The inflection point has arrived in Southern California real estate: Investors make up smallest percentage of buyers in three years. Inventory continues to grow.
Submited by Erico Tavares of Sinclair & Co.
Are US doors really open? A quick look at the ‘other’ immigration
"We live in a new and exceptional age. America is another name for Opportunity. Our whole history appears like a last effort of the Divine Providence in behalf of the human race." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Very much like Emerson, during this past week several prominent US politicians proclaimed that America is still the land of opportunity and that "our doors are open", pursuant to the unfortunate and even desperate situation that many would-be immigrants from Central America aiming to improve their lives by coming here now find themselves in.
Reading through the media coverage one might think that anyone wanting to come to the US can do so with relative ease. After all, there is an ongoing debate on providing amnesty to illegals and the system seems to be so overloaded at the border down south that why not just take your chances?
However, for skilled professionals and expats the reality is quite different. These days employment opportunities in the US need to be carefully balanced against subjecting yourself to US laws and regulations, some of which are unique in the developed world and can have serious consequences on your wealth, wellbeing and even personal freedoms.
I will provide some examples as a Canadian living in the US that other foreigners might relate to as well. Let me start by saying that despite what I have to say I greatly appreciate the chance to work here and, if anything, I hope that by sharing some facts and personal experiences this will encourage some reflection on the possible consequences of current immigration policies. After all, going forward Americans might need some help in paying for those burgeoning national debt, retirement and healthcare costs right? ;)
I will only focus on the major differences relative to other countries that I have experienced to date, from the vantage point of someone who has lived and worked in several countries across Europe and Asia in recent years. As such, I will disregard the difficulties in obtaining a foreign work permit, which right now are more or less prevalent across the globe given the general economic malaise.
Alright, so you got your US work visa sorted out. Well done. What can you expect going forward?
Traveling in and out of the US often? Your US experience starts at the border, and it can be a very unpleasant one for many, whether traveling for work or pleasure. In the current geopolitical environment border officials have a very important job to do and they should be praised for that. However, here are some personal examples that may make you question if this is how a person should be welcomed in any country. Clearing passport control in major US airports can take hours, which on top of a long distance flight is unpleasant to say the least. I recently had to wait three hours at Logan airport holding a jetlagged 9-year old asleep in my arms throughout – a grueling experience even if you are in good physical condition. Another time I had to walk to the border crossing in Vermont, where I was greeted by no less than five US border patrol officers running towards me ready to draw their guns (everyone drives through I guess). A warning to all you walking Canadians out there! Extensive interrogations covering every single aspect of your life and intimate searches are not uncommon either. I have never been subjected to any of this anywhere else in the world, quite the opposite in fact. For instance, in (prosperous) Singapore you are greeted with a smile, candy and a satisfaction survey!
What about taxes and regulations, are they worker friendly in the US? This one hits foreigners and Americans alike, but one of the things that amaze me is how high personal income taxes are in the US (and Federal and State deficits are still there). Accordingly, US enterprises must peddle harder to attract foreign talent here. And on top of that there are considerable administrative costs. When I lived in the UK filing tax returns cost me virtually nothing, as I could easily do everything on my own. In the US, having a good tax advisor – a very wise move in my opinion, because you will have to deal with a maze of Federal and State taxes, as well as rules that do not exist anywhere else – can cost thousands of dollars. And there’s also the FBAR, which requires disclosure of all your financial holdings offshore. Unless you're a pennyless immigrant, by definition you will have non-US assets that need to be disclosed the minute you become a US tax resident, otherwise you will be exposed to exorbitant IRS fines and even jail time. Your banker back home might also give you a hard time once they find out that you are a US resident (and I can only feel sorry for the 7.6m US expats who probably get the same reaction by their bankers abroad).
