A Video That Makes Me Want to Vote

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the US midterm elections these days because of a project I’m working on.  A strictly non-partisan project, mind you.  And today a member of the project team sent me this campaign video by Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar who is running for Congress in Texas (District 31).

It’s really well done and I empathize  with where she’s coming from because, hey,  as someone who has haunted the halls of Congress and fought for meetings with my Congressional Reps at their offices in Seattle, I’ve had that same feeling that just being a mere constituent doesn’t necessarily get you very far with some (not all) US politicians.


Flophouse Stock and Crop Report


“Don’t let the chickens roam in your garden!  They will destroy it and you’ll get nothing.”

That’s what I’d always heard and believed.  It seemed intuitively true.  Lord knows, when I was growing up I saw many a chicken run with bare dirt because those little tornadoes ate every last bit of grass.

That turned out to be contempt before investigation.  The last three days I’ve allowed the hens the run of the garden and so far it’s working out.  In fact, they are turning out to be the best garden helpers I’ve ever had.

Continue reading Flophouse Stock and Crop Report

Chicken Run – Flophouse Style

This morning we picked up our chickens.  Two lovely hens that we “adopted” courtesy of the city of Versailles.  The price was right:  Ten euros.

Messy little beasts – in a few short hours they had overturned their feed and water and have dug down at least two centimeters into the earth in their little run.

Watching them peck at the dirt and gargle their water is, well, rather hypnotic.  There was a family in the apartment next door who had their window open and loud male voice cried out, “Les poules sont arrivées!” and they leaned out the window to see their new neighbors.

They eventually closed the window but their little girl stayed and had her face glued to the glass watching the chickens do their thing.  I’m with her – it’s a great stress reliever.

We will be letting them free-range.  Sort of.  We have constructed a moveable “playpen” with tunnels going from their main run to a larger area.

Meet Bonnie the Black and Buffy the Red.


For Americans Abroad There is a New Tax in Town

As some of you may recall in the last round of tax reform in the US Territorial Taxation for Individuals was out but tax reform for US corporations with activities abroad was in.

At that point I just stopped paying attention because, hey, I’m not Google and I don’t know anyone abroad who is.

That was a mistake on my part because, as it turns out, Americans abroad with businesses big or small abroad are affected by provisions in the new legislation that were meant to encourage big US companies to bring their foreign-stashed cash back to the United States.

Repatriation Tax.  This is a one-time tax on profits earned between 1986 and 2017 in a business outside the US of 15.5 percent.  This tax is applied even if the business owner isn’t planning to bring those profits back to the US.  It can be paid over 8 years but if the owner elects to do this, the first payment is due on June 15, 2018.

It gets better with something called the Global Low-Taxed Income or GLTI.  This is an annual tax on businesses outside the US  and for the life of me I can’t figure out under what circumstances an US business owner abroad has to pay it and at what rate.  This is one, I think, that merits a consultation with a professional.

Now I don’t own a business in my country of residence but in the various places I’ve been in the past few years I’ve met a lot of Americans abroad who do.  Folks who own English schools, translation companies, law firms, dental and medical practices, IT consulting companies, and many small and medium businesses that are often owned jointly with a spouse.

If you are one of those American entrepreneurs abroad this is one I strongly suggest you look into.  A good place to start is a free webinar offered by an international tax lawyer in Israel, Monte Silver.

Webinar:  The impact of the Repatriation and GILTI taxes on American business owners living abroad

Thursday May 31, 2018 

10:00 am London, 11:00 am Paris/Germany, 17:00 Beijing/HK, 18:00 Seoul/Tokyo

The 2017 US tax reform created two new taxes: the Repatriation and GILTI taxes. Although intended for US multinationals like Google and Apple, these taxes have a severe impact on American citizens and Green-card holders who are professionals or business owners living outside the United States (“Expats”).

This web-seminar, intended for American tax professionals and American business owners living outside the United States, will discuss the following:

  • The problem these taxes came to address.
  • Understanding the new tax laws
  • The impact these laws have on Expats.
  • Compliance timelines, planning around the taxes, and tax advocacy activity aimed at exempting Expats from these taxes

To sign up for the seminar click on this link:   Register for the Repatriation Tax/GLTI Seminar

And lest you think that Mr. Silver is just trying to drum up business for himself, be aware that he himself is subject to these taxes the way the law is written.  In other words, he is in the same boat as all the other American business owners living abroad and he’s not very happy about it.

So in addition to trying to inform American business owners abroad on this issue, Mr. Silver has a petition up that you can sign and he’s working on efforts to get Americans abroad exempted from these taxes.

Democrats Abroad is also working on it  I haven’t seen anything from Republicans Overseas but if someone has a link, pass it along and I will add it. as is Republicans Overseas (thank you, JC) which is asking for Americans abroad to submit comments to Congress here.

How did we get here?  Short answer is:   Same Old Story.  Lawmakers, lobbyists, interest groups, political parties, and the general homeland public write, support or pass laws without thinking about the impact they may have on US citizens who don’t live in the US.   And then we have to chase after them to wake them up and clean it up.

