Category Archives: International

U.S. Birthright Citizenship, the Diplomatic Immunity Exception, and the New Jersey born, University of Alabama Student turned ISIS Recruit, Hoda Muthana

International media has spotlighted the controversial case of Hoda Muthana–a New Jersey born University of Alabama student turned ISIS recruit. Having become disenchanted with her adopted extremist ideology, and now being responsible for her 18-month-old infant, Ms. Muthana wants to return to her native U.S. home and face justice for her criminal acts.

The U.S. Department of State is demurring her request for a passport, passage, and prosecution, and is further insisting she was never a citizen of the United States at all. Her father has filed suit on her behalf citing that she was born in the United States, has been issued two passports by the United States, and has never had her citizenship previously questioned.

Noting that the Department of State is not arguing Ms. Muthana renounced her citizenship during her odyssey of terrorist accessory to Damascus, outside observers are understandably confused.

For reasonably archaic reasons explained below, this case could be decided on one question of fact: Did her father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, have diplomatic immunity in the United States at the time of her birth?

To answer this question I will define “birthright citizenship,” explain the Parental Diplomatic Immunity Exception, and conclude by applying the law as it exists today to the facts of this case.

Birthright Citizenship Defined

The United States is among few countries in the world that offers “birthright citizenship.” The origin of this right is Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which in part declares: “All persons born . . . in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The general rule, therefore, is if a person is born within the physical territory of the United States (including U.S. territories, and in many cases, overseas U.S. embassies, and U.S. military bases) that person is automatically a citizen of the Land of the Free.

If a suicide bomber births a baby en route to her high profile target at a D.C. children’s hospital, that baby enjoys an unequivocal right to U.S. citizenship, no matter how deplorable a parents’ behavior.

The Parental Diplomatic Immunity Exception to Birthright Citizenship

There are, though there is no reason any normal person would have ever heard of them, exceptions to birthright citizenship.

The exception relevant to this case: If the child is born physically in the United States, but is shielded by diplomatic immunity through the diplomatic status of a parent, the child is not “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” and is therefore not entitled to birthright citizenship.

Therefore, if Ahmed Ali Muthana, a former Yemeni diplomat to the United Nations, enjoyed diplomatic immunity at the time of his daughter’s birth, the government’s argument goes, then Ms. Muthana has never been, and continues not to be, a U.S. citizen.     

Hoda Muthana was born after her father ceased to be a diplomat, but before the United States was notified that he was no longer a diplomat.

Ahmed Ali Muthana was a Yemini diplomat to the U.N., living in the United States (for International Law purposes, the country a diplomat lives in is called the “host country” and the country he represents is the “origin country.”)  As a Yemini diplomat, he was shielded from the jurisdiction of his host country (the United States) by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961)–more casually referred to as “diplomatic immunity.” His term of office ended on September 1, 1994, more than a month before, his daughter, Hoda Muthana, was born on October 28, 1994. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. was notified that Mr. Muthana was no longer a diplomat on February 6, 1995–more than three months after his daughter was born.

The question of law is this: Does an outgoing diplomat lose jurisdictional immunity from a host country at the time the diplomat’s origin country (in this case Yemen) ceases to recognize his diplomatic status, or at the time the host country is given notice that he has ceased to be a diplomat?

There is a necessary prequal question to this that requires the reader to journey into the obscure abyss of transnational conflict of law: What if Yemen ceased to recognize Mr. Muthana as having diplomatic immunity on September 1, 1994, but the United States, for its own jurisdictional purposes, recognized it through February 6, 1995.?

U.S. courts, in determining jurisdiction at the time of Hoda Muthana’s birth, will apply the Law of the United States even if they conflict with the Law of Yemen.

Absent superseding language in the Vienna Convention or a relevant treaty to which both the U.S. and Yemen are signatories that postdates any contradictory U.S. federal statute, a U.S. court would use U.S. Law to determine the date of cessation of diplomatic immunity.

As the reader may guess, a court in Yemen may find it more convenient to rely on the Law of Yemen.

(Please note that, though beyond the scope of this Essay, there are frequent circumstances when U.S. courts will apply the laws of other jurisdictions to domestic proceedings.)

In determining U.S. Law, a court would look for guidance in the language of U.S. treaties and statutes. If a court finds relevant direction from both a treaty and a statute, U.S. Constitutional Law requires the court to apply the language of the treaty or statute that came into effect later in time. (Federal statutes and treaties are coequal in authority, so if one contradicts the other, the law created later governs as if it repealed the contradictory language of the other.)

U.S. law likely terminates diplomatic immunity at the time a diplomat leaves his official capacity as recognized by the origin country.

The Vienna Convention, relevant treaties and federal statutes, seem silent on the question of the effect of a delay of notice to a host country on a former diplomat’s diplomatic immunity. Absent authoritative caselaw, international custom, or a history of relevant behavior between the U.S. and other Vienna Convention signatories, courts will reluctantly consider public policy.

Public policy strongly supports the view that the U.S. retroactively terminates its recognition of diplomatic immunity at the time a diplomat leaves his official capacity as recognized by the origin country.  This is necessary to avoid the potential of the absurd result outlined below.

When discussing the subject of diplomatic immunity the question often arises: “What if a diplomat goes on a killing spree in the host country?”

Since diplomatic immunity is a right held by the origin country, and not a right held by the diplomat, the origin country can, and often does, waive the diplomatic immunity of a wayward agent abroad.  It cannot do this, however, if the unstable agent is not actually recognized by the origin country as having diplomatic status.

Let’s assume that Yemen stopped recognizing Mr. Muthana’s diplomatic immunity in September of 1994 but that the U.S. generously extended it’s recognition to February 6, 1995 when it received notice of his ceasing to be a diplomat several months prior.  With Yemen unable to waive a right it does not acknowledge exists, Mr. Muthana would, arguably, be unprosecutable for any bad behavior in the United States during the interval.