OK, you pay high taxes but you get something out of it right? In most if not all other high tax jurisdictions you have access to good basic education and healthcare at very affordable rates, so at least you can say you are getting something out of the taxes you pay. I personally don’t get this feeling in the US. Health insurance for individuals and families can cost thousands of dollars a month and I still can’t figure out why. OK, hospitals here may be the cat's meow, but I once had a US friend who broke his arm and because he was uninsured he had to pay thousands of dollars just for an x-ray. In Canada and in Europe this costs almost nothing. It's just an x-ray people!
Fine, but this is the land of the free! Let's leave aside all the government snooping which is a highly debated topic at the moment (the US is certainly not alone here) and in my view inevitable in some shape or form in the age of information. Here's a really troubling example of how the US views its foreigners. Unless you're a diplomat, any US visa holder – including green card holders – needs to report a change in residential address within ten days using form AR-11. Failure to do this is punishable by fine, imprisonment and/or removal from the US! So if you file, say, two days late in theory you might actually end up in jail. And that’s another thing I don’t quite understand about the US, namely how easy it is to do jail time here, as evidenced by the fact that about 7% of Americans are or have been in sing-sing.
Hmmm, but if you behave properly as an expat you have nothing to fear. OK, as a foreigner you need to know the laws of the host country. But you also have to know what to look for, particularly as in the US there are a range of post 9-11 laws which are unique in the free world. For all the trouble we get at the border, we could at least get a pamphlet stating that we need to comply with things like the FBAR and form AR-11. Not so unfortunately, which means that you may be treated like a criminal just because you failed to file a form you never heard of. In fact, many expats find out about these rules the hard way, exposing themselves to thousands of dollars in fines and related admin costs.
This may not be the intention of US policies, but it seems that foreigners seeking legal employment in the US are regarded as guilty until they can prove otherwise. A cynic might therefore say that we would be better off by running across the border down south and not dealing with all the hassle, or just stay at home. And he might be right.
Addendum: So why bother coming to the US?
This is actually a great question. Given the foregoing, I suspect that US policymakers take immigration for granted and that people will always want to come here because “the US is the land of opportunity”. That may be true in many regards, but increasingly less so in a globalized world. For one, Americans themselves are renouncing their citizenship in record numbers, which is indicative that something is going amiss.
Therefore, perhaps with all the debate and even outrage going on regarding the current immigration situation, US policymakers and the public in general should all take a step back and reflect on where this is all going. Otherwise the international competitiveness of the US along with its prestige and intellectual capital may greatly suffer as a result.
As for the answer to that question, I can only offer my personal opinion on why I decided to do business here, in spite of opportunities elsewhere.
On balance I believe that America still offers many opportunities indeed. It’s a huge market, complete with an enterprising spirit and institutions that enforce the rule of law. That’s a solid foundation to begin with. Then you have incredible developments in technology and natural resources, like the shale boom, and that are unique anywhere in the world. The US is also catching up on environmental and health & safety regulations, which creates an opportunity to transfer know-how and expertise from other countries in these areas.
On the personal side, the food is excellent and affordable, there is great shopping to do and for the most part the weather is very pleasant (especially coming from Canada!). This is also the land of entertainment, and there's no shortage of fun stuff to do, including visiting the many beautiful cities, villages, beaches and the great outdoors. And the people... well, I really like Americans so I'm biased here. The US has an abundance of enterprising, optimistic, hardworking and fun loving people and it is a real pleasure interacting and doing business with them.
Above all, it is the system and way of life that Americans (and your ancestors coming from all sorts of places!) have created that is the most appealing to me, and perhaps the biggest reason why people come here. However, I get the sense that right now the US is going through a soul-searching period as a nation, on how you see yourselves, your values and beliefs and even your role in a rapidly changing world.
As Churchill once said, "Americans will always do the right thing once they run out of options". I just hope us foreigners will still be around to see it.
