Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Would Be Rejected By Donald Trump's Immigration Criteria

I'm not a Nobel Prize winner.

I'm not an Olympic medal winner.

I'm over 50, and I do not plan to invest at least $1.8 million (in foreign currency) in the U.S.

So Donald Trump doesn't want me in his America.

Under current White House occupant Trump's proposed RAISE Act "merit-based" immigration system, I can't muster the minimum 30 points needed to even begin the application to move to the States. Not even close. I only get 20 points - 12 points for English fluency (well, it is my native language) and 8 points for a Master's degree from a U.S. university. Oops, just noticed, the degree has to be in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. That drops me back to only 12 points total.

Some of the criteria are ludicrous.

For example, a Nobel Prize is not quite good enough by itself - only 25 points. Barack Obama gets to apply, though: 25 for the NP and 12 for English fluency.

And 15 points if you've won an Olympic medal in the past eight years? What, for the gold content of the medallion? Or so Trump can have his photo taken with you? What does winning an Olympic sports event possibly have to do with the merits of immigration and responsible citizenship?

The "meritocracy" also perpetuates the myth that a U.S. university education is inherently better than a degree from a foreign university - an extra point for the American bachelor's and master's and three bonus points for a doctorate. (Note: only three of the top 10 engineering universities in the world are in the U.S. - the others are in the UK, Switzerland, Singapore and China - https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings-articles/university-subject-rankings/top-engineering-schools-2017.)

At 50-plus years of age, I get zero points toward the minimum, even though Trump himself is five years older than me at 71. (Maybe he shouldn't be allowed in the country. After all, his ability in English is sadly lacking - maybe not even a "moderate" rating of six points.)

Donnie, since I don't live in the US, and I clearly don't qualify to ever be admitted (even if I came up with that $1.8M), can you please stop requiring me to pay taxes?

If you want to see if you qualify to apply to be allowed into Donald Trump's America, take the quick quiz here:
http://time.com/4887574/trump-raise-act-immigration/

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dress Codes

This is a dueling blog. Donna-Lane's version can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/05/preplanning.html.

Years ago, I read the popular book, Dress For Success, by John Molloy. I see he now has a companion book for women, as well as a blog - http://www.thedressforsuccesscolumn.com/.

I don't read any of them. Don't need to. I'm pretty much out of that corpo-rat race, except when I speak at or attend a conference. For such occasions I still keep a suit in Geneva, another in Argèles sur Mer, a blazer and slacks at each, a couple of dress shirts, and a few ties, most of which have some sentimental value. The biggest decision I have to make for such events is whether to trim my hair ... a little ... so as to not be mistaken for homeless. (I prefer Bohemian.)

The one piece of advice I remember from Molloy's book was to not wear a green suit, so I never have.

Green pants, yes, on the golf course. Green shirts, too, with Masters logos. Though not at the same time. I'd look like the spokescartoon for Green Giant veggies.

Donna-Lane will tell you she plans her wardrobe well in advance. That she doesn't get out of bed without knowing what she's going to wear - including underwear and earrings.

My approach, once I'm out of bed, is to grab some clothes to throw on the couch just before I take my shower. That's about as advance planning as I get. Sometimes I wait until after the shower to choose.

My decision tree starts with ... is it warm enough for a tee-shirt? If so, what tee-shirt is on the top of the stack? Is it big enough to hide my belly? If not, go to the 2nd shirt in the stack. If it's too cool for a tee, segue to the golf shirts or something warmer. If it's really warm, shorts instead of jeans and sandals instead of sneakers. As a bonus, I can wear the same tee-shirt to bed that night. Or nothing.

I have started to build a small collection of French language tee-shirts so I'm less anglo when walking around France and Switzerland. But I'm never giving up the now-threadbare WHWK "The Hawk" radio station shirt I've had since the 80s.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kool Aid and Bubbles

Years ago I read an article that talked about the "circles" people lived in -- the circle of the immediate family, the circle of co-workers, the circle of social friends, and so forth -- and how these circles intersected where there were common interests.

It doesn't seem that people's circles intersect much anymore.

With the increasing incivility brought about by political differences, the widening inequality gap, religious wars, and other polarizing influences, most people now live in isolated bubbles, echo chambers, talking only with those with whom they agree, drinking the ideological kool-aid and not bothering to listen to anyone with a contrary viewpoint.