To avoid such an absurd result, the U.S. would need to recognize the date Mr. Muthana left his role as diplomat as the effective date of his loss of diplomatic immunity whenever the U.S. was served of actual notice that he was no longer recognized by Yemen as a diplomat.

Such is the policy that should be followed whether a recently-ex-diplomat kills a baby, or procreates a new one into existence on U.S. territory.

Since Hoda Muthana’s father did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of her birth, she was both born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction making her a citizen with the right to return home and subject to U.S. prosecution.

This case is more straightforward than commentators and pundits argue. U.S. law likely requires the Department of State to recognize Ahmed Ali Muthana as loosing his diplomatic immunity on September 1, 1994–more than a month before his daughter was born in New Jersey–making both him and her subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of her birth. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution therefore bestows upon her birthright citizenship which, absent a revocation of citizenship, survives her treasonous behavior.  She and her child are entitled to admission to the United States where she would be immediately taken into custody for her crimes.

Ironically, should it be determined that she is not a citizen of the United States, while she would effectively become a stateless individual, the U.S. would also be giving up jurisdiction to put her on trial for what would otherwise be her crimes against the United States.

Her practical alternatives are therefore these: Be imprisoned in the Land of the Free, or just be free.

Irish Citizens Abroad Returning Home to Vote for Marriage Equality

Ireland is hugely predicted to vote "yes" in today's constitutional referendum on marriage equality.

Ireland is hugely predicted to vote “yes” in today’s constitutional referendum on marriage equality.

Huge numbers of Irish citizens are returning from abroad to vote “yes” in today’s constitutional referendum on marriage equality. Is it just because they want to be there for a historical moment?

Maybe, but also, probably because that is the only way they can vote. In Ireland, a voter must vote in person and be named on the official registry of voters.

There are exceptions for military, national guardsman, diplomats and their spouses, whom are eligible to vote by mail. Potentially also eligible are people with disabilities, students studying away from home, people who work abroad, prisoners (yes, prisoners can vote in Ireland), and residents of hospitals and nursing homes.

Those living abroad are ineligible to vote because their names are not on the official registry of voters. Thus, they have to return “home” to vote.

Another tidbit U.S. citizen’s may find interesting, certain categories of non-citizens are able to vote in specific elections. Non-citizen residents can vote in local elections. British citizens may vote at Dáil elections (lower house of Irish Parliament), European elections (such as elections for European Parliament) and local elections. E.U. citizens can participate in European elections and local elections.

If you happen to be reading this and you are Irish, in the U.S., not only don’t U.S. citizens have to vote in person, political parties and candidates actively encourage “early voting” (limited voting stations sometimes open weeks in advance of the official “election day.”) and vote-by-mail, a program which is open to any U.S. citizen and also begins weeks in advance of the official “election day.” The reason for this is it allows political parties and candidates to track who had voted and concentrate further messaging toward those known to have not yet voted. The reason voters like it is because it allows them more flexibility in how and when they vote. Conversely, many political activists wait to vote in person on election day because then they continue to get campaign mailers until the day of the election and thereby know what the opposition is messaging.

Residents of most U.S. territories may also vote in U.S. elections provided they reside in the U.S. at the time of the election. Anybody convicted of a felony may not vote in any election until their civil rights have been restored. In some jurisdictions this happens automatically upon a prisoner’s completion of sentence (including non-incarceration probation and payment of fines and restitution) and in others there is a formalized application process.

Non-citizens are ineligible to vote in all elections without exception. The mere notion of such an idea might make a very socially conservative’s head explode.

To learn more about voting in Ireland you can visit here.

My Condolences to Singapore on the Passing of Founder Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew, founder and former Prime Minister of Singapore, 1923-2015

Lee Kuan Yew, founder and former Prime Minister of Singapore, 1923-2015

Dear Singapore:

The world has lost a giant today. A political strategist of the highest intellectual caliber, he is survived by three children, including current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (who I have had the honor to meet), seven grandchildren, and the proud and prosperous island nation he founded, cultivated, and governed.

To all my Singaporean friends, colleagues, teachers, and leaders whom I have had the privilege to serve, learn, teach, research, organize, and bond over a meal or drink with, I offer my deepest heartfelt grief, sadness, and respects on the passing of your nation’s founder, Minster Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Minister Lee was an iconoclast with a vision to turn a small, poor, vulnerable and recently occupied island into an economic powerhouse with respect for the rule of law, gender equality, religious tolerance, and ethnic harmony.

While there will always be debate about his means–he used both carrot and stick to bring and retain power, authority, and order–there can be little reasonable debate about the ends. While there is a wealth gap (as there is in the country where I write this and almost everywhere else in the world), and an odd clause in our countries’ bilateral free trade agreement requiring Singapore to legalize chewing gum for “medicinal” purposes, where once were a collection of sleepy undeveloped villages–like the ones that remain today in nearby countries which are presently embroiled in political and religious conflict and with even more pervasive economic troubles–today is a multi-cultured cosmopolitan metropolis where CEOs of banks pick up their chicken rice from the same stall as the migrant workers who built your city-state at a wage (albeit with unequal bargaining power) they negotiated. Literacy is high (in multiple languages) and distributed without discrimination. The government is transparent and is quickly responsive to its citizens (though they encourage them to voice their grievances in a rather controlled and courteous manner suspicious to those in some other wealthy, stable nations).

Though he has left this world, he has left Singapore with a hugely gifted, talented, and potentially more liberal son in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Under his stewardship, I am certain investors, nations, foreign talent, and all of Singaporeans can look forward to continued stability, prosperity, and the always achingly slow, but inevitable evolution toward liberalization of civil and political human rights.

