Dateline: Tokyo, Japan
A commonly cited fact is the idea that history is written by the victors. Those who lose the battle also lose their right to having their side heard in the history books.
For example, I’ve often wondered what gives any punch to the argument that “if it weren’t for the United States, you’d be speaking German”.
As if the takeaway from a hypothetical Allied defeat in World War II is that people who weren’t even alive wouldn’t have the chance to speak English. Ummm… so what?
One fact that always stands out to me, however, how the United States has convinced the whole world of its own one-sided reality about the Cold War.
Consider that the United States – and many other countries – have used their own flags, national anthems, and other jingoistic symbols to drum up support for whatever mission the government decides to fire up.
When you spent your childhood hiding under a desk in your classroom, it’s easy to think that every Soviet citizen must have been living under the most oppressive regime ever. In reality, many were just good little slaves who had crappy jobs and drove crappy cars.
While the Soviet Union lost the Cold War for good reason, I’d like to posit that living in the Soviet Union wasn’t quite as restrictive of personal freedoms as US persons would like to think it was. Certainly not today.
Now, I am by no means whatsoever trying to paint the Soviet Union is a favorable light. But it was the arbitrary restriction of their citizens’ rights to travel abroad that made the place such a disaster. And the US government made it no secret that a key component in the Soviets’ lack of liberty was their restriction of many citizens’ freedom of movement.
Today, many of the things that existed in the USSR – secret police, oppressive business restrictions, political punishment for government enemies, and the like – now exist in The Land of the Free.
In a way, it’s like they transplanted the Soviet Union to American soil. In fact, I’ve called the United States the “new USSR”; a land where your personal freedoms are being reduced to zero.
During the Cold War, there was one group that did face especially draconian restrictions on travel and other personal freedoms.
So-called “refuseniks” were typically Soviet Jews who were denied permission to live abroad or expatriate by Eastern Bloc countries as a matter of policy.
Soviet authorities would literally hand down a ruling saying “you can’t leave”.
That way, the government was free to impose as much of their madness on the minority classes as possible. Today, things like high taxes would be just the beginning. The entire process not only denied a certain class of people a fundamental human right to travel and change nationalities as they please, but it created a slave class owned by the ruling elite.
This week, the US State Department raised the fee to expatriate, or renounce US citizenship, from $450 to $2,350.
Just a few years ago, the fee was $0. Renouncing US citizenship was free until 2010. That put US policy in line with most other developed countries that charge no or very minimal fees to renounce your citizenship.
However, frequent readers know that The Land of the Free is unique in that it is the only country in the world of note to assess what is called “citizenship based taxation” on its citizens.
The media actually described it correctly for a change: the US government is casting anyone who dare leave its borders as evil “tax evaders” as a way to curry favor with the 94% of Americans who are broke and angry that their government doesn’t have more goodies for them.
Simply put, if you’re a US person, you owe tax on all active and passive income you earn around the world. There are a few loopholes – at least for now – to avoid tax on a certain amount of actively earned income, but it is getting tougher.
No other country on earth does this.
And as the United States becomes more and more a carbon copy of the Soviet Union – but with even more draconian economic policies – the US government is using a back-door method of creating its own group of modern day refuseniks.
The United States may not be discriminating on race, but they are discriminating against those who want to get the hell out. Quite simply, those who don’t want to pay as much as 50% in taxes (or even more in New York and California) to live in an increasingly militarized police state are the enemy.
You and I are the traitors.
Expatriating from the United States is getting harder and more expensive by the day. I’ve read media reports and talked to contacts of mine who literally can’t afford to renounce their US citizenship to get out from under the never-ending and rather expensive reporting requirements that come with living abroad.
One retired woman who moved to Canada in the 1970s lives on a fixed income and can barely pay the tax bill to stay in compliance with FATCA, FBAR, and all of the other US government requires just to have an “offshore” bank account that she uses to pay her rent in Canada.
On the argument that low-level grunts at US consulates around the world earn $135 per hour, the government is more than quintupling the tax to leave the country. If you’re a middle-class expat or wannabe expat, this could be cost prohibitive.
Put another way, it could become literally bankrupting to some to leave a country they no longer want to live in… and never asked to be from to begin with.
On the other end of the spectrum, multi-millionaires are facing a more draconian exit tax and the probe that goes with it.
Let’s say, however, that you’re not ready to get a second passport (or to expatriate on the second passport you have) and want to retain your US citizenship for now.
You, too, may face tougher standards just to renew your US passport as The Land of the Free amps up the mountain of paperwork and privacy sucking measures.
A few years ago, for instance, the State Department proposed an entirely new “biographical questionnaire” that would have required current US passport holders to reveal a litany of personal information most of us don’t even remember.
The State Department wanted to know everything from listing every address you’ve lived at since birth, to the company, business address, and supervisor’s name of every company you’ve worked for since that ice cream parlor you scooped mint chocolate chip at after Friday night football games.
They even wanted your circumcision records. Talk about government overreach in the worst way.
Now, that proposal died, thanks to comments from the public who suggested everything from a variation of my Cold War story to the idea that US persons shouldn’t be discouraged from learning about the rest of the world (most aren’t so good at that now).
However, some bureaucrats at the State Department that apparently have nothing better to do are trying to bring that proposal back with even more restrictive and invasive questions.
Some of my attorney contacts in the second passport business suggest that the State Department might not demand full details on the circumcision of Joe Citizen who only needs a passport to visit France on his annual vacation from a forklift job.
However, just as in the Soviet Union, officials will use the soon-to-be-reintroduced biographical questionnaire to harass those they don’t like.
It is bad news for freedom of movement.
The US government already profiles people who visit countries as innocuous as Colombia, which is now the second freest economy in South America. Heck, I’ve mentioned before how I was once thrown in a back room with guys in turbans for having the audacity to visit Italy.
I firmly believe the government will continue to make it harder to not only expatriate and leave the bankrupt tax farm that is the United States behind, but will also make it harder to renew a US passport if they don’t like you.
If there’s one thing bureaucrats love, it’s endless meaningless paperwork. Just as immigration officers at emerging world airports don’t give a second glance to the visa paperwork tourists are required to complete – it’s only a ruse to collect the $25 or $45 visa fee – the US State Department will be introducing a more intrusive process for renewing your American passport in an effort to find some tiny way to trip up anyone they don’t like.
It’s not much different than why I had more than a dozen W-9 forms rejected by a bank in Hong Kong… all for having my signature extend outside “the box” by as little as an eighth of an inch.
The fact is, the US government is already using every nitpicking tactic to stop US persons from opening offshore bank accounts and moving their businesses offshore. The new biographical questionnaire will simply mean that the answer to the question “how to renew a US passport?” will be: very carefully.
And only if you’re in the governments’ good graces.
If you are not already working on a second passport, now is the time to take action and at least get the ball in motion.
It’s possible you could qualify for a passport in less than a year, possibly with a rather minimal investment. I’m offering second passport consultations to people who understand the real risks coming and are serious about taking action. You can learn more about a free consultation here.