Wednesday, December 21, 2016

America is the New France

We used to make fun of the French and all their socialist protectionist laws and lack of ethics in foreign policy.  But now it looks like the USA will be the new France, check out the comparison below:

France, Flag, Map, French Flag ...French Government Action
USA Flag, 6/2014 US Flag, ...Old US Government Action
... Trump | by Gage SkidmoreNew Trump US Government Action
A plant is being shut down and the production moved to a lower cost country
Government pressure on the company to keep the plant open.  Regulations and laws make it difficult to close.
No action, let the market take its course.
Government pressure on the company to keep the plant open.  Regulations and laws make it difficult to close.
A dictator is suppressing his people but also battling terrorists
Support the dictator.  Send weapons if needed.
Pressure on dictator to give up power.  Offer help to combat terrorists.
Support the dictator.  Send weapons if needed.
A rebellion is threatening US or French companies in a foreign country.
Send in the foreign legion to restore order.
Do nothing
Send in the special forces and/or arm the government.
A country invades another country and takes territory.
If it is good for France or has no impact, it is OK.
Condemnation, maybe armed intervention like the first gulf war.
If it is good for the USA or has no impact, then it is OK.
Foreign country makes higher quality lower cost products than domestic, eg Japanese cars
Raise tariffs or other barriers to the foreign products.
No action, let the market take its course.
Raise tariffs or other barriers to the foreign products.
Comedian makes fun of President
File a lawsuit.
Ignore the insult.
File a lawsuit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why are Americans Unhappy with America?

Lots of articles being written about how the average American worker has not advanced in terms of pay over the last 10 years or so.  The Economic Policy Institute statistics below show that pay has barely risen over 15 years, especially at the lowest income levels (10th to 50th percentile).


Hourly wages by wage percentile, 2000–2015 (2015 dollars)

Wage by percentileWage ratio
Annualized percent changeWage ratio change

Meanwhile, Real GDP has grown from 12.6 Trillion dollars in 2000 to 16.4 trillion.  That is an increase of 1.7% per year or 30% over the 15 year period.

What is happening?  Wages adjusted for inflation did not increase or decreased for the bottom half of workers between 2000 and 2015 but GDP increased by 30%.  Who got the 30%??

The answer seems to be that the top 10% of earners got the money, or most of it.  See the table above, workers in the top 10% of income got about 1% a year in increases or 16% of the money.  This seems to be born out by the CBO statistics showing that the rich in the USA are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, see the chart below.

So it seems that half of Americans are not sharing in the prosperity of the wealthiest and most prosperous country in the world, which might explain why they are unhappy and voting for a misogynistic blowhard billionaire who says he will "Make America Great Again".

Unfortunately, Trump's plan of cutting taxes for the wealthy and deregulation are most likely to benefit the rich and will not trickle down to those workers in the bottom half of the income distribution.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I Stopped Watching US News

When Trump got elected, I stopped watching US news and it confirmed to me that the US media and particularly the networks are not portraying the real state of the world.

In Virginia, news is big.  The local news starts at 4pm and runs to 6:30pm, then the national news comes on until 7pm or 7:30pm.  We used to start watching at 5pm while making dinner and continued until 7pm.  We got a pretty good sense of what the news programs were reporting and it is at least 90% negative and sensational - "if it bleeds, it leads".  Based on watching this news, you would think:

