8/21/2014

No longer Wanting To Be


The newly published names of individuals who renounced their U.S. citizenship or terminated long-term U.S. residency is up, with 576 for the quarter and 1,577 so far this year.

The growing trend is an indictment of what is happening in this country for some but for others it is just a way to save money.

The tally was 2,999 for all of 2013, a 221% increase over the 932 who left in 2012.

The Treasury Department is required to publish a quarterly list, a kind of public outing putting Americans on notice of who relinquished their rights.

The law was changed in 2004, so tax consequences do not hinge on why one leaves. 

But that could change. After Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin departed permanently for Singapore with his IPO riches, there was an angry backlash. 


Mr. Saverin’s fly-away prompted such outrage that Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey introduced a bill to double the exit tax to 30% for anyone leaving the U.S. for tax reasons.

Most expats are motivated primarily by factors such as family and convenience. Complex or costly taxes can sway a decision but are often only one factor. Many now find America’s global income tax compliance and disclosure laws inconvenient or even oppressive.

For U.S. persons living and working in foreign countries, it is almost a given that they must report and pay tax where they live. But they must also continue to file taxes in the U.S. based on their worldwide income. Claiming foreign tax credit on one’s U.S. returns generally does not eliminate all double taxes.

U.S. taxes are complex, and enforcement fears are palpable. Moreover, the annual foreign bank account reports known as FBARs carry civil and even criminal penalties. Civil penalties alone can quickly consume the balance of an account. And then there is FATCA, which requires filing an annual Form 8938 once foreign assets reach a threshold.

Yet the real teeth of FATCA is reporting and disclosure by foreign banks, the systematic turning over of American names by foreign banks all over the world. Even Russia and China have signed on, as have over 70 countries. Many foreign banks simply do not want American account holders, period.


To leave America you generally must prove 5 years of U.S. tax compliance. If you have a net worth greater than $2 million or average annual net income tax for the 5 previous years of $155,000 or more (that’s tax, not income), you pay an exit tax

It is a capital gain tax as if you sold your property when you left. At least there’s an exemption of $680,000. to

There's Just Too Many

(Reuters) - As President Barack Obama considers sidestepping Congress to loosen U.S. immigration policy, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Americans are deeply worried that illegal immigration is threatening the nation's culture and economy.


Seventy percent of Americans - including 86 percent of Republicans - believe undocumented immigrants threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs, according to the poll.

The findings suggest immigration could join Obamacare - the healthcare insurance overhaul - and the economy as hot button issues that encourage more Republicans to vote in November's congressional election.

With Congress failing to agree on broad immigration reforms, Obama could act alone in the next few weeks to give work permits to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants and delay some deportations, according to media reports.

Hispanic and liberal voters would welcome that, but the online survey suggests much of the rest of the nation may not.     

Despite arguments from the White House and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that legal immigration benefits business, 63 percent of people in the online survey also said immigrants place a burden on the economy.

While the economy and Obamacare remain the key concerns of voters, immigration has become more of an issue in recent months because of intense media coverage of a surge of illegal migrants, including tens of thousands of children, flooding into the United States from Central America.

Even 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the U.S.-Mexico border, the immigration debate is catching fire in New Hampshire. Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown last week launched a TV ad attacking Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen for "pro-amnesty policies" on immigration which he says she shares with Obama.

While Brown is trailing the Democrat in polls by around 10 points and still needs to win his own primary, it was the first ad by a major Senate candidate to focus on immigration and the crisis of children on the border.

New Hampshire does not have a large Hispanic immigrant population, but conservatives' concern about the burden on local services from Somali, Sudanese and Bhutanese refugees has simmered for several years.


When Brown talked to voters at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in the town of Kingston last week, most audience questions were about immigration.

8/20/2014

Hump Day Art

Two for the price of one


The art of Kate Baylay





















The art of Jing Jin

















Kate Baylay



Jing Jin

Spare No Expense

Ignoring the Hong Kong government’s attempt to rein in home prices, Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) is offering a super-deluxe house on The Peak for HK$175,735 per square foot.


That is not far short of the HK$880 million billionaire Cecil Chao Sze-tung was asking for his headquarters office building, the 32-storey Cheuk Nang Plaza at 250 Hennessy Road in Wan Chai, when he put it up for sale earlier this week.

The house has a saleable area of 4,661 sq ft, a 4,478 sq ft garden, a private pool, a 273 sq ft terrace, a 813 sq ft rooftop and 917 sq ft of car parking space. It also comes with a 220 sq ft air-conditioning plant room.

