Friday, October 28, 2011

Working in Prague

I've been impressed with the quality of this conference so far, but as usual, I have little time to see the city. I'm pretty wiped out from the long days, but it's been fun and I think we've found some good candidates who might relocate to Amsterdam. This is a short video of the view from the restaurant last night's VIP dinner was at, but I've not much else to say.

I wish I could see more of this city as it looks beautiful. The prices are also incredibly cheap. I had a plate of pork ribs for about €7 and a huge, tasty noodle lunch for €3 to €4. It's astonishing how inexspensive everything is, though it would be nice not hearing the conference attendees talking in front of locals about how cheap and run down they think the city is. What makes people think this is appropriate?

I'm also amazed at how many Czech people speak English. This is good news for readers interested in the Czech Green Card or the Czech Blue Card.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In Prague

I'm in Prague all week working so I won't have as much time to update my blog. I'll try to write more about it when I get back. The accompanying photo is a poor camera photo taken from a tower in the Prague city center.

Monday, October 24, 2011

US citizens who aren't allowed to vote.

She'll have to pay taxes but won't be allowed to vote
Photo by Angelina Mok
I love our daughter. Before being a parent, I sort of thought I understood what it meant, but I couldn't really feel it until my daughter was born. We want her to have the best life we can possibly give her. We want her to have every opportunity and we, like many parents, forego things for ourselves to make sure we can provide them to her.

That's why I'm upset that even though she'll be liable for taxes to a country she may never live in, as the law currently stands, she won't be allowed to vote. That's right. If she doesn't move to the US, my home country will demand taxes from her but won't allow her to vote. Seems to me this was a famous sticking point in the US history ...

In other news, I'll be in Prague at a conference this week. I'm not sure if I'll be able to post while I'm there.

Friday, October 21, 2011

US versus European health care

Sherman Hospital in Illinois
Photo by James Jordan
I've had occasion to experience health care in the US, the UK and the Netherlands. Overall the quality of the care appears to have been about the same. Even those who argue most fervently in favor of the US profit-based model have to admit that European health care costs are far lower than US health care costs, even the Netherlands, whose health care system most closely resembles that of the United States, is doing a better job of managing both access to care and costs.

When I was younger, I've personally struggled with lack of health care when I was younger, including many years of dealing with a life-threatening medical condition which could be cured with a simple surgery. A surgery, I might add, that I finally received after getting a job with health insurance and waiting a year for the "pre-existing condition" clause to no longer be effective. After I finally got that surgery, I wound up deaf in my right ear and bankrupt. Yes, you read that right. I was "covered" by medical insurance and declared bankruptcy due to the costs it did not cover. They weren't huge costs, but I was poor.

But let's ignore even that. Let's forget about cost and access to health care. There's one telling difference I've repeatedly noticed between European and US hospitals.

The European hospitals I've been in were utilitarian affairs, often looking like they desperately needed a fresh coat of paint. US hospitals were invariable chrome, glass and steel. They drip with money.

When I was recently in the US and visiting a friend, she had occasion to visit a hospital and while I was with her, I was simply amazed at how new and expensive everything was. The health care system in the US not only takes all of your money, but it's letting you know it. I would love to see studies comparing how much money is spent on hospital architecture (not the medical technology) in the US versus the rest of the world. I suspect it would be an eye-opening bit of information. I certainly don't know that US hospitals spend more money on their construction and making them look attractive; it could certainly just be the few hospitals I've attended. I'd be curious to know what others have experienced (such as this description of a Greek hospital).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Backtalking her father at 8 months

My daughter is already telling me how she feels.

The Language Barrier

Leïla and our daughter
Photo by Rudi Wells
No matter how hard you try, you're going to hit language barriers from time to time. Last night's was really interesting. Leïla and I were debating whether a criminal's good deed should factor into this sentence. In this case, we were discussing a thief facing life in prison for his third conviction, but risked that life imprisonment to turn in illegally-obtained evidence of a child molester.

While we were debating this topic, Leïla said something and I replied "you can't say that". That's when she got upset. You see, "you can't say that" in English, in the context of the conversation, means "you're saying something not supported by the information presented." Except Leïla heard, "you're not allowed to express your opinions."

Though she's fluent in English, it's easy for me to forget that French is her first language.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Amsterdam is Tomorrow

Beursplein - Occupy Amsterdam will be here
Photo by Mark Hogan
For those back in the US thinking that the "Occupy" movement is a local thing, you'll take heart to know that it's spreading across the world. Tomorrow we will have our own Occupy Amsterdam rally. For those who've been living in a cave the past couple of months, the "Occupy" movement is groups of people across the US (and now the world!) camping out in various cities and demonstrating against the economic situation which has gripped the world.

In the US, the top 1% of earners pull in one fifth of the income and own one third of the wealth. Billionaires like the Koch brothers are getting richer by illegally selling arms to Iran while pouring millions of dollars into Tea Party groups to encourage the government to, amongst other things, lower taxes and continue to deregulate industries. The Supreme Court in the US has decided that, while you have a limit to how much you can donate to a political campaign, corporations do not. We're already feeling the effect of this as one individual created a corporation, donated $1 million to Mitt Romney's political campaign, and the dissolved his corporation. The sad thing is that it appears that he may not have violated any laws.

Do you have that voice in government? Of course not. Around the world, we see financial institutions crumbling because rich and powerful people are allowed to gamble with other people's money, reaping the rewards but being isolated from the risk. Meanwhile, here's the US unemployment rate:

US Unemployment Rate  Chart

Except that this isn't quite true. That's the U3 unemployment rate, the official one which the US government uses. The U6 unemployment rate is hovering between 16 to 18 percent. The U3 rate only counts those people who are unemployed and actively seeking work. Were you a highly paid professional whose sole job is now a paper route? Too bad, you're employed and aren't counted in U3. Do you live in an area which has absolutely no work available and you've given up looking after months of effort? Too bad, you're not "unemployed" by the U3 measure. You could be working one hour a week and not be "unemployed". It does appear that we're not even close to the peak unemployment during the Great Depression, but the economic malaise gripping the world doesn't appear to be lifting any time soon.