And here we are off to the races once again….

This Ageing Migrant

In my youth I dreamed of being old, evil, and rich.  Around 50 I realized that rich is relative, old is inevitable, and evil is just too damn much work.

I just finished reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.  Nothing like a light topic to kick off the week after Easter.

Gawande is a second-generation American.  His parents came from India and were doctors for many years in the US. He himself became a surgeon.  Gawande reveals a great deal about the struggle he and his mother had during his father’s illness and eventual death.  He compares how these events might have played out in India versus the United States.  Because of migration his family was caught between their perceptions about the old cultural script for old age and death, and the very chaotic one in the destination country.  Why chaotic?  Because that script is still in process in the US and in many other modern industrialized nation-states.

What Gawande understands about old age and dying in India  provokes in him a nostalgia for a country he’s never lived in.  What appeals to him, I think, is the certainty that comes from following a cultural script which tells us what is the right thing to do:  old people are to be respected and venerated; they are to be cared for by family; dying is done at home surrounded by children and grandchildren.

In the US older people seem to prefer independence to respect.  Their idea of ageing gracefully is about the freedom to live as they wish, to travel, to enjoy life without the boss, their parents, or their children telling them what to do.  This poses a real dilemma when older people can no longer live by themselves.

That day will come.  I had a taste of it when I was diagnosed with cancer. One of the reasons I wanted to buy our house is that it is small and almost everything is on one floor.  I don’t have to climb a flight of stairs to go to bed.

I have not thought beyond that.  To be honest I am not sure what the cultural script is here in France for old age and dying.  I know that some older French go to retirement homes and some live with their children.  There are also visiting nurses, doctors who make house calls, assisted-living retirement communities and there is hospice.

In every migrant’s mind there are times when we look back at where we came from and wonder if there is better than here. There is an “illusion of return” – the idea that one could always go back and thus staying in the host country is a choice to be considered and reconsidered over the course of one’s life.

However, if a migrant has aged in situ there comes a point where one’s choices become limited and return is revealed for the illusion it is. (Unless, of course, we are rich enough to overcome most of those limitations.)  When we are old and becoming more dependent on others, it is, I think, reasonable to wonder if where we are is the very best place for us – a place where what we want is doable.  To be clear, if we wait too long the decision will be out of our hands. Our children and/or a spouse will decide or, if we don’t have them, the state will do so.

It’s worth conducting a thought experiment here.  Project yourself into the future, into old age (or illness) at a point where you will need assistance of some sort.  Consider the options available to you based on your resources and on the country in which you live as a migrant or naturalized citizen.

Most importantly, think about what matters most to you.  Is the host country still appealing if you can no longer use the public transportation, walk to the market, work in the garden, watch television, participate in neighborhood events, or manage your administrative affairs without help? Do you value your life in your own home and are there resources to make that possible as long as possible?  Could you accept life in a nursing home here?  If your resources are limited, what happens to the indigent elderly in this country and are you OK with that? Are you comfortable with the idea that the local government will make decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself?

When you are dying what kind of care do you want?  Can you die at home in the host country? Do you want support from family and will they have to come to you or you to them?  Are you allowed to have a “living will” and to reject treatment that you understand might prolong your life but at the cost of destroying your quality of life?  For some the option of “assisted dying” might be important and that is dependent on local laws.

Better to think about these things now than to have to face them (as Gawande’s family did) in a state of confusion and when one is already in a state of dependence.  Gawande’s father, for example, insisted that he did not want to go to the hospital and die there. And yet, when there was a crisis, his wife and son took him there anyway because between his wishes and their doubts about what they should do and fear, fear won.

I started this post with what I used to want in my old age.  Now that I am getting closer and have seen what my life might be like as I approach the end, my priorities have changed.  Gawande was absolutely right when he wrote:

As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much.  They do not seek more riches.  They do not seek more power.  They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world – to make choices and sustain connections to others according to their own priorities.

It does not take much these days to make me happy:  a good book, the presence of my spouse, news from the Frenchlings, the garden in the springtime. Being mortal doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was younger.  And I don’t fear dependence nearly as much as I did here in France because I’ve been there and it can be a very serene place as long as there is room and respect for my wishes.  There was and that is a great comfort.

Political Tribalism and Integration

“The great Enlightenment principles of modernity – liberalism, secularism, rationality, equality, free markets – do not provide the kind of tribal group identity that human beings crave and have always craved.”

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua

As I was reading Amy Chua’s latest book about the power of groups/tribes I found myself thinking about the implications for migration and integration.  In a sense her argument is that there are still nations within states (as opposed to one nation = one state).  These “nations’ or “tribes” are, she argues, essential to understanding the social and political landscape of any polity.  While a strong collective national identity does exist in many countries, a “super group” papers over a roiling mass of sub-groups that are fighting it out with each other for dominance or just plain survival.  Just as there are forces that work on every generation to build and maintain a nation-state identity, there are other forces working to weaken it.