Inside the bubbles, the pontifications of anonymous bloggers or blowhard pundits are eagerly embraced, even though they may not offer a shred of hard evidence or attribution to a source willing to be named.

Democrats and other liberals are so desperate to understand the astonishing collapse of Clinton, for example, they are willing to embrace and cling to the phantasm that Putin must have done it. Surely there can be no other explanation, and no tenuous alleged link to alleged link to Russians shall be discounted. If it wasn't the Russians, they'd have to face the reality that Hillary was a terrible candidate who ran a pathetic "it's my turn" campaign.

Every day as there is a new outrage from the White House, they sign petitions, and boycott, and march. And get ever more frustrated to the point of spontaneous combustion.

In the other bubble, the Trumpsters seem willing to ignore the vileness, the obvious ignorance and incoherence, and the unsubtle schema to further enrich the wealthy, the Donald first among them, by manipulating the government to their own ends.

For those of us who occasionally attempt to referee by playing devil's advocate, requesting hard facts and credible sources, we are readily assumed to favor the other bubble. When in fact we favor neither.

Having been involved in political campaigns and having recently met with several people in office and their minions, I have no illusions. There are no civil servants, at least not among elected officials, who are interested one whit in the lives of regular people. They are all out to "win," ie get re-elected time and again, and that requires sucking up to those who fund their campaigns. They "win" by destroying the opposition, and oftentimes the opposition blithely provides the ammunition for their own demise.

I have zero faith in Crooked Trump or Crooked McConnell or Crooked Ryan. Nor in Crooked Hillary, Crooked Schumer, or Crooked Pelosi. Or for that matter, in Crooked Macron or Crooked May or Crooked Merkel.

Yeah, I / we have taken on the government in selective battles. Key word, selective. I only have so much energy. I prefer to focus it where I think it can do the most good for those I care about. Not going to waste time on rants about things I have little or no power to change. That approach eats at the soul.

Pardon me, though, if I attempt to burst your bubble from time to time. Il n'est pire sourde que celui qui ne vent pas entendre.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Yes, With My Eyes Closed

I can tell which city I am in with my eyes closed. Not from the aromas (because my sniffer doesn't work so well). Not from the sounds (because my hearing ain't too good). I can tell from the water pressure in the shower.

Just stepped out of what I would rate Shower of the Year - Boston. L has one of those adjustable shower heads, and the pulse setting provides an amazing massage. Could have stayed in there until my toes wrinkled. Especially after two weeks on a near dead run from France to Washington DC to Boston to Orlando to Boston ... and back to France tonight.  (You might check out my three blogs, Madame Nelson Goes to Washington, about D-L's testimony before Congress on tax reform - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.com/2017/04/madame-nelson-goes-to-washington-i.html.)

The water pressure in the very upscale hotel in Orlando was on the disappointing side. And no option for adjustment. Did the job, just. And helped steam the wrinkles out of my dress shirts.

The previous best pressure, at least in our world, is in Geneva. J's shower is a torrent, so make sure the sliding glass doors, which meet at the corner, are snugly closed, or you're mopping the floor after. And don't forget to squeegee the glass when you're done.

The pressure in our apartment in Collonge-Bellerive is about as strong. Even better, there's a sauna lamp to heat up the bathroom so when you step out you're not immediately chilled.

In our Argèles sur Mer flat, and in D-L's "Nest" studio, the water pressure varies from barely adequate to trickle, the latter when 100,000 vacationers invade the village in summer. The shower is on the cramped side, requiring me to turn the shower head to soap up then turn it back to rinse. The best feature in ASM is our wall-mounted towel warmer. I love the feeling of putting on a warm terry-cloth robe, then burying my face in a soft, oversized towel that's been toasting for an hour.

Weak water is about the only drawback to living in Argèles, so we can deal with it. Everything else about the village is wonderful. (Okay, not the cell phone reception, but that's another blog sometime.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Madame Nelson Goes to Washington - III

We got a brief glimpse of how Washington works (or doesn't) this week when Donna-Lane testified before a Congressional hearing, met with Congressmen or their legislative aides beforehand, and participated in a press conference after.