Hence, the "OccupyX" movement. People without money want a voice because it appears that the people with money may not be doing such a bang up job after all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Eurozone Crisis

Today I was going to write about the Bulgarian Blue Card, but the current Eurozone crisis insists upon dominating the news.

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EUIn a nutshell, the banks in Europe were allowed to be almost as freewheeling as US banks, thus allowing them to make many risky deals and putting themselves in the same disastrous situation as their American counterparts. Of course, when I say "American counterparts", I mean "not Canada". You see, Canadian banks have been doing just fine throughout the crisis. Why? Seems they're more carefully regulated by the government and aren't allowed to run around throwing money in the air with lampshades on their heads. The Canadian banks were quite cross about this during boom times, but during the bust, they're a bit more contrite and grateful. Seems that government regulation isn't the demon that many claim, but that lack of regulation means Europeans may be continuing their bailout of large banks (sound familiar?).

But that brings us to Greece, another potentially expensive bailout. As one Greek friend explained to me rather succintly: the bureaucracy in Greece is so inefficient that it's virtually impossible to collect taxes. As a result, much of the economy is "off the books" and with a state which employs one out of every three people, it's completely unsustainable. However, many countries have a large amount of money invested in Greece. If their economy collapses this time, this could have a ripple effect around the world as it takes down other European economies. This might, in turn, take down the world economy.

In short, this is not a brilliant time economically. The next few weeks will tell us if Greece survives or falls. This, in turn, will tell us much about the EU. There are stronger and stronger voices calling for dissolution of the EU or giving up the Euro. I don't think this is likely to happen (don't forget that these calls were heard in the early formation of the US), but if governments don't get their acts together — and having a poorly-educated public talking about shutting down borders without understanding the implications doesn't help —things could get unpleasant over here.

Here in Amsterdam we're relatively isolated from the worst of the economic crisis, but it's hitting here, too. And the populism of some politicians is getting ugly. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. We risk the second Great Depression and so much of it has simply been caused by unfettered capitalism. I'm certainly a capitalist, but the near religious belief in laissez-faire has been a disaster. Sadly, I think it's a disaster we're not going to learn from.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Double taxation of US expatriates

I've been called a "crank" for using words like "double taxation", something which amuses me to no end because I've actually read the laws in question and know what I'm talking about, unlike some individuals who think I'm a crank. One person, going by the name of "Raul" (who did not call me a crank), politely disagreed that Americans are subject to double taxation while abroad while someone who bravely hid behind a cloak of anonymity chose to write the following:
And Raul has already addressed the claims of double taxation to no avail. Raul needs to learn that when someone uses dogwhistle language like "double taxation", you are dealing with a crank.
Never mind that I have firsthand knowledge of people who owe a lot of money due to double taxation. Clearly I'm a crank for even using that term, as is Ronald Sokol, an attorney qualified to practice law in the United States and France who also discusses the issue the US's double taxation laws in this New York Times piece. Interestingly, while Mr. Sokol mentions that only one other country in the world does this, I think he would have made a stronger point if he mentioned that this other country is cash-strapped Eritrea.

So be aware of the law in this area and think carefully about what you want to do. The United States is chasing after countries to report tax dodgers and if you fall behind in your paperwork, you might be in trouble.

Friday, October 7, 2011

France discontinued the OTHER blue card

I received some feedback from a couple of folks regarding my French Blue Card post. Just to be clear, the Blue Card France discontinued last year is not the same Blue Card. The French had their own system for trying to correct for their labor shortage, but because they already used the name "Blue Card", there's some confusion about it. Their old Blue Card program is discontinued and now their introducing the European Blue Card. Don't get them mixed up!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Caravan Palace

Today we'll take a little time out to share Caravan Palace, an amazing Parisian group.

There's some fantastic music out there and I've just discovered the electroswing genre. Awesome stuff.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

France Introduces EU Blue Card

Very happy to see that France is introducing their Blue Card as it's something that people are probably a bit more interested in than the Slovakian Blue Card (sorry Maria!) or the Czech Blue Card. Those countries may be wonderful, but people tend to want to move to "popular" countries.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Walking by the Eiffel Tower
Photo by Neil Willsey
France's requirements for the Blue Card are very low!
  • No labor market test
  • A three-year degree or five years experience
  • A minimum one-year job contract
  • 1.5 times the minimum salary (not yet set)

Your dependent family members will get work and residence permits and you can get long-term EU residence permits after living in Europe for five years, of which the last two must be in France.

Like other Blue Cards, it doesn't make it any easier for you to get a job in France, but it makes it easier to stay.

Background on the European Blue Card, for those who don't know.

Monday, October 3, 2011

UN says Norway still best place to live

While I have no desire to move to Norway, they seem to be doing fairly well.

UN says Norway still best place to live / News / The Foreigner — Norwegian News in English.

Reine, Lofoten, Norway
Photo from Wikimedia commons
It's also interesting to note that the US comes in fourth in most rankings the UN study lists (pdf). That's much better than past results where the US didn't even make the top ten.

Curiously, while Norway may be a wonderful place to live (though I've one Norwegian friend who has made it very clear he has no desire to return), many immigrants appear to be giving up on the country. I'm hearing things like this more and more about the Nordic countries: they're fantastic places to live, if you're Nordic.

I'd love to hear comments on this from Norwegians (I know some of you read this blog).