The sale of the houses is open to the public. Last week, SHKP cancelled the sale by tender of houses No 11 and No 12 at Twelve Peaks when the bids fell short of its asking prices.


According to the price list, the 3,759 sq ft house No 11 is now selling for HK$404.2 million, or HK$107,529 per sq ft, while the 3,771 sq ft house No 12 is being offered for HK$425.4 million, or HK$112,808 per sq ft.

Buyers will get a 3 per cent discount if the transaction is completed within 150 days. They will also be given either a 11.75 per cent rebate to offset the impact from the 15 per cent buyer’s stamp duty or an 8.5 per cent discount to compensate for the double stamp duty.

Factoring in the 3 per cent discount, house No 1 will cost HK$794.43 million, or HK$170,562 per sq ft. Although the discount plus stamp duty rebate could amount to up to 14.75 per cent, a buyer under a corporate name would still need to pay a levy of HK$93.36 million.

SHKP bought the site at 12 Mount Kellett Road in 2006 for a record HK$1.8 billion, or HK$42,196 per square foot.


The most expensive home in the city is House 10 at Skyhigh on Pollock’s Path, which measures 5,989 sq ft and fetched HK$800 million, or HK$133,578 per saleable square foot, in June 2011.


The second-priciest home is a 5,145 sq ft house at 3 Gough Hill Road, which was sold in February this year for HK$650 million, or HK$126,336 per sq ft.

Building Anyways



(Reuters) - China plans to build lighthouses on five islands in the South China Sea, state media reported on Thursday, in defiance of calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity to ease tension over rival claims.

At least two of the islands upon which China said it will put up lighthouses appear to be in waters also claimed by Vietnam.

Overlapping claims in the South China Sea have fueled confrontation in recent months with China, which claims 90 percent of the sea, at odds with Vietnam and the Philippines in particular.

The state-run China News Service said Chinese authorities had been surveying sites for lighthouses on five islands, known in English as North Reef, Antelope Reef, Drummond Island, South Sand and Pyramid Rock.

The survey began on July 27, and "as of Aug. 4 construction sites and alternative locations for lighthouses on the five islands and reefs had been initially decided upon", the news service said, quoting a Chinese navigation official.

Drummond Island and Pyramid Rock are in the China-controlled Paracel Islands - more than 100 small coral islands and reefs also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

It was not clear whether the other three islets where lighthouses will be built are also in disputed waters.

The proposal to freeze activities that could stir tension in the sea, such as building installations and exploiting resources, was put forward by the United States last month and taken up by the Philippines.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers are holding a conference in Myanmar this weekend which U.S. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will join.

Kerry will press for a voluntary freeze on actions in the sea aggravating disputes, a U.S. official said this week, but China has already rejected the proposal. 


The South China Sea is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has bountiful fisheries. As well as China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year.

8/19/2014

Chip Off The Old Brain

Inspired by the architecture of the brain, scientists have developed a new kind of computer chip that uses no more power than a hearing aid and may eventually excel at calculations that stump today’s supercomputers.


The chip, or processor, is named TrueNorth and was developed by researchers at IBM and detailed in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science. It tries to mimic the way brains recognize patterns, relying on densely interconnected webs of transistors similar to the brain’s neural networks.

The chip’s electronic “neurons” are able to signal others when a type of data, light, for example, passes a certain threshold. Working in parallel, the neurons begin to organize the data into patterns suggesting the light is growing brighter, or changing color or shape.

The processor may thus be able to recognize that a woman in a video is picking up a purse, or control a robot that is reaching into a pocket and pulling out a quarter. Humans are able to recognize these acts without conscious thought, yet today’s computers and robots struggle to interpret them.

The chip contains 5.4 billion transistors, yet draws just 70 milliwatts of power. By contrast, modern Intel processors in today’s personal computers and data centers may have 1.4 billion transistors and consume far more power, 35 to 140 watts.

Today’s conventional microprocessors and graphics processors are capable of performing billions of mathematical operations a second, yet the new chip system clock makes its calculations barely a thousand times a second. 

But because of the vast number of circuits working in parallel, it is still capable of performing 46 billion operations a second per watt of energy consumed, according to IBM researchers.

The TrueNorth has one million “neurons,” about as complex as the brain of a bee.

