Are we talking to ourselves? Who’s listening?

I was struck by comments made by Allan Gregg in early September at Carleton University. His comments were shared via email with many Canadians mainly because of his attack on the governing Conservative Party of Canada. Mr. Gregg was a Conservative pollster and is a frequent political commentator.  I ‘m not sure if his remarks will resonate much with non-Canadians, but it you want to read them in full they can be found at www.allangregg.com.

Among the many things I noticed was his comments about the internet. The remarks below are somewhat taken out of context:

If I believe the world is flat, the internet now puts me in touch with legions of fellow flat earthers and reams of pseudo science to support that belief. As importantly, if I am so inclined, I never have to be exposed to any contrary views and can find total refuge in my community of flat earthers. The Internet therefore, offers me the opportunity to have a completely closed mind and at one in the same time, fill it full of nonsense disguised as fact. In a brand new way therefore, the internet democratizes not just individual opinion but legitimizes collective ignorance and spreads a bizzaro world of alternative reason. When this occurs, prejudice and bias is reinforced and the authority of real science and evidence is undermined or even more likely, never presented.

Although both the Isaac Brock Society and Maple Sandbox provide useful and practical advice on relinquishment and renounciation and a forum for discussion of the problems of U.S. citizenship based taxation and FATCA, I do sometimes wonder if we are all just talking to ourselves.  There has been only a scattering of media reports in Canada and the rest of the world on these subjects in the past year. Most of the articles linked to have a small audience.

I don’t mean to imply that the posters to both sites have a bizzaro world of alternative reason or are ignorant.. On the contrary, almost all posts have been intelligent and thoughtful. It’s just that the issues have not been getting much traction.

From the Canadian point of view there has been an almost complete lack of comment by all political leaders and the MSM for a very long time.  We have seen excellent papers written by the likes of Andrew Bonham and Allison Christians, but these papers have a limited circulation.

So I have a few questions—are we just talking to ourselves and to what extent do policy makers in Canada (or any other country) rely on papers in academic or professional journals for guidance in deciding public policy?

20 thoughts on “Are we talking to ourselves? Who’s listening?

  1. Although Senator Reichert isn’t specifically listening to ‘us’, he’s at least asking questions and raising concerns about FATCA. Think he’ll get any more out of the IRS than anyone else?
    “In the letter, Reichert, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, asks Commissioner Shulman to provide information on how the IRS is taking into consideration the potential effects on U.S. businesses and persons when negotiating IGAs, and asks the IRS to provide information on these considerations as Congress looks toward comprehensive tax reform. ”
    http://reichert.house.gov/press-release/rep-reichert-demands-answers-fatca-implementation-irs-commissioner

  2. Just reading the comments on the CBC article not just in response in Blaze but in general reminds just how much emotion and passion there is involved in question of nationality and patriotism. I am beginning to think that a lot of public sentiment out there is a simply jealously and rage by Canadians who have lived their entire lives in Canada or Americans who have lived their entire lives in the US et all towards those who even if they have lived on one side of the border for many years now that have in the course of their lives lived on both sides of the border or in general lived in multiple countries.

  3. How can it be that Canada’s Taxpayer Ombudsman has never heard of FBARs and FATCA or CRA and Falherty’s stated positions on this? That probably answers Hazy’s question about Who’s Listening.

    Today’s story from CBC about five Canadian issues for next US President also makes no mention of FATCA. http://bit.ly/RxKsQR I posted a comment there (using my actual name!) but it has not yet appeared.

  4. On October 3 at 6:08 AM Christophe posted a reference to a International Tax Enforcement conference that will be held in NYC on November 8 and 9. He also mentioned that J Paul Dube, CanadianTaxpayers’ Ombudsman would be on a panel with Nina Olson.

    I emailed Mr. Dube regarding the concerns of present or former U.S. persons in Canada have about FATCA and FBAR Here is the reply I just received

    Dear Hazy

    Thank you for your October 4, 2012 email.

    In preparing for the ABA Tax Enforcement Conference I have been reading materials produced by the Taxpayer Advocate Service, particularly with respect to the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and note that Nina Olsen and her staff are working on the issues you raise. I must admit that these issues were not familiar to me and not within my
    mandate.

    I will however communicate your concerns to Mrs. Olsen and offer any assistance my Office can provide to taxpayers in need of information.

