Portugal, without its holy spirit

 

The memory of Banco Espírito Santo

The memory of Banco Espírito Santo

only survives in a shield of the sidewalk of number 195 of the Lisbon Avenue of Liberdade, a much shorter but very luxurious Diagonal. In the lower part, near the Rossio, next to the commemorative monument of the last time that Portugal became independent from Spain, in 1640, there are indigents who already have their own limited territory, to try to sleep as covered as possible despite doing so in full street. Above, the shop windows show the luxury of several thousand euro shelters in a succession of Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cartier or Prada stores. Almost in front of the latter, on the other side of the avenue, at number 195, is the headquarters of Novo Banco, the entity that took over in August the reorganized part of Banco Espírito Santo, of which now only that logo drawn on the sidewalk, in the characteristic Lisbon pavement, made of small fragments.

The holy spirit has disappeared from the Portuguese economy and has dragged Portugal into a new collective depression just after the international bailout, while intensifying the sale to foreign capital of key companies, a process in which Portugal Telecom (PT) is the traumatic central piece, object of a global bid, from Brazil to France and Angola.

Inaugurated in 1882, the avenue de la Liberdade “is the most beautiful artery of Lisbon”, wrote Fernando Pessoa in his guide Lisbon: o que o turista deve ver, from 1925. In recent times, Banco Espírito Santo, to the seat of the number 195 came from time to time a very prominent visitor, Zeinal Bava, the former head of the PT. Born in Mozambique in 1965 into a family originally from Portuguese India, he was the most prestigious Portuguese executive, the Cristiano Ronaldo of the business world, who was still decorated in June with the great cross of merit by the president of the Portuguese Republic. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the same one who this week asked himself in public what the executives and shareholders of the PT were doing.

Well, one of the things they did was hide the bankruptcy of Espírito Santo. The operator, the Portuguese equivalent of Telefónica, had shareholding interests crossed with the bank chaired by Ricardo Salgado, the last of a long family saga of financiers. Union sources confirm that he received in person the visit of Zeinal Bava at the time when the PT became the cash register of the bank, which detracted the necessary liquidity to try to cover the growing hole that ended up devouring it, without the 897 millions of that secret emergency loan would serve much more than multiplying the crater.

According to the Saturday magazine, Bava made the less than fifteen minute walk between the PT headquarters on Fontes Pereira de Melo Avenue and Espirito Santo on Avenida de la Liberdade. Other versions indicate that to draw less attention to his reserved meetings with Salgado, it is much more credible that he went by car, from the elevator from one garage to the other. With great popularity in the Portuguese society and revered in his company, Bava liked to get to work by the main door and greet everyone, as he also did in the company’s multitudinous Christmas banquets. But his encounters with Salgado were very delicate.

Regardless of the legend of whether

<br />Regardless of the legend of whether

Bava was on foot or not, his visits to Banco Espírito Santo reveal the “incestuous relations” between Portuguese companies and financial capital, as noted by economist António Bagão Félix, who was Minister of Finance. decade in a coalition government of the conservative PSD and CDS parties.

Incest in Lisbon refers to Os Maias. Episódios da vida romántica, the great work of the great Eça de Queirós, which portrays the Lisbon high society of the late nineteenth century, in times of financial anxiety, reflected in the novel through the figure of a banker, as Francisco points out Louçã, economist and long-forgotten leader of the Block of Esquerda. From antagonistic ideological positions Louçã and Bagão share with Ricardo Cabral a very interesting blog in the newspaper Público. Louçã and Bagão are also two of the 14 broad-spectrum Portuguese personalities that have launched the manifesto to “rescue” Portugal Telecom from the chasm in the national interest, in which it left its incestuous relationship with Banco Espírito Santo.

This is why it is very interesting to walk through the economic heart of Lisbon that Zeinal Bava made, either on foot or by car, from the headquarters of Portugal Telecom, on Fontes Pereira de Melo Avenue. Of her Pessoa stood out in his guide the palace of the millionaire Sotto Mayor, where Barclays is now. Immediately you reach the square of the Marqués del Pombal, the old Rotonda, where on October 5, 1910 the resistance of a group of stubborn Republicans, some of them Galicians, managed to overthrow the monarchy forever. In one of those Portuguese contradictions, it was during the First Republic that the project of the great monument to the aristocratic ruler who rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755 was concluded. In the Marqués de Pombal square there is the headquarters of EDP, the former Electricidade de Portugal. It was public, like the PT. Both were the flagship vessels of Portuguese capitalism that since the late twentieth century tried to play a leading role in globalization, as prominent players in the world of the Lusophone, as noted António Costa Pinto, political scientist of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon . For three years, the EDP is controlled by the Chinese public company Three Gorges. Now, the possible sale of what remains under Portuguese control in the PT, merged with the Brazilian Oi, supposes the destruction of that dream of Portuguese capitalism active in globalization and seems to center the country in its old destiny to export and emigrate.

Going down the Avenida de la Liberdade from the Plaza del Marqués de Pombal, at number 230, is one of the most successful exponents of that export effort that is today the great hope of the Portuguese economy. It is the shoe store of Fly London, the thriving brand of the Kya group, of Guimarães, which has just opened its first store in New York and shows the commitment of this traditional industry to the products with the highest added value.