As the only lawyer (that I know of) practicing in Florida with a law degree from the National University of Singapore (LL.M. in International and Comparative Law) I will continue to advocate Floridians to invest in a Singapore that invested in me.

It is Singapore that allied with the United States during the cold war, is our partner in free trade, uses much of its huge Sovereign Wealth Fund to invest in the United States and its partner countries and in return encourages U.S. foreign investment by offering low (sometimes no) tax rates on income earned in Singapore.

Very importantly, Singapore kindly provides a safe harbor and home to the U.S. Navy’s sailors and ships of the 7th Naval Fleet.

With love, friendship, and respect,

Richard Junnier, Esq. (NUS Alumni, 2009 cohort)

Richard Junnier's 2009 gradation ceremony at the National University of Singapore College of Law with an LL.M. (a legal post-doctorial masters' degree) in International and Comparative Law.

Richard Junnier’s 2009 gradation ceremony at the National University of Singapore College of Law with an LL.M. (a legal post-doctorial masters’ degree) in International and Comparative Law.

Richard Junnier with Simon Chesterman at the reception celebrating the graduation of the 2009 NYU@NUS cohort. Mr. Chesterman is currently Dean of the National University of Singapore and is considered one of the world's foremost experts on International Law. Richard was his research assistant.

Richard Junnier with Simon Chesterman at the reception celebrating the graduation of the 2009 NYU@NUS cohort. Mr. Chesterman is currently Dean of the National University of Singapore and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on International Law. Richard was his research assistant.

Rick Scott Rescheduled an Execution so Pam Bondi could go to a Fundraiser

Pieter Bruegel's ("little") Tower of Babel

Pieter Bruegel’s (“little”) Tower of Babel

In August, 2013, Governor Rick Scott rescheduled the execution date of Marshall Lee Gore from September 10th to October 1st.

Marshall Lee Gore raped, strangled, and stabbed Robyn Novick and dumped her body in rural Miami-Dade county. Marshall Lee Gore also killed Susan Roark after a chance encounter at a convenience store.  Susan Roark was 19.

Their names were Robyn Novick and Susan Roark.

Why would Governor Scott delay the execution of a teenage murdering maniac?  Was it because the Supreme Court was concerned that Gore was too mentally ill, thereby reducing his moral culpability and personal agency, (so the argument goes) to execute?


Rick Scott delayed the execution of a rapist-murderer because on the day of the scheduled execution, September 10, 2013, Attorney General Pam Bondi had also scheduled a campaign fundraiser.

There was a conflict in her schedule you see–so she decided to change the date of what she presumably considered the less-important affair–the execution of the murderer of Robyn Novick, 30, and Susan Roark, 19.

It was her kickoff fundraiser, so perhaps she was concerned about the arrangements her wealthier supporters had made? Maybe she felt uncomfortable asking them to rearrange their calendars to accommodate an execution?

I wonder if the families of of Robyn Novick and Susan Roark thought it was inconvenient for themselves to rearrange their calendars to accommodate a political fundraiser? Or, instead, did they think it one further indignity for their loved one’s memory to endure?

It was a parting shot from the state of Florida expressing we don’t really care about you; we just pretend for the cameras. 

Governor Scott says he didn’t know the Attorney General’s reason when she asked for the delay.

I guess Rick Scott didn’t believe that the lives of  Robyn Novick and Susan Roark were even important enough to ask why.

But they were still going to kill somebody over it–provided they could agree on a convenient time.

As somebody who works and researches human rights issues, both domestically and in the field, I believe that a legitimate government should never kill its citizens. However, if there is going to be an execution, this is how it should take place.

Therefore, it’s not that I’m angry that this person lived for another three weeks; I would have been content to have let him breath until his natural death provided it be behind bars. I’m angry about why–this evil who was so evil he didn’t know he was evil–breathed the extra three weeks.

If you do support the death penalty and wonder why the Supreme Court allows appeal after appeal about the Constitution’s “cruel and unusual clause” and the “arbitrary application” argument–this is why.

Labor Day Reflections on the Minimum Wages of the World (and other considerations)

Presenting “Leibniz and the Behavioral Economic Approach to Confusing a Law Review Editor" at the Lighthearted Philosophers’ Society 5th Annual Conference. The paper won the Joseph S. Ellin Memorial Essay Prize for best paper.

Presenting “Leibniz and the Behavioral Economic Approach to Confusing a Law Review Editor” at the Lighthearted Philosophers’ Society 5th Annual Conference. The paper won the Joseph S. Ellin Memorial Essay Prize for best paper.

In celebration of Labor Day, I turned down the invitation for the family barbecue to instead engage in something really fun–create a comparative analysis of minimum wages throughout the World.

This is a very difficult task.

First, the laws establishing minimum wages vary wildly.

In the United States, in accordance with its Commerce Clause authority, Congress has established a national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

There are exceptions.

If the worker lives in the U.S. Territory of American Samoa the minimum wage vacillates between $4 and $5.50 depending upon the industry. In the Northern Mariana Islands it is a flat $5.55 until it is incrementally raised to $7.25 in 2018. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, what employers pay is based upon the businesses’ yearly income–allowing firms which make less than $150,000 to pay a lower wage. 

Washington D.C., which is controlled under federal jurisdiction, also gets special treatment–its minimum wage is $9.50 with a statutory increase to $11.50 by 2016. For those who are unfamiliar with D.C. lawmaking, under Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution as effectuated through the Home Rule Act, Congress can veto any Act of the D.C. City Council. The practical upshot is this: Congress allowed a substantially higher minimum wage for where they spend most of their time than they did for their home states. 

