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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

I got this link through Just Me's excellent Twitter feed and I just have to pass it along right away with a few comments and a rant of my own.

It is a very angry letter from an American in Switzerland who has decided to pack it up and move back to Vermont.  In it you get a good feel for the collateral damage due to FATCA and what the U.S. is losing when they use a hacksaw instead of a scalpel in the war against tax evasion.

This fellow is an entrepreneur and has been in business abroad for 25 years "busting open nitch markets for American products, contributing to lowering the trade deficit, developing new markets for US producers, creating employment for my brethren back home, increasing the tax base where they live."

I'd say on the face of it this fellow is a true patriot who has done well by and for his country.

So why is he packing it in?  Well, rock shake hands with hard place.  FATCA has put him out of business.  His local bank has informed him that he can no longer make money transfer to the U.S.  They don't want the hassle of dealing with someone who has a U.S. connection - too much bureaucracy, too much paperwork, too much hassle.  This issue with his bank (local to him but one of those evil "foreign' banks according to the U.S.) means he can no longer pay his suppliers and that means that the fat lady has sung for him.

Not only is he shutting down his business but he's not exactly relocating it back to the U.S.  He plans to get out of the business entirely and do some farming back there in Vermont.  Good for him.  Hard to see how this is good for the U.S. though.  Just how many more gentlemen farmers does the U.S. really need right now?  Well, guess homelanders will be getting another one whether they like it or not.

I respect his decision to move back.  I would not make the same decision though every so often I have this fantasy of simply showing up back home and saying, "You want me home?  OK, here I am, folks."  Let's see, I have no job or health insurance in the U.S. and I'm undergoing treatment for cancer.  I'm sure the local county hospital (not to mention the good taxpayers of King County) would be thrilled to welcome  just one more indigent American in need of care who can't work right now.

Instead I am in France where I have been paying into the social security system for years.  The care is outstanding and I've been here long enough so that this is definitely "home" and I don't ever want to leave.   But now I find myself paying taxes to two countries (France and the U.S.) The former (France) I understand completely because this is where I live and work but the latter?  Makes no sense unless of course 1.  I decide tomorrow to go back and throw myself on the mercy of the American taxpayers and their social services network (such as it is and it ain't much compared to where I am) or 2.  I ask the French to send a partial bill to the U.S. for the cost of my care here.  I am a U.S. citizen after all and, damn it, I pay U.S. taxes so if you all are going to claim me for a share of my revenue earned entirely abroad (to the detriment of my host country's revenue base) than I'd say you all have an obligation to provide me with some benefits.  Covering a small percentage of the current bill which includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and daily medication would be a good start.

As I said, it's a fantasy. :-)  

To all the homelanders who refuse to listen, to every American politician who won't even give us the time of day, to the Obama administration which appears to be the regime of the clueless, the situation is untenable, the unintended consequences of your laws are leading to all kinds of injustice, and you are doing yourselves enormous damage by turning loyal Americans abroad (who were doing a lot of quiet good on your behalf) into people who throw up their hands in utter disgust and write things like this:
These absolute black boot fools in DC are shooting themselves in the foot and biting the hand that feeds them.
Sure there were those evading taxes and there were many greedy bankers stumbling over themselves to help those evaders, but the numb nuts in Washington are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens, and just spitting in the face of our allies, by strong arming them (Remember the Nazis?) to enforce US tax law, when they have nothing to do with the US tax system.
Gee, folks, is this really what you had in mind?

Migration in the Americas

Most migrants don't go very far from home.  Well, "far" is relative - someone from Vancouver, Canada who ends up in Mexico City, Mexico will certainly feel far from all that is familiar even though he has stayed on the same continent and didn't head for, say, Johannesburg, South Africa. The point is that if you look at migration around the world, you will find an awful lot of Europeans moving around Europe, Asians moving around Asia and Americans moving around the Americas.