    Regards,

    Paul Dubé
    J. Paul Dubé
    (Note- sent from his Blackberry)

    • That is too bad Mr. Dubé does not see our concerns as part of his mandate — as the IRS sucks away Canada’s wealth (provided by Canadian taxpayer, including the US Persons in Canada).

  5. Renouncecitizenship has a post on the Isaac Brock site. Readers here might want to add their voice (in 75 words or less?).

    Quote:
    On Thursday October 5, 2012 the following appeared on page A15 of the National Post:

    What do you think of America?

    Anti-U.S. sentiment is raging in some Muslim countries, but has take an more subtle tone in the past, even here in Canada.

    Give your view in 75 words or fewer at letters@nationalpost.com

    Watch for replies on October 9.

    Unquote.

    Renounce emphasizes:
    “To be clear, this should not be a bunch of general anti-Americanism (there is enough of that in other parts of the world). It should focus on the aspects of FATCA and citizenship-based taxation that affect Canada as a whole. Quite, obviously the issue is with the government and not with “amber waves of grain”.”

    http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2012/10/05/what-do-you-think-of-america-toronto-national-post-seeks-your-views/

  6. @ Christophe

    The seminar would be a fantastic learning opportunity. Also thanks for your suggestion to contact Mr. Dube.

    @ all

    The eloquence of responses on both sites never ceases to amaze me

    I was also thinking that many of us would have some connections, either through friends, acquaintances or business associates ,with persons who may be able to influence the situation in our home countries. Or, through persistence, we may be able to contact “movers and shakers” directly.

    I put a great deal of effort in the summer of 2011 educating myself about citizenship based taxation, relinquishment and renounciation. I was surprised how much I was able to learn and the contacts I was able to make with persons who were very knowledgeable about the situation. In some cases, I had to pay hefty fees, but in other cases it just took a few emails or phone calls. For example, after Don Cayo’s story in the Vancouver Sun regarding the fact that Canada Revenue would not collect FBAR penalties in Canada, I called the Finance Department in Ottawa. After being passed through about 5 people I was able to speak to a person who worked closely with the individual who was the source of Don’s article and was able to confirm that the information in the article was 100 % correct. Soon thereafter I received a letter again confirming the story. This was prior to Flaherty’s open letter about the plight of U.S. person’s in Canada.

    We’re obviously not going to have demonstrations in front of consulates or embassies. The best we can do is try very hard to contact as many people as we can (and not just politicians) to get the word out there, so we’re not just talking to ourselves, no matter how personally valuable this is.

    .

  7. @all,

    Here’s a post that I saw on Jack’s blog, that is worth reposting here and might even deserve its own post. It might be an opportunity to get our voice heard:

    ATTENTION!

    On November 8-9, a seminar will be held in New York entitled
    International Tax Enforcement. See http://meetings.abanet.org/meeting/tax/ITE12/media/ITE12-brochure.pdf
    At the seminar, Nina Olson will chair a seminar entitled,
    “Perspectives on International Tax Enforcement from the U.S. Taxpayer
    Advocate Service and Its Foreign Counterparts.”

    One of Ms. Olson’s speakers will be J. Paul Dubé, Taxpayers’
    Ombudsman, Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, Ottawa, Canada. Mr. Dube can be reached at Telephone
    1-866-586-3839; Facsimile 1-866-586-3855; E-mail:
    JPaul.Dube@oto-boc.gc.ca

    If you are Canadian, please contact Mr. Dube and tell him
    about your experiences with the IRS and its draconian disclosure policies,
    penalties, etc. If you are not
    Canadian, contact him anyway and tell him about your experiences. What
    harm can it do?

    Thank you and keep fighting

    • Thanks for flagging that Christophe. Glad to see the focus of the taxpayer advocate’s address – may be too late for some of us, but increased attention can only help – especially that with absolute credibility – from Ms Olsen – with impeccable credentials – and an intimate knowledge of the IRS.

  8. Great thread and great questions.

    Are we preaching to the choir? Absolutely. But we (U.S. persons) need to talk to each other. I don’t think we would be in this mess if we had been more organized years ago. ACA and AARO do great work but most of the expats I know don’t belong to either one of them. I hope that’s changing.

    But what I see as THE change that IBS and sites like this one have contributed to is the breaking of certain taboos – things we didn’t talk about before because, well, it just wasn’t done. Give up U.S. citizenship? Until very recently it was a rare U.S. citizen abroad willing to even contemplate it in public. It was the big “no no” – the sort of thing that if you even hinted at it at a party some people would fall silent and others would shoot back at you, “Americans never EVER give up their citizenship!” This of course was totally untrue but it was a myth that most of us believed in because we had little or no information to contradict it.

