New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cross-Cultural Relationships, Literature and Love

A core belief of modern men and women at least in the West is that marriages/partnerships are based on romantic love.  When two people wish to get together is is assumed - nay, it is required - that they have some sort of emotional attachment.  Any hint that there are more practical considerations behind that decision is met with revulsion.  To marry for money, for example, or to unite fortunes and families or for political purposes - all things that in the past would have been perfectly legitimate reasons for two (or more) people to get together - are now anathema.  This extends so far as to pose an interesting problem in the realm of immigration/emigration.

To marry in order to get legal residency for a partner is a very common occurrence and yet this provokes very ambivalent reactions on the part of the native citizenry who mutter about les mariages blancs and insist that their government do something about it toute de suite.  The "something" (I can assure you) is generally quite a comedy with government agents asking questions like whether or not the marriage is consummated, and filming the couple with an eye toward examining them closely for hints of that Western ideal of pure love untainted by the crassness of economic interest.  It's an impossible task because there is no sure way to determine a man or woman's internal emotional state and whether or not he (or she) is truly in love with him (or her).  But they try and the voting citizenry of the democratic nation-state everywhere should give them a break.

With so many people on the move today there are many more opportunities for them to find their love interest outside of their own culture/country.  Even within one culture/country people cross internal boundaries of religion, class, and culture in ways that would have been unheard of in our grandparent's day.  This, I believe, causes an enormous amount of angst because people are torn between two conflicting ideas:  1.   That people in love should be together and that every man and woman has the right to choose his or partner (it's not any one's business, right?) and 2. an older idea that says that a society, a family, a culture cannot be entirely neutral about love, marriage and the raising of children because those individual choices impact everyone in some way.  I think that the latter idea was first proposed to me in my youth in an Orson Scott Card novel and I found it shocking at the time.   And yet, I believe he was correct;  There has never been and never will be a human world where a community is completely disinterested in how people partner.

And for the people who practice a kind of extreme exogamy there is a searching for a framework within which to understand and a guide to such relationships from courtship to some sort of legal partnership to the common project of raising offspring.  To say that the fundamental basis of any such relationship (for it to be considered legitimate in North America and Europe) is love is simply not helpful. I'm not even sure that it works anymore for relationships within a class or culture because those rules have changed and are still changing and God knows people struggle mightily to cope with that alone without the added stresses that come from crossing borders, cultures, language groups, religions and so on.

Where does someone in a cross-cultural marriage go to find this framework or even perspective?  I suggest starting with Dr. Lucy William's book Global Marriage: Cross-Border Marriage Migration in Global Context. This is the big picture and I for one wish the book had been written many years ago because it would have saved me from starting my thinking about this with the autobiographies of men and women in cross-cultural relationships, an exercise that I found to be very frustrating.  These are not necessarily bad books but they are limited because each case presents itself as something rather exotic and different and special and never stretches to connect to other cross-cultural relationships and marriages.

Also, however revealing these books are about the interior life of an individual, they are seldom very honest for reasons that are entirely understandable.  Talking about one's marriage at all is something few of us wish to do in public.  There is even more reticence, I think, when the author is someone who is still married and living in the spouse's country.  To create a portrait of that marriage, its ups and downs, successes and failures, the great love and promises versus the cruelty and pain inflicted over the years is more than any of us have the right to ask of an individual and certainly we cannot reasonably demand it from an "expat" writer,

And the cult of love as the basis of all relationships?  Well, that's another impediment to writing this sort of book.  What "marriage migrant" would wish to admit in print and in defiance of the cult of love mentioned above, that they did get married to get that residency permit.  What woman living what her compatriots in her home country consider to be the apex of romance, who has thrown up everything to join a spouse in a foreign land, would care to open up to the larger world and tell the complicated story of that marriage of which love and romance are simply two elements and not even the most important ones.

So there are studies and the big picture and there are autobiographies, but recently I discovered another source that I've found very helpful in thinking about my cross-cultural marriage and about all such marriages.  It's a realm where people can ask questions, explore the contradictions, work out the issues, and tell the truth as they see it.  This is the world of fiction - literature that allows an author to speak to these things and a reader to learn and think about them but where both have distance.  This is not my life or your life - these are "simply" characters in a story.  And yet we work toward our own truths and conclusions, find frameworks and guides, and arrive at our own understanding though these stories.

