Monthly Archives: February 2015

THE VERY BEST TRAVEL TRIPS WE’VE EVER TAKEN – PART II

Last month we itemized six great trips we had in:

Burma                              Rafting the Grand Canyon

Chile/Argentina          Cities of Spain

Barge trip (France)    Washington, D.C.

Here’s the second half of our list of great trips:

China – Bursting with Energy

There are probably more construction cranes in China than in the rest of the world combined.  What an exciting place; with its fascinating history and the simple opulence of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and all the temples in Beijing.  Then there is the incredible Terracotta Army in Xian, the Yangtze River Dam, the Li River in Guilin, the modern western city of Shanghai, and the harbor and bustle of Hong Kong.

A fabulous country to visit and get a sense of why and how they are becoming one of the leading countries in the world.

Bike Trip in the Loire Valley

Maybe because it was the first bike trip we took and it would certainly be hard to beat the Loire Valley using any mode of transportation going with Backroads.  We stayed in great chateaus after each day of seeing beautiful country towns, having great picnic lunches and sampling many of the boutique wineries.

It was tiring but relaxing and comfortable with a great group of people.  We had as much success with other bike trips to the San Juan Islands, Vermont, and the Po River Valley, Italy.

Canadian Rockies

Whew, just thinking about it makes me gasp.  The scenery is unbelievable and the Fairmont Hotels were outstanding, each in their own way.

This was an outstanding Tauck Tour, starting with a day in Calgary during rodeo days.  Then it was on to the foothills of the Rockies for one night as a warm-up to the real excitement when you arrive in Banff and your first Fairmont and the rich scenery of Yoho and Banff National Parks.

On to Lake Louise with the hotel overlooking this spectacular lake that reflects the distant snow-covered mountains.  It’s a sight I will never forget.  Then it’s Jasper National Park and an overnight train to Vancouver or back to Calgary.  Wow, what a series of sights!

Mali, West Africa

After a long, lazy cruise down the coast of West Africa, which had many interesting stops, we disembarked to start an eight-day land tour of Mali.  You may never have heard of it but it was an outstanding glimpse into the past.  The people of Mali are by and large still living as they have for hundreds of years in the past.

It was a fascinating journey with many highlights, which included the recycling market in Bamako, the capital.  Here were maybe five acres and hundreds of people taking cast-offs of everything wood, plastic and metal and making kitchen utensils, housewares, and all manner of things by hand.  Nothing but hand tools!

Then there was the performance of some 30 dancers in costume on stilts accompanied by a band of sorts.  All the children in this small remote town stood on the edge of the sand stage and were imitating the stilt dancers.  To top it off, we visited Timbuktu on the very edge of the Sahara Desert.  Mud huts, no paved streets and guides in colorful head to toe dishdashas.

Peru and Lake Titicaca

Peru was a great trip, with Cusco, Machu Picchu and the history of the Inca culture.  For me, the highlight of the trip was Lake Titicaca, a huge body of water between Peru and Bolivia.  Maybe it was such a highlight because you don’t hear much about it.

The natives live out on the lake on islands made of thick reeds which grow in the lake.  They live in huts and houses, and use boats; everything made of reeds.

It’s over 12,000 feet high, but with Diamox, you have no problem.

Southern Africa

We enjoyed a three-week trip to South Africa.  Each stop was a highlight.  We started in Joburg with its very interesting history in the Soweto Township and adjoining capital of Pretoria.

Then it was onto seven different safari camps in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, as well as a delightful stop in Victoria Falls.  Each place had its own highlights seeing the lions and all the rest of the animals up close, really close.

The red sand dunes, as well as Wolves Bay in Namibia, were special.  The lions and elephants baying at each other all night in Botswana, as well as the lions in another camp outside our cabin soaking up the morning sun.

Our last stop was Capetown, maybe the most beautiful city in the world.  It’s hard to do but if we had to single it out, this was probably our very best trip of all.

With any luck, we’ll try to add to the list.

ArtSchwartzSig

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UNDERSTANDING LEGAL IMMIGRATION

We hear so much from both sides of the political spectrum about illegal immigration, that the whole program of legal immigration gets somewhat buried.  We present here a synopsis of how the legal U.S. immigration system works from information provided by the American Immigration Council.

U.S. immigration law is very complex, and there is much confusion as to how it works.  The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), the body of law governing current immigration policy, provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants, with certain exceptions for close family members.  Congress and the president determine a separate number for refugee admissions.  Immigration to the United States is based upon the following principles:  the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.

