Sunday, September 18, 2022

A republic mourns a monarch

For a fully independent republic like Portugal to officially declare a three-day period of national mourning for a foreign monarch is remarkable, but such is the respect for the late Queen Elizabeth ll and this country’s centuries of close ties with Britain.

The mourning here overlaps the funeral in London on Monday attended by Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa among many other heads of state.

Under the Treaty of Windsor as long ago as 1386, Portugal and Britain forged a bond of friendship known as the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. This was centuries before the two maritime nations located on the western edge of the European continent created, without any conflict between them, separate empires across the world. The alliance is still in force today.

Portugal’s last monarch was Dom Manuel ll. His reign came to an end with the October Revolution in 1910. Manuel lived the last two decades of his life in exile in Twickenham, England.

In 1932, the year Manuel died, the then British monarch, King George V, addressed his people for the first time on the radio. He wished them a happy Christmas in a speech composed by the legendary writer Rudyard Kipling.

George V’s granddaughter Elizabeth was just six years old at the time. Her coronation in 1953 was broadcast live on television channels and this is said to have been the major event that established television as a mainstream medium in Britain. She has totally dominated it day and night since her passing on Thursday 8th September.

Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, made two state visits to Portugal. The first was in 1957 during the Estado Novo dictatorship of António Oliveira Salazar. The second was in 1985 when crowds in the port city of Setubal cheered and chanted ‘Viva la a Rainha’ before the royal couple went on a four-day tour of Lisbon, Porto and Evora in the Alentejo.

Prince Charles visited Portugal with his wife Princess Diana in 1987. They attended a memorial service marking the 600th anniversary of the marriage of Portugal’s King Dom João l to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of England’s John of Gaunt. It coincided with the 1386 Treaty of Windsor alliance. Prince Charles made another visit, this time in 2011 with his present wife, Camilla, now the new king’s consort.

With the easing of the COVID pandemic, the number of British holidaymakers in Portugal has been surging again. Currently there are more than 46,000 British citizens registered as living in Portugal, the second largest number of expatriates after those from the former Portuguese colony of Brazil. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

A pause in an EU – UK battle


Dramatic developments previously expected this week involving the Portuguese diplomat João Vale de Almeida have probably been put on hold for the period of mourning for Queen Elizabeth ll.

As ambassador of the European Union in the United Kingdom, Vale de Almeida is facing fierce and complex opposition from the UK’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss over the Brexit treaty.

Leaders from every EU country, including Portugal’s  President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, sent tributes and messages of condolence to Her Majesty’s family and to the people of Great Britain.

Just before the Queen’s passing, the focus for Ambassador Vale de Almeida was a battle over the Northern Ireland protocol, the most sensitive element of the Brexit deal signed in 1996. Truss has said she is going to unilaterally change part of the protocol. The European Commission absolutely rejects this and has indicated that any unilateral change or scrapping the protocol altogether as Truss’s predecessor Boris Johnson suggested, could lead to a trade war.

Vale de Almeida, a former ambassador to the United States and later the United Nations, has made it clear that in his opinion it would be both “illegal and unrealistic” for the UK to fail to honour its commitment to the Brexit deal.

“It is illegal because it would be a breach of EU, UK and international law. It is unrealistic because it does not provide a real alternative to the protocol.” The government’s approach was probably “on a road to nowhere.”

Should Liz Truss with the backing of her hard-core conservatives go ahead, the EU has vowed to impose sanctions that could bring about a complete suspension of the whole Brexit trade deal, a move that Portugal would support, but that would have enormous consequences for the UK economy.

The protocol was originally agreed in order to avoid a hard border between NI, a region within the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which, like Portugal, is a firm member of the EU. The protocol also seeks to protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence in ‘the Troubles’’.

In Northern Ireland, leaders of both the majority Sinn Fein party that wants Irish unity, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that wants the closest possible ties with Britain, have expressed their sincere respect for Queen Elizabeth. So too has the leader of the Irish government in Dublin.