Continue reading Political Tribalism and Integration

French America

As I have written in other posts my American family has a French connection. On my mother’s side our ancestors left France in the 17th century for Québec where they lived for a couple hundred years.  Then sometime in the 19th century they went west to Wisconsin.

I’ve always wondered why they left Canada. Why did my Québécois ancestors pack up and go 1500 km away from everything they had ever known?  They were French speakers, Roman Catholics, farmers.  Crossing the border didn’t change any of that.

Every once in a while when the spirit moves me I do some research and try to understand the context in which they emigrated.  I can’t ever know their personal reasons but I can try to understand the forces in Québec and in Wisconsin that might have made the move attractive.

One possibility is that they didn’t think of it as moving into a new country and culture.  The border between Canada and the US may have been very much an “imaginary line.”

For the area that became the state of Wisconsin was French territory once upon a time.  Here is a map that shows the scope of French claims around 1750.


So they didn’t land just anywhere.  They went to a place that had historically been French territory.  Not unlike Mexicans moving to southwest America which had been Spanish territory. This video When Wisconsin was New France explains more.

The name of this US state in fact was a Native American name for the one of the rivers which the French called Ouisconsin and the Anglophones later changed that to Wisconsin. The area didn’t become an US territory until 1836 and it finally became a state in 1848.

It must have been a very culturally interesting place.  The legacy of the French trappers and other French settlers mixing with Native American tribes, settlers from the US and immigrants from all over the world.

Twenty-two years after Wisconsin became a US state the Amans arrived from Quebec, (the area around Trois-Rivières).  They were not alone. About 900,000 Québecois moved to the US between 1840 and 1930 says Damien-Claude Bélanger  (Département d’histoire,
Université de Montréal – where the younger Frenchling is studying by the way).

He says that it was rather surprising that so many Québecois left for the US.  Yes, many moved into former French territories but:

“While the economical costs of French Canadians to leave for the United States might have been relatively small, the emotional and, especially, the cultural costs were quite high. They left behind a traditional rural society with strong family ties. They entered an industrial world, alien to them by virtue of its way of life, language and religion. Given these high emotional and cultural costs, it is surprising that so many French Canadians engaged in the migration process between 1840 and 1930. In fact, it would be normal to consider that French Canadians, who only find their language and religion dominant in a part of the continent, would be the least likely to engage in the migration process.”

So what happened?  Bélanger uses a push/pull analysis to find answers.  The push was demographic and economic.  Too many farmers chasing too little “affordable, accessible and fertile land.”  Poverty and debt were serious problems for many.  And this was the era of the railroad which made it cheaper and easier to travel.

And the attraction?  Jobs and good land in the US.

And as I suspected, what could make it less costly and painful was finding or creating French-Canadian communities in a place that wasn’t so far from home.

“Essentially, it could be argued, these emigrants did not really leave Quebec not only because they often thought of their emigration as temporary, as will be discussed below, or because they established themselves in “petits Canadas” that resembled very closely the geographical and social patterns of Quebec, but, as well, because, in a sense, all they were doing was to slightly enlarge the borders of French Canada.”

From all that I know from my research and from family stories the Amans ended up in (in fact probably sought out) a rural “Little Canada”  where there were French-speaking doctors, priests and shopkeepers; bi-lingual schools; and a community of people like them.  People who were  francophone, Roman Catholic with large families who were still farming in the New World.

Did they have any intention of integrating when they arrived in the US?  I don’t think so.  They didn’t seem to have made any effort to join anglophone Protestant America and I strongly suspect they didn’t want to.  It was only when my great-grandmother married and moved to Eastern Washington that English became the dominant language in her life.

I so wish she were still alive or that I had thought to ask her questions like these before she died:  When her family moved to Wisconsin was it considered a temporary or permanent move?  Did they think about returning to Quebec?  (About half of the French-Canadian migrants to the US did return.) Did her parents think of themselves as Americans or Québecois?  Was she brought up to think of herself as an American? When she married and moved to Naches, Washington did she suffer from culture shock? Why did she raise her daughter in English and not French?  And so on.

And I wonder what she would think of my own migration story.  Would she be happy that her great-granddaughter speaks French and lives in France?  And what would she make of her great-great-granddaughter living in Québec?  It’s an odd story of circular migration over hundreds of years and many generations.

Today I can’t open a newspaper without reading something about those awful immigrants coming into our country, taking our jobs, and refusing to integrate. I get this message in stereo from both French and US media.  How lovely.

So take a moment, please, and apply that characterization to your immigrant ancestors. I did and as I reread what I wrote above, I’d say the shoe fits the Amans family.   They committed all those sins and yet today it’s a non-issue.  Someday the same thing will undoubtedly happen to all the more recent products of immigration in France and the US.  Everyone will forget how strange and unloved they were when they arrived.  One day all that will remain are family stories and perhaps a nostalgic clinging to an Old Country connection.

That day will come if we are patient and know enough about migrant history to get some perspective on how past migrations were not all that different from what we see today.

Alas, these are two qualities that are in short supply these days on both sides of the Atlantic.