  1. Family-Based Immigration

Family unification is an important principle governing immigration policy.  The family-based immigration category allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to bring certain family members to the United States.  There are 480,000 family-based visas available every year.  Family-based immigrants are admitted to the U.S. either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through the family preference system.

There is no numerical limit on visas available for immediate relatives, but petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements.  Immediate relatives are:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens
  • unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens (under 21 years old)
  • parents of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a parent)

There are also a limited number of visas available every year under the family preference system, and petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements.  The preference system includes:

  • adult children (married or unmarried) and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a sibling)
  • spouses and unmarried children (minor and adult) of LPRs

In order to balance the overall number of immigrants arriving based on family relationships, Congress established a complicated system for calculating the available number of family preference visas for any given year.  The number of family preference visas is determined by subtracting from 480,000 the number of immediate relative visas issued during the previous year and the number of aliens “paroled” into the U.S. during the previous year.  Any unused employment preference immigrant numbers from the preceding year are then added to this sum to establish the number of visas that remain for allocation through the preference system.  By law, however, the number of family-based visas allocated through the preference system may not be lower than 226,000.  Consequently, the total number of family-based visas often exceeds 480,000.

In order to be admitted through the family preference system, a U.S. citizen or LPR sponsor must petition for an individual relative (and establish the legitimacy of the relationship), meet minimum income requirements, and sign an affidavit of support stating that they will be financially responsible for their family member(s) upon arrival in the United States.

  1. Employment-Based Immigration

Temporary Visas

The United States provides various ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the United States on either a permanent or a temporary basis.  There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers.  These include L visas for intracompany transfers; P visas for athletes, entertainers and skilled performers; R visas for religious workers; A visas for diplomatic employees; O visas for workers of extraordinary ability; and a variety of H visas for both highly-skilled and lesser-skilled employment.  Many of the temporary worker categories are for highly skilled workers, and immigrants with a temporary work visa are normally sponsored by a specific employer for a specific job offer.  Many of the temporary visa categories have numerical limitations as well.

Permanent Immigration

Permanent employment-based immigration is set at a rate of 140,000 visas per year, and these are divided into five preferences, each subject to numerical limitations.  The following table summarizes the employment-based preference system:

Permanent Employment-Based Preference System

Preference
Category
Eligibility Yearly Numerical
Limit
1 “People of extraordinary ability” in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; some multinational executives 40,000*
2 Members of the professions holding advanced degrees, or people of exceptional abilities in the arts, science, or business 40,000**
3 Skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience; professionals with college degrees; or “other” workers for unskilled labor that is not temporary or seasonal 40,000***

“Other” unskilled laborers restricted to 5,000

4 Certain “special immigrants,” including religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign service posts, former U.S. government employees and other classes of aliens 10,000
5 People who will invest $500,000 to $1 million in a job-creating enterprise that employee at least 10 full-time U.S. workers 10,000
*Plus any unused visas from the 4th and 5th preferences

**Plus any unused visas from the 1st preference

***Plus any unused visas from the 1st and 2nd preferences

Worldwide level of employment-based immigrants:  140,000 for principal applicants and their dependents


Per Country Ceilings

In addition to the numerical limits placed upon the various immigration preferences, the INA also places a limit on how many immigrants can come to the United States from any one country.  Currently, no group of permanent immigrants (family-based and employment-based) from a single country can exceed 7% of the total amount of people immigrating to the United States in a single year.  This is not a quota that is set aside to ensure that certain nationalities make up 7% of immigrants, but rather a limit that is set to prevent any immigrant group from dominating immigration patterns to the United States.

Next month we’ll finish the facts on legal immigration with a discussion of refugees and asylum seekers, the diversity visa program, humanitarian relief and obtaining U.S. citizenship.

ArtSchwartzSig

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PREDICTIONS THAT NOBODY ASKED ME FOR

I need to begin by telling you that I have no inside information.  I have no connections to the powers in either party or the pollsters who are already giving us all kinds of numbers and matchups.

What I have done is carefully read the tea leaves and clearly monitored all the smoke signals.  Based on all I have gathered at this point in time, assuming there are no new major events or changes, I will confidently make the following predictions:

No. 1:  Those who are paying attention will be bored out of their minds about the whole Republican dogfight by this June.  The election cycle is just much too long.

No. 2:  The Republicans, with their take-no-prisoners, extended primary serum featuring too many debates, will turn more people off and damage their nominee both image-wise and financially.  The Republican hierarchy has mandated that there will be only sanctioned debates compared to the 20 in 2012.  Still, for me, too many!