Pedro Lains, researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon specializing in Economic History, points out that in Portugal there are two simultaneous processes today, the decline of sectors that do not survive globalization, a field in which the PT is, the EDP or the Espírito Santo group, and that of emerging projects, such as Fly London or pharmaceutical companies. “The first of these forces prevails over the second, but there will be a time when the process will be reversed,” says Lains, who considers that “Portuguese capitalism is viable, Portugal is a capitalist country.” Although it considers the entry of foreign investors necessary, it is very critical of the specific way in which the last cycle of privatizations takes place, from the sale of the EDP in 2011 to the TAP airline, now in process. According to Lains, Portugal has become the country in Europe with the largest influx of Chinese capital in proportion to its size. They are balance purchases, which do not contribute to technological advancement, he says.

The penetration of foreign capital

The penetration of foreign capital

 which has been felt in the streets of Lisbon for decades, has intensified since the financial rescue and has as a disturbing spearhead the daughter of the president of Angola, Isabel dos Santos, who last Sunday launched an OPA on the matrix of the PT through an instrumental company, Terra Peregrin, which has its headquarters on Avenida de la Liberdade 190, where the Louis Vuitton store is located. The kleptocratic characteristics of the Angolan regime are disturbing in Portugal, although there are those who, like the prominent television commentator Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, prefer that the PT continue to be Portuguese-speaking with Angolan capital than French with Altice.

Portugal Telecom (PT) is the Portuguese equivalent of Telefónica. In the Portuguese universe is a giant, a company that appeared at the forefront in the adaptation to new technologies, from the hand of the recently admired executive Zeinal Bava. This had been placed at the head of the Brazilian Oi, with which the PT was merging when the scandal of the 897 million short-term loan from the PT to Rioforte, one of the companies of the Espírito Santo Group, broke out in summer. in bankruptcy.

The PT has 12,000 workers among whom there is “a lot of concern”, according to Francisco Gonçalves and Mario Rolho, members of the works council, who defend the maintenance of jobs and decision centers in Portugal, through the annulment of the fusion of the Oi, of which PT has remained with the 25%, when losing a 12% by the hole of the 897 million. He has also lost the presidency, when Bava resigned. The trade unionists denounce that it has been the end of a management marked by the “impossible numbers”, to exhibit benefits.

The indebted Brazilian operator Oi put on sale for 7,000 million the business of Portugal Telecom, leader in the neighboring country. French Altice operator and investment funds bid. But a week ago, Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the president of Angola, broke in with her takeover of PT SGPS, which is the parent company of 25% of Oi and can veto the sale of PT Portugal’s business.

 

Capitalism according to Piketty

Capitalism according to Piketty

Capitalism according to Piketty

The Paris School of Economics is located in a very un Parisian part of the city. It is located on Boulevard Jourdan, at the lower end of the 14th arrondissement , next to the Montsouris park. Unlike what happens in most French gardens, this park exhibits an absolute lack of Cartesian rigor; in fact, with its lake, its open spaces and its meddlesome and sweet ducks, it could very well be located in any British city. In contrast, the small campus of the Paris School of Economics looks unmistakably and comfortingly like almost all French university campuses. That is, it is gray, monotonous, ramshackle and with corridors that vaguely smell like cabbage. This is where I have arranged an interview with Professor Thomas Piketty, a shy young Frenchman (he is in his forties) who has spent most of his career in archives and collecting data, but who is on the verge of becoming the most important of his generation; an independent thinker and a democrat – as defined by Yale professor Jacob Hacker – who has become nothing less than “an Alexis de Tocqueville for the 21st century.”

And this because of his latest work, titled Capital in the 21st Century . It is a voluminous book, about a thousand pages, full of notes, graphics and mathematical formulas. At first glance, its appearance is blatantly academic, overwhelming and incomprehensible at the same time. The fact is that, over the past few months, the book has unleashed heated debates in the United States about the dynamics of capitalism and, especially, about the seemingly unstoppable rise of the tiny elite that controls a growing portion of the wealth of the world. It has also raised controversies about power and money in non-specialized websites and blogs, and has questioned the myth that is the very core of American life: that capitalism improves everyone’s quality of life. This is not exactly the case, says Piketty, who demonstrates this in a clear and rigorous way, destroying everything that capitalists believe about the ethics of making money.

The innovative character of the book has been recognized in a long article published in The New Yorker , in which Branko Milanovic – former chief economist of the World Bank – is cited, who describes the volume of Piketty as “one of the decisive books of thought economic”. Along the same lines, a contributor to The Economist has affirmed that Piketty’s work has rewritten two hundred years of economic thinking about inequality. Very briefly, the polemics have focused on two poles: the first is the tradition initiated by Karl Marx, who believed that capitalism would end up destroying itself in the endless search for diminishing returns. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the work of Simon Kuznets, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1971, for whom the inequality gap is necessarily reduced as economies evolve and become more developed.

According to Piketty, none of these reasonings hold up against the evidence he has accumulated. Moreover, it manages to show that there is no reason to believe that capitalism is capable of solving the problem of inequality; a problem, which, insists, far from improving, worsens. From the banking crisis of 2008 to the indignant movement of 2011, it is something that had already been intuited by ordinary people. The singular importance of his book is that it demonstrates scientifically that intuition is correct. That’s why the book has crossed specialized circles, because it says what many people already think.

“I wanted to direct the book to the general reader,” says Piketty at the beginning of our conversation, “and, although it is clearly a book that can also be read by specialists, my goal was to make the information very clear to everyone who I want to read it. ” Actually, it has to be said that Capital in the 21st century is surprisingly readable. It is full of anecdotes and literary references that illuminate the entire narrative. In English, the agile translation of Arthur Goldhammer, a great literary stylist who has faced authors of the stature of Albert Camus, has been a great help. However, looking into the shelves of Piketty’s office, titles as easily inducing headaches as Principles of Microeconomics and The Political Influence of Keynesianism , a regular person like me needs some additional help. So I asked him the most obvious question of all: what is the fundamental idea that runs throughout the book?