Some of the fiction written by expatriates/migrates speaks of these things in an explicit way.  I recently picked up Passion Fruit by Sandra Cruza on the advice of a Flophouse reader and I both enjoyed it and was disturbed by it.  This is the slow disintegration of a marriage in a foreign land and anyone I think who has lived in expat communities outside of his/her home country will recognize the fault lines that appear in the marriage when it is exported to a distant shore, the problems and issues, the temptations and so.  I have never lived in Brazil where this story is set,  and yet I recognized so much from my experiences in Asia.  And you can see the cult of love in the latter part of the story and how it is used to justify, not the beginning of the relationship, but as the means for ending one.

That is an example of fiction that talks about cross-border/cross-cultural relationships in a fairly direct fashion - I have heard this referred to as "expat fiction."  But very recently I realized that there is a genre (perhaps two) that I have read for years that tackle cross-cultural relationships in an indirect but very powerful way (I just never had the insight to recognize it):  science fiction/fantasy.  In them there is even more distance as we are asked to contemplate relationships with the extreme Other - something so foreign and strange that we can easily (if we wish) dismiss the entire business as "bon bons for the mind", "fun reads" or "trash" - certainly not serious literature.  (And here I know that the sci-fi fans are raising their hackles but let's just all admit that the genre has struggled for respectability and is still not always taken terribly seriously.)

In the sci-fi/fantasy world best example I can think of is C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series.  She is a gifted writer and these books can be read on many levels:  politics, a treatise on technological progress, a commentary on colonialism, an extraordinary example of world-building and so on.  But in it is a thread which we all recognize as the love story/interest and it is between the main character Bren Cameron, a diplomat to a non-human civilization called the Atevi, and one of his security guards, Jago.  He is human, she is not.  As competent as he may be as a translator  and even as he integrates more and more into Atevi civilization, he is unsure about the relationship and how it could work between two individuals who don't even the same biological wiring.  The Atevi, he says, don't even have a word for "love" - the closest term he can find in his own language is "association" and yet the two do build a relationship over the course of the many many books in this series.  So here is Mr. Cameron starting from something that we (the North American/European reader) recognize and identify with - the cult of love - in a relationship with a partner who not only does not share it but never ever will.  Her feelings do not and can not map to his.

And is there not in this love story something that all of us in cross-cultural relationships will recognize?  That every once in awhile (or perhaps often) we feel the chasm that exists between us and our partner - that we are not coming from the same place, that our feelings and theirs do not necessarily map directly, that we must build a common project out of two worldviews that are not always compatible and that something must give if the association is to continue.  Even between a North American and a European who broadly share this ideal of a relationship based on romantic love, they might find that their respective cultural interpretations of that might be different enough to cause great dissatisfaction, if not moments of actual fear and loathing. And all of this, mind you, on top of the fact that we are all individuals with different personalities and characters and we are frequently at odds with the close Other within the same culture, with the same cultural references, prejudices, upbringing and education.

Bren and Jago's relationship in this work of science fiction, I have belatedly realized, has been one way that I have worked through some of the questions and feelings about my own cross-cultural relationship. I'm not saying there are concrete answers here or anywhere but like all good fiction, it seduces us by approaching such intimate, delicate, emotional and controversial subjects indirectly, and works its magic in such a way that we are changed by it.

"Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." (Albert Camus)

Next post will be from Osaka, Japan.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Off again to Canada to visit my daughter.  I'll be on an Air France flight early afternoon and staying
most of next week.

Montréal is one of my favorite cities and I'm looking forward to revisiting the planetarium and many other places that we've come to know and love.  The younger Frenchling has promised a thorough tour of the Université de Montréal campus.  Temperatures are a bit above freezing and the forecast says no snow next week (thank goodness).

If I have time I will post a few pictures.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Walls: Americans in Mexico

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 
What I was walling in or walling out, 
And to whom I was like to give offence. 
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That wants it down."

Mending Wall, Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The United States of America does not sit in splendid isolation on the North American continent; it is sandwiched between the foreign sovereign countries of Canada and Mexico with two extravagantly long and until very recently, relatively undefended borders.  9/11 changed so much as Americans, who had felt protected by the vast oceans between their country and the rest of the world, suddenly realized that they were far more vulnerable then they ever dreamed. 