Here's a link to the hearing as posted on the Isaac Brock Society website. Donna-Lane's video testimony begins at the 27:45 mark: http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2017/04/27/reviewing-the-unintended-consequences-of-the-foreign-account-tax-compliance-act-video-and-summary-of-hearing/

Here's a link to the post-hearing press conference. Donna-Lane's Q&A starts around the 6-minute mark (the announcers call her a "spitfire": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZoLSfyyjvI

The formal hearing itself could have been purely "political theatre" in that the witnesses' testimonies were already provided to the committee in advance. The real news came from the question-and-answer exchange, particularly for the manner in which the flustered designated Democrat, Elise Bean, first tried to deflect pointed questions with evasive responses (including the suggestion that she'd perjured herself because one of her statements of "fact" was contradicted by attorney Jim Bopp) and then blurted out some things she may regret having said on the public record -- that ALL Americans, including those living in the States, should be subjected to "extreme vetting" reports of their personal financial information. Though the Democrats have long been defenders of personal liberty and privacy rights, Ms Bean's recommendation to triple-down on FATCA by extending it to everyone with any connection to the US (inside and outside the borders) was right out of the FBI-CIA-NSA playbook of warrantless search.
The Committee room, prior to the hearing
Somewhat of a surprise was how few of the committee members attended the hearing -- two Republicans, including the chair, and three Democrats. There were perhaps a dozen aides either seated behind their Congressperson or standing in the wings.

My read is that it is the aides who truly drive much of the agenda in Washington. In our individual meetings in the offices of Representatives on the committee, most of the meetings were with aides, rather than the Congressman himself. Of the two elected officials we met, one seemed rather disinterested at the beginning of the meeting, then distracted by an issue with his car. The other Representative was much more engaging and asked some probing questions to learn more about the issue.

In the meetings with aides, two of them seemed to be well prepared. They understood the issues around FATCA, and one had read the witness testimonies already posted online. There were some discussions of requesting hard information from the IRS about the costs of FATCA implementation against the revenue generated (to hopefully counter some of the wildly inflated revenue claims that FATCA-natics have been floating). We walked away thinking this might be more than constituent-courtesy lip service.

A couple of the aides, frankly, were not up to speed and did not inspire confidence. Nuff said.

The aide for committee chair Rep. Meadows, Graham Haile, seemed very sharp and a key factor in getting the FATCA Repeal legislation into the Congressional docket. I could see him holding elected office someday.

Most of the Representatives' office suites seemed cramped. In addition to the Congressman's office, there were usually several staffers in adjacent offices and cubicles. And our group of 10 filled every available chair, with some of us standing. The walls and shelves were stuffed, too, with memorabilia reflecting the district represented and books reflecting the Congressman's political philosophy. And most offices had some common decor that seemed out of an official Capitol Hill catalog, like a set of emblems for the five military services.

We ate in the same dining room as the politicians and their staffs, but had no opportunity to accost the Representatives in the rest room as they have their own personal bathrooms in their office.

I would suspect that many full-time lobbyists must be in very good shape because we got our exercise over the two days, walking back and forth between the Rayburn, Longworth, and Cannon House office buildings, which are set on a slope. A lot of walking in the corridors, too, as these are large buildings (all the government buildings in Washington seem large - a lot of people working to sustain their bureaucracies). We even did some extra walking for the 4-5 times our group leaders got confused which direction to go to the next meeting.

After our visit to the legislative sausage factory, we caught our breath at a hole-in-the-wall German restaurant, serenaded by live accordion music. The long, wearying, hopeful day was over. But based on what we learned, it seems the battle is just beginning.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Madame Nelson Goes to Washington - II

Proud, proud, proud of my wife and best friend, Donna-Lane Nelson, for her stellar performance Tuesday and Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Despite no longer being American, she helped carry the fight to Congress on behalf of 9 million US citizens living overseas, as well as Accidental Americans, whose lives have been devastated by an Obama Administration 2010 law that has made it nearly impossible to have basic banking services in the countries where they live.

At our own expense (and we are not wealthy), we flew from Europe to the States to participate in several meetings with Congressmen and their legislative aides (the people who really drive the agenda in Washington) and to testify before a House committee reviewing the "unintended consequences" of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA. The office meetings have their own fascinating nuance, which I will try to relate in the next post.