“It is a remarkable achievement in terms of scalability and low power consumption,” said Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


He compared the new design to the advent of parallel supercomputers in the 1980s, which he recalled was like moving from a two-lane road to a superhighway.

OMG: Let Them Learn On The Streets

FREMONT (CBS SF)  More than a 1,000 people have signed an online petition protesting the use of a controversial health education book in the Fremont Unified School District’s 9th-grade curriculum.


The book, titled “Your Health Today” is almost 400 pages long and among the subject includes information on bondage, orgasms, vibrators, along with explicit drawings and diagrams.

The text also describes how to buy and use condoms and addresses masturbation, binge-drinking and shows sex organs in various stages of arousal.

“Our high-school students today need all the tools they can have to arm themselves to make the best- informed decision,” said the school district’s Board President, Lara Calvert-York. Teachers from the district unanimously chose the book to incorporate in classes.

Some parents feel the images in the book are comparable to porn.

“It’s a bit much for me, I’m not comfortable with my child – I mean, wow, that’s, the graphics are extreme, oh my gosh,” said parent Latonya Stevenson, as she was shown some of the pages from the textbook. 

“They are very pornographic. The pictures are very explicit.”

Students are even agreeing that the book may be going over the line.

“I don’t think we really need to know about that at this age,” said Judy Le, a senior at Kennedy High School. “I feel like it’s more of like, adults.”

Jim Morris, the Fremont Unified School District superintendent, said teachers won’t be teaching about sex toys, but that overall the textbook is very good.

“Those anatomy pieces of health education are required to be taught. It’s part of students’ learning about their bodies,” he told KPIX.

Some students said with the Internet and social media at their fingertips, kids are growing up a lot faster, so it’s better to learn it early.

“Knowing high schoolers, they’re probably going to find out anyway, so it’s better to know from a responsible adult,” said sophomore Nicholas Loya.

Parents have the option to remove their students from the sexual education portion of the class.


8/18/2014

Men Are Banned

An all-female Hasidic rock band that played at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side music venue has shut its doors to men.


Dalia Shusterman and Perl Wolfe, the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, duo behind the band Bulletproof Stockings, follow strict Orthodox rules that bar them from playing in front of men. The stricture also requires them to cover their hair, knees and elbows.

It wasn’t easy convincing Julia Darling, the manager of Arlene’s Grocery, which holds 110 people, to snub male clientele for Bulletproof Stockings’ biggest gig yet.

“Julia was pretty skeptical,” said Shusterman, 40, who plays drums and sings backup. “Turning away half the audience isn’t something that’s ever been done. They had to really think about it.”

Determined to prove they were worth it, she and Wolfe hit the streets, amassing a list of women who vowed to pack the tiny venue. Darling was immediately impressed.

“We said, ‘OK, we like your music and you guys did some guerrilla promotion out there,’ which showed us that they were really serious about playing here,” said Darling.

“We did take a little bit of a risk on them because this is one of their first gigs in New York City.”
So far, there have been no complaints from men about being excluded, even though Darling is confident they will sell out the venue.

The male employees at Arlene’s are exempt from the ban because they’ll be there in a work capacity.

“They have a right to uphold their religious views,” said Darling.

Wolfe, 27, and Shusterman describe their music as drawing influences from classical, blues, jazz and rock, as well as the women’s Hasidic backgrounds. 

The band’s sound has been compared to Florence and the Machine, Fiona Apple and even throwback rockers the Black Keys.

“Hasidic alt-rock,” joked Wolfe, who sings and plays piano. “We’re making a new genre.”

The women hope Thursday’s gig will help encourage more female-only audiences. “Right now, it’s a little bit of a novelty,” said Wolfe. “But we see it becoming a new movement.”


Shusterman added, “We’re so excited! It’s unbelievable — just the fact that it’s happening, that people are really interested in (us).”

Union Busting


WASHINGTON -- More than a year after its initial election victory at a Guitar Center store, the union representing the chain's first unionized employees is accusing the retailer of bargaining in "bad faith" and trying to purge the union.


The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Guitar Center has stalled in bargaining talks and "punished" workers who voted in favor of representation. Last year, RWDSU won elections at three Guitar Center stores, although those workers have yet to reach a collective bargaining contract with the company.

On Tuesday, Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation, accused Guitar Center ownership of using "shameful" tactics to avoid a contract with the unionized workers.