Thus no one should be surprised that the United States began paying more attention to its "near abroad" in the years that followed that catastrophe and so in 2006 US lawmakers passed a bill to build a 700 mile wall on the border between the United States of America and the United States of Mexico.  A very popular project in the USA;  it passed the House and the Senate with comfortable majorities and was signed into law by President Bush.  A wall is a powerful symbol and one's interpretation and feelings about it depend greatly on where one sits in relation to it.

As the United States government was building this wall, a large number of American citizens were either already on the other side of it in Mexico or were merrily heading past it going south. I am endlessly fascinated by how Americans and their government in the US focus entirely on the flow into the US and pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the outbound flow (unless, of course, it is to focus on the few who go off to join terrorists groups, for example).

Just a few short years after this wall project kicked off Sheila Croucher published the results of a study she made of Americans in Mexico called The Other Side of the Fence.  A lot to like in this book - she asks some very good (troubling even) questions about what she found.  However, I think a few caveats are in order here first.  

The study was limited to two towns in Mexico that have significant American communities. She conducted extensive interviews and spent time in these communities observing them.  What she wrote was a "thick description" of them based on what she was told and what she saw.  Moreover, there is not much distance between her and her subjects :  she is a homeland American academic studying Americans in a different context where language and common culture are a given, not an issue.  An argument could be made that she is simply exposing a kind of narcissism of small differences between these people and their compatriots on the other side of the wall.  Also the strong reliance on personal interviews can be suspect because people are not necessarily honest.  One could argue that she didn't spend enough time there to get a broad enough perspective. I have an extended family member living in Mexico and I did not recognize her at all in any of the portraits painted by Croucher.

Sometimes, thick description looks a lot like writing biography, a perilous undertaking with the dead, much less the living:
"..all we have to do is look and listen and to listen and to look and soon the little figures - for they are rather under life size - will begin to move and to speak, and as they move we shall arrange them in all sorts of patterns of which they were ignorant, for they thought when they were alive that they could go where they liked; and as they speak we shall read into their sayings all kinds of meaning which never struck them..." (Virginia Woolf, 1930)
What saves the book is that she is aware of these things and admits to those limitations.  This is not a definitive book about Americans in Mexico in the first decade of the 21st century.  It's a sketch that leaves out a lot and once we have that firmly in our minds, we can look more closely at some of her arguments and the questions she asks about the meaning of this group in the larger picture of regional migration on the North American continent.

One of the most salient points she makes is that these US citizens in Mexico are significant (a high estimate says that there over 1 million of them living south of the border) and that there are commonalities between Mexicans in the US and Americans in Mexico.  Both, she says, comprise the largest portion of the foreign-born in both places.  Mexicans in the US in 2003 were 30% of the foreign-born in the US and US migrants in Mexico were a whopping 69% of the foreign-born population there:  "In other words, while the absolutely numbers of Mexican immigrants in the United States might be higher, the relative size of Americans in Mexico may be as great, or greater."

Another commonality is that both move at least in part because of economic factors.  In her analysis of push/pull factors she noted that a low cost of living in Mexico is a big "pull".  They can simply live better on less with access to more affordable housing, household help, and cheaper healthcare.  This is international retirement migration and these Americans are doing what many French and UK retirees are also doing - finding a place where their limited retirement dollars buy a better life.  What she finds more interesting are the "push" factors - that life in the US is perceived as unaffordable for people on fixed incomes and that the social and cultural rhythms in Mexico are more attractive and fill a void that they did not know they felt until the left the US.  Some of the features of US culture that they say they are relieved to have escaped are, she says:  "a hurried uptightness about time, a readiness to judge others, a fixation with material consumption" and different attitudes toward family, a warmer social context and a respect for older people.