In my previous blog, I provided links to D-L's video testimony during the committee hearing, her written testimony, and the testimony of the other witnesses. (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.com/2017/04/madame-nelson-goes-to-washington-i.html)

The shock of the committee hearing was not that the Democrat Representatives on the Committee were attempting to salvage core elements of FATCA, but that they opted to attack Donna-Lane and their fellow US citizens (including Danny Kuettel, who had served in the US Army) who are suffering irreparable harm from this law:

1. The designated Democrat "expert" witness, Elise Bean, essentially called Donna-Lane a liar, suggesting that the FATCA law was not a valid reason for D-L's citizenship renunciation.

2. Ms Bean was dismissive of those former Americans who have renounced their citizenship (about 6,000 last year alone), comparing their outmigration with the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming into the States. Go ahead and leave; there are plenty more to "replace" you.

2. Ms Bean tried to get away with the falsehood that FATCA reporting by overseas banks was no different than US banks providing the IRS with a 1099 form. Under questioning from the committee chair, Rep. Meadows, she "amended" her deceit with the disingenuous comment, "1099 is a form, and the FATCA report is a form." Jim Bopp, the attorney for a lawsuit against FATCA, pointed out that in addition to the taxable interest earned, which is the only item reported on a 1099, the FATCA reporting by overseas banks adds highest balance, deposits and withdrawals, and other data -- information which has nothing to do with taxable income and would require a court subpoena to obtain in the US -- a clear violation of the US Constitution against invasion of citizens' privacy.

3. Then, during questioning, Ms. Bean put on her Police State hat and said she would like to see the more extensive and intrusive FATCA information reported ... on all US citizens by all banks in the United States! Without a warrant! I gasped involuntarily when she threw this zinger out.

Through the week's meetings with mostly Republicans, Donna-Lane (a lifelong Democrat who has always been very active politically) had refrained from commenting on non-FATCA issues with which she strongly disagrees with their views and votes. (I teased that she had a hidden "hold your tongue" button that she kept pushing when her blood pressure would rise.) 

She/we were in Washington for one purpose -- to help get FATCA repealed on behalf of all those being wronged by it. It would be counter-productive to engage in arguments on other topics which might undermine the FATCA effort.

One Republican Congressman (whom we won't name to protect his reputation), hugged Donna-Lane and called her his "favorite Democrat."

However, during an unexpected recess in the committee hearing so the Representatives could respond to a roll call vote, Donna-Lane confronted Ms Bean and let the so-called FATCA 'architect' know exactly what she thought of her and her law. "You don't know what you're talking about. You should live overseas for a year. And you are responsible for ruining thousands of lives." Later, during a press conference, in response to a reporter's question, D-L said she would like to slap her, which probably wouldn't have been suitable for the decorum of the committee room.

I don't know if Donna-Lane's comments had an unsettling effect on Ms Bean in the questioning when the hearing resumed, or if it was Rep Meadows' holding her feet to the fire to answer the questions he asked, or if she was merely unprepared that her veracity might be challenged. I was seated in the row immediately behind Ms Bean (D-L was now observing from the back of the room, no doubt still seething), and the Democrats' hired-gun witness was clearly out of ammunition. She was extremely evasive in her answers, or offered irrelevant non sequiturs which only served to demonstrate lack of compassion. In short, she was trying to defend a bad law which she had written and which had been very badly implemented.

After the committee hearing adjourned, as people stood around chatting in small groups, I engaged with a representative of American Citizens Abroad (ACA), which is pushing the Democrats' faux FATCA fix of the so-called Same Country Exception (SCE). 

SCE is no solution, as it would leave in place the core unConstitutional aspects of FATCA. Moreover, the overseas banks who have chosen to purge themselves of American accounts are highly unlikely to change course and accept some American accounts (bona fide residents) and not others -- with a Damocles sword penalty of 30% poised over them, a few expat accounts are certainly not worth the bother.

Ms. Bean was standing with the ACA rep, and surprisingly, when I said the real problem was citizen-based taxation (CBT) ... or as I prefer, taxation-based citizenship ... and that we need to abandon CBT and adopt RBT -- Residency-Based Taxation -- which is the way every other civilized country in the world administers taxes, SHE AGREED! That's right, Ms Bean, oppressor of expats, said she is for RBT instead of CBT. Now, she may recant later, or say I misheard her, but then again maybe she did absorb some of the pain she and her compadres have inflicted on innocents.