The fight against Bain Capital and Ares Management for fair pay and decent health care for the Guitar Center workers is what the labor movement is all about," Trumka said at RWDSU's convention in Orlando, Florida.

"The dirty tactics of Bain and Ares have been shameful and ugly. I want every Guitar Center worker to know the entire AFL-CIO and every one of our affiliates stands behind them in their efforts to win a fair contract."

Bain Capital, Mitt Romney's old investment firm, held a controlling stake in the music equipment retailer until April, when it completed a deal handing the reins over to the private equity firm Ares Management.

In an email, Guitar Center spokesman Christopher Bennett called the union's claims "baseless," noting that one worker recently withdrew his charge of an unfair labor practice.


"The RWDSU's continued insistence on filing bogus charges against us and spreading misinformation to our associates and in the media is disappointing and a waste of everyone's time," Bennett said. "For more than a year we have respected the bargaining process and the law in dealing with the union."

8/15/2014

T. G. I. F. Solitude

Breath-
        t
         a
          k
           i
            n
              g








Close to Bankruptcy


After years of bitter court battles with creditors, Argentina has defaulted on its debt, according to rating agency Standard & Poor’s. 

After failing to come to an agreement with creditors from its previous default in 2001, the country missed necessary bond payments on July 31, triggering the default announcement. 

Argentina is not the only country that has struggled, or even failed, to pay its debt in recent years. It is hardly the only country with a severely impaired credit rating either. 

Alongside Argentina, Moody’s currently lists 10 other countries with a rating of Caa1 or worse. A Caa1 rating is several notches below Ba1, which still carries substantial credit risk. Based on ratings from Moody’s Investors Service, these are the 11 countries at risk of default.


The countries with the lowest credit ratings significantly differ from one another. They span the globe, ranging from Greece and Ukraine in Europe, to Pakistan in Asia, to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Belize in Central and South America.

These nations also suffer from vastly different problems. Some nations, such as Ukraine and Egypt, owe their recent downgrades to political conditions. Others, such as Belize and Ecuador, have actually been upgraded in recent years based on their improved financial positions.

When a government has a great deal of debt relative to the size of its economy, its credit rating may also be lower. Three of the nations potentially at risk of default had among the world’s highest debt levels, at 120% of GDP or more based on 2014 estimates. 

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greece’s debt is projected to hit nearly 175% of GDP by the end of this year, more than that of any other nation in the world except for Japan.


However, not all countries with low ratings necessarily have a large amount of outstanding government debt. For example, Ecuador’s government debt, according to the IMF, was forecast to total just 24.8% of GDP in 2014 — an exceptionally low amount. 

In many cases, these countries simply do not regularly access international bond markets, either because of small financial sectors or because of debt-restructuring agreements.

8/14/2014

Bone Rituals


The bones of dozens of Iron Age warriors found in Denmark were collected and ritually mutilated after spending months on the battlefield, archaeologists say.

At least six months after the soldiers died, their bones were collected, scraped of remaining flesh, sorted and dumped in a lake. 

Some were handled in a truly bizarre manner; for instance, four pelvises were found strung on a stick.

The site of the bone yard is in East Jutland, in a wetland area known as Alken Enge. Drainage work and peat digging have been turning up ancient human remains in this bog for decades, Holst told Live Science.

Formal excavation of the site finds it to be a mass grave dating back about 2,000 years, to the transition from B.C. to A.D. At the time, the area was about 186 miles (300 kilometers) north of the farthest reach of the Roman Empire, Holst said, and would have been occupied by Germanic tribes.

Archaeologists have turned up at least 60 skeletons or parts of skeletons in what used to be the bed of Lake Mossø at the site. The lake still exists, but it's smaller than it was 2,000 years ago. 

The 60 cataloged remains don't include bones found previously — or the many more skeletons archaeologists expect to discover.

"We have trenches going through different areas, so we know we are only touching on a small part of what is actually there," Holst said.

Most of the bones are found dis-articulated from one another, and many bear the marks of the battlefield: trauma from swords, spears and axes. Spearheads, an ax, the tip of a sword and shields have also been found at the site, Holst said. All of the bodies are male.

All of the evidence points to a straightforward defeat in battle. But the bones also bear strange marks of tampering after the soldiers' death.

First, many have been gnawed by animals, including large predators such as wolves, dogs and badgers, Holst said. The species present and amount of scavenging suggest the bodies stayed out in the open for at least six months to a year, he said.

We have changed very little over the years, would you not say?