All of  this is very interesting but where Croucher shines is when she raises uncomfortable questions and at times makes some very keen but unflattering observations.  In a discussion about why Americans living long-term outside the US are so reluctant to call themselves "immigrants" or "migrants" she talks about race and racism. You might not like that very much and neither did I.  And yet rereading an old post about these terms, note how I deftly skipped around the race issue:
People from developed nations who move to to other countries usually refer to themselves as "expatriates." People from developing nations are called "immigrants." What is the difference here other than the supposed "rank" of the country of origin? This makes me very uncomfortable because it feels like those of us from developed nations are trying to elevate ourselves and put distance between us and those who move from poorer countries in search (many claim) of economic gain..
This is one we need to think long and hard about.  What is the difference really between an American who comes to France to live, work and marry and someone from Tunisia who comes for the exact same purposes?   Wealth is not an answer, nor is education.  I know Tunisians in Paris who are far better educated and have a great deal more money then many of the Americans I know. I don't think it's coincidence that Croucher talks about this in the context of Americans in Mexico and Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels talks about it in her book on Americans in Europe.

There are other observations in her book that I am sure will raise some hackles but I personally found the book to be a breath of fresh air.  Americans abroad are people, not archangels, for heaven's sake. This book does not exactly extol our virtues but that makes it a much better read for me than someone who presents me with comfortable platitudes about all the good we do abroad,  or who casts us all as villains in a morality tale about tax evasion.  The terms we use and the stories we tell about ourselves should be scrutinized more thoroughly.  

Are these the walls we build in our minds? 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

TED Talk: Why Privacy Matters

Speaking of Orwell, here is an outstanding Ted talk by Glenn Greenwald (h/t Jim).

Has the best response I've seen so far to the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from surveillance" argument. A statement so silly that I simply cannot take it seriously. Greenwald points out that those who say this don't really believe it and go to great effort to be sure that they are not subject to it.

But those who do claim loudly that they are "nice" people with nothing to hide (or who simply do not have the means to create their own personal privacy bubble)  make themselves into small, submissive  subservient citizens. And that is deadly for democracy.  As J.C. Scott put it in Two Cheers for Anarchism:
The implications of a life lived largely in subservience for the quality of citizenship in a democracy are also ominous. Is it reasonable to expect someone whose waking life is almost completely lived in subservience and who has acquired the habits of survival and self-preservation in such settings to suddenly become, in a town meeting, a courageous, independent-thinking, risk-taking model of individual sovereignty? 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Empire: The Elephant in the Room

Last week I picked up and read a collection of George Orwell's essays.  I love Orwell for many reasons, but one is surely the difficulty one has pinning him down politically.    He's been deified or vilified by people all along the political spectrum.  He fought in the Spanish Civil War at one point in his life, but as a young man he was a servant of empire, the British one, and that experience led him to write the famous essay "Shooting an Elephant".

Far better minds than mine have killed many trees in the analysis of this piece of work.  I personally read it many years ago when I was very young and had yet to obtain a passport, much less purchase a plane ticket.  In short, it was wasted on me and the only reaction I had to it then, as I recall, was, "That poor elephant."  And what a terrible terrible thing it was to shoot it.

As you can imagine, I read it very differently today.  My heart went out to this young man sent out to do the "dirty work of the Empire at close quarters."  Yes, he volunteered for it and yes he came to hate it.  And the question I asked myself at the end of the essay was this:  Could Orwell have been anything other than a servant of the empire in that place, at that time?  If he had wanted to be in Burma - just to be there as a resident, an expatriate - on his own terms, could he have done so?  Just as Eric Blair - civilian writer, traveller, observer -  with no other agenda than to enjoy his time there, learn the language, and perhaps write a book or two.  Would it have been possible for him to completely disassociate himself from the empire he hated in that place, even if he had gone off to a small village where none of his compatriots lived, and he publicly disavowed any connection (official or un-official) to that empire?

I think the answer to that is No.  Two things would have made that a hopeless project:  the empire claims its own and asks for services to be rendered either directly or indirectly;  and because the local people put the onus of representing that empire on the individual from it regardless of whether or not he wishes to assume that responsibility.

It's hard to pin down when exactly the United States became an empire.  Was it as early as the move westward and the conquering of the indigenous peoples and the creation of "captive nations"?  Perhaps but that is a matter for historians to ponder.  What we can say is that in the 190 or so countries that exist in the world today, over 150 have some sort of US military presence that we know about.   With those numbers, it is highly likely that any country where American civilians arrive to live and work,  they will do so alongside the soldiers, advisers and civil servants (the George Orwells) that directly serve the American empire. As civilians we will never be asked to slay an elephant on behalf of empire, but it is not a bit disingenuous to claim that we have no connection to such things whatsoever?