That is just one of the conclusion of the 2012 report International Migration in the Americas:  Second Report of the Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas prepared by the Organization of American States, the OECD and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank).  Lot of fascinating information in this report and it does a good job of balancing a broad perspective of migration in North, Central and South America and a closer view of migration in each country from the history of immigration/emigration to the legal framework around migration and acquisition of citizenship.

Watching the immigration debates in the Americas from Europe one thing that always strikes me is how limited these debates are.  North America is a perfect example of "can't see the forest for the trees."  Talk to almost any North American and one gets the impression that they think it's all about them and their laws and their borders and millions pounding at their doors desperate to get in and ruin it for the "natives" (who are in fact the sons and daughter of immigrants themselves for the most part).  When some of the U.S. presidential candidates started talking about electric fences I literally howled with laughter. A quick look at a map of North America and those huge borders with Canada and Mexico, not to mention two oceans, and all I can say is "Good luck with that fence, folks."  

A few facts  might lead saner minds to the conclusion that migration is not at all an issue limited to the U.S., it's a regional one and cooperation with one's neighbors and the sending countries might be a much better strategy if they really are serious about managing it better.   This report wouldn't be a bad place to start gathering some of those facts which just might inject a little fresh air and perspective into the debate.

A Regional Perspective:  Like almost every other part of the world migration in the Americas is mostly regional.  Have a look at Table 3 on page 12, Total immigration in the Americas, by continent of origin, 2010.  In almost every case the vast majority of migrants have simply moved from one country in the Americas to another:  Mexico 68%, Barbardos 80%, Argentina 95%.  Overall about 70% of the migration is regional with the rest of the world far far behind:  14% from Europe, 13% from Asia and 2% from Africa.

Canada and the U.S. are the exceptions.  Almost half of the immigration to those two countries comes from Asia.  The report says that even if unauthorized immigration were included in these figures, Asia would still come out on top.  Kinda makes you wonder how a fence is going to help here unless the U.S. plans to try to fence off the Pacific Ocean.  I wouldn't put it past them.

I was very surprised to see that European migration is still pretty strong in some countries in the Americas. They account for a large chunk of immigration (25-30%) in places like Brazil and Peru - less but still noteworthy in places like Canada and the U.S.

And the immigration from Africa?  Almost nonexistent.

But the biggest surprise for me was Figure 4 on page 14, Top ten countries of origin of international migrants, permanent and temporary, 2010.

Guess what country is consistently in the top ten (and almost always in the top 5) countries of origin?

The United States.

Here is U.S. emigration (Americans leaving the U.S.) in black and white.  The U.S. is the number one sending country in Belize, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.  It is in the top 5 in Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay

There is a lot we don't know about these American emigrants.  Are they mostly naturalized U.S. citizens who have returned to their countries of origin?  Are they the children of immigrants to the U.S. who went back to the ancestral homeland?  Or are they Americains de souche (not children of recent immigration)?  How many are duals?  How many vote in U.S. elections?  Are they "sojourners" or "settlers" (i.e. how long do they stay?)  Hard to know but the AARO estimates that there are nearly 2.6  million of them in the Western Hemisphere which means they account for about half of the estimated 6.3 million Americans abroad.  These numbers by the way do not include U.S. military and government personnel so the actual number of U.S. citizens in North and South America would be much higher if they were added in.

What about immigration from the Americas to other OECD countries?  Again some very interesting findings.  "The difficult economic conditions in Spain and the United States appear to have had the effect of redirecting some of the migration flows to other parts of the OECD.  Emigration to other OECD countries outside of Europe has risen by 8% and to other countries of Europe by about 14%."
The report also notes in passing that "a significant fraction of it concerns citizens of the United States, for whom difficult conditions in that country may be leading to more expatriation."  This supports the suspicion that many of us have that U.S. emigration is increasing however the report does not go into this in any detail.  I went to Part III of the report which has a country by country perspective and the U.S. summary is not there even though the Table of Contents says that it can be found on page 218.  A mystery.