I guess they care more about the financial well-being of D.C. citizens than that of their own constituents.  

Also, as anyone who has ever been to a restaurant in the United States knows, tip-based jobs enjoy a considerably lower statutory minimum wage ($2.13) and while if they ultimately make less than $7.25 per hour including tips, the law requires businesses to make up the difference–in practice, many will not.

Far lesser known is a provision of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which allows employers to pay youth (anyone under 20) only $4.25 for their first 90 days of labor. 

So much for Billy raking in the big bucks of “adult” minimum wage during his first summer job.    

This is where it can get fun.

Each state also has the option of insisting upon a higher minimum wage.

Three out four of Arizona’s U.S. House delegation voted “no” to raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25, explaining that it would kill job growth in Arizona. At the same time, the Arizona Legislature raised the Arizona minimum wage to $7.90!

Similarly, while both Republican House members from Nevada voted “no;” Nevada itself voted “yes,” to have a minimum wage one dollar higher than whatever the federal minimum wage might be.

Connecticut, meanwhile, was the first state, now among many, to heed President Obama’s call and enact a $10.10 minimum wage effective 2017.

*** An aside ***

Me making a strange face with the former Singapore Trade Minister (and one of my World Trade Law professors) at NYU@NUS

Me making a strange face with the former Singapore Trade Minister (and one of my World Trade Law professors) at NYU@NUS

Many argue that minimum wages hinder economic growth.

The political argument (as opposed to the academic and philosophical ones which allow for nuance, case studies, and Game Theory), which ignores that almost all firms try to grow and expand at all times, is that employers, already experiencing a recession, will be less likely to hire more workers or keep the ones they have due to added expense. 

The counter-political argument, which involves screaming and crying but I believe to be correct (because it’s founded upon principles which have been empirically verified through multiple cross-cultural multivariable longitudinal studies on the interplay between modest and gradual minimum wage increases and their interrelating effect, incorporating the “Lipsey-Lancaster Theory of the Second Best” in the results, on employment rates, inflation, the Gini index, and the relevant populations’ subjective perceptions of prosperity, fairness, and standard of living–endearingly called “the Happiness index”) is this: “No it doesn’t you heartless jerk.”

For more compelling arguments favoring a raise in the minimum wage, you can visit the FAQ page of the U.S. Labor Department here.

For the argument that there would be a slight decrease in employment, (0.3%) accompanied by a reduction in the U.S. Gini index score (the Gini index measures the disparity between the rich and poor) you can visit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis here.

Rather than risk loosing readers by directly making an argument through mathematical and law and economics formulas, I will instead recite a more entertaining and sardonic, though intellectually dishonest, argument:

Let’s assume that minimum wages hinder economic growth:

Perhaps that is why the following states with no statutory minimum wages are beacons of industrial commerce and sophisticated opulence: Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, states with higher minimum wages are depressed jobless gutters without a hint of glamour: California (it’s GDP is higher than that of the whole of India), Connecticut (it has the highest per capita personal income in the country), Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Even Florida voters took a break from passing evermore permissive gun laws to enact a higher minimum wage.

(The reason the above argument through cherry-picked examples meant to appeal to your emotions and humor is intellectually dishonest is because correlation does not prove causation. A fun way to remember this logical fallacy is through its seminal study involving bars and churches: It turns out that the more churches a city will have, the more bars it will also have. Does religion foster drinking? Does drinking drive one to seek God? No, there is a third variable–the greater the population of a city, the more bars and churches it will have. Now, that I have explained this heuristic fully, for the sake of glib entertainment, we shall completely ignore it in the future.)  

*** End of Aside ***

Of course there is one industry that exempts itself entirely from the minimum wage–politics. “Volunteers” are not merely asked to donate their labor for free, but substantial financial contributions are also encouraged.

Making it more complicated, cities can also get into the action. Seattle just decided to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2008. Studies from Berkeley economists conclude that there will be no impact at all on employment rates, though prices when dining out might increase by seven percent.

(So for every hour worked, a Seattle laborer can afford one “short” coffee.)

Though that won’t be enough to make a Luxembourger jealous.

Luxembourg currently uses a tiered system which culminates with the highest national minimum wage in the world–$17.48 per hour for skilled workers ($14.56 for unskilled workers) above the age 19. The wage plummets to a mere $10.92 if you are a 15 year-old unskilled worker.

In other words: a person in Alabama who works 40 hours per week, every week, with no vacation or getting sick, at minimum wage, gets $15,080 whatever their age or skill-level. In Luxembourg, the floor for a pimply child who can’t read is $22,685.04 annually.

If you are at least twenty and have a degree, that amount swells above $30,000 a year–double that of an American and almost matching the per capita personal income of all workers in Idaho.

Expressed through words rather than statistics, this means that those considered the poorest of the poor adult skilled workers of a tiny country in north Europe make near the same as the average person in Idaho whatever his or her age, knowledge, skills, and ability.

This is the current state of the Luxembourg economy:  According to the World Bank, the 2013 GDP per capita for Luxembourgers is $111,162.  

For the United States it is less than half that at $53,143.

This is one of many internet sites you can use to find your next job in Luxembourg .

Luxembourg church(Since this is a “travel law” blog, I’ll quickly note that Luxembourg is wonderful. There is an enchanting steep gorge which protects miles of subterranean and mountainside tunnels–called the Bock Casemates–used during World War II which you can explore virtually alone for hours. The vast National Museum of Military History in Diekirch warehouses dozens upon dozens of tanks and life-sized battle displays. Admission is 5 Euro. Afterward, enjoy a locally brewed “Diekirch beer” (one of the world’s best and most rarely exported pilsners) at the rustic village’s best Restaurant Lounge Bar Bel Mondo. Finally, if you want to try to meet the flashy but friendly Cuban-born Grand Duchess, make the rounds at the very few Cuban-themed bars in Luxembourg City–she used to hang out frequently at “Cuba Libre,” across the cobblestone square from her palace, but I understand that it has sadly closed since my last visit.)