I won't get into the obvious errors of fact from the Democrat chair, such as his statement that most other countries practice CBT (sorry, sir, Eritrea is the only other country to tax its citizens on their worldwide income), or his suggestion that there are plenty of banks around the world who will accept American accounts (plenty of data otherwise). Or the bizarre linkage of FATCA which implied that the IRS needs Americans' overseas bank info because there are terrorist, sex trafficking, and drug cartel financiers hiding among our group.

It was an exhausting but exhilarating three days. Three months ago, when we thought this hearing was supposed to take place, Donna-Lane could not have done this. She was extremely fatigued from what we finally learned was an overactive though tiny thyroid. She's doing much better now, thanks. It was only a year ago that she was coming out of the final chemo and radiation treatments of her second successful battle with breast cancer.

Knowing her, even if she was feeling underwonderful, she would have made the trip. She would not have missed the opportunity to fight for a just cause. She has always been someone who does whatever she can to help others. Because someone needs to do it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Madame Nelson Goes to Washington -I

The normally neutral Swiss invaded Washington this week, occupying Capitol Hill on behalf of 9 million Americans who live overseas.

D-L Nelson and I, together with Daniel Kuettel, his wife, daughter, and young son, all Swiss citizens or residents, flew to Washington DC at our own expense to urge Congress to repeal the draconian FATCA law (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). We were joined by US citizens who live in Albania, the Czech Republic, and Albania, together with leaders of Republicans Overseas (one of whom left Communist China to become American) to lobby Congressmen and their legislative staffs prior to an official hearing Wednesday.
Here's the essence of FATCA:
1. The Democratic Obama Congress snuck the FATCA legislation into the HIRE Act in 2010.
2. The legislation requires overseas banks to report the accounts of all Americans to the IRS.
3. If the banks miss reporting any American accounts, the IRS will impose severe penalties on the foreign banks, possibly putting them out of business.
4. The easiest option for the banks is to close the accounts of Americans. No Americans, no IRS penalties.
5. Many Americans, therefore, cannot have even basic savings and checking accounts, no debit card, no online banking, no credit card, no car loan, no home mortgage, no investments. It's rather difficult to live your daily life without a bank account, eh?

FATCA is unconstitutional (invasion of privacy, illegal search and seizure) as well. 

You can read more about FATCA on the Republicans Overseas website: https://republicansoverseas.com/.

Donna-Lane had to give up their US citizenship in order to keep her bank accounts. She renounced in 2011, and it was a wrenching decision, something she equates with the death of her parents. Last year, nearly 6,000 people gave up their American citizenship, and the numbers are growing each year.

She, Danny, and the other expats are also part of a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the IRS which has now been going on a couple of years and may end up in the Supreme Court.

When she/we started this battle, many folks, including expats, said why bother, it's a hopeless, Quixiotic quest. You'll never succeed against the power of the IRS and the US government. Our response: someone has to try to right this wrong.

Today we had meetings in five Congressional offices - key Congressmen who are on the committee which will hear testimony on FATCA repeal tomorrow. There is proposed legislation in both the House and Senate to repeal FATCA.

Who would have ever thought we'd get this far? Who would have thought that D-L would become the leading female crusader on behalf of 9 million Americans (more people than live in the whole of Switzerland and more than live in 37 of the US states) to strike down a law that has cost banks billions of dollars in paperwork just to try to root out damn Yankees?

At the hearing tomorrow, they will play a video of Donna-Lane's testimony. Since you've read this far, here's a link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/px66c6pvr8yejpj/Donna-Lane_NELSON_FATCA_FINAL.mp4?dl=0

And her written testimony: http://republicansoverseas.com/wp-content/uploads/Donna-Lane-Nelson-Testimony.pdf

And testimonies of her fellow plaintiffs: https://republicansoverseas.com/ro-publishes-testimonies-fatca-hearings/

The Congressional hearing will be live-streamed beginning at 2 pm Eastern time Wednesday. You can connect to it here on the IRSMedic youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9ZqWYUiFOw.

The battle is far from over, but we are making tremendous progress and victory is in sight!