Concerning immigration from the Americas to Europe the report says that while Central Americans generally migrate to the U.S., South Americans, in particular those from the Andean region and the Southern Cone, tend to go to Europe with most going to Spain.  "In 2010-2011 56% of
emigrants from the Andean region and 65% of emigrants from the Southern Cone lived in Europe."  This seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon:  "Between 58% to 67% of the emigrants from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Uruguay arrived in Europe between 2000 and 2010."  That is to say, in the last decade.

This migration flow from the Americas to Europe also contains a fair number of entrepreneurs from both North and South America.

Migrants from the United States represented the first community of entrepreneurs from the Americas in European countries, with the exception of Spain where Argentineans are the first community. Not surprisingly, the United States was the country harboring most entrepreneurs from the Americas, generally followed by Spain. The only exceptions were Argentine and Uruguayan entrepreneurs for whom Spain was the first country of residence, Canadian and Jamaican entrepreneurs for whom the second country of importance was the United Kingdom, and Haitian entrepreneurs for whom the second country was France. Entrepreneurs from the United States were mainly based in the United Kingdom and in Italy. 
The income distribution of migrants from the Americas to Europe is interesting.  In general they do fall into the lower income end of the spectrum but there are notable exceptions to this.  Canadians and Americans tend to fall into the upper income quintiles with Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominica, Panama and Venezuela among the top earners (top 20%).  "Almost one third of Canadian emigrants in the United States and in Europe were in the top income quintile of their country of destination."  You'd have to do a comparison between income in the home country and income in Europe to truly know if these Americans and Canadians have done much better for themselves economically because they migrated.  However I think I'm safe saying that most Americans or Canadians moving to Europe stand a very good chance of doing at least as well (if not better) than they did in the U.S. or Canada.

Country Perspective:  Part III of the report contains short summaries of each country's migration situation.  Let's look at two:  Belize and Ecuador.

Belize:  "Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language."  I had no idea that that was case until I started reading.  This is a very small country with about 320,000 people of which over 14% are foreigners.  The history of that immigration is fascinating. At one point most if it was from other countries in the Americas (and a lot of it was unauthorized) and that is still true. However in the 1990's there was an influx of Asian immigrants (Chinese) in response to a Citizenship Investment Program - for 25,000 USD immigrants could get permanent residency.

That program is now defunct but there are others that are still around.  For individuals over 45 years of age there is a Retired persons Incentive Program.  To qualify "applicants must receive a monthly
income of not less than U.S. dollars of $2,000 through a pension or annuity that has been generated
outside of Belize. A Qualified Retired Person shall be exempt from the payment of all taxes and duties on all income or receipts, which accrue to him or her from a source outside of Belize whether
that income is generated from work performed or from an investment."  

Emigration from Belize was very high but seems to have stabilized.  Index Mundi report a zero net migration rate in 2012 which means that migrant inflows and outflows are about equal right now.

2010 Top 5 sending countries to Belize are (in order of importance):  U.S., Guatemala, Haiti, El Salvador and  Nigeria.

Ecuador:  Another former colony and a veritable hotbed of immigration/emigration over the years.  One of the more interesting flows in were the "Lebanese."  These migrants came in the late 19th/early 20th century and they were Syrian, Palestinian, or Lebanese (Arabic speakers).  Emigration started in the 20th century with the rich sending their children off to school abroad.  Up until the 1920's the main destination was France.  Europe is still a primary destination with strong migration networks between Ecuador  and Spain.  Up until 2003 Ecuadorians didn't need a visa to enter the country and many took advantage of that.  Immigration to Europe is still strong however with many heading for Spain, Italy and other EU countries.

Like Belize a lot of the immigration is from other countries in the region.  There was a large influx at one point from Peru and Columbia.  Much of this immigration was and is unauthorized.  Other groups of note are the Chinese, Americans and Cubans who come for business or retirement.

Index Mundi's 2012 net migration estimate is -0.39 migrant(s)/1,000 population which means that about the same number coming in as are going out.