    And now we have all these people coming out and saying, “yeah, I gave up my citizenship years ago” or “I’m thinking about it” and giving their personal cost/benefit analysis of the situation. And, guess what? The sky isn’t falling in and the discussions just keep getting franker and more open every day. It is quite the phenomenon.

    I think the impact of all this is greater than many realize. A U.S passport had an almost magic aura to it once upon a time. It was perceived as being incredibly valuable and something to hold onto preciously. That’s changing every day in every way as U.S. citizenship is being toppled from its lofty pedestal and becoming just another nice citizenship to have if one is willing to accept some of the downsides (that pesky taxation business).

    This may have been inevitable as U.S. relative power declines in the world but I think frank discussions and the willingness of so many to simply renounce is accelerating the slide. It is “rightsizing” with a vengeance. And this makes homelanders very uncomfortable because as much as they like to say sometimes, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” the reality is that something they have, are proud of, want to keep, and care deeply about is becoming less valuable. And to the extent that citizenship (and that pretty blue passport) represents membership in a political community, a democratic experiment that began over 200 years ago, the lowering of its perceived value says a lot about the attractiveness of America and its ability to wield soft power in the 21st century.

    My .02.

  9. I think that this whole mess is driving me insane.

    I had an absurd and frightening IRS-related nightmare early this morning. I somehow had made it through immigration without having the hebeaus-grabbus put on me and was visiting the US. I was at some very peculiar shopping mall that had hardware stores in it and a food store with the talking price scanners crooning “Twenty-five-cents, Three-nightly nine, Ten-eighty-eight, Bonus! Coupon!, Five-nighty-five, Tobacco product, ID check!, Five-thirty-four. Pizza special… Two dollars!” and so on and so forth ad nauseaum. Behind the main entrance doors there was a very long ramp that was very steep, heading down to the mall corridor. I made it to the bottom of the ramp near the store where the scanners were crooning, and then the hair on the back of my neck prickled up. I wheeled around.

    An obviously derranged and enormously obese lady on one of those electric scooters for handicapped people comes screaming down the steep slope at 25-30 MPH, nearly missing a young Indian girl, whose father yelled “are you stupid, you wanted killed my childs you unsacred cow-woman?”. The mother, in a colorful green sari, was screaming in Hindi or Tamil. The little girl’s bespectacled eyes were just wide with amazement and the fat woman.

    Taking in this scene with me was a tall guy with a goatee, short sleeved dress shirt, and a pocket protector and glasses pouch in his shirt pocket. As he turned to watch the stupid lady go by him, I made eye contact with him and he said “can you believe what that woman just did?”. I said something like “since I have been back in the US the past few days, I have seen lots of really wierd stuff”. We then struck up a conversation. Where did I live? What was I doing at the mall? I wanted to purchase a string weed trimmer, an electric one, because the only one I could find in Europe was gasoline (probably not true, but my dream alter-ego seemed to think so and also didn’t think about the voltage difference).

    He recommended that I exit the mall and go up the hill to Wal*Mart. Just then the appearantly mentally-disturbed child of the fat lady screamed by on another scooter, and pulled up next to his mother, both of them laughing about something not much of interest to goatee-man and myself. The mother and son duo were eating some sort of messy candies that soiled the fronts of their sweatshirts. Us two guys were getting a little pissed off, and we decided to look for a security guard to report these people’s careless wheelchairing. The guy said that he thought there would be a rent-a-cop in the parking lot, so we climbed up the ramp (so steep I said that it reminded me of climbing in the Rockies).

    When we got outside, we couldn’t find the security guard in the parking lot, but the guy pointed accross the street to the Wal*Mart. In the meantime he said it must be really interesting to live in Europe. I said, well, there are some problems I have there because I was born in the US. “Oh, what problems?”. I almost said “ever heard of FATCA, FBAR?”, but interrupted myself with “you don’t work for the IRS, do you?”. The guy said “as a matter of fact, I do”, as he shook his head with disgugst, spat some chewin tobacco in the gutter, turned, and trotted back into the mall.