“I started investigating a very specific problem,” he says in an English tinged with an elegant French accent. “A few years ago I asked myself where were the raw data that supported all the theories about inequality, from David Ricardo and Marx to the most contemporary thinkers, I started looking in Great Britain and the United States and discovered that there was not much. I discovered that the existing data contradicted almost all the theories, including those of Ricardo and Marx.When I started studying other countries, I saw that a pattern appeared: that capital, and the money produced by it, accumulates faster than growth in capitalist societies, and that this pattern, observed in the nineteenth century, became more predominant after the 1980s, when controls on capital were eliminated in many rich countries. ”

So Piketty’s thesis, backed by exhaustive research, is that the economic inequality of the 21st century is increasing and accelerating at a dangerous pace. First of all, this analysis modifies the way we consider the past. We already knew that the end of capitalism predicted by Marx never occurred; and that even at the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917 the wages of the rest of Europe were already rising. We also knew that Russia was by all standards the least developed country in Europe and that for that reason communism took root there. However, Piketty adds that it was the various crises of the 20th century (mainly, two world wars) that prevented the continued growth of wealth by temporarily and artificially leveling inequality. Contrary to our perception of the twentieth century as a time when inequality decreased, the truth is that in real terms it did not stop growing.

In the 21st century, it is like this not only in the so-called rich countries (United States, Great Britain and Western Europe), but also in Russia, China and other countries in an emerging phase of development. There is a real danger that if the process does not stop, poverty will increase at the same rate; and, according to Piketty, it may very well turn out that the 21st century is a century with more inequality and, therefore, more social discord than the 19th century.

When he explains his ideas to me with formulas and theorems, everything sounds too technical to me (I had problems with mathematics in elementary school). However, following his explanations attentively (he is a good teacher, very patient) and decomposing the analysis into small fragments, everything starts to make sense. Piketty explains to his beginner that rent is a flow, that it moves and can grow according to performance. Capital is a heritage, its wealth comes from what has been accumulated “throughout all the previous years together”. It’s a bit like the difference between having an overdraft and having a mortgage; and if one does not manage to own one’s house, he will never have any property and will always be poor.

In other words, what he is saying in global terms is that those who possess capital and wealth-generating assets (such as, for example, a Saudi prince) will always be richer than entrepreneurs who try to raise capital. The trend of capitalism in this model concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Did not we already know? That the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Did the Clash and other groups in the 1970s not sing about that?

“Well, actually, we did not know, although we could have suspected it,” says Piketty, cheering on the subject. “In the first place, it is the first time we have gathered data that shows that this is so.Secondly, it is evident that this movement, which is acquiring speed, will have political implications: we will all be poorer in the future and that is a situation that generates crisis, I have shown that in the current circumstances capitalism can not work. ”

Interestingly, Piketty claims to be an Anglophile and, in fact, began his research career with a study on the English income tax system (“one of the most important political mechanisms in history”). However, he also states that the English have too blind a faith in the markets, which they do not always understand. We discussed the current crisis in the British universities that, after having imposed tuition fees, now discover that they lack liquidity because the government did not calculate well what the students would have to pay and is not able to ensure the repayment of the loans granted to them. the payment of the license plates. In other words, the government believed that it was getting a source of income by introducing tuition fees and, in reality, by not being able to control all the variables of the market, what it did was to bet with public money and it seems that it will lose dramatically . Piketty says with a smile: “It is the perfect example of how to provoke debt in the public sector, something incredible and difficult to conceive in France.”

Despite his sympathy for Britain and the United States, Piketty confesses that he only feels comfortable in France. Capital in the 21st century contains a multitude of French references (a key figure is the historian François Furet); and Piketty admits that the political landscape that best understands is French. He grew up in Clichy, in a mainly working-class neighborhood. His parents were militants of Workers’ Struggle, a Trotskyist party that still enjoys a good reputation in France. Like many in those years, disappointed by the failure of the almost revolution of May ’68, they retired to raise goats near Carcassonne (the classic trajectory of many progressives of that generation). However, the young Piketty studied in Paris and ended up getting a PhD at the London School of Economics at age 22. He then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he excelled as a teacher, and eventually returned to Paris and became the first principal of the school where the interview takes place.

His own political itinerary began, he tells me, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He traveled to Eastern Europe and was fascinated by the ruins of communism. It was that initial fascination that led him to embark on a career as an economist. He was also influenced by the Gulf War of 1991. “I saw then that many bad decisions were made by politicians because they did not know about economics, I am not a politician, it is not my job, but I would love for politicians to read my work and get rid of it. conclusions of it. ”

The statement is somewhat misleading, since Piketty did work as a counselor for Ségolène Royal in 2007, when the Socialist leader was a candidate in the presidential elections. It was not a happy time for him, since at the same time he ended up in bitter accusations with his romance with the politician and novelist Aurélie Filippetti, another follower of Royal. It is understood that, after that murky affair, Piketty wants to distance himself from the rumble and brawls of daily politics.