What I am trying to say here is that above and beyond all the discussion about whether civilian Americans abroad are migrants or expatriates, loyal Americans or traitorous tax cheats, there is a very controversial question to be considered:  What is our relationship to the American Empire?  

Unlike the soldiers and the civil servants we have no official role, but like them our presence is not neutral whether we live in a region where there are "boots on the ground" or simply a place where "America" is alive and well in people's imaginations.   As individuals and as communities, we must position ourselves in relation to it which can mean anything from a stubborn refusal to be a part of it and do its work, to proudly claiming the title of "unofficial ambassador".  It may even be possible that some of us serve it unintentionally, lulled or lured into it with the promise of privilege, or perhaps deriving a sense of safety from alignment with power.

What we cannot do if we are intellectually honest is to deny that there is any relationship at all.

And is there an argument that we are just as trapped in some ways in 2014 as Orwell was in 1922?

I don't know but I think these are questions worth asking.  Lurking behind the scenes in every civilian American abroad autobiography, every article from a "creative" in an exotic locale, every news report filed from overseas, every blog post, interview and even academic papers put out there by America's "domestic abroad" is an elephant named Empire.

Or so it seems to me.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flophouse Milestone: 400,000 hits

A few days ago the hit counter on my blog dashboard reached 400,000 hits.  (That is the total number of hits received over the years the Flophouse has been in existence.)

I started the Flophouse back in 2008 for reasons that seem rather vague today. I knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't muster the effort to publish more than a few posts a year. That changed in 2011 when all of a sudden I found my voice and started posting nearly every day.

Something that year just clicked and I think it had everything to do with getting sober and realizing that I had, more or less by accident, become a Lapsed Agnostic. I know that we all dream Hemingway dreams but, for me, any creativity I possess was only unleashed after I put the genie back in the bottle and set it aside for good.

2012 was, depending on your point of view, my annus horribilis (terrible year) or my annus mirabilis (year of wonders). I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer (three tumors and it had spread to the lymph nodes). But, oh miracle, I got through the poison and the rays and came out on the other side with my sanity intact. The blog was a big part of that. I couldn't even walk at one point but I could always write no matter what. 

 Today there are nearly 900 posts on this blog on a wide range of subjects:  Crossing Cultures, Cancer, Citizenship and, of course, the American Diaspora Tax War.  Two of the most popular posts are about two very different topics:  bi-cultural marriages and my Godin woodstove.  Go figure.

I'm told (often) that I would get many more hits if I just focused better. I'm sure they are right.  The only answer I can give is this:  I was on my way out of this world and for some inexplicable reason, I am still here - more time bestowed on me by a benevolent universe.  I don't think that this was for my benefit (and it sure as hell wasn't a reward for virtuous living). I think it's because I still have work to do.  Discerning what that work is and getting out there and doing it is my purpose.

So I don't plan what I write and there is no publishing schedule. I just get up every morning and have at it. If it's meant to be then something will present itself as the topic of the day.  If not, I gently let it go and go about my day.  I believe that this impulse does not come from me but from something outside of me.  Dante Deo.

Certain posts and some topics get more hits than others but that's completely irrelevant. It's like "sharing" at an AA meeting. There is structure - you raise your hand, the speaker gives you a nod and you have so many minutes to talk without interruption - but what you say is up to you and comes from the deepest parts of your soul. This exercise is not only good for you (gets things off your chest) but it's also good for others. What you have to say just might be exactly what just one person in that room needs to hear that day. It's service. I hope that this blog is like that. Whether a post gets 5 or 5,000 hits, it doesn't matter as long as it has served.

Some days I still can't believe that I have readers - I just don't have enough relatives to account for  400,000 hits. Some of you I've come to know over the past couple of years through your comments, emails and snail mail letters.  More recently, I've walked into meeting rooms, restaurants and halls and met some of you in person. You have no idea how much joy I get from those encounters or seeing your missives in my mailboxes.  I am so fortunate that you came into my life. Whatever you may get from this blog, believe me, you've given so much more - the gift of your time and your attention. 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lee and Bopp: A Chance to Turn the Tide

"There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4

Bright and early Monday morning, Senator Mike Lee and superlawyer James Bopp, Jr. addressed a full house of frustrated and forlorn US citizens over at Reid Hall in Paris.  Some came in suits, some in jeans. There was a very young woman with blue streaks in her hair and men whose touches of gray were a testimonial to a lot of living.  There were lawyers, stay at home mothers, IT workers and artists.  A diverse group that was far more representative of the true face of Americans abroad than the usual caricatures of champagne-sipping yacht-owners living it up in Gay Paree.  It was coffee and croissants and a frank discussion that at times was fraught with emotion. 