    I was scared shitless thinking he was going for somebody to arrest me. I darted into another entrance across the parking lot thinking that I could traverse the mall to the other side. Well, this entrance didn’t have a steep floor, but a sort of conveyor belt going to the next floor. The first floor was a restaurant (Gringo’s Taco Barn) blaring mexican trumpet fanfares and filled with huge people that all weighed more than 300 pounds, a dead end obviously, so I took the conveyor to the second floor. It wasn’t the typical type, I had never seen such a contraption before and it looked like it belonged in a factory. It was silvery metal, and you had to stand between upright posts on each link of the chain. When I got to the top, I realized I was in a sort of hospital ward. The place was a maze of irregular corridors of all sizes and shapes. There were moaning patients in some rooms, and rooms with humming medical equipment and the stench of rotting flesh of the near dying as well as the stink of medicines. There wasn’t a flat floor in any corridor. Every corridor was a sort of ramp that would go up, then down, then up again. There were stairs and split-levels everywhere.

    I kept going, searching for another entrance, and wanting desperately to get the hell out of this place so goatee-man couldn’t find me. I came to a large room that looked like a sort of baggage hall or storage room with wire-mesh dollies filled with stuff, lots of shelves, and boxes and suitcases strewn all about in irregular piles. There were two dogs tied in large cages in the middle of the room, and a nurse, who didn’t seem to notice me, was feeding heartworm pills or some other medicine to the dogs. I asked her why there were dogs in a people hospital, she said “oh, we keep them here for the patients that are having major surgery, Dr. Gandu thinks that their presence helps the patients recover more quickly”.

    I looked at the tag on one of the dog cages, where a rather huge malemute or husky was giving me curious looks, pawing at the cage, and ”woooing” at me as many wolf-dog breeds do when they want to strike up a conversation: dog’s name: “Snatcher”, patient name: “Schulman, D.” Oh shit, I don’t want him to come wheeling around the corner to visit his dog. Goatee boy would not be very far away. Hmm, maybe that is why goatee-boy was around anyway. So I found a door at the other end of the room which led to a metal staircase (sort of a fire escape), and down to a street where I found what looked like some sort of BART or subway station. The fat lady and her son came screaming out of the mall from behind me and raced into the station and flew down the stairs. I then realized that this was getting a bit stupid and couldn’t be real, and started to wake up and the last thing I saw was a yellow train stopping as a loudspeaker in the train barked “Alexanderplatz, umsteigen zu den linien fünf-A, U-sechs…”

    Ok, maybe the numbers of the transport lines were wrong, but it was as if the whole US had somehow been in East Berlin.

  10. @Hazy2 and Still American,

    Good post and question! These sites are important — for ourselves, any lurkers waiting to make their decisions, new persons in their OMG moments. We have gathered valuable information not gathered any other place, educating ourselves and others — and the support for each of us is invaluable.

    However, many perceive us as whiners:

    and WhoIt’sSteve thinks a logical solution to our problems and “talking” to real people is to move back to the US to be lobbyists; i.e. do something productive: http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2012/09/28/european-banks-shut-americans-out-over-u-s-fatca-tax-rules/comment-page-1/#comments

    “WhoaIt’sSteve
    September 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm
    I agree that the policy sucks it’s horrible, too complex, too expensive, and should be eliminated or modified to make it easy to comply with, but the whining. My gosh you guys are dramatic, if you hate being an American so much, you have the option to end it, no one is forcing you to stay American are they?
    AND
    @JoeSmith A truly desperate animal will gnaw through its own limb to free itself from a life threatening bind, the discourse here seems to me to be more dramatic than actually life threatening and putting people in to actual desperate situations. I completely understand the situation and how unfair it is (I don’t think it is right, but it doesn’t look like it is going to change in the near future,) you make a conscious decision to remain an American and live outside its borders even knowing that comes with strings attached.
    @Mark Twain For what? Hey don’t get me wrong, I’m on your side I think the taxation issue is ridiculous, the reporting obligation is over the top, overly complex, and not right all together. I don’t like paying taxes either, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
    AND
    @renounce If a US citizen making their life abroad came to me and sought only those freedoms that you mention that they cannot partake in as a citizen abroad, my answer would be I guess you have to decide on your own if it’s worth it in your situation to remain a US citizen, return to the country, or if your citizenship is important enough to comply.
    I came from thinking you were all tax cheats and trying to evade your fair share to understanding that you are just making your own way in foreign lands, many times acquiring foreign citizenship, I think that’s great. What an adventure! Much more adventurous than I am. Having chosen that particular path maybe your US citizenship has become incompatible with the foreign life you have chosen, it’s not disrespectful, it’s not negative, it’s just different and in your situation there should be no shame in ending your relationship with us.
    The only worthy advantage I feel that US citizenship has above all and any others is the right to enter, reside in permanently, and pursue employment for any employer in the US, something that this particular group finds no interest in at all. I could make a trivial list of advantages (things like the right to bear arms, true freedom of expression, voting, consumer choices, vacation spots, employment and small business opportunity…) but that’s negligible as what matters to me might not matter to you or anyone else.
    AND
    @bubblebustin Nope, personal preference is what makes the Western world the greatest part of the world in particular the US. I’ve come from thinking one way to another that your choice to live outside is a fine, admirable choice, but that it may be incompatible with remaining a US citizen if you don’t want to comply.
    @renounce There’s a huge obvious solution and that’s for a number of you to bite the bullet return to the US and become lobbyists, but that would require you to return to the country, something which from the undercurrents you all are very averse to, if you don’t have representation you have to create it. Living an easy life abroad complaining and sending e-mail isn’t a way to show them that you’re serious. For one thing sending an e-mail requires no effort, to be taken seriously you need to put it in an envelope, stamp it, and mail it in, that shows at least a modicum of effort, I learned this from some friends who now work with OFA, and who were aides for one of Ohio’s representatives. Next you need to schedule meetings and get face to face. I’m sorry I’m frustrating, I really have come to empathize with your plight.

