Saturday, August 27, 2016

Before You Flee the USA

We’re hearing a lot of vague talk about people leaving the USA if Donald Trump is elected president, a prospect that most pundits and pollsters view as being as unlikely as the passage of Brexit.  As someone who left the US at the time proceedings to remove Richard Nixon from office were underway, I thought I might offer some perspective and some advice to potential self-exiles.

Richard Nixon resigned on August 9th, 1974, 249 days after I moved to Italy. His place in the White House was taken by Gerald Ford, the only American President never to have been elected to either the presidency or the vice-presidency, having been appointed to replace Spiro Agnew, who left the vice-presidency under federal indictment for corruption. Ford’s one memorable achievement as President was to pardon Nixon of all criminal charges for which he might be indicted.

Despite his 2008 campaign slogan of hope and change, once elected, Barack Obama modeled his presidency on that of Gerald Ford. Fearing that prosecution of Nixon on burglary charges might tear the country apart, Ford had pardoned Nixon before any indictments were even prepared.  While Bush had never been impeached or indicted, his crimes, rather than burglary to steal political secrets, consisted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Obama chose to pursue a policy of looking ahead rather than behind in order to secure cooperation from Congressional Republicans.

His appeal for unity and non-partisanship appears not to have borne the desired fruit, other than sour grapes. Indeed, he has opened the door to Donald Trump, who openly boasts that his war crimes and disregard for the Constitution and international law will be bigger and bolder than those of George W. Bush. This kind of speech was unthinkable only a few years ago. Bush even took considerable measures to keep his criminal activities secret. When some of the grimmer details leaked, President Obama went to unprecedented lengths to prosecute the leakers and to steadfastly avoid prosecution of the criminals.

Now we’re faced with the prospect of a President Trump, although he is still considered an underdog, due to his monumental unpopularity ratings and the fear that he inspires. Standing between him and the White House is Hillary Clinton, whose own unpopularity rating only trails that of Trump by a few percentage points and who may still have legal problems lurking. She may have the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain overwhelming victory despite Trump’s trashing of the Republican Party establishment. The Obama Administration has managed to delay or completely omit any prosecution of his ordained successor for breaches of security related to her private web server and there has been no mention of the many violations of electoral law throughout the primaries. This complicity has enabled Clinton to stay in the race for the Democratic nomination and win it but the growing perception of a conspiracy between the Obama Administration, the DNC, and the mainstream media to anoint the Clinton candidacy could lead her to defeat.

As prolific author and old college classmate of mine, Frederick Ramsay, recently put it, we’re now faced with the choice of a Benito Mussolini and an Eva Peron.

Before you give notice at work or put your house on the market, you might want to consider a few facts regarding life abroad as an American ex-patriot.

  1. The USA is the one major nation in the world that taxes its citizens based on their citizenship rather than on their place of residency.   US taxes are low but there’s no escaping them unless you’re rich enough to be able to afford a Panamanian business adviser. Demonstrating the exceptional ability to have it both ways, the US also taxes non-citizen residents based on their residency, rather than their nationality.
  2. The US has recently made a considerable effort to make life difficult for US citizens residing abroad through what are mostly referred to as FATCA provisions. Among other things, these require that foreign banks report accounts held by US citizens to the Internal Revenue Service. Banks don’t want to incur this responsibility and for the most part they are simply refusing to open accounts for US citizens, or to close those already open. The FATCA regulations go beyond this so before you start packing, you should probably check them out. Brokerage houses are also canceling the accounts of US citizens living abroad, although we suspect that if the account is sufficiently large, they may make an exception.
  3. It is possible to renounce US citizenship but the fees for doing so have recently been tripled to something over $2000. That might be a reasonable investment but it will almost certainly result in a thorough audit of your tax returns to examine your motives. We all know that people all over the world are begging to become US citizens, so what is your criminal motivation for going against the universal consensus? We risk stating the obvious by reminding you to obtain a desirable citizenship before giving up the passport that got you there. Being a stateless person is not a desirable option.

Now, if all these warnings haven’t dampened your desire to escape the asylum, there remains the big question--- where to go?

Canada seems to be the first place Americans think of when contemplating an escape from the NRA or other US excesses. Donald Trump plans to build a tall wall along the Mexican border but if more Yankees start crossing the Canadian border than people crossing that US border from the south, will the Canadians do the same? At least there’s the risk that they may become less welcoming. There are many lovely places in Canada, at least in the summer, but realistically, how many people can Vancouver absorb?
Umbrian olive grove

I have never regretted moving to Italy. After forty-three years, I still think it’s the best place in the world to live but such views may have been distorted by its abundant and wonderful wine. There are some drawbacks. For example, if you need to work, Italy is a difficult place to live. The country is very welcoming to anyone who is financially  self-sufficient and who can thereby help the national economy. However, your education and professional credentials will not be acknowledged. Steady employment is difficult to find, even for Italians. Self-employment is also difficult due to the bureaucracy, unless one can find a way to work abroad while living here.

Housing in major cities, where there may be some possibilities of employment, is expensive. However, there are splendid opportunities to live in rural settings. Property taxes are low and the medical system is both very good and accessible. In some parts of the south, houses are being given away by local governments to people who pledge to restore them and live in them. If you have the means to be economically independent, you can probably live well in most countries, even in the USA, and there are less expensive places live than Italy, but none have the cultural and culinary advantages of this blessed country.  