It does not matter, what have we learned? That capitalism is bad. Very good. Which is the answer? Socialism? It is expected. “It’s not that simple,” he says, disappointing this former Marxist teenager. “What I defend is a progressive tax, a global tax, based on the imposition of private property, it is the only civilized solution, the others are, in my opinion, much more barbarous, and I am referring to the Russian oligarchic system, in which I do not believe, and inflation, which in reality is only a tax on the poor. ” He explains that the oligarchy, especially the current Russian model, is nothing more than the government of the very rich over the majority. It is a tyrannical system and it does not differ much from a form of gangsterism. He adds that inflation does not usually affect the very rich, because their wealth increases anyway; the poor, on the other hand, take the worst part because it increases the cost of living. A progressive tax on wealth is the only sensible solution.

However, although what he says makes sense, and not only sense but much common sense, I comment that no political party, right or left, would dare to go to Britain or the United States to the polls with such idealistic proposals. François Hollande today receives a general rejection not for his sexual adventures (which, in fact, are worth a wide admiration), but for the severe tax regime that he tries to impose.

“It’s true,” says Piketty. “Of course it is true, but it is also true, as my colleagues and I have shown in this book, that the present situation can not be sustained for long, it is not necessarily an apocalyptic vision, I have made a diagnosis of past situations and present, and I think there are solutions, but before putting them into practice, we have to understand the situation.When I started collecting data, I was very surprised of what I found, that inequality is growing very fast and that capitalism does not seem to be in Many economists start upside-down, asking questions about poverty, but what I wanted to understand was how wealth or super-wealth works to increase the inequality gap, and what I found, as I said, is that The speed at which the inequality gap grows is increasing, one has to wonder what that means for ordinary people, for those who are not multimillion neither will they ever be. Well, I think it means primarily a deterioration of the collective economic welfare; in other words, a degradation of the public sector. You only have to see what Obama wants to do (reduce inequality in health care and in other areas) and how difficult it is to get that to understand how important it is. There exists among the capitalists a fundamentalist belief according to which capital will save the world and it is not so. Not because of what Marx said about the contradictions of capitalism, but because, as I discovered, capital is an end in itself and nothing more. ”

Piketty delivers her talk, scholarly and convincing, with quiet passion. It is, gives the impression, a somewhat shy and withdrawn character, but he loves his subject and, in fact, it is a pleasure to be in the middle of a private seminar about money and how it works. It is true that his book is long and complex, but his expositions about how the capitalist world works are understandable by all who live in it (that is, all of us). One of the most pervasive is the one that refers to the rise of managers or superdirectives, who do not produce wealth, but who get a salary from it. In fact, says Piketty, it is a form of theft, although that is not the worst crime of the superdirectives. Far more damaging is the way they have embarked on a competition with the billionaires, whose wealth – which accelerates beyond the economy – will always be unattainable. This creates a permanent race in which the victims are losers, that is, ordinary people who do not aspire to such a position or wealth, but who are nevertheless despised by presidents, vice presidents and other Wall Street wolves. In that section, Piketty shreds one of the great lies of the 21st century: that superdirectives deserve their salaries because, like footballers, they possess specialized skills possessed only by an almost superhuman elite.

“One of the great divisive forces that exist today,” he says, “is what I call meritocratic extremism: it is the conflict between billionaires, whose income comes from property and assets, as in the case of a Saudi prince, and super-managers. None of these two categories makes or produces anything except their own wealth, in reality, it is a superrichness completely separate from the everyday reality of the market, which rules the lives of most ordinary people. they compete with each other to increase their wealth, and the worst of all scenarios is the way in which super-managers, whose income is really based on greed, continue to raise salaries outside the reality of the market. banks in 2008, for example “.

This is the kind of thought that makes Piketty’s work so attractive and fascinating. Unlike many economists, he insists that economic thought can not be separated from history or politics; that gives the book a character, defined by the American Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, as “exceptional” and “panoramic vision”. Piketty’s influence is growing far beyond the small microsociety of university economists. In France he is more and more known for his comments on public affairs, with articles in Le Monde and Libération , above all; and their ideas are frequently discussed by politicians of all tendencies in current programs. Perhaps more important and less usual, its influence is growing in the dominant currents of Anglo-American politics (apparently, his book is one of the favorites among the circle of Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labor Party), a traditionally indifferent environment to French economics teachers. As poverty increases throughout the planet, everyone is obliged to listen to Piketty with great attention. However, although its diagnosis is precise and convincing, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that the proposed cure (taxes and more taxes) can be put into practice in a world where, from Beijing to Washington through Moscow, it is money and its biggest accumulators who carry the baton.

Joshua Wong, the 20-year-old who leads the Chinese "empire"

Image result for 20yr old joshua wongHong Kong, June 30 (EFE) .- A few hours ago he was released from his last arrest for protesting against Beijing and he is remarkably fatigued, but Joshua Wong, the young man who leads the Chinese regime, does not give up. “Not everything is under the control of Emperor Xi”, he assures in reference to the president of the country.

The cameras chase him. With only twenty years, Wong has become one of the most influential young people in the world, making room in prestigious magazines such as TIME; and the foci that crowd today on him give credit for it.

“Start, start …”, urges Efe while the press officer of the party of which he is secretary, the liberal Demosisto, takes him out of a barrage of international cameras to bring him to his first individual interview in the afternoon.

Wong has a tail and little time, and is aware of it. “I have been illegally detained for 33 hours”, a clear and concise denunciation as soon as I started talking with Efe.

The young man and 25 other activists were arrested Wednesday after occupying a statue of the city. It was one day before President Xi Jinping arrived in the city for his first visit as head of state and it was his chance to make noise.

“Freedom for Liu Xiaobo”, the Chinese Nobel Prize winner conditionally released for terminal cancer; “democracy for Hong Kong”, were his claims prior to the arrival of the leader.