On the eve of a brief visit to Northern Ireland in her final days as foreign secretary, Liz Truss said she was going to override part of the Brexit divorce deal, a statement that outraged all but NI unionists. It was described by some of those who oppose the idea as “political insanity”.

Vale de Albeida is understood to be highly concerned about the low level of trust between the UK and the EU: “between our leaders, between all of us that are involved in this relationship.”

Relationships are right on the edge with a desperate need for further negotiations, which both sides claim the other is avoiding at a time when both are facing crippling energy and cost of living crises.

Meanwhile, the NI devolved government is unable to function because in February the DUP thrust it into limbo until the protocol is scrapped. Sinn Fein, as well as the centrist Alliance Party, the third largest in NI - plus the majority of NI citizens who voted against Brexit in the referendum -  want the protocol to remain in place.

In his first phone call to congratulate Liz Truss on taking over as prime minister, President Joe Biden, who is proud of his Irish ancestry, appealed to her to abide by the protocol agreement. Not to do so would hinder not only trade arrangements between the EU and the UK, but between the UK and the US.

Liz Truss is tough and likened to the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher. Her main adversary in Brussels is an equally tough lady, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who will certainly not be bullied into accepting any breach of the internationally binding Brexit trade agreement. 

As Ambassador Vale de Almeida has insisted, further negations are vital. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Marcos Sefcovic, has said that “the call for the UK government to engage with us has been clear for a year.” He added: “A way forward can be found.”

Very privately, Queen Elizabeth would almost certainly have agreed.




Sunday, August 21, 2022

Full speed ahead for electric vehicles


There is much support in Portugal for the European Union’s proposals to demand that from 2035 all new cars, vans and trucks must be electric powered.

While there are national differences of opinion among the 27 member states, all broadly agree with the 2035 deadline in order to hugely reduce automobile CO2 emissions and thus help limit climate change.

The transition to electric involves not only banning new combustible engines, but also hybrids, battery electric and hydrogen vehicles. 

The aim of the proposals,  put forward by the EU Commission and backed by the Parliament in Brussels, is to boost the production of electric vehicles as well as the installation of 3.5 million public electric charging stations for cars and vans across the continent by 2030 and 16.3 million by 2050.


Hopefully all this will go a long way to reducing present CO2 emissions by a half over this decade and by almost 100% by 2035. “The transition to electric vehicles is going much faster than anyone had anticipated, but then we are under an obligation to create the right incentives for that,” says Frans Timmermans, the EU’s head of climate change policy.

The Reuters news agency has reported seeing a leaked document showing that Portugal and four other EU countries wanted a five year delay for some vehicles. The other four countries were Italy, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The document was leaked in June this year, but as early as January last year Portugal’s centre-left Socialist Party had reportedly proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035. Some other EU countries have been considering setting their own deadlines between 2030 and 2040 for phasing out fossil fuelled motors, but the pandemic interfered with decisions.  

The EU Parliament has only narrowly backed the 2035 ban. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association has serious reservations about it, while some green advocates want ever stricter measures. The EU Commission’s proposals will continue to be negotiated and it may take up to two years before they are finally signed into law.

Normal car sales dropped during the worst pandemic period. Even so, electric and plug-in hybrid sales surged. It’s anticipated that buying and driving zero-emission automobiles will be cheaper than their traditional equivalents.

And by the way, as a reminder that automobiles must play a part in limiting climate change, the fierce heat waves this summer have caused many road surfaces around the world to melt, expand, crack and buckle, presenting obvious dangers to drivers.

That’s the last thing muscle car owners want. For those unfamiliar with this auto breed, muscle cars are high velocity, two-door coupes that roar into action and can accelerate at very high speeds. The Dodge Motor Company in the United States seems to be ahead of the game in that it has just unveiled the first new electric muscle car that should be on the market by 2024.  It’s called the Charger Daytona and it will replace their premium diesel-fuelled Challenger and Charger muscle cars. The new electric one will feel as good as ever in that, unlike other electric cars which are quiet, it will be as loud and maybe accelerate even faster than its non-electric predecessors. 