So far we have assumed that money is worth the same everywhere.

It isn’t.

On average, milk costs about $1 per liter in the United States. That’s a bargain if you live in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the price is nearly twice that; just right if you live in Grand Forks, North Dakota; and downright pricey for Eugene, Oregon where prices are 10% lower. In Los Angles–the nearest city to the dairy condensing plant at Artesia, owned by California Dairies Inc., which provides 43% of California’s milk and 9% of the nation’s milk–a liter costs $1.03.

That’s just in the United States.

Thrifty that I am I have never booked a room in New York City or London for less than $100.  Meanwhile, my rooms in Fez and Marrakech, Morocco were $6 and $4 respectively. I once spent $2 (split with a friend) for a perfectly acceptable air conditioned room in a Bolivian mountain village. I even paid a street vendor there with a coin worth one cent for a small bag of popcorn and got several more coins back in change.

An hour long full body massage is about a $125 on a cruise through the Caribbean, $1 on a remote beach in Bali (preformed as a charity exercise by blind monks), $5 on Koh San Road (a Swedish massage, a few miles away, complete with oils, incense, and ambient music at the splashy Bangkok Mandarin Oriental is also only $90), or $10 in an, anywhere outside of Istanbul, Turkish hammam. 

As the United States looks to see which experiments with minimum wages work and don’t it has plenary of, albeit, very diversely circumstanced, case studies to review.

To effectively divine any meaning from sundry minimum wages you must consider the comparative purchasing power of what the foreign wage offers to the laborer where he lives. This is done through a purchasing power parity analysis.

So, when Bloomberg News says “real hourly wage” it does not refer to the statutory rate, but the rate’s purchasing power parity as converted into U.S. dollars. So, after that calculation, in 2013, the countries with the ten highest minimum hourly wages are (though not all sources agree ): Luxembourg ($10.66), France ($10.60), Australia ($10.21), Belgium ($9.97), the Netherlands ($9.48), Ireland ($9.01), New Zealand ($8.62), the United Kingdom ($7.88), Canada ($7.85), and sneaking in at number ten, the United States ($7.11).

(To be thorough, the numbers above are lower or higher than the actual statutory wages due to a higher or lower cost of living in those countries compared with that of the United States.)

Those results might not be totally horrible excepting two considerations.

Each of those other countries offers free universal health care.

Also, not only does the insured pimply illiterate kid from Luxembourg get paid 8K more than our minimum wage workers–he also receives five weeks of paid vacation each year.

Most industrialized countries (and also most non-industrial countries) have minimum wage statutes which also require a minimum number of paid days off.

There is (arguably) a systemic economic benefit from this. Chronically unemployed workers are able to obtain temporary work when Holger takes that long-planned six week vacation to Miami! Some firms also hire additional permanent personnel to accommodate its known needs when employees go on holiday.

In Luxembourg, it is a flat 25 days minimum whoever you are. Many other countries have a graduated scale based upon the number of days you work in a week, your occupational sector or status, your age or your seniority with a particular firm or your years working generally–or a confounding multiplicity of those factors requiring the use of tax forms, a certified medium, and a graphing calculator to understand.

The Bahamas gives you 14 days after your first year and 21 days after your fifth. The Dominican Republic is more stingy by offering only 20 vacation days after your fifth year of employment. Argentina’s schedule is based upon seniority going from 2 weeks to 5 weeks after your twentieth working year.

I heard a rumor that someone has even found work in Venezuela. I’m not sure if I believe it, but if it is true, he or she is legally entitled to a minimum of 20 days off a year with an extra day for each year of work–up to 30 days. (Though good luck enforcing it.)

The minimum for the European Union is four weeks, but many of the member states laugh at such a miserly holiday schedule. Finland and France each require 5 weeks while England and Hungary max out at 28 days and 37 days respectively. Hungary’s tabulation is based upon workers’ ages and the number of children they have.

In Canada, they control it at the provincial level. Most provinces require 10 paid days off a year while wanderlust Saskatchewanians insist on having 15.

The Mediterranean island of Malta does it by the hour–192.

In some countries it matters what sector you work in. The U.S. encourages collegiate hard-science majors with scholarships and debt restructurings–Estonia (which now ranks 9th in the world for science education) requires all of its scientists to get 52 vacation days a year. In Switzerland, public sector employees get an additional week beyond those dedicated to private enterprise.

At least two countries emphasize its value of manual labor. In Australia, lower-paid service industry jobs are typically rewarded with 5 paid weeks of vacation while white-collar workers get 4 weeks. In Singapore–which otherwise has no minimum wage–grants its laborers (excepting “domestic workers”) 7 to 14 days but there are 0 guarantied days for management and executives.

(I imagine that they give themselves the time they need though).

Vietnam and Thailand mandate that sweatshop workers–yes, sweatshop workers–get respectively 10 days and 6 days of paid leave each year.

The United States guarantees its workers zero.

Our minimum wages are miserly. We must purchase our own medical insurance. Those who work physically hardest–the career fast food and box store employee, sweaty landscapers and agricultural workers–will likely never get a paid day off.

America, happy Labor Day.

The Thai government mandates that all workers receive at least six paid vacation day per year. The U.S. government doesn't require any.

The Thai government mandates that all workers receive at least six paid vacation day per year. The U.S. government doesn’t require any.

Queen Juliana and the End of the Death Penalty in the Netherlands

AmsterdamAdventure Lawyer’s cocktail party factoid of the day:

Sometimes a constitutional monarch finds a way of exercising power.