“We lost time in police station,” complains Wong. He and his other comrades reported today to the press that the agents “abused their power” by holding them for longer than necessary to avoid inconveniences during Xi’s tour of the city.

“But tonight I will be in the protest in front of the exhibition center”, where Xi will attend an event, warns Wong, whose rise to the top of political activism was confirmed during the “Revolution of the Umbrellas” of 2014, the pro-democracy protests where he played a central role.

Not everything is under the control of the Communist Party, according to the young man, but for the moment Xi is managing to avoid confrontation.

Although both share the same scenario, Xi will not cross paths with Joshua Wong or the demonstrations in favor of democracy and even independence that multiply in the city. The communist leader is focused on his goal: to celebrate the 20 years of Hong Kong in China after the return of the territory by the British.

But for Wong and his contemporaries there is no reason to celebrate, because the anniversary shows the “broken” promises of the regime.

When Margaret Thatcher’s executive returned Hong Kong to China, Beijing signed a series of commitments until 2047: among them, allowing the city to enjoy unthinkable freedoms in other parts of the country, such as judicial independence or freedom of expression, and guaranteeing suffrage universal in the future.

“We have the right to determine our destiny In the long term, the Hong Kong society will regain the right to elect its politicians,” the student leader affirms in an optimistic tone, despite the battles lost.

The “Umbrella Revolution” ended after almost three months of protests without achieving its goal, universal suffrage, and since then Beijing’s interference on the island has been increasing, according to liberal groups.

This has infected with pessimism many young people who participated in that movement and now consider leaving the city.

“If there was pessimism, Nathan Law would not have become the youngest deputy in history” of the Hong Kong Parliament, refutes the young man, in reference to his party partner, who got a seat in the Legislative in 2016.

“Young activism is the way out, it can still bring about changes in society,” he maintains.

With the new head of the regional government, Carrie Lam, who will take office on Saturday, Wong predicts that Chinese control of Hong Kong will go further. He is a “puppet of Beijing,” he says, but “we will try everything possible to make it clear that Hong Kong is not under his control.”

His goal is democracy and he says he will not stop until he gets it: “We do not want to have a case like that of Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong.

The euro celebrates ten years with existential doubts

 

A decisive year begins for Europe to continue to weigh in the world

Image result for european union

Simon & Garfunkel are back in fashion among European diplomacy. His metaphor for the bridge over turbulent waters has become a commonplace these days in diplomatic circles for 2012 , a year in which the European Union’s horizon is especially uncertain.

The aggravation of the debt crisis is compounded by the serious internal fracture that has arisen between (almost) the entire EU and the United Kingdom, which refuses to participate in the new phase of fiscal integration promoted by Germany and France. It can not be ruled out that this anger, whether due to the pressure of British public opinion or internal politics, degenerates into a sudden exit from the community club of its most reluctant partner.

Diplomatic bridges over the English Channel were broken at the last European summit of the year, the past 8 and 9 December. That appointment did deserve the hackneyed historical label, although probably for the wrong reasons. David Cameron was left alone exercising his right of veto: against what he expected, the rest of the countries that remain outside the euro zone did not support him. “Stubborn child,” says the Parisian press that French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Cameron when he refused to sign the Merkozy plan.

From Brussels, the analysis is unanimous: the one who loses the most in his position of splendid isolation is London. Unlike the rest of the countries outside the eurozone, it will not be able to influence the change of direction that the Merkozy duo wants to print to Europe. Nor can it intervene in the new financial legislation that the eurozone approves, however much it affects its financial sector. If the exit from the EU is consummated, the economic consequences would be enormous for the British.

“In the short term, the situation for the United Kingdom is negative, but on the other hand British public opinion is so contrary to the EU that sooner or later they have to redefine their relationship with it,” says Michiel van Hulten, consultant on European affairs and former leader of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA).

Within the EU, however, the consequences of the fracture are also feared. “Like it or not, in foreign policy we depend a lot on the United Kingdom, because it is the country that acts as a bridge with the United States, because it is the one with the largest army … We are too interconnected, they can retaliate in many ways”, admit European sources. London, in fact, has already avenged itself by refusing to participate in the European Union’s plan to lend money to the IMF so that it, in turn, transfers it to the eurozone if it needs it.

Germany to handle the situation

Image result for germanyThe bilateral relations between Paris and London are still at a minimum, but Germany is willing to assume the role of good cop to redirect the situation. “We want to build bridges over turbulent waters, we have mutual interests in the EU and a common future,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in London a few days ago after meeting with his colleague William Hague. Will the United Kingdom end by signing the new fiscal compact? “With good will, it’s feasible,” Westerwelle said. “We can and must change the current situation,” he concluded. Hague, for his part, remains committed to scratching guarantees on financial regulation for the City.

Many in Brussels trust that in the end the problem will be solved “with some typical community rinsing” so as not to break ties with London and continue advancing as 27.

“It is difficult to predict what will happen, but I would not be surprised if the new treaty went ahead with less than 26 countries, that not only the United Kingdom would be left out, but it will be inevitable to look for ways to continue working together”, says Van Hulten, who predicts problems to ratify the new treaty both in France and in the Netherlands, especially if the text is negotiated behind closed doors, as is customary.

The transfer of sovereignty demanded by the new treaty, warns this expert, may also be difficult to digest in other countries. “In the Netherlands, as the time comes to ratify the new treaty in Parliament, the opposition will increase until a referendum is called or there are early elections.”

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, however, have warned that they want to advance to “forced marches” and the first draft of the new treaty attests to their intentions: it will come into force as soon as nine countries approve it. That is, they will not wait for anyone. No country can block it alone, as Ireland, Poland or the Czech Republic did in the past.