 Dodge's electric super car





Saturday, August 13, 2022

Heated clashes over the climate

Amid the wildfires and droughts in Portugal and across the European continent, there has been no sign of a return to China’s co-operation agreement with the United States in combating global warming.

   The wildfires and droughts exemplify the ever-present danger of climate change, but the surprising breakdown of the agreement signed by China and the US last year has raised more alarm about saving our planet.

   China and the US are not only the world’s two biggest economies, but the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas polluters. They are jointly responsible for about 40% of the global emissions.  

   The collapse of their co-operation seems rather petty as it was apparently caused by the brief visit by the US politician Nancy Peloci to the Taiwan, which China claims as a province of its own overall territory.  

   Climate scholars say there is little chance of averting calamitous heat increases without China and the US working together.

   Growing tensions between the superpowers has made them increasingly distrustful and thus made it more difficult for non-political scientists to share climate research information across borders. 

   The latest clash between China and the US occurred just as the American Senate, after much wrangling, was on the brink of passing a package of legislation that included more than $300 billion in climate investments.  The unprecedented proposals have now passed through Congress and are expected to be signed into law this week.

   Elsewhere, however, major governments are dithering and still not doing enough to limit warming to 1.5C.

   China and the US agreed to boost co-operation for the rest of this decade in a joint declaration during the COP 26 conference organised by the United Nations in Glasgow last November. That commitment was made with delegates from almost 200 countries present. It was perceived as a very positive achievement in an otherwise disappointing conference. Much hangs in the balance for COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th to 18th November.

   Meanwhile the Reuters news agency has firmly scheduled an “impact” discussion aimed at mobilising businesses to deliver on climate action. More than 300 top executives and government officials will take part in the event in London on 3rd and 4th October. .

   No one cares more about advancing action on this subject than the young who have most to fear. The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule this autumn on the claim by a group of six young Portuguese citizens that the climate protection policies of 32 European countries are inadequate. This legal clash has been building for five years, but has now been referred to the grand chamber of the court where it will be considered by 17 judges.

   The Portuguese group have taken on this legal battle because they say the climate crisis interferes with their right to life, their right to respect for their private and family lives, and their right not to be discriminated against.  

   The six Portuguese claimants are represented by 10 barristers from various UK chambers. The 32 defendant countries include France, Germany, Spain, the UK – and Portugal.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The funny side of climate change


Former Portugal prime minister, now United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, came out with another of his extraordinary dire statements last week.

   Referring to the war in Ukraine and Western tensions with China, Korea and Iran, he said that humanity was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

   Here are some of his other most notable remarks this year.

   “The only certainty is more uncertainty.”

   “Mistrust among world powers is reaching fever pitch.”

   “The information superhighway is clogged with hatred and lies, giving oxygen to the worst impulses of humanity.”

   “From global health to digital technology are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”

   “Unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies the world will be uninhabitable.”

   Guterres obviously doesn’t mince his words, but the reaction from many people is merely a weary shrug of the shoulders. Others take such grim warnings so seriously that it causes mental health problems.

   During the COVID-19 pandemic and the social isolation than came with it, a great Increase in the number of individuals in Portugal and elsewhere were experiencing feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression. Several psychological studies concluded that this led to a profound short-term and also long-term damage to societies. 

   A survey conducted by the Ricardo Jorge National Foundation showed that in every ten Portuguese citizens quarantined during the pandemic, seven were revealed to have psychological distress. The majority were young adults or women. They showed symptoms of moderate to severe depression.

   Concerns about the present and future consequences of global warming were foremost among the young before the worst of the pandemic. They still are in 2022, which has been designated by the EU as the  ‘European Year of Youth.’   