  1. Crime is increasing, particularly violent crime against innocent white people like blonde haired young women.
  2. Police are shooting black people regularly without provocation.
  3. Islamic terrorists are mounting attacks on the US regularly.
  4. Unemployment and poverty are very high.
  5. Opioid addiction is everywhere.
  6. Traffic accidents are more frequent than ever and people are dying in droves.  Cell phone usage is causing huge numbers of crashes.
  7. Infectious diseases like Ebola, Zika, Tuberculosis, and Lyme are sweeping the nation.  
  8. Governments at all levels are dysfunctional and do not serve their citizens.  The people in the government are evil.
In actual fact:
  1. Crime has decreased and violent crime particularly has decreased for the last 20 years.
  2. This does happen, but not frequently and usually the police are charged.
  3. You are more likely to be killed by lightning than an Islamic terrorist on average.  You are certainly more likely to die through medical malpractice than terrorism.
  4. Unemployment is at a very low level, the US is almost at full employment.  Poverty is quite low compared to the middle of the 20th century.
  5. This has some truth, opioid addiction is increasing and the "war on drugs" waged for 30+ years has achieved nothing.
  6. Traffic fatalities are at an all time low on a deaths per miles travelled basis.  Cell phones are a problem but not a big one yet.
  7. Nothing bad happened with Ebola despite all the hysteria, Zika is a problem that can be solved, etc.  With all the medical technology in the USA, its not a big issue.
  8. Governments are run by officials and civil servants who try to be helpful and mostly they succeed.
  9. Global warming by greenhouse gases generated by man is well supported by scientific analysis.  But in spite of the fact that this will decimate the whole world, it rarely gets reported because it is too hard to explain in 20 seconds and there is no sensational video to show in the background as the news reader intones on its gravity.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ruminations on Trump

This post is as much therapeutic (cathartic) as informational.

Like 50% of Americans, I hate Trump and all he stands for.  No need to list the reasons why again.  We all know them and 50% of us do not think they are a problem.

So why do I continue to be worried about a Trump presidency since I just moved back to Canada?

There is some stuff that I should not care about.  He can grope all the interns he wants, any woman getting close to him knows his reputation.  He can say nasty things, why should I care, I am a well-off white male, and he is never going to say or do anything nasty about me.  I now live in Canada so he is not going to change Canadian society.

There is some stuff I care about but they can be changed again in future if the citizens elect a different government.  He can repeal Obamacare, people without insurance will still get free hospital care.  He can try to throw out the illegals, but you cannot deport 10M people, it just will not happen.  Same for the wall, it is useless and expensive, and all he will do is put up some token sections.  The Department of Education can be abolished, this just gives more of an advantage to the Chinese, Canadians and Europeans, who will get good public educations.  He can start a war directly or indirectly, just like W, and my family does not have to fight and he will never institute a draft since he dodged that himself.  Trade barriers are likely and they will fail like they did during the Great Depression, and I will not be lined up at the soup kitchen in Littlemindville USA.

There is one thing I do care about and it cannot be changed and it will affect my grandchildren.  Trump will revoke all the Global Warming reduction treaties and regulations, and this will cause the rest of the world to do the same.  In 4 or 8 years, Global Warming will be unstoppable and cities like New York, and Savannah will be well on their way to being underwater.  Once temperatures rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit, most of Savannah and New York will be underwater.  This will occur in 2070 if emissions continue to increase at present rates.  I will be dead, children of my generation will likely be dead, but my grandchildren will be in their mid-50's.

My grandchildren who I love will suffer through catastrophic storms, floods, food shortages, and wars brought on by climate change.  Trump will be long dead and his towers in New York will be underwater, if the locals have not torn them down in a rage by then.

That is the only thing that I do and should really care about in a Trump presidency.

Savannah Underwater in 2070

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How to Move to Canada from the USA

We recently moved from the USA back to Canada, and given the Trump election, there seems to be a lot of interest in immigration to Canada by Americans.  So how do you do it?

You can check out my previous posts on lessons learned and differences between the USA and Canada for some info, but I will try to make this more of a step by step description.