In the midst of this panorama, Denmark assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1 and a few days ago its European Affairs Minister, Nicolai Wammen, did not resist summoning Simon & Garfunkel to describe his ambition: “We want to be a bridge over the turbulent waters of Europe, “he declared in Brussels.

So murky are the waters on which it is now moving, that it is possible that more than one country stays on the road if before the draft is not corrected with a more drastic solution to the fiscal problems of the euro zone.

There is no time anymore. Europe shrinks and the rest of the world gives less and less importance

The sudden end of the Templars

The sudden end of the Templars

The Acre disaster and the subsequent Christian retreat to Cyprus, completed in August 1291, fell like a jug of cold water in Rome. Pope Nicolás IV was forced to take measures and put on the table the recovery of the Holy Land, but also the unification of military orders. The failure to defend the Holy Places ended up convincing the Pontiff that the rivalry between Templars and Hospitallers should be ended , as well as making more effective use of their resources in the military mission of the Latin East. However, the death of Nicolás IV postponed the question of the reform of the orders. Aware of their precarious situation, the Templars decided to move the file. The grand master of the order, Jacques de Molay, traveled to Europe to promote a new crusade, despite knowing their limited chances of success.

When the Mamluks delivered the final blow to the last Christian strongholds in the Holy Land, the military orders did not expect anyone to come to their aid. At that time, Europe had other priorities. England and France were at war in Aquitaine, Germany without emperor and the papacy worried about the loss of their influence in Sicily. For the same reason, Molay did not achieve the firm commitment of European monarchs and Pope Boniface VIII with the cause crossed.

His chances waned even more when the pontiff rained down his troubles after getting entangled in a bitter dispute with the King of France, Philip IV the Fair. What initially was a dispute over the collection of taxes to the French clergy became one of the greatest conflicts between the temporal and spiritual powers of the Middle Ages. Crown and papacy were engaged in a war of slanders and bulls that lasted seven years and culminated with the threat of excommunication to the French sovereign and the forced captivity of the pontiff in his court in Anagni (Italy). Boniface VIII was finally freed, but he was so moved by it and died shortly afterward, in the turn of the 14th century.

His successors, the ephemeral Benedict XI and the weak Clement V, inherited a papacy in crisis. Questioned by the most powerful monarch of the time, he was also discredited by his squabbles in Italy and Sicily and his inability to help Latin Christians in the East. To make matters worse, the political situation in Rome was so critical that Clement V had no choice but to accept Philip IV’s offer to take refuge in France. He settled in Poitiers, under the watchful and interested gaze of the king.

Neglected, the Templars persisted on their own in the attempt to reconquer the Holy Land . They occupied the island of Aruad, off the Syrian coast, but the Mamluks again expelled them two years later. The reverse made Molay concentrate his efforts on trying again to England and France to start the crusade. But Edward I had to quell a revolt in Scotland, and Philip IV put as conditions that France was privileged in the expedition and that he himself played the leading role. The demands of the French monarch stirred up the other European kingdoms and the company was parked. Nor did the Templars in Cyprus have better luck, where King Henry II viewed with suspicion the pretension of the order to use his domains as the center of operations.

Clement V reopened the debate on the reform of military orders and the organization of the crusade.

Clement V reopened the debate on the reform of military orders and the organization of the crusade.

Recovered certain tranquility, Clement V could reopen the debate of the reform of the military orders and the organization of the crusade. Jacques de Molay opposed the idea of ​​unification on the grounds that the rivalry between the orders had been beneficial for Christianity, since both competed to defend it better. He also warned that the unification would raise quarrels within the orders, since many officers would lose their position. In reality, the rejection of the grand master obeyed other fears. The identity of the Temple would be diluted in the new order and, worse yet, this could be exploited by the civil power , a risk more than likely, given the vehement stance of Philip IV regarding the crusade. Molay could not know it then, but if he had accepted and expedited the merger of the orders, perhaps he and his brothers would have been saved from their tragic fate.

In the end, the papal project to unify the orders and undertake the crusade never materialized . But the fact that the Church still wanted to have them – that is, reformed – shows that military orders were still well considered in Europe, despite their responsibility for the loss of the Holy Land, its ultimate raison d’être. They had their detractors, who accused them of having moved away from their original vocation and accumulating wealth, but not the bad reputation and unpopularity that has always been blamed on them. The Templars, for example, continued to receive donations and, after almost two centuries of activity, they formed an important and respected part of the Christian world, both civilian – they were common in all European courts – and religious.

Harassment and demolition

Harassment and demolition

Therefore, the arrest of all the brothers of the order in France caught almost everyone by surprise. Certainly not to Philip IV, who ordered the arrest, nor to his faithful chancellor, Guillaume de Nogaret, the true architect of the operation. The origin of such a sudden attack was the accusations of blasphemy and sodomy poured into the Temple by Esquieu de Floyran, a former Templar expelled from the order. Nogaret and the agents of the King gathered alleged evidence that justified before Felipe the arrest and the beginning of the prosecution of the Templars by heretics.

Philip IV wanted the money and possessions of the Templars, but not so much for greed as to finance his ambitions for glory.