  The young and plenty of oldies too, find the goings on in the world today simply preposterous. For example, United States senior politician Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, apparently unaware it would immediately infuriate the mainland Chinese, who promptly launched a massive military exercise involving cruise missiles over Taiwan, that heightened the chances of another war between nuclear superpowers.

   Only after months of infantile bickering has the export of 50 million tons of cereals been allowed to proceed to impoverished parts of Africa where every day so many people are dying of starvation. 

   “The height of irresponsibility” was one polite way of describing Russia’s launching of missiles from around a captured Ukrainian nuclear plant.

     In the words of a Bloomberg report, “burning fossil fuels can power the world 24 hours a day, sending electricity almost anywhere near instantaneously. Unfortunately, this very effective source of power is pushing ecosystems, animal species and human civilisation closer to catastrophe.” 

   It’s serious stuff, but on the pretext that we don’t laugh enough, lots of people are said to be asking why the end of humanity should be so depressing when there is always a funny side to life?

   Can we laugh about something as dire as climate change? Yes, if you agree that humour is a way to reach people who haven’t thought much about climate change. Research shows that comedy is a great way to break down defences; a great way to have people listen to truths that they might otherwise have missed. Comedy is said to be good for your mind.

   There are already quite a number of silly jokes  online, but now a group of nine comedians from around the United States are learning from climate experts and collaborating to pitch jokes for future performances and videos starting in October. They hope audiences will be learning, laughing and leaving feeling inspired.

   We’ll probably all be able to watch on YouTube. Whether António Guterres finds it amusing remains one of life’s less serious uncertainties.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Global warming crisis here and now


   Events over the past two weeks have surely scuppered any Trunp-like delusions that climate change is not happening or not threatening all forms of life on planet Earth.

   For example, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that the iconic monarch butterfly is now officially an endangered species close to extinction due to climate change and habitat loss. Best known for its incredible migrations across thousands of miles between Canada and Mexico, its population in western America is estimated to have plunged by 99.9% between the 1980s and 2021. The monarch butterfly is still to be found in parts of south-western Europe, including the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores, but maybe for not much longer.

   The IUCN’s ‘red list’ now totals 41,415 endangered animal and plant species, up 16,118 from last year. A total of 16,306 species are considered to be on the very edge of extinction. Unless we humans get our act together on climate change, we too could soon be on the red list.  

The extraordinary heat waves in Europe and North America have wakened people up to the likelihood of a global calamity unless vital action is taken by the leaders of major powers without further delay.

   The latest extreme heat that caused wildfires across Portugal, Spain, Greece, France and Italy has been a reminder to Europeans of their ever-worsening vulnerability to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1,700 people have died  because of the heat in mainland Portugal and Spain alone. And the summer is only half over.  

In Lisbon, Reuters correspondent Barry Hatton summed up the overall situation thus: “wildfires in Europe are starting earlier in the year, becoming more frequent, doing more damage and getting harder to stop. And scientists say, they are probably going to get worse as climate change intensifies, unless countermeasures are taken.”

   The heat problem in Portugal has been greatly worsened by the severe drought that has gripped the country because of last winter’s low rainfall. The month of May this year was the warmest in nine decades and 97% f the land was classified as suffering drought. Crops have been wilting. It will be many weeks before we can expect any substantial rain.

   Portugal’s Environment Minister Duarte Cardoeiro has told parliament that preparing the nation for climate change will take a generation. Meanwhile, he said, citizens should cut back on their use of water. Some local authorities have already closed public swimming pools at the very time they are most wanted. Irrigation is to be cut on golf courses and green spaces in the Algarve.  Rationing on domestic water supplies may follow as the levels of reservoirs continue dropping to very low levels.

   France had its hottest May since records there began. The river water used to cool French nuclear power plants became too hot to be effective. This pushed power prices up 10 times higher than between 2017 to 2021.

   Unprecedented heat in more northern countries, including Scandinavia but particularly the United Kingdom, have exposed how unprepared some are for extreme weather conditions.

   London’s fire services were busier coping with fires in the city than at any time since the blitz in World War II. As temperatures reached an all-time record level, the demand for power in the UK sent power processes soaring by 5% in a single day.