Submitted by Michael Snyder of The American Dream blog,
Would you like to have a digital identity card that is automatically issued to you at birth? In one European nation, residents use such a card when they go to the hospital, when they do their banking, when they go shopping and even when they vote. This card has become so popular that this particular European country actually plans to start issuing them to millions of non-citizens all over the planet who request them. Never heard about this? Neither had I before this week. The Economist is calling for the entire planet to adopt this “national identification system” that the little nation of Estonia has adopted. The Economist is touting all of the “benefits” of a “national identification card”, but are there dangers as well? Could adopting such a system potentially open the door for greater government tyranny than we have ever known before?
The Economist article about this national identification scheme went largely unnoticed because it had a very boring title: “Estonia takes the plunge“. But the content of the article is absolutely startling. The Economist article calls the Estonian national identification system a “cyberdream” and makes it sound like it will solve all of our problems…
There is one place where this cyberdream is already reality. Secure, authenticated identity is the birthright of every Estonian: before a newborn even arrives home, the hospital will have issued a digital birth certificate and his health insurance will have been started automatically. All residents of the small Baltic state aged 15 or over have electronic ID cards, which are used in health care, electronic banking and shopping, to sign contracts and encrypt e-mail, as tram tickets, and much more besides—even to vote.
If this was just limited to Estonia, it would be disturbing enough. But according to the Economist, the Estonian government plans to start issuing these cards to millions of “satellite Estonians” all over the world…
That has left a gap in the global market—one that Estonia hopes to fill. Starting later this year, it will issue ID cards to non-resident “satellite Estonians”, thereby creating a global, government-standard digital identity. Applicants will pay a small fee, probably around €30-50 ($41-68), and provide the same biometric data and documents as Estonian residents. If all is in order, a card will be issued, or its virtual equivalent on a smartphone (held on a special secure module in the SIM card).
Some good ideas never take off because too few people embrace them. And with just 1.3m residents, Estonia is a tiddler—even with the 10m satellite Estonians the government hopes to add over the next decade. What may provide the necessary scale is a European Union rule soon to come into force that will require member states to accept each others’ digital IDs. That means non-resident holders of Estonian IDs, wherever they are, will be able not only to send each other encrypted e-mail and to prove their identity to web-service providers who accept government-issued identities, but also to do business with governments anywhere in the EU.
The Economist hopes that Estonia will become a model that the rest of the world will follow.
But do we really want government to have that much control over our lives?
If we need this “digital identity card” to go shopping, do banking or get health care, it would also give the government the power to revoke those “privileges” in a heartbeat.
Already there are countless examples of how governments around the world are using information databases in abusive ways. For instance, one new lawsuit in the U.S. alleges that average citizens have been put in a ‘terror database’ for doing such things as buying computers and waiting for family members at train stations.
Do we really want to go even further down this road?
And of course “identity cards” can be lost, stolen and forged. The next logical step would be to permanently implant our identity cards.
To many older Americans, such a notion sounds ludicrous, but many younger Americans are so eager to adopt this kind of technology that they are actually doing it to themselves. Just check out the following excerpt from a recent NBC News article about “biohackers”…
In tattoo parlors and basements around the world, people are turning themselves into cyborgs by embedding magnets and computer chips directly into their bodies.
They call themselves biohackers, cyborgs and grinders. With each piece of technology they put beneath their skin, they are exploring the boundaries — and the implications — of fusing man and machine.
Welcome to the world of biohacking.
It’s a niche community at the literal bleeding edge of body modification, and it attracts fervent fans from a variety of schools of thought. Some simply enjoy experimenting with new tech. Others use the magnets and chips for utilitarian purposes.
Does that sound creepy to you?
But it isn’t just people on the fringes of society that are interested in these kinds of technologies.
For example, electronics giant LG says that it wants to put an electronic tracking device on your child…
Various tech companies have introduced wearable devices over the last few years that track your steps or heartbeat and even deliver your e-mails to your wrist.
Is electronically tracking your kid the next frontier?
