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.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Climate change: it’s now or never


We’ve all heard about the need for enough urgent action to avoid a climate change calamity, but it simply isn’t happening.

   Here in Portugal, one of the most vulnerable countries to global warming, the authorities have been moving decisively in the fight against climate change by replacing fossil fuels with renewables. But this is only a small country. It is the major polluters – China, the United States, India and Russia - that need to get their act together if mass human and environmental destruction is to be avoided in the not too distant future. This is not doomsday talk. It’s common sense based on science.

   Under Donald Trump’s presidency the United States scoffed at climate change and  made many decisions that slowed climate action. President Joe Biden has tried to reverse that, but now a majority far-right Supreme Court ruling has disrupted America’s ability to cut carbon emissions.

   In another recent development, airlines in Europe and the US are demanding weaker rules on aviation emissions. In contrast to claims that airlines are aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, a research study concludes that the airlines are responsible for more global warming than previously thought and that their CO2 emissions may triple by 2050.  Some climate experts say this is “the biggest long-term issue our generation faces.”

   Setbacks such as those created by supreme court judges, CEOs of fossil fuel organisations and aviation executives are said to be “flying in the face of science.”  Accusations are being made of “moral and economic madness.” 

   The ones who are most worried about all this are the young and those feeling trepidation about future generations. Small countries such as Portugal, and even large ones such as Australia, have grave concerns about heat waves, wildfires, rising sea levels, floods and droughts, extreme conditions already often being experienced with dreadful economic consequences.

   Carbon dioxide released into the Earth’s atmosphere is the main source of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. Most of it comes from just a few powerful countries. The US annually dumps about 5.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. China is currently dumping more than 10 billion tons, a massive figure that is expected to reach well over 12 billion tons by 2027.

   Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations and former prime minister o f Portugal, has frequently spoken out about the need for urgent action. He has warned that most national climate pledges are simply not good enough. “This is not just my view. Science and public opinion are giving timid climate policies a giant fail mark,” he has said.

   “We are witnessing a historic and dangerous disconnect - science and citizens are demanding ambitious and transformative climate action. Meanwhile, many governments are dragging their feet.”

    He anticipates that dreadful consequences will be the result. Nearly half the world’s population are already highly vulnerable. This is at a time when countries should all come together in the fight for human lives instead of allowing senseless wars and political divisions to tear us apart.

   “The energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has seen a perilous doubling down on fossil fuels by the major economies. The war has reinforced an abject lesson: our energy mix is broken.”

   The paradox, says Guterres,is that cheaper, fairer and more reliable energy options, including wind and solar, should have been developed sooner and faster.    “Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be so dramatically at the mercy of the instability of fossil fuel markets.”

   The World Economic Forum (WEF) has warned that “it’s now or never” to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. For our part, we must keep reminding ourselves that this is not just one of the many matters troubling the world today. It is by far the biggest and the very existence of humanity on planet Earth is at stake. 



Sunday, July 3, 2022

Unveiling the world of corruption


The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has produced an easy-to-read insight into the vast number of leaked documents contained in its explosive Pandora Papers about global corruption.

  The Pandora Papers are highly relevant to Portugal as this is regarded internationally as well as by its own citizens as a significantly corrupt country that the authorities here are struggling to put right.

  ICIJ has now released a series of brief explanations about how the rich and famous have been able to exploit offshore financial systems. It summarise the Pandora Papers published that run to almost 12 million documents amounting to 2.9 terabytes, an unprecedented collection of leaked files gathered by more than 600 investigative journalists from 117 countries.

    The most corrupt individuals include heads of state, top politicians, billionaire company executives, entertainment celebrities and sports stars. What these crooks have been up to is still unfolding, but greatly inhibited by ICIJ’s revelations about the shadowy world of offshore finance and how inequality is impacting on everyday people around the globe.

    Two names that immediately come to mind in relation to corruption in Portugal are the once fabulously wealthy businesswoman Isabel dos Santos whose Portuguese assets have now been seized, and former Prime Minister Joao Socrates who has spent a lot of time in court. ICIJ has named a dozen other former prime ministers from various countries.  Two heads of royal families are on ICIJ’s lengthy corrupt list: King Abdullah ll of Jordan and former King Juan Carlos of Spain. Music celebrities include Ringo Starr and Elton John. Many of the elite have been using tax havens to keep under wraps such things as luxurious foreign homes, private jets, deluxe yachts and more.

  The offshore world has thrived despite decades of legislation, investigations and international agreements aimed at combating money laundering and tax dodging by the wealthy and well-connected. These reforms are typically aimed at tax havens, which in popular imagination are often seen as a far-flung cluster of palm-shaded islands, according to ICIJ.

  Keeping financial activities secret has become a big business in itself. The offshore system is underpinned by elite institutions – multinational banks, law firms and accounting practices – often headquartered in the U.S. and Europe, notably Delaware and Switzerland.

  Why does it matter that lawyers and accountants are subverting the system? Well, explains ICIJ, when the super-rich get to play by different rules and stash their wealth in places where they don’t live, don’t make their money, and probably haven’t even been to, trillions get drained from public coffers — money that governments might otherwise be using to help deal with revenue crunches, a pandemic, climate change and more. While fortunes are sheltered offshore, everyday people cover the difference, exacerbating the divide between the global haves and have-nots.

  Those assets are also hidden out of sight from authorities, creditors, claimants and public scrutiny — concealing unexplained or illicit wealth, enabling corruption, and depriving victims of wrongdoing of potential recourse.

  ICIJ has also dug into stories on how financial secrecy works against the public interest in some surprising ways. But while raucous protests and fiery press conferences tend to dominate the headlines after ICIJ publishes a major investigation like the Pandora Papers, the real action — the real change — takes months and sometimes years to develop fully.

    Based in New York, but ever focused on the entire financial world, ICIJ is keen to spread the word and welcomes newcomers to its information links and anyone who can help with donations to continue its extraordinary work.