  1. Canada welcomes immigrants, so you will not find a lot of ridiculous barriers like the USA puts up for legal immigrants.  However, this is Canada and there are rules to be followed.
    1. You may have a family connection that entitles you to Canadian citizenship.  If so, go for it.
    2. You may qualify for a NAFTA visa if you can get a job in Canada.  Check out this link.
    3. You can apply for immigration and you may get special status if you have particular skills.  Check out this Government of Canada link. 271,660 people moved to Canada legally in 2015 by applying, the information is here.
    4. You could get your company to transfer you to Canada and they will handle the paperwork - this is an ideal solution.
    5. You could try it out by living in Canada for under 6 months as a tourist.
  2. Once you have status to immigrate, you need to do all the usual things that you would do in the USA if you were moving, except there will be some more paperwork and some differences.
  3. Finding a house is easy.  Get a realtor in the Canadian location of your choice.  Alternately, search for a rental.  Put your US house up for sale.
  4. Canada uses lawyers to do property paperwork, not title companies.  Your realtor will be able to refer you to a real estate lawyer.
  5. Visit a Canadian bank during one of your visits before you buy your house or rent.  Talk to the branch manager.  Explain that you are an immigrant.  You will be surprised at the reception because they deal with immigrants all the time, they will probably offer you special incentives to bank with them.  Talk to them about getting a mortgage, the process is similar to the USA except you do not have a credit score in Canada, so you need the bank to help you out and get your US credit rating, check out your assets, then pre-approve a mortgage.
  6. Talk to the bank about getting a good exchange rate for the large amount of money you will be transferring from the USA to Canada after your US house sells.  If you pay the standard exchange rate, you will lose 3%, which could be a lot of money if you have equity in your US house.  Most banks can offer a lower exchange rate through their brokerage department or through a special arrangement.
  7. Get a US credit card that does not charge for foreign transactions, like the Capital One World Mastercard.  You will need it until you get a Canadian credit card, which might take a while.  Don't close your US bank accounts right away, you can close them later over the phone.
  8. Call some Canadian moving companies and book your move (see previous blog post here).  Most are part of an international group like Allied and they will get the local Allied affiliate to do the estimates in the US.
  9. You will not be covered under the government health plan in Canada for 3 months so you need to buy travel insurance in the USA for the first three months you live in Canada.  It is not too expensive.
  10. You can bring your cars with you when you move to Canada, but it is not easy or useful in all cases.  See this blog post and this post.
    1. If you have an older US car, bring it, you will likely pay a nominal amount at the border
    2. If not, you will likely get a better trade-in in the USA and you can then buy whatever car(s) you need in Canada.  
  11. Call a Canadian insurance company before your move to get car and home insurance.  Canadians love insurance, there are lots of options.
  12. When you arrive in Canada with your furniture, there will be a few unusual activities:
    1. You will have to go to the local Canada Customs office with your moving truck driver to clear your furniture.  It costs nothing but takes a little time (an hour or so).
    2. There could be a wait if the border gets backed up so you may have to adjust your move-in date
  13. You will need to transfer your drivers license to Canada, similar to the USA.
  14. Go to your provincial services office to sign up for health care (there is a 3 month wait, see above).
  15. Go to the federal government service office or call them to get a Social Insurance Number (equivalent to the US Social Security Number).  You will notice that the office is much nicer than the equivalent US SS office and the employees are smarter and happier - welcome to Canada, where we love our government and want it to function well.
  16. By the way, none of Canada's prime ministers or premiers are narcissistic, mysoginist, racist, ignorant, nasty frauds.  But you already know that...

Photo credits: Flickr and Flickr

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What I Learned Moving Back to Canada from USA

We recently moved back to Canada from the USA after 20 years living in Dallas and Leesburg Virginia.  The move was not easy as there was no corporate relocation support and it was cross border.  What did I learn from the experience?

