international poll, Gallup has ranked the Portuguese government as one of the most corrupt in the world based on the perceptions of the Portuguese people.
Of the 129 countries surveyed, Portugal is up there with the worst - though not quite as bad as the Czech Republic where 94% of respondents think corruption is widespread in their government, followed by Lithuania with 90%.
The results of the survey conducted last year but only released a few days ago, show fully 88% of Portuguese think corruption is widespread in this country.
By contrast, the cleanest four are Sweden (14%), Denmark (15%), Switzerland (23%) and New Zealand (24%).
According to Gallup, corruption is regarded as being pervasive right around the globe, in countries with a free press – “an indicator of good governance and development” – as well as those where media freedom is limited or non-existent.
Among countries with a free press, the ‘bottom 10’ best in the corruption chart are mostly European. Although the US does not make the ‘top 10’ list, it is not far from the top. Seventy-three percent of Americans say corruption is pervasive in their government.
The new figures are further embarrassment at a time when corruption is said to be at the root of the current spat between Portugal and its former colony, oil-rich Angola - also reckoned to be among the world’s most world’s most corrupt nations.  
It is perhaps not surprising that a free press does not necessarily inspire freedom from corruption. In Portugal, 41% of respondents believe the media itself is corrupt. So says Transparency International, which released its latest survey figures a few months ago.
Transparency International reported in its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer that the Portuguese police are rated slightly better than the press, but the business community is worse and the judiciary far worse.
Needless-to-say, very few members of the public who contribute to these surveys admit to being corrupt themselves. Only 2% of Transparency International’s Portuguese respondents owned up to bribing anyone during the previous 12 months.
No questions were asked about the ‘black economy’ which is said to involve a good chunk of Portugal’s population and a fifth of the nation’s GBP.
Leaving aside the possibility of prejudiced opinions and error, what is being done about this shocking state of affairs? Not a lot apparently.
After noting at the end of its latest research report that things do not seem to have got any better over the past several years, Gallup concluded rather wearily: “Improving these perceptions is likely to be a long-term task….” 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Madeleine McCann: so what's new?

In the massive publicity campaign, viewers had been promised a ‘revelation’ but the only revelation during the BBC’s special Crimewatch programme on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was how slow Scotland Yard detectives seem to have been in getting up to speed on the case and how shallow the BBC was in its reporting.
Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said that in their investigation he and his team were going back to the very start of the case and “accepting nothing,” meaning taking a wholly fresh look at things. Yet not once during the programme did the police or the presenters consider anything other than the abduction theory for which there is no evidence except the say-so of the parents and their holidaying friends.
The Chief Inspector highlighted what he called “significant changes” to the timeline and “accepted version” of events. He explained that Scotland Yard had ruled out the sighting by Jane Tanner of a man carrying a child closely resembling Madeleine outside the McCann’s apartment at 9.15 that fateful evening. The man turned out to be another holidaymaker carrying his own child home from a crèche.
While the Jane Tanner sighting has been central to the widespread acceptance of the abduction theory up until now, those who dismiss the abduction claim have always considered the sighting most unreliable.
Scotland Yard has now shifted its emphasis to the well-documented sighting by an Irish family near the centre of the village at 10pm. Praia da Luz visitors and residents have now been asked to cast their minds back to 3rd May 2007 to see if they can identify the person portrayed in two newly released e-fit images.
The images were produced five years ago and they show two significantly different versions of the same man who may be a kidnapper – or he may not. He may be another entirely innocent person with nothing whatsoever to do with Madeleine’s disappearance.
If this really was a well-planned abduction as is being suggested, would a kidnapper carry his victim in his arms a considerable distance through the centre of the village towards the beach with all the attendant risk of being spotted? The question was not asked on Crimewatch.
The so-called “reconstruction” performed by actors, supposedly of events shortly before the disappearance, was notable for what it glossed over or did not reconstruct at all.
Bearing in mind the respectful nature of the programme towards the parents, it was perhaps not surprising there was no attempt to explain, for example, evidence found by two British cadaver dogs, or the many unanswered questions and conflicting statements made to the Portuguese police.
What will have been most disturbing for many viewers familiar with the McCann saga was the absence of journalistic balance and lack of rigour shown by the British media in the pre-broadcast propaganda and in the programme itself.
The show presented nothing new. It has merely added to the media circus that has blighted this tragic case from the very beginning.
Scotland Yard has apparently been inundated with calls as a result of the programme. British tabloids are already reporting that “police may have made a major breakthrough in the hunt for Madeleine.” Wishful thinking might be closer to the truth.
Madeleine deserves better. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Green light to higher speed limit?