During a lecture on comparative constitutional politics at the Erasmus College of Law, (Rotterdam, the Netherlands) the professor mentioned that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was his favorite monarch.

Before a bill could be sent to Parliament she insisted on reading it–often she would find mistakes and smilingly suggest that the MP do a little more homework before embarrassing himself.

Religiously zealous, and an adamant opponent to the death penalty, whenever a death warrant would be sent to her desk for signature, she would put it in a drawer. Due to royal rules of etiquette and decorum, nobody would confront her about it.

There was one breach of protocol when it came to a particularly vile Nazi war criminal facing execution. The Queen offered to abdicate to her daughter, the then-very unpopular Princess Beatrix.

The Parliament, people, and courts quickly dropped the issue.

Eventually the Parliament ended the death penalty mooting the issue.

Fun with National Capitals and Seats of Governments

Tallahassee was selected as Florida's capital because it was roughly equidistant from Pensacola (the administrative seat of "West Florida") and Saint Augustine (the administrative seat of "East Florida')  when Florida was regifted back to the United States from Spain in 1821.

Tallahassee was selected as Florida’s capital because it was roughly equidistant from Pensacola (the administrative seat of “West Florida”) and Saint Augustine (the administrative seat of “East Florida’) when Florida was re-gifted back to the United States from Spain in 1821.

If rudely asked to name the capitals of Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania and Turkey on an idle Friday afternoon, some congratulations of geographic knowledge are merited for the answers Sydney, La Paz, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, and Istanbul.

Each of the above answers is incorrect, but understandably so–in the same way that some seem unaware that Juneau–not Anchorage–is the capital of Alaska, and that the Oregon Legislature meets in Eugene rather than weird Portland.

Opting for an abandoned look, Australians built their remote and spookily empty capital in Canberra.

In Bolivia, the government buildings are located in La Paz, yet the Constitution insists that the capital is in beautiful Sucre–where national independence was declared on August 6, 1825.

On April 21, 1960, at mesmerizing expense, President Juscelino Kubitschek officially moved Brazil’s capital from Rio to ultra-modern Brasilia. 

Although South Africa greedily has three capitals, Johannesburg is not one of them. Wanting to spread the wealth of government jobs around the country, Pretoria hosts the Executive branch of government, the Judiciary resides in Bloemfontein, and the Legislature gets the best deal near an idyllic beach in Cape Town.

Dodoma became the capital of Tanzania in 1974 and one day they may actually move an administrative office there. The National Assembly finally arrived from Dar es Salaam in early 1996.

Apparently in an effort to be difficult, Ankara, not Istanbul, is the capital of Turkey.

Some countries opt not to have any government at their capitals.

(Not to be confused with the United States, which merely chooses not to conduct any government in its capital.)

The Netherlands’ Palace, Parliament, and Supreme Court are located in The Hague, but officially, its capital is Amsterdam. 

To get around this bizarreness, it is important to know that there is a political distinction between “capital,” which is wherever the country says it is, and “seat of government,” which is wherever it actually is.

Poor Morocco could never really decide. While Rabat is the official capital, its other imperial cities include Fez, Marrakech, and Meknes. Casablanca didn’t even make it to the top four! 

Tiny, but apparently self-important, Swaziland has two capitals. Their administrative capital is in Mbabane while their royal and legislative capital is in Lobamba.

Similarly, the forlorn atoll of Palau, (population 21,000) couldn’t choose between Ngerulmud and Melekeok. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the population resides in Koror.

In a unique approach to democratic governance, both Chile and Georgia have opted to banish their legislatures from their capitals. The capital of Chile is Santiago but its Legislature meets in Valparaiso. In Georgia, the Legislature meets in Kutaisi while the capital is officially Tbilisi.

Even the CIA World Factbook doesn’t want to recognize Sri Lanka’s attempt at moving its capital from Colombo to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.

Perhaps finding this whole affair of “capitals” and “seats of government” pretentious, Nauru refuses to participate at all.

It does not have a capital–though you should send diplomatic correspondence to Yaren.

That is because whether the Nauruan people like it or not, they have a “seat of government.” 


My new “Adventure Lawyer” Facebook page

Richard Junnier at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand

Richard Junnier, Esq. at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand

My new “Adventure Lawyer” Facebook page is filled with unusual, and occasionally accurate, facts about international diplomacy: Did you know that Thailand once briefly declared war on the United States? Neither did the U.S. Department of State. The Thai Ambassador refused to forward the message to Washington!

So please like my new “Adventure Lawyer” Facebook page. Pretty please, with sugar on top! It’ll be a fun adventure we can share together! 🙂

What to do When Attacked by a Jaguar

My readers will probably pretty immediately realize this is not a picture of me in South America. It's quite distant in fact--Marrakech Morocco, distant.  My camera was stolen during this journey so I thought I would use a picture of what I looked like in 2000 when I went adventuring in the Pantanal.

My readers will probably pretty immediately realize this is not a picture of me in South America. It’s quite distant in fact–Marrakech, Morocco, distant. My camera was stolen during my travels described below so I thought I would at least find a picture of what I looked like back when I went adventuring in the Pantanal.

The most tantalizing part of the brochure was its title.

Its provocative use of the word “when” rather than “if” or, the even more proactive, “to avoid being,” offered a certain daring inevitability to the adventure.

This was Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. People get attacked by jaguars here. It’s something to do at Iguassu National Park, between gawking at the world’s largest waterfall (by volume) from Devil’s Point and inflicting your curiosity on the privacy of an innocent anteater. At Three Borders Landmark you can be bored in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay–all at the same time!