Senator Lee spoke first and he began with some anecdotes from the time when he was first elected to the Senate.  He's a young man with a quiet and modest demeanour.  He recounted how in the very beginning he had moments where because of his youth and appearance he was taken for something other than a member of that august body, the US Senate, and how he finally had to quietly but firmly assert himself as the elected-by-the-people junior Senator from Utah.  He invited us to laugh with him and we did. But the funny stories took a very serious turn when he shared the lesson he drew from that experience: "We must assert what is rightfully ours," he said, "if it is to have any meaning."  

US citizens wherever they live, he said, have constitutional rights that cannot be taken away by anyone.  

And how can the Senator say such a thing with so much conviction?  Because he was an American abroad himself.  Because his mother was born in Europe to two expatriate American citizens. Because he has a son abroad today.

With great candour he explained that FATCA was part of a larger bill that most US lawmakers probably didn't read and surely barely understood before they voted on it.  Furthermore, there was no real political risk to them - no chance that they would lose their seats by attacking Americans abroad, a population little-known and slightly threatening to people in the American homeland.  In light of what has happened since it was passed (the citizenship renunciations and the widespread discrimination it has brought to US citizens abroad), it should be repealed, he said, and that's not a liberal versus conservative, or republicans versus democrats issue; it's an American issue.  "I will fight until it's done," he assured us, and, "While you can't vote for me, I can vote for you."

Mr. Bopp then took the floor and with quiet precision he laid out the case he is preparing against FATCA and the hated FBAR (renamed the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Form 114), the latter of which he rightly noted, is based on the assumption that Americans abroad are all tax cheats and simply can't be trusted.  FATCA, too, is all about stopping the, as John McCain said, "illegal activities" of the American population abroad.  The fines for non-compliance are clearly excessive, he said, and noted one case where an individual caught in the dragnet ended up paying 150% of the value of the non-reported account. 

Americans have rights, he noted, under the US Constitution.  Government must make an "individualized determination and (have) probable cause" to go after people it believes are violating the law.  FATCA and FBAR are nothing more than "fishing expeditions" and while the US IRS does have some leniency in this area, this is "off the scale" and he believes that US courts will strike them down.  And all this, he said, to enforce a system of citizenship (not residence)-based taxation which results in "adverse and differential treatment" against Americans abroad.

As for the IGA's  (intergovernmental agreements to implements FATCA in foreign countries) there is a serious question about their legitimacy on the US side.  Agreements with foreign countries normally require the "advice and consent" of the Senate - something which was not done.  Attempts to pass them off as "pre-authorized" or as "sole executive agreements" are questionable because the latter is normally only used for "routine, non-substantive, administrative matters" and it's quite a stretch to consider the FATCA IGAs "routine".

There will be substantial litigation, he said, and a tenacious defense of FATCA.  Already, just after the news of the lawsuit and the Republican National Committee resolution against FATCA and for RBT, they were accused of lining up with the "Fat Cats" abroad;  Bopp noted jokingly (and a bit ironically)  that he was so pleased to have finally met us in person, in this room in Paris this morning.

In answer to one of the first questions asked by the audience about the seriousness of this effort and if we can believe that they will indeed follow through, Bopp replied that he was very serious about  it and that his reputation to a certain extent is on the line here.  Yes, he said we will carry on regardless of what happens in the mid-term elections.  They plan to file the suit 30-60 days after the end of this tour of Europe. 

That is the substance of their remarks from my copious notes and I hope I have done them justice here.  My personal take on it is that I found them to be entirely credible - non-partisan, thoughtful, clear, and with a surprisingly good understanding of just how bad things have become for America's little-loved communities abroad.  