Between writing this and posting it to the blog, we have witnessed a catastrophic earthquake in central Italy, proving that no matter how wonderful a place may be, none is immune from natural or unnatural disasters.  So among the drawbacks of Italy, I suppose one would have to include the threat of earthquakes.
Go paint the Irish coast

Language is a consideration for anyone contemplating relocation. Americans are not very adept at other languages and beyond a certain age, usually around thirteen, most of us can kiss our linguistic ambitions goodbye. That helps explain the allure of Canada, despite its climate. There are some other options in the English speaking world worthy of consideration. Ireland is a beautiful country with a mere four million people, most of them charming.. Artists pay no taxes there on their art income, so if you’re an artist, you might want to give it a look, unless climate is important to you. Other options include Australia and New Zealand, both places where work is legal. Bermuda is a beautiful small island with 65,000 people, in the middle of the ocean, the perfect place if you own a company with profits to shield.
Bermuda, population 65.000

England is a country I wouldn't have considered to be much of an option for US exiles, given as how Tony Blair converted it into an American colony of sorts.  I mean, if you want to leave on political grounds, why go to a State Department subsidiary?  However, post-Brexit, everything needs to be reevaluated.  A few years ago, prices for almost anything were insanely high, but then one pound was worth $2.  Post-Brexit, the pound has slipped to about $1.35 and if the trend continues, the UK may not be so impossibly expensive.  On the other hand, British residency may no longer confer unlimited access to the rest of Europe, but there are still quaint pubs, beautiful gardens, a Queen and lots of history. While some parts of the country may confront  Americans with a language barrier as impenetrable as that of France, there is little risk of being subjected to younger people saying "I'm good" or "I'm like....."

Malta, population 450,000
If Americans speak a language other than English, chances are that it’s Spanish, which is good because Spanish is the language of many countries in the world, most of them with better weather than Canada. Generally, the smaller the country, the the easier it will be to get by with English. Big countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, have many millions of people who speak their own language, so if you don’t, you will remain something of an outsider. There aren’t many people in the world who speak Dutch, Finnish, Greek or Maltese. Those who do may be just as proud of their language and culture, but a higher percentage of them will speak English, making your exile a bit easier.

Two other rules of thumb:
  1. If you have enough money to live comfortably, the poorer the country, the better you’ll be able to live. This is probably the reason that American oligarchs and their politician employees are working so hard to devastate the American economy. Slavery is out of fashion these days but multitudes of low wage workers can make life so much more comfortable for the affluent or even the moderately well off.  
  2. The political climate of a country is largely dictated by what the people have lived through a couple of generations back. Thus, countries which have suffered through decades of Soviet communist rule tend to swing to the right, often the extreme right. Poland and Hungary are two prime examples but Austria, which is far enough east to have felt the pressure, has also flirted with the far right recently. Germany, Spain and Italy, having lived through the worst of the fascist dictatorships, have tended left in the post war era, although after seventy years that phase may be ending. Latin American countries, having virtually all been under the thumb of American-imposed fascist military dictatorships, keep struggling to go left, except where those dictators remain in control. There are exceptions, such as Cuba, which was and still is under a communist dictatorship of sorts. We don’t know where that will end up but Cuban refugees in the US have produced a font of ultra-right politicians such as Ted Cruz and Mario Rubio, along with thousands of rabid right wingers in the Miami area. They are pushing hard to validate our theory.

I have a classmate/friend who just completed his fourth visit to Ukraine in as many years. His blog features descriptions of his travels along with many beautiful pictures. The country is very poor and has a history of rampant corruption but we surmise that it would be a very cheap place to live. It boasts a strong musical tradition, a lovely landscape, except for Chernobyl, and splendid architecture. An undercurrent of fascism and an on-going civil war would seem to be its major drawbacks.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have had some indirect contact with Nicaragua, an economically viable tropical retreat. The weather is hot and hotter, but if you’ve had it with snow, it might be the place to go. The son of a cousin of my wife has opened an Italian restaurant/pizzeria in Leon, Nicaragua called Borgo Italia. Leon is is just twenty or thirty km from the Pacific coast. Sunshine, surfing and Italian food sounds like a winning combination to me.  Tell Navin that we sent you.

It seems that Nicaragua has mellowed out enough to keep the American dogs of war at bay after regaining control from the US imposed regime via elections. It’s hard to predict where the country is headed but it seems to be following the lead of Costa Rica in becoming a new vacation and retirement home for Americans, Canadians and others.

We could speculate further on potential havens for escapees but first should note that while the exodus is largely predicated on a Trump presidency, actions taken by the current president, the “constitutional scholar” Barack Obama, before the inauguration of the next president, could affect conditions in the US and the rest of the world far more than anything a President Trump is likely to do, and which neither a President Trump nor a President Clinton are likely to be able to reverse. If Obama succeeds in slipping through his pet “trade agreements” during the lame duck session, all legislative responsibilities pass into the hands of large multi-national corporations. This in effect will eliminate already lax environmental rules. European food standards will go, allowing the spread of whatever substances the privatized FDA deems fit for human consumption throughout the world. The FDA currently enjoys a reputation roughly on a par with those of the US Congress and the Supreme Court.

Global warming will accelerate as emissions standards are relaxed.   You might want to hold off on your plans for exile until after the lame duck session of Congress ends. Should the trade agreements go through,  consider heading for higher, cooler lands, as those lovely low-lying tropical paradises will come to resemble Hell, with Ireland and Scotland emerging as the new wine countries.

Good luck!