No. 3:  Nice guy, super Christian Mike Huckabee and sad hanger-on Rick Santorum, as well as the six-pack of governors and senators, will muddy the waters; but since they ain’t going nowhere, you wonder why they are bothering.

No. 4:  Even the once smart Newt Gingrich, who is trying to use up more of Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas money by sticking his pinky in the ring, will tarnish his already-tarnished image down to near zero.

No. 5:  Rand Paul will attract a modicum of populist attraction in the Republican zoofest with his offbeat Libertarian ideas, but not enough to get very far.

No. 6:  Sooner or later we’ll find out if Chris Christie is not a Kardashian wannabe and know whether he’s a conservative, moderate or just a fast-on-the-trigger rapper.

No. 7:  I would make a contribution to the humble Ben Carson—here it is—please save us all the time and money; go home and run for congress if you want.  We’re living with a current president who had no meaningful government experience.  We will not elect another one.

No. 8:  The Tea Party and conservative Republicans refuse to believe this but only a moderate Republican has a chance to become president.

No. 9:  Romney quietly hung around hoping the party would draft him as their candidate.  With the entry of Jeb Bush in the free-for-all, he started edging into the fray.  When he saw he wouldn’t get the nomination, he will drop out.  He did.

No. 10:  Romney was running but when you lose to a weak incumbent 51% to 47% in 2012, the major non-Mormon financial interests will not pony up enough support.

No. 11:  Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are basically the same kind of moderate Republican candidates.  Both decent men with solid governing experience, but Bush will raise more money and not have Romney’s stinging defeat to hamper him.

No. 12:  The negative reaction to another Bush candidate can be more easily overcome than Romney’s inadequate campaign in 2012.

No. 13:  Hillary will be the Democratic nominee.  There will be no formidable opponent.  There isn’t anyone coming out of the woods like 2008.  Matter of fact, the Democrats don’t have many potential candidates coming up in their farm system.

No. 14:  We’ll see a lot of Billy and not much of Barack as the final campaign gets underway.

No. 15:  Hill, as we call her, will be a very vulnerable candidate, unable to shake the aura of O’Bama, whom she dutifully served, as well as her undistinguished record as a Senator or Secretary of State.

No. 16:  Jeb will be the top of the Republican ticket and our next president if he selects someone with foreign relations experience as his VP running mate.

No. 17:  The Republicans will maintain a majority in both the house and senate and finally have a chance to exercise their long sought desires to shrink government somewhat and rebalance a lot of what Obama tried to do with executive orders—if Bush is as strong a leader as he appears.  Just don’t expect too much!

No. 18:  An unconscionable amount of money will be “wasted” in electing a president in 2016.

No. 19:  The voter turnout in 2016 will be lower than it was in 2012 because the election cycle is much too long and there will be an oversaturation of negative advertising; and both candidates will appear to be less worthwhile humans than they really are.

No. 20:  In 2017, the economy will begin to show more significant signs of improvement.  Corporate investments and expansion will stimulate a better job market and construction and real estate will continue to grow.

ArtSchwartzSig

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IS TIME YOUR FRIEND OR YOUR ENEMY

How often do we hear, “I just don’t have time to do that”?  It’s a pretty common rejoinder, but is it true?

The simple answer is we have the time to do whatever we specifically decide we want to do.  In other words, we have the time to devote to whatever priorities we set or we end up saying, “Where did the time go”?

There are 168 hours in a week.  If you estimate the number of hours you spend doing each of life’s everyday functions—sleeping, eating, dressing, shopping, bathing, working, commuting, reading, exercising, etc.—I think you’ll come up with the number of discretionary hours you have available to do the things you say you want to do.

The number of fixed hours will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 or so hours per day, or about 140 hours per week.  That leaves about 28+ discretionary hours available for the things you say you want to do.

The trick is you have to think about it.  You have to make a plan.  You have to decide your priorities.

Don’t misunderstand.   I’ve been guilty of the same problem.  In most of my middle years I kept saying, “I don’t have time to exercise.  I’ll do it when I retire.”

Well, I’ve tried to do it in retirement but I can’t make up for all the lost “I’m too busy” time.  My blood pressure is good and most of my other functions are in the normal range, except for weight and body fat.

I can and do read more books now than I did in my working years, but I also watch more television, which is marginally entertaining and has little lasting effect or redeemable value.

Analyzing the time you currently spend is the basic first mandatory step in time management.  If you choose not to take this first step, you’ll lose control over the rest of your time.

So, make time your friend by planning how you want to use it, profit from my experience, and decide what you want to do before it all slips away.

ArtSchwartzSig

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