   So the global warming crisis is not only about preparations for 2030 and 2050. It’s also about the here and now.


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Charming Predator outwits the law

   After almost twenty years on the run from the UK and committing many crimes in various countries including Portugal, the serial fraudster Kenner Elias Jones, also known as ‘Conman Ken’ and ‘The Charming Predator’, has been tracked down living in a comfortable care home in Munich, Germany.

   There are two particularly shocking things about this sociopath. Firstly, his crimes have been so numerous and incredibly audacious. Secondly - and in complete contrast - police forces and judicial authorities in the UK and Europe have been unwilling or unable to arrest him since he jumped bail from Lewes Crown Court, East Sussex, and absconded in 2003. A warrant was issued for his arrest, so far to no effect.

   The name ‘The Charming Predator’ is the title of a biography by his first wife, a Canadian artist and former journalist, Lee Mackenzie. Like many others, she is awaiting the outcome of Jones’ discovery in Munich, hoping that this time the police and judicial authorities will act decisively.

    Kenner Elias Jones is believed to be occupying a room in the German care home under a false name which has been reported to Mackenzie as ‘Dr. Adam Palfrey.’ He is also alleged to be in poor health. Jones has often done the combination of name change and purported medical conditions before elsewhere.

   A recent visitor to his bedside said he indicated he was unable to speak or to communicate by typing on his laptop even though it was open right in front of him. The same visitor said staff at the care centre reported hearing him speaking at times before they entered the room. Details of Lee Mackenzie’s book have been left for him to read.

   A highly intelligent, friendly and likeable man originally from north Wales, Kenner Elias Jones is a compulsive liar who has variously posed successfully as a medical doctor, an Anglican priest and a refugee.

   He had already committed scores of crimes and served sentences in prison many times in the UK before seizing his chance to go on the run. Since then he has been deported and permanently barred from Canada and the United States. He was sentenced to a federal prison in the US for crimes of fraud. A senior immigration officer in the US described him as “the best conman I have ever encountered in my entire career".

   A warrant for his arrest was issued in Kenya, but it was too late. He had fled owing an estimated $100,000 on behalf of a charity he had set up in which he personally treated all ages and both genders of children despite having no medical qualifications.

   Portugal was his next stop. BBC Wales, the first to call him ‘Conman Ken’, interviewed a travel agent in Palmela near Lisbon who said Jones had tricked her into issuing tickets for his third wife and her children to fly to Portugal from Kenya. The promised later payment was never made.

   A Portuguese estate agent said Jones had persuaded him to lend hundreds of euros for medicines and other supposedly urgent needs while expressing interest in buying a property in the €400,000 - €500,000 price range. The investigative Policia Judiciaria were informed, but that’s as far as it got. No arrest but plenty more victims still to come.

   Next stop was south-western Spain. After a full meal one day,  Jones went to the toilet and collapsed with a suspected heart attack. An ambulance took him to a district hospital where tests during a six-week stay could find nothing wrong with him. He chalked up a bill of €26,000 on the understanding he was awaiting health insurance money. He vanished when pressure on him to pay increased. It’s understood the bill was never settled. He then had another unpaid stay, this time in a Spanish seaside resort, which also didn’t seem to greatly interest the Spanish police.

   Jones was next spotted in Sweden where he claimed to be a refugee who had fled from likely assassination in Africa for exposing corruption. The British police were again told of his exact location as they had been when he was in Spain. Swedish police knew about a warrant for his arrest in the UK, but the UK police had not issued a European Arrest Warrant, thus Kenner Elias Jones was free to pursue his wicked ways even though his British passport had expired by then.

   Jones’ exact whereabouts in Germany is now well know, but it remains to be seen if the UK and German police and judicial authorities are willing to cooperate and finally put this man behind bars and give him mental health treatment. It is well past time to keep him away from innocent victims on whom he practises his financial and emotional damage.