THE STORY SO FAR: At the beginning of this month, Spain raised the speed limit on its motorways from 120 km/h to 130 km/h, more than in the UK but about the same as in the US. Other countries within the EU are expected to do the same. The Portuguese government is being strongly urged to follow Spain’s example.
Now read on....

Portugal is in serious danger of being left behind, according to campaigners for a higher speed limit. They are planning a series of go-slow protests on motorways all across the country next weekend.
They believe that if Portugal is to avoid a second bailout and get on track to compete with northern Europe, the nation’s drivers must hurry up.
Germans can drive as fast as they like on their motorways. Anti-austerity left-wing politicians here say the promotion of higher limits elsewhere in the eurozone is a plot by Angela Merkel to quicken the international distribution of German products and thus Germany’s programme of economic domination.
A spokesman for the Portuguese Automobile Safety Society (PASS) acknowledged that Portuguese drivers were the worst in Europe but said the imposition of speed limits was an infringement on their human rights. His members are demanding that freedom of movement on the country’s roads be enshrined in Portugal’s constitution.
The National Union of Truckers (NUTS) insists on parity with their Spanish counterparts, arguing that anything less and they will be left bringing up the rear in the highly competitive Iberian delivery business.
A cavalcade of honking horns along Lisbon’s Avenida de Liberdade yesterday highlighted a Pussy Riot-inspired protest on a zebra crossing. A group of little old ladies, who recently upgraded from donkeys and carts, want the minimum speed limit on motorways (50 km/h) abolished and the elderly given the right to park on hard shoulders.
Noting that the rate of road accidents has been dropping in recent years, the Portuguese ambulance services union says that raising the speed limit would reduce the risk of job cuts and unemployment among its members.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Golden visas, cheap at twice the price

EXCLUSIVE to our new occasional satirical series….

THE STORY SO FAR: The Portuguese government introduced a ‘Golden Visa’ program this year to attract wealthy non-EU foreigners. Anyone investing a mere €500,000 in property is eligible for a visa that allows them to take up residence, saves them the inconvenience of paying tax on foreign-earned income and gives the right to unrestricted travel within the Schengen zone. An investment of €1 million buys two Golden Visas and other privileges.
Now read on….

The government is declaring the Golden Visa scheme a roaring success with the biggest number of recipients coming from Russia, China, Angola and Colombia.
Official records show no evidence of oily oligarchs, corrupt communists, money-launderers or drug barons taking advantage of the scheme.
Addressing business leaders at a gala dinner in a sumptuous hotel in the Algarve this week, a government minister said the program had attracted huge amounts of money and much more was on the way.
According to press reports, the minister attributed Portugal’s attractiveness “not only to the transport infrastructures but also the country’s better prepared and more flexible human resources and the ongoing structural reforms.”
Those reading accounts of the speech in discarded newspapers while searching in rubbish bins and queuing up at soup kitchens said they had no idea what the minister was talking about.
Meanwhile the government has emphasised that the newcomers are adding equilibrium to the most unequal country in the eurozone in which the rich are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the poor. Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Bank of Portugal said, “Pois, pois.”
The scheme is also thought to be benefiting the country by further encouraging the mass exodus of a generation of young people obsessed with Facebook and sitting on their backsides.
Property market sources dismiss rumours that covert intermediaries in the Golden Visa program have been asking estate agents to increase commissions from 5% to 10%+ so that the introducers can get their cut.
The same sources reject notions that in this time of austerity intermediaries are trying to buy houses at  €400k and then sell them on to their clients at €500k+, or that agents would stoop to advising clients to add 10% to their asking prices to allow for fat commissions to be paid.
A 20-something unemployed science graduate about to board an overseas flight at Lisbon airport said, more or less:“This whole Golden Visa thing is a load of codswollop.”

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can the media help find Madeleine?