    WhoIt’sSteve believes he empathizes with us! The filters through which most see our issue are very dense.

    One step at a time — we must continue.

    • I think some of us have chosen some equivalents of chewing off a limb in trying to get/remain free, and @Whoa has no idea how truly serious that has been for some. In the depths of anxiety, fear and depression, some have no doubt considered more than a limb – which is apparent in some of the past comments on IBS.

      We are talking to ourselves, of course, but we also listen to each other, and that has been a saving grace – better than what my internal voice has sometimes said to me in the darkness of the night, heart pounding and sleepless with fear. Better to find midnight company on the internet with a likeminded community – affirmation and confirmation is important – and not just for those with beliefs about the earth being flat. ij once described having to maintain at least a minimally calm facade for a Non-US spouse and children, and to reassure them that everything is and will be okay – at least here and IBS doesn’t require that pretense. There is also the ongoing pressing need to continue to appear competent and not insanely distracted at work and in the rest of life – because now, the job exists to pay for professional fees – with no end in sight. IBS and Maple Sandbox provides important respite. Those not affected are completely oblivious around us – which in the early days of this – and still now, makes me feel like I must be in the grips of some kind of malevolent delusion or paranoia – but the threat is real.

      This site and IBS is also lasting testimony and evidence of what is happening – better to leave it for those who follow than to suffer the injustice silently, and disappear under the water without a trace.

      It’s affords some small protection. A thief, an assailant, a rapist, a blackmailer – all benefit when the victims are too ashamed or afraid to testify in public. In fact, they select their prey by targeting those without a voice, or those that are vulnerable. The US and IRS are benefiting to a great extent because we are hampered in our ability to confront them fully and frankly – and because we have no effective political representation in the US. IBS though, and now Sandbox, not only helped us to organize – even if loosely, as well as to share ideas and information, and also to shine at least a bit of critical light on what the IRS and US is up to. The experiences of Moby, Sally, and Just Me, and ij are some of the stories that thwart the IRS from operating so completely hidden from view. Petros helped us by being willing to speak to Pete the Planner, and to be quoted by name in several articles.

      We know that for good or ill, Phil Hodgen assured us that the IRS was aware of the IBS, and we also know that it came to the attention of the CBA Canadian Bankers Association who said they had been following at least one IBS thread, and perhaps here as well. We did have Steven Mopsick and Roy Berg offering comments from time to time. Jack Townsend knows of IBS, and participants like ij and Just Me. We do not know, and cannot know who else is reading, or how widely. We have sent IBS links to other sites, to politicians via e-mail, and to others in our lives. That is more than we could have accomplished without these websites, and the internet. We must stay the course and have faith – better to carry on and shine the only light we do have, than to give up and let the US and IRS continue to operate under the enabling cover of darkness .

  11. These are good questions. Of course insofar as Americans Abroad the issues of Americans in Canada to a great extent applies to Americans everywhere. I am glad that the Brock Society and the Sandbox are there. The same for ACA and AARO. These are attempts for us to communicate and get together to protect ourselves. There are many things that we can and must do and I am a little more optimist in terms of eventually changing the highly unfair treatment we are receiving from our US government. Please keep going. See yourselves representing us all. I am not in Canada,

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