It is not known for sure if the sovereign believed in the truth of the accusations, if he was deceived by Nogaret or if he was deceived by him. In any case, it was convenient for him to attack the Templars. Continuing a long family tradition of religious fanaticism and service to the Christian cause, Philip could not allow heresy in his domains. But neither that the refusal of the Temple to merge with the other military orders would ruin its plans to control the resulting order and lead the great crusade to reconquer the Holy Land. Felipe wanted the money and possessions of the Templars- that same year he had asked for a loan-but not so much out of greed as to finance his ambitions for glory. It was also the perfect occasion to end an organization exempt from the payment of taxes and thus cease in its pulse of power with the papacy. As already happened with Boniface VIII, Felipe IV asserted his status as the most powerful ruler and Christian king of Europe .

However, the Crown did not have the power to judge the members of a religious order that was also under the direct jurisdiction of the pope. So Nogaret persuaded the Dominican Guillaume de Paris, inquisitor of France and loyal confessor of the sovereign, that he should investigate the Templars. The French Inquisition proceeded to the interrogation of the detainees, who were guarded in the royal prisons. They were charged with more than a hundred charges, from renouncing Christ and spitting on the cross at the ceremony of admission to the order to exchange obscene kisses in that rite, practice sodomy, worship an idol, dishonor mass or excessive secrecy. All these “errors of faith” were false. They derived from medieval popular beliefs about heresy and magic or were crude manipulations of the practices of the order. Many Templars preferred to die rather than confess, but most, subjected to torture, pleaded guilty . Those who were not tortured, as the Grand Master Molay was in France at that time, ended up admitting the charges to fear for their integrity.

A slipstream of the king

A slipstream of the king

Clement V protested before Philip IV and rebuked the inquisitor for acting without his consent. He said he had heard of the rumors that were running against the order and that he planned to start his own investigation, a dubious allegation, since he had done nothing about it. Feeling unauthorized, the Pope tried to take charge of the situation . He ordered all the Catholic kings to arrest and interrogate the Templars, but his request was met with a dilatory attitude in England and Aragon. Suspicious of the intentions of Felipe IV, the monarchs Enrique I and Jaime II did not give credit to the accusations to the templarios, an order to which they trusted a good part of the administration of their kingdoms. Meanwhile, in France, Clemente sent a delegation to Paris. Jacques de Molay and the other high officials of the order took the opportunity to retract their confessions, alleging that they had done them for fear of being tortured. The pontiff was not convinced of the guilt of the order and suspended the inquisitorial process to interrogate the Templars personally.

Felipe IV was not intimidated and launched a campaign of intoxication against the Temple and the Pope, as he did in his day with Boniface VIII. He obtained the legal support of the University of Paris and the public of the three estates of his kingdom in the States General, gathered in Tours. Then he tried to mislead Clement V by sending Poitiers to 72 specially chosen templars to confess their alleged crimes in the presence of the pope, while confining Molay and the other leaders of the order in Chinon. But Clement was finally able to meet with them and acquitted them , after they formally repented and asked for the forgiveness of the Church. Faced with the doubt that some members of the order might have committed certain abuses, he decreed that the Templars be tried individually by diocesan commissions. A pontifical commission would be in charge of studying whether the order as a whole was guilty or not, while the pontiff would judge the responsibility of the high dignitaries.

The papal investigation spread throughout Europe and even to the East. In Portugal, Castile, Aragon, Germany, Italy and Cyprus, the Templars were declared innocent. In France, on the other hand, many diocesan commissions were directed by bishops committed to Philip IV and considered the previous confessions valid. They limited themselves, however, to condemn the repentant guilty to various canonical punishments, including life imprisonment. Those who tried to defend the order before the pontifical commission, retracting their confessions, ran worse luck. The ministers of Philip IV could not consent to the discovery of the iniquity of the first interrogations of the Templars, carried out by the inquisitor at the dictation of Nogaret. They indicated to the archbishop of Sens, brother of the chamberlain of the king and maximum authority of the diocese of Paris, that he accused of heretics relapses (recidivists) to the Templars who disdained . The penalty reserved for the relapses was death at the stake , so the archbishop ordered the burning of 54 of them. The result was as expected: the other Templars declined to speak in favor of the order or decided to plead guilty.

The pope made a Solomonic decision in his bull: he did not condemn the order, but he dissolved it.

The pope made a Solomonic decision in his bull: he did not condemn the order, but he dissolved it.

In October 1311 the council convened by Clement V to decide the future of the order began in Vienne (France). There it was stated that the guilt of some Templar, even manifested, did not imply that of the order as a whole. Nor could it be proved that the Temple professed any heretical doctrine or that its rules were secret or distinct from official ones. Despite this, since most of the delegates were favorable to the maintenance of the order, the pope made a Solomonic decision in his bull: he did not condemn it, but he dissolved it . Why? No doubt the presence of Felipe IV and his army in Vienne influenced, in clear sign that he was not going to allow the continuity of the order. But on the agenda of the conflict between the king and the pontiff there was an even more important grievance than the unjust trial against the Templars. The monarch intended that Clement V condemn his predecessor Boniface VIII for heresy, which would have been the dishonor of the papacy. Clement refused, and chose to sacrifice the Templars in what was his only and pyrrhic victory against Philip IV.

In another bull, the Pope decreed the transfer to the order of the Hospital of all the goods of the Templars, except in the Iberian Peninsula , where their properties would end up passing into the hands of two new orders, that of Christ in Portugal and that of Montesa in the Crown of Aragon. The Temple brothers declared innocent, as well as confessed of their guilt but reconciled with the Church, would receive a pension and could live in the old houses of the order or join another military order. Those found guilty but who had not confessed their guilt and relapses would be tried.