LG announced a new device Wednesday morning, the KizON wristband, designed to let parents keep track of their child’s whereabouts. The KizON uses GPS, WiFi and mobile Internet signals to identify the user’s location in real time and sends the information to an Android app.
And billionaire Bill Gates is helping to develop an implant that “acts as a contraceptive for 16 years”…
Helped along by one of the world’s most notable billionaires, a U.S. firm is developing a tiny implant that acts as a contraceptive for 16 years — and can be turned on or off using a remote control.
The birth control microchip, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would hold nearly two decades worth of a hormone commonly used in contraceptives and dispense 30 micrograms a day, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review.
The new birth control, which is set to begin preclinical testing next year with hopes of putting it on shelves in 2018, can be implanted in the buttocks, upper arm or abdomen.
Whether you are ready or not, these technologies are coming.
For now, they are voluntary.
But eventually a day may come when you will be required to have an “identity chip” in order to buy, sell, conduct banking, have a job or go to the hospital.
When that day arrives, what will you do?
Recovery Of Malaysian Airlines Black Box Caught On Tape: Separatists To Hand Over To International Delegation
With the rabbit hole of conspiracies getting deeper by the hour, video has emerged showing what appears to be the "black box" flight data recorder from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 being taken from the crash scene. As NBC reports, the men in the video are wearing Ukrainian Emergency Ministry uniforms, but a senior Ukrainian official told a news conference Sunday that rebels had taken the black boxes. This fits with reports from The Hill that pro-Russian separatists have located the black boxes for the downed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet and will hand them over to international authorities, according to separatist leader Alexander Borodai. With the US having offered more "proof" that Russia was involved, perhaps some facts from the Black Box will help clarify details in this dreadful situation... though we are not confident.
As NBC reports - recorded on Friday, the footage shows rescue workers carrying the distinctive bright orange device through a wheat field in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region. The voice of a man who is not shown in the video can be heard saying "flight recorder" in Russian.
Rebels have recovered the black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a rebel leader said Sunday.
Alexander Borodai also said the bodies recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine would remain in refrigerated train cars at a station in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.
The news from The Associated Press came amid reports that armed rebels had forced Ukrainian emergency workers to hand over 196 bodies from the site and loaded them onto refrigerated train cars.
"Where they took the bodies — we don't know," Ukrainian Emergency Ministry spokeswoman Nataliya Bystro told The AP. Russian news outlets said the trains were bound for rebel-controlled city of Donetsk.
Associated Press journalists saw reeking bodies baking in the summer heat Saturday, piled into body bags by the side of the road or still sprawled where they landed in the verdant farmland in eastern Ukraine after their plane was shot out of the sky. By Sunday morning, AP journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.
"We're looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized," he told reporters in Kiev on Sunday, speaking via phone from the crash site.
The crash site remains a disaster but the bodies are gone...
The US is pushing the "Russia is responsible" meme harder this weekend...
The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement Sunday pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded "that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine."
It said over the weekend of July 12-13, "Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armored personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers" to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defense systems.
And the rest of The West...
In a blistering article for the Sunday Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the attack a "direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them."
"We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action," he wrote.
In a coded rebuke of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders who have blocked efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia's actions in Ukraine, Cameron said Europe must now "respond robustly."
"For too long, there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine," Cameron wrote.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, speaking in Kiev, demanded that the culprits be found.
"Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice," he said.
While the world's attention is focused on the tragic events in Ukraine, the fighting in Gaza has entered its 13th, and most deadly day, with at least 50 Palestinians killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in a Gaza neighborhood, where "bodies were strewn in the street and thousands fled for shelter to a hospital packed with wounded, witnesses and health officials said." Reuters reports that the mass casualties in Shejaia, in northeast Gaza, were the heaviest since Israel launched its offensive, since expanded to a land offensive including tanks and troops. This has brought the total dead count on the Gaza side to over 400.