  1. Get a good mover, preferably a Canadian company that does a lot of cross border moves.  Luckily, we ended up with a Canadian moving truck driver as our American movers subcontracted to his company (Bigham).  He knew all the tricks to make a cross border move work well.
  2. Don't bring your US car to Canada unless it has special value to you or it is a domestic junker.  Keep that 60's Corvette and do the paperwork/pay the taxes to bring it with you as it has real value to you.  That 2010 Chevy will likely cost little to get across the border as it is NAFTA and worth less than $10K.  On the other hand, your 2013 Audi will attract a lot of taxes and fees, and when you arrive in Canada, the dealer will treat you like you have Ebola.  The trade-in value will be way less than in the USA, they will moan about it being a US car, etc.
    1. Another issue is that the nasty CBSA folks at the Canadian border will throw a hissy fit if you cross the border in a car with US plates after you re-immigrate to Canada.  There is no valid reason for this, but a rule is a rule and this is Canada where we all follow the rules.  Worst case, they will make you abandon the car at the border.  The US border people don't care what car you drive as long as you have your passport and are not doing anything illegal.
  3. Don't bring your liquor with you legally.  There is a program to bring your wine collection into Ontario and the provincial taxes are quite low.  However, the federal government will soak you for a lot of taxes and duties and generally make your life miserable.  If you have really valuable wine or liquor that you really really want, go for it, but expect to pay a lot.  On the other hand, if you pack it yourself and don't tell the movers, they will put it on the truck, and then ...
  4. Don't call the Canadian border services helpful 1-800 number.  They are very helpful, but they give you generic answers that may or may not apply to the border crossing you use.  Every Canadian border crossing seems to be run like its own little racket and they will likely tell you that you have the wrong information, the wrong forms, and you cannot do what the 1-800 people told you.  Just call the actual border crossing you will use, talk to the rude people on the phone, get their name, then follow what they say.  You will probably have less hassles.
  5. Don't move anything yourself except for valuable items like jewelry.  There are complications if you move your stuff in multiple separate loads.  Call the border people to get the details on how to handle multiple loads if you have to do this.
  6. Set up a brokerage account in Canada so you can transfer US$ to them and get them to exchange this money at close to the market rate.  If you don't do this, you will lose 2-3% on every dollar you move from US to Canada.  So if you sell your $500,000 house in USA and move the money to Canada, you could lose $10-15,000 US without this service.
  7. Get friendly with a bank branch in Canada prior to the move.  Meet the manager, explain what you are doing, get bank accounts set up, etc.  You will likely need them to help you later. They can help you with exchanging money (see 5. above) and they can probably get you set up with credit.  The Canadian credit bureaus will likely not be able to identify you as a previous Canadian with a credit history as Canadian credit card companies do not demand your SIN when you apply for credit - I don't know why.  You will be treated as a new immigrant and you will get bupkis credit cards.
  8. Get a US credit card with no transaction fees for foreign transactions with a high credit limit.  You will need it for a while due to the issues noted in 7. above.
  9. Get a US PO box in a border town so you can get packages and mail from the USA.  You can go pick them up and save a lot of hassle.  You can also give this new address to your credit card companies, banks, etc.  
  10. Check out this later post on how to handle investments.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Dollarama >> Costco

One of the changes moving downtown is that you cannot just hop in the car and go to the big box store or Costco when you need something.  These stores are out in the suburbs and it does not make sense to make the trip unless it is really important.  So where do you go downtown when you need some well priced plastic containers, paper towel, or some office supplies?  The Dollarama!

If you are like me, a Dollar store seems like a place where you can get expired macaroni and cheese, counterfeit toothpaste (Cresht and Colgete), and items that would not pass the safety check.  But Dollarama is different: it is well lighted, contains lot of name brand stuff, is well maintained, prices are low, and has great selection.

After a couple of trips to the store, I had to look into it.  It turns out that the concept was created by a family that used to own five and dime stores and I grew up with them.  They are the Rossy family from TMR, and I went to school with a number of them back in the 70's.  Their father saw that the Rossy 5 and 10 stores were not growing, and came up with Dollarama.  The sons that I remember from TMR now run the chain, and it is a successful public company.

Another new experience in our urban environment.