In the previous month a park ranger’s son had actually been killed by a jaguar that had decided to abruptly live in the immediate vicinity. Jaguars are endangered so the locals weren’t going to hunt it. Foreign visitors were even more rare at the time so they weren’t going to close the site. So with that certain reckless synergy infused into any visit to South America, they decided to endanger the tourists instead.   But they would prepare the hapless sightseers first–with a photocopied quad-lingual pamphlet.

In keeping with my impressive practice of going to all the right places at the wrong time, I was there for the dry season and missed viewing the Falls at their most sublime.

On the positive side, I did not get attacked by a jaguar–until a week later.

Step One: Remain Calm

I was taking a dump in the middle of the Pantanal at 2AM. I was armed with my jacket, John Grisham’s “The Testament”–ironically set in the Pantanal, a flashlight, a roll of toilet paper, and the most intensely-relevant, yet ultimately unhelpful, brochure in the history of world tourism.

For purposes of brevity, I will greatly abbreviate how I came to be there. It involved an illegal border crossing (I didn’t know it was illegal, there was nobody at the gates so I just wandered on in), an attempted coup by Lino Oviedo, the assassination of Paraguayan Vice President Luis Argaña, and the election of his opposition replacement, Julio Cesar Franco, who was probably responsible for the assassination.

Paraguayans practice politics at a terminal velocity. The Tea Party are amateurs.

The American embassy, after an enthusiastic discussion, suggested I leave on the then once-a-month caravan through the Pantanal and Andes Mountains to Bolivia. Something close to a road has since been completed, but at the time, it was considered one of the most difficult border crossings in the world and it was optimistically estimated to take about 72 hours.

The embassy wanted to be clear about two points. First, I had to leave immediately using the Trans-Chaco Trail. Second, I would definitely be killed by the Trans-Chaco bandits.

“You are telling me two conflicting things,” I objected.

“No, Mr. Junnier, we are telling you only one thing in two different ways. There is a difference.”

I knew then that my writing ability would be too linear for the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

I resigned myself. “When does the bus leave?”

“Today, at 7AM.”

“But it’s 2PM now!” I anxiously gestured toward the clock.

“This must be your first trip to South America.”

It was. I was nineteen.

When I arrived at Terminal de Ómnibus de Asunción (Spanish for the somewhat less-grand sounding “Asunción Bus Terminal”), the bus was still stationary and the driver and porters looked unhurried to begin an 800 mile journey through the mud and slop swamps of the Chaco.

The ticket cost $8.

I sat next to the driver in the front. The words “closed due to Cholera” were neatly printed in Spanish and English on a sticker slapped over the handle of the bus bathroom. The only meal service began within the first five minutes of what would be a multi-day journey. The protein wasn’t immediately identifiable.

“Moo?” I plaintively asked.

The driver laughed with an animated shaking of his head.

“Oink?” I was getting increasingly nervous.

More laughs and shakes.

“Quack?” I was desperate.

“No!” The driver laughed manically–“Arf!”

It had been days since I had eaten. I wouldn’t eat that day either.

Despite it being the dry season, the rain began almost the second we left the asphalt. It was a heavy all-consuming rain. It was the kind of rain that just sends you back to bed on a Sunday morning.

But there was no time for sleep. We would get stuck, everyone would get off the bus, including two pregnant women, and push the huge coach through the oozing muddy mire. Eventually the vehicle regained traction and we would reboard. It seemed like we would repeat this every half-mile.

When we were on the bus I volunteered my services as the consummate buffoon. I entertained the driver, porters, and passengers with public silliness, grotesque attempts at dance, and by playing perpetual charades with myself. I made everyone laugh and shared pictures of my home and family. Then they shared theirs. It was pretty awesome. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but we passed the time by trying.

After the promised 72 hours, we were still in the drudges of nowhere.

I was starving in that authentic way of not feeling hunger because my body had already begun to eat itself. Every muscle I had was destroyed by ineptly actually trying to push the bus–before I decided to pretend to push the bus like seemingly everyone else. I hadn’t slept because the driver kept himself awake by blaring music at decibels normally reserved as a police tactic to end a hostage crisis. I hadn’t had an opportunity to make a bowel movement in three days.

I wasn’t at my best.

Then, at 2AM, the axle broke off.

We were a hundred miles away from anywhere and it was time to go to the bathroom. I simply decided I would carefully navigate my way into some adjacent jungle and find a place of privacy.

For the sake of my public reputation, let’s assume I went to the trouble of digging the required trench.

I was hovering over the trench, squinting my eyes, and wishing for a life that didn’t presently resemble my own–when I spotted, at a distance of thirty yards, passed some brush, a suspicious nocturnal twinkling of two beaming gold orbs.

I stared. Moments passed as my eyes struggled to focus. I continued to stare. Abruptly, my situation was processed and understood.

It’s a good thing my pants were already down because my reaction was expressed biologically–first I thought the noun and then I verb-ed it.

Next, I remembered the contents of my jacket pocket. I thought to myself, “now would be a truly excellent time to review the brochure, ‘What to do When Attacked by a Jaguar.'”

Step one–remain calm–struck me as imminently practical. It was better than the advice the embassy gave me generally, which was to panic.

So I kept calm. I even cleaned up a little, moving very deliberately and slowly. The cat, which wasn’t moving, seemed so unthreatened by me that after twenty minutes I pulled up my pants. I was relaxed. The cat was relaxed.

I can’t believe I didn’t just walk away.

Step Two: Make loud noises while waving your arms aggressively to look as imposing as possible; throw any available article of clothing at it.

I blinked many times as I reread “step two” to ensure it was a correct translation. This seemed like pretty bad advice.