Let's be brutally honest here:  we are already in the shallows, and we are losing this fight, folks.  All attempts to work within the political arena in the US have come to nothing.  All the proposals, from revising the tax code to mitigating FATCA, have not moved forward as far as I can tell. (And, if that's not true, then I invite those who are working on these things to explain in detail where they are right now in their efforts, and if they have made more progress behind the scenes than is apparent to those like me who read their press releases.) 

I believe it is past time to go from influencing and educating to asserting what is rightfully ours. The alternatives are so ghastly as to be unthinkable for so many of us:  more discrimination, financial ruin, and second-class citizenship - a people with rights that are so eroded that our US citizenship is rendered meaningless in any case,  and renouncing becomes the only viable solution to what ails us.   

That is where I see us headed if we don't stand up and fight.  I honestly think this is the best chance (perhaps the only chance) we have along with the Canadian Charter Challenge.  We can continue to be isolated little corks bobbing on the sea at the mercy of the political winds and wishfully hoping that somehow our pleas will move the exalted to be merciful, or we can get in the boat and start rowing with a current that is trying to take us to a better place.  

(And I could care less who got to name the damn boat.)

And if we fail? 

Well, we will have tried and that is good enough for me.

"There is a tide..."  


Senator Lee and James Bopp are asking for support.  If you want to make a donation (and I will) you can do so here:  FATCA Legal Action.  The entity that is collecting this money is a 501(c)(4) organization and the money can only be used for the lawsuit and lobbying against FATCA.  For those of you who are concerned that it will be diverted to other causes or to support Republican party efforts in the US, that would be an illegal use of that money and get them in a heap of trouble.  So I think we can safely lay those fears to rest.

And if I may, I'd like to ask you to do one more thing:  get out your phone book or your email contact list, and tell as many Americans abroad and at home about this effort.  Spread the word and the link by all means possible:  Facebook, Twitter, email, snail mail, phone calls, skype.  If every American abroad reaches just a few people with the news and asking them to, in turn, tell their friends, family and any American organization they belong to locally, we can send this news around the planet, and reach as many people as possible.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Flop and Bopp

"We must remember three things:
Number one and first in importance, we must have as much fun as we can with what we have.
Number two, we must eat as well as we can, because if we don't we won't have the health and strength to have as much fun as we might.
And number three and third in importance, we must keep the house reasonably in order, wash the dishes and such things. But we will not let the last interfere with the other two."

Ed Ricketts quoted by John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez

It came to my attention yesterday that some out-of-towners are showing up for the Bopp event on Monday.  So in their honor I have decided to throw open the Flophouse on Saturday, October 4.  From 10 AM to 4 PM anyone who would like to stop by my little maison ouvrière here in Versailles is most welcome to do so.

Nothing fancy, it's a come as you are, and stay for as little or as long as you like.  In line with the philosophy of the sagacious Mr. Ricketts, the Flophouse will be "reasonably in order." There will be coffee, and, if I'm inspired, pumpkin pie to restore your strength after the long trek out to Versailles.  The house is small but it has two porches, a garden and many places to sit and chat.  And the last is (at least for me) the fun part.  As Madame G says often (and with deep satisfaction) Ah, ça fait du bien de bavarder un peu...

If you would like to show up, just send me an email:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bopping at Reid Hall

Anyone remember Crocodile Rock?  Elton John?  All that "hopping and bopping"?

When I heard that James Bopp Jr and Senator Mike Lee were coming to Europe, I swear that "bopping" was the first word that came to my mind.  Go look it up on-line -  the term has a long and venerable history.  Really. And something tells me that James Bopp Jr has probably been hearing jokes about his name all his life.  But hell, folks, it could have been worse:  Citizens United, anyone?

No offense whatsoever to that distinguished gentleman who has taken on (much to our relief and joy) the sisyphean task of fighting FATCA in the US. Qui aime bien châtie bien.

On Monday, October 6, he will be in Paris with Senator Mike Lee for an information session at Reid Hall.  The event is being sponsored by Republican Overseas and the Association of Americans Resident Overseas.  I think we all be fools to miss it.  I have my ticket and if you want to attend too, best to order yours today.  I hear that it is almost sold out.  I hope to see you there bright and early Monday morning.

For a quick preview of their case to repeal FATCA, Republicans Overseas Hong Kong has released this short video.  It's quite good (and distressingly accurate).