Among the latter were the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and three commanders of the order in France, imprisoned in Paris. In March 1314 a commission of cardinals appointed by the pope condemned them to life imprisonment for relapses. Upon hearing the sentence, Molay and the commander of Normandy, Geoffroy de Charney, proclaimed their innocence shouting. The cardinals, astonished at the recidivism of the accused, resigned to issue a final verdict and left the last word to the pontiff. But Felipe IV decided for him that same night. After consulting with his advisors, he delivered the coup de grace to the ill-fated order: Molay and Charney, with another 35 members, were burned at the stake .

According to a narrative attributed to the chronicler Geoffroy of Paris, Jacques de Molay predicted before dying: “God knows that my death is unjust and a sin. Well, before long, many ills will fall on those who have condemned us to death. God will avenge our death . ” Whether this testimony is true or not will never be known, but the truth is that Clemente V died a month later, Nogaret in May and Felipe IV in November. Written around 1316, Geoffroy’s story in Paris concludes: “You can deceive the Church, but you can not deceive God. I do not say more. Draw your own conclusions. “

 

Acrylamide: a dangerous compound that is difficult to leave behind

Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has commented on the implications of the incorporation of acrylamide in the diet on the health of consumers. I imagine that at this point you will be thinking that, speaking of “acrylamide” I will be referring to the umpteenth contaminant or by-product of the chemical industry that in one way or another poisons us from unprocessed processed foods or bad-bad packaging with Bisphenol A and those things … The truth is that if your head goes down that road you’re wrong.

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide

It is a chemical substance that is formed naturally in those foods that contain carbohydrates when they are subjected, in the most mundane and habitual way possible, to high temperatures above 120ºC in low humidity conditions. That is to say, it is a substance generated spontaneously when certain foods (the great majority) are fried, baked, roasted, sautéed … Obviously, acrylamide is also produced in many industrially produced products.

In essence, acrylamide is the product of the well-known and appreciated Maillard reaction in which carbohydrates and amino acids (especially one called asparagine) react with each other in the aforementioned conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) to generate a compound brown (roasted) that is highly valued in various culinary techniques as it gives the product a peculiar aroma and flavor . That reaction is what for example gives rise to the crust of bread when baked , crispy fried potatoes , the genuine aroma (and texture) of freshly made cookies , and so on.

Is there a risk of exposure to acrylamide beyond food?

Of course yes. Notably, acrylamide is present in tobacco smoke , which means that in the case of smokers this is its most important source of exposure to acrylamide beyond that of the foods they consume. Not forgetting that passive smokers are also exposed to the tobacco acrylamide of smokers. In addition, acrylamide has a wide variety of non-food uses, for example in the industrial field and, for this reason some people may be exposed in their work to acrylamide either by cutaneous absorption or inhalation.

At what risk are consumers subject to acrylamide?

As I told you, last week the EFSA published a scientific opinion (the result of a draft that contains much more information on this subject) in which after evaluating all the scientific literature on the exposure to acrylamide was concluded in a way Synthetic the following:

  • Studies in animal models confirm that acrylamide in foods increases the risk of developing cancer for all consumers of any age group.
  • Children are the most exposed age group and therefore vulnerable given their lower body weight.
  • Based on the current exposure of consumers to acrylamide, other possible harmful effects of this substance, such as its effects on the nervous system, the impact on pre and postnatal development and male fertility, should not be taken as a concern.
  • The most important food groups at the time of contributing to the exposure of acrylamide are those that are acquired fried based on potatoes, coffee, cookies, crakers and those crispy breads, as well as bread.
  • Both the characteristic ingredients of a certain product, as well as the storage conditions and the way they are processed (especially the temperature at which they are cooked) greatly influence the formation of acrylamide in foods.
  • Cooking habits in homes can have a significant impact on the amount of acrylamide to which citizens are exposed.

Is there a tolerable amount of acrylamide that does not take risks?

Image result for acrylamide in food

 I’m sorry to say but it’s time for the bad news, acrylamide and its metabolites are genotoxic and carcinogenic . This means that with any level of exposure there is a potential risk of causing damage to our genetic material and causing cancer. That is, the EFSA scientists conclude that they can not establish a tolerable daily intake for the inclusion of acrylamide with food . However, the EFSA warns us that although the studies that observe the current consumption of acrylamide are incomplete and inconclusive we can see that this is a case with important public health connotations, especially in the health of the youngest children .

Therefore, it would be highly recommended that consumers take the initiative to reduce this exposure to acrylamide, taking into account that its total elimination is practically impossible . To do this, in addition to controlling, not to abuse, regarding the amount of food of the groups already mentioned (especially in the case of the smallest) from the EFSA is suggested not toast too much food and make the variety of culinary technologies at home a healthy practice and for this alternate the ways of preparing food (boil, cook, steam, sauté, fry, roast, stew, etc.).

In any case the thing is complicated, to such an extent that the EFSA ends up making this kind of quite broad and unspecific recommendations:

“Balanced diets usually reduce the risk of exposure to potential risks related to food contamination. Balancing diet with a wide variety of foods (for example, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, even foods rich in carbohydrates that can generate acrylamide) could help consumers reduce their acrylamide intake. “

In short, you know that acrylamide is there and that it will be difficult for you not to say it is impossible to avoid it … but now that you know where to find it, it controls its presence.

 

Associated Students of Woodland Community College

The Associated Students of Woodland Community College (ASWCC) is your student government at WCC. We represent the student body to Administration and college committees, sponsor student organizations, and host informative and social activities throughout the year. We also actively participate in the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and we assist in applying for bad credit installment loans that are not payday loans. Our mission is to connect students to our campus so that they can succeed. We stand beside you!

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