Despite my belief that this was in sheer disregard of “step one,” which had thus-far led to some promising results, I shrieked like a ten-year-old girl, threw my jacket vaguely in the direction of a resting two-hundred pound death machine, and outstretched my arms to embrace the results of bad judgment.

Due to the laws of aerodynamics, the jacket missed the cat by about, well, thirty yards.

The John Grisham novel which flung out of the jacket pocket however, faired better, scoring an undesirable direct hit on the nose. It responded with a bone-tingling roar–and by getting up.

The damn thing had been asleep this whole time.

It trotted within twenty feet of me and abruptly turned. Relief swelled over me. I had demonstrated such grotesquely ridiculous behavior that I had confused it into being afraid of me. Then I saw it turn again. And again. And again. I believe the technical term is circling.

Step Three: By now you have scared the jaguar away, so immediately proceed to the nearest ranger station to report the incident. 

My eyes darted repeatedly from the pamphlet to the stalking jaguar. He continued to spiral around me. (I assume it was a he; I felt it impolitic to check.)

I needed to improvise a “step four.”

Step Four: Though you were viciously bullied in primary school for an inability to do pull-ups as a child, inexplicably discover a latent ability to climb trees quickly and to dizzying heights.

Having proceeded with “step four” I learned an important thing about jaguars.

They can climb a tree faster than me.

Constantly losing my grip, banging my head, and scraping my stomach against jagged bark, they are also infinitely more graceful about it.

I was about to resort to what I did before “step one,” but my pants were on.

Luckily, in a moment of genius, I implemented “step five.”

Step Five: Have a more competent person than yourself rescue you with a loaded gun clenched in his hands.

The bus driver had heard my child-like screams and came running. Since we were fleeing a revolution, it was understandable why he was armed.

From the time I implemented “step two” to the time he pulled the trigger, only about twenty seconds had passed–but it seemed like a year.

For those imbued with the crassness to be more concerned about the welfare of the jaguar than my own, the driver missed it by ten feet–though the bullet did wiz passed my face. The miss was presumably purposeful. It is an endangered species and a miss had accomplished the goal of frightening it away.

I never got to ask him. I jumped down (fell, actually) from the tree and I profusely thanked him in two languages.

He responded by robbing me at gunpoint.

He was kind about it. He didn’t ask for the money belt he surely knew I had. It became fairly obvious how the Trans-Chaco bandits were so thorough in finding the foreigners on the route–they drove the busses. He must have known that if I reported him to the authorities they would find him easily. There was paperwork as to who was driving.

Maybe he took a risk. Maybe the local authorities were being bribed and it wouldn’t matter what I claimed to have happened.

In any event, he stared at his goofball passenger who had shared pictures and cracked jokes in a language he didn’t understand.

Then, after a pause, he didn’t kill me.

Without comment he walked away. I felt a general expected understanding that I was to wait where I was until he was gone. I did, and upon returning to where the bus had been, I found my pack and a hysterically crying German. He was the only other foreigner. I wasn’t sure if it had always been the plan to rob us or if the driver was just giving me a companion for the long walk ahead.

Even though the driver left us for dead, I still rank his company’s customer service above that of Greyhound.

Two days later we crossed the border and the German reported his robbery. I decided to remain silent. I know that was morally wrong–inconsiderate of potential future victims. I was a kid. I must have felt a degree of loyalty. The rational thing for him to do was kill me, but he chose to let me live and risk the consequences. I wanted to reward his risk.

Always a student of economics, I like to incentivize people not to kill me.

Also, I couldn’t be sure that he was one of the actual bandits. In total he took my wallet, a camera (left on the bus), and about $40.   In my money belt which he let me keep, there was a few hundred dollars in cash, a credit card, an airplane ticket, passport, pictures, and a bank card. He also saved me from certain death–before relegating back to a near-certain death.

It didn’t matter. My impromptu travel companion explained everything to a serenely disinterested police officer who typed out a report pressing one typewriter key at a time. I entertained myself in the rustic lobby area before asking the desk sergeant if I could go into the courtyard. He nodded smiling rows of gold teeth.

I immediately reentered when I saw that the courtyard was actually a prison yard.

“No, no, it’s safe,” he gestured. He started to lead me on what I thought was a tour. He would unlock a gate, usher me into a hallway, unlock another gate, and so on.

At the last gate, he closed it on me and I found myself in a crowded cell. I did a pirouette. The guard smiled at me as if to ask “Did I do good? A story to tell if you ever get home?”

I turned back to look at my cellmates. There was the worrying sort of animated response to my unexpected presence usually associated with the introduction of a pretty woman to a flock of construction workers. At nineteen, I was a situationally ill-advisedly good looking dude. A particularly burly man with a tear-drop tattooed under his eyes stomped forward to hover over me. I could feel the warmth of his breath on my cheeks.

He proceeded to try to sell me handcrafts.

Prisoners are responsible for their own room and board and those without family or friends on the outside depositing money into their jail accounts, rely on selling trinkets to tourists who occasionally visit prisons on so called “reality vacations.”

As it happened–I was in the market for a new wallet.

The German and I went to the nearest bus station to book a ticket to the nearest airport. We had both had enough travel. We were both too hungry, too tired, and too annoyed to even enjoy the Indiana Jones aspect of our adventure.

Burgers from a street cart while we waited–our first food in days–were ten cents a piece.

“You know, Richard, I don’t see too many cows around here and I’m not sure that beef prices fluctuate this much.”

Two rats ran between us and the cart and the seller with no teeth cackled aloud.

Whatever. It was food.   We each had two more burgers and went home.

*The more skeptical of you may question the veracity of the above tale. I only say that all of it is true–except for the parts which are not. To find those committed to the accurate reporting of world events, I recommend the Washington Post. Like the class clown, I merely endeavor to entertain my audience.