A few hours later, Israel agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce in Shejaiya. The ceasefire was supposed to last from 13:30 to 15:30 local time an Israeli military spokesman said. But a BBC team on the ground reported an exchange of fire less than an hour after the truce began.
According to elderly locals, today's Israeli shelling was the fiercest they had seen since the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured Gaza. Shifa hospital's director, Naser Tattar, said 17 children, 14 women and four elderly were among the 50 dead, and about 400 people were wounded in the Israeli assault.
Gaza's Health Ministry officials said at least 385 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed in the 13-day conflict and about 2,600 have been wounded.
On Israel's side, two civilians have been killed by cross-border fire and five soldiers have died in fighting. More than 50 Israeli troops have been wounded, hospital officials said.
Thousands fled Shejaia, some by foot and others piling into the backs of trucks and sitting on the hoods of cars filled with families trying to get away. Several people rode out of the neighborhood of 100,000 in the shovel of a bulldozer.
Video given to Reuters by a local showed at least a dozen corpses, including three children, lying in rubble-filled streets, though the footage could not be verified independently.
An AFP reporter comments on the ground:
Just back from #Shejaiya, horrible scenes. Burnt bodies in the streets, buildings destroyed. Ceasefire a joke. Shelling, gunfire throughout
— Sara Hussein (@sarahussein) July 20, 2014
Meanwhile the IDF is denying all responsibility for the mass killings of civilians, instead saying it had warned the locals to evacuate in advance:
Days ago, we warned civilians in Shuja'iya to evacuate. Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2014
Furthermore, the IDF released the following schematic to explain the layout of local militants and rockets within Shejaiya.
Take a look inside: Hamas uses Shuja'iya as a fortress for its weapons. pic.twitter.com/gX5MC8DXCw
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2014
In other developments surrounding Gaza, the BBC reports that:
- Hamas claims it carried out a major attack on Israeli forces in Gaza, causing multiple casualties. There is no comment from the Israeli military on this
- There has been almost constant shelling by Israel in the past few hours, with tanks and troops reported on the move
- Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israel, with one landing in the city of Ashkelon
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to arrive in Qatar later to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Perhaps most disturbing, and something which has gotten zero coverage compared to the ongoing chaos in Donetsk, is that Israel's Government Press Office on Saturday warned foreign journalists it was not responsible for their safety in the Gaza Strip, where the Jewish state has launched an offensive against Palestinian militants.
"Gaza and its vicinity are a battleground. Covering the hostilities exposes journalists to life-threatening danger," an e-mailed Government Press Office (GPO) statement said. "Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting."
The GPO, which accredits journalists based in Israel, many of whom also cover events in the Palestinian Territories, charged Islamist group Hamas was using journalists as human shields and advised reporters to take "every possible precaution."
In other words, if there are no foreign journalists covering the atrocities in Gaza, that would be ideal. In the meantime, it is best to distract the public's attention with some speculation that the Separatist rebels in Ukraine are doing the same, and try to provoke fury there, but not here.
Below are some photos documenting the sheer destruction in Shejaiya:
Shejaiya, during a brief ceasefire. Horrendous scenes of destruction. pic.twitter.com/J1nXiumfVq
— Paul Adams (@BBCPaulAdams) July 20, 2014
— Rami (@RamiAlLolah) July 20, 2014
The district of Shejaiya came under heavy Israeli bombardment overnight, Palestinians say
The Israeli military says the ground offensive has been expanded to destroy a Hamas tunnel network
An air strike early on Sunday morning killed four people, including two children, according to medics
Israelis who support the offensive faced off with those against it in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening
Finally, the reason why it is all about to get much worse, is that in an interview with Cannel 2 TV, the Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said the military may take control of Hamas-controlled territory for several months to “dismantle the terror army.” Needless to say such an act would provoke a firestorm, literally, of desperation from Hamas which would almost certainly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in the latest sharp escalation of a conflict that goes back countless years.