The media hype that has surrounded the Madeleine McCann mystery for the past six years has been unleashed with renewed vigour by none other than Scotland Yard.
On announcing that their ‘Operation Grange’ review of the case had been elevated to a full-scale inquiry in July, Scotland Yard asked for “media restraint” in the coming weeks and months as it began what was interpreted as the last chance to find out what happened to Madeleine.
So much for ‘restraint’ on the part of either the media or Scotland Yard. The media have just been treated to a string of statements that has left readers and listeners intrigued and hungry for more. The Scotland Yard PR machine is obviously working well.
 All of the major British news outlets have reported that Scotland Yard has an important ‘new theory’. It is to be unveiled in a BBC Crimewatch appeal featuring what they call “a reconstruction of Madeleine’s disappearance.”
What form the reconstruction will take remains to be seen but it will come amid the irony that Madeleine’s parents and their holidaying friends refused to take part in a reconstruction at the behest of the Portuguese police all those years ago.
On top of the ‘new theory’, Scotland Yard has announced it believes that “a vast database of mobile phone traffic” in Praia da Luz around the time Madeleine went missing “could hold the key” to solving the mystery of her disappearance.
Detectives admit it will be like “finding a needle in a haystack” because the phone log involves searching the phone and perhaps criminal records of thousands of people scattered over 31 countries.
Intriguingly, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood is quoted as saying of the mobile search: “We are doing it the hard way quite frankly. This is not just a general trawl; this is a targeted attack in relation to that database to see if it assists us in finding out what happened to Madeleine McCann at that time.
“A lot of the focus is not necessarily to find a suspect, but also witnesses. We’re trying to understand who was there for a range of reasons. If you were in Praia da Luz at the time, you may get a routine phone call from the police.”
The reason for the joint announcement and the precise connection between looking for the ‘needle in the haystack’ and the important ‘new theory’ is unclear. Indeed, it all sounds a bit strange and maybe even a bit desperate, but it has provided good copy for the media while unintentionally handing out fodder to the anti-McCann internet nasties.  
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley was captivating in his choice of words in referring to the ‘new theory.’
“There is new information not previously presented. Fresh, substantive material upon which to make an appeal. It’s substantially different. It’s not just a bland ‘can you help us’ appeal; there is some different material and a different understanding to be presented.”
To add to the mix, it is said that Kate and Gerry McCann will be in the studio and, for the first time, will appear alongside detectives in the Crimewatch programme to be broadcast on October 14. They are said to be very grateful to Scotland Yard for the work they are doing in close liaison with the Portuguese police.
Perhaps the timing is coincidental, but all this suspense rather overshadows the McCanns vs Amaral libel action, which is still in progress in Lisbon and only due to be concluded on November 5.

The Crimewatch presenters:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Climate change alert : the heat is on

“It’s the science, stupid! Climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and action is urgent,” tweeted Connie Hedegaard, the EU's commissioner for climate action after Friday’s presentation in Stockholm of the most exhaustive and authoritative report on the state of climate science to date.
She could have added that Portugal, along with Denmark and Sweden, are showing the way.
The final report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), compiled from 9,000 scientific studies by 800 scientists in many countries, has concluded there is now a 95% certainty that humans are the chief cause of global warming.
Many sceptics will still side with the 5% uncertainty. Some are pointing to the IPCC’s findings that there has been a ‘pause’ with world temperatures barely rising over the past 15 years.
Samantha Smith, leader of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative, has a more representative view.
“Whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts. We know that most of the pollution that causes climate change comes from burning fossil fuels. WWF calls on governments and investors to stop investing in dirty energy and start an immediate and just transition by investing in renewables.”
Portugal in its small way is already doing that - though there is certainly no room for complacency and still a long way to go in achieving previously set goals.
An earlier international report rated Portugal third least guilty out of 58 countries responsible for more than 90% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.
 The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) for 2013 said Portugal’s high ranking was due to a reduction in energy consumption as a consequence of the  economic crisis. The downward trend in the use of electricity, gas, petrol and diesel per person is expected to continue.  So perhaps there is something to be said for austerity after all.
Another study, conducted on behalf of the European Commission and published in February this year, highlighted the promotion of renewable energy as a key element of Portugal’s energy strategy.
It noted that climate-related policies had lost priority in the political agenda due to the economic crisis. Even so, the latest national projections show that with existing measures Portugal is expected to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets for 2020.
Renewable energy technologies in Portugal made up 24.6% of the total energy consumption in 2010, placing this country in a good position to meet its 2020 goal of 31%.
Renewables, including  photovoltaic, wind and hydro power sources, now account for almost half of the electricity generated in Portugal.
Of the 58 countries evaluated in the latest annual CCPI study,  Denmark, Sweden and Portugal were accompanied high up in the approval rating by Ireland and the UK. The United States was way down. China, Russia and Canada were near the bottom. Iran and Saudi Arabia came last.
.Urgent action is now required in response to the starkest “unequivocal” warning yet, say the world’s leading climate change scientists.
Of course, climate change knows no borders. People everywhere will suffer if the predicted extremes of heat, drought and flooding come to pass.
If the IPCC's 95% certainty is more or less accurate, it is now up to the rich and powerful countries to stop dithering and take urgent steps to save the planet instead of wrecking it.