2010 Top 5 sending countries to Ecuador are (in order of importance): Columbia, Cuba, U.S., Peru and Chile.

This is getting way too long so I'll stop there.  There is however so much more in the report - I did my best to give you the highlights but I'm sure I didn't do it justice - and it really merits a closer reading.  If you are just delving into the topic of immigration in and from the Americas, this is a great place to begin your research.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Les Bricoleurs du Dimanche

Last weekend we went off to the hardware/home improvement mecca, Leroy Merlin, to get some plumbing supplies and to return a chainsaw we purchased last month in a fit of new homeowner insanity.  As we waited at the counter my eye was drawn to a bright yellow flyer, "Rejoignez les bricoleurs du dimanche..." (Join the Sunday Do-It-Yourself-ers).  At first I thought it was an advertisement for a workshop for those amateurs nutty enough to think they can actually do plumbing as well as a professional.  But then I read the entire brochure and my jaw just about hit the floor.  Here's what it said:
"Nous combattons pour la liberté de travailler le dimanche."  (We are fighting for the right to work on Sunday). 
Car ce jour la, nous améliorons notre quotidien et celui de nos clients, auprès de nous, les jeunes font leurs premiers pas dans la vie active. (Because that day we improve our daily life and that of our clients - with us, the young take their first steps toward a working life.)
Nous voulons que la loi change et que le gouvernement nous permettre de pouvoir enfin dire "YES WEEKEND" (We want the law changed and the government to allow us to finally say "YES WEEKEND").
The pamphlet was signed by Le Collectif des bricoleurs du dimanche.  Who are these folks?  They are the Ile-de-France employees of two hardware stores, Leroy Merlin and Castorama (for you North American readers these are the equivalent of Home Depot).  French law for the most part forbids "le travail dominical" (work on Sunday).  There are some exceptions to this - restaurants, for example, or places that serve tourists or the media - but it was, until relatively recently, pretty universally respected and most stores were indeed closed on Sunday.  In recent times this has changed.  I've watched this evolution with more and more stores (especially the big chains) trying to stay open the entire weekend and many of them succeeding.

But the law is the law and the French government does crack down from time to time and that is exactly what happened to Bricorama.    They took it to court and lost and now they are calling for the law to be changed.  Bricorama's management argues that it wasn't fair that they be singled out and that being open on Sunday is actually in the best interest of everyone:  clients and employees.  To be clear, they and the other stores cannot and do not force anyone to work on Sunday.  The company has to ask for volunteers and they either get time off or extra money if they do put in the hours on that day.

This appears to be a unique situation where management and the employees are in agreement and so the employees decided to organize on their side to try to get the law changed.  And that was how the movement, Le Collectif des bricoleurs du dimanche, was born.   They are well organized - they have a Facebook page, they have pamphlets in the stores and they have produced a number of videos in support of their cause.  Here is one with testimonials from clients:

Le Collectif des Bricoleurs du Dimanche : le 9... par dm_50c5c5c37fbcb

Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea.  The CGT has a good tract here and they point out that the right not to work on the weekend was one that workers had to fight like the devil for in the last century. "En généralisant le travail du dimanche, c’est le libéralisme et le tout à la consommation qui priment au détriment des valeurs fondant notre société." (Universalizing work on Sunday is liberalism and all things for consumerism which rules to the detriment of the fundamental values of our society."  They argue that this "volunteerism" is a lie and that the big stores will use it to pressure employees to work weekends and more and more hours to their benefit and not at all for the good of the employees.

I see their point.  I worked in IT here for many years and attest to the fact that management quite often does just that - put pressure on IT workers to get something done over the weekend so that it's ready for Monday.  Easy to do when the work can be done remotely from home and the company risks nothing since work inspectors don't generally invade people's homes on Sunday to catch them finishing up a project. Much harder to pull off this kind of thing when it's a brick and mortar store where people have to be physically present to serve clients and the company can be caught and sanctioned.  So the question for me is:  Do we really want to give management a green light to generalize work on Sunday?

That's a tough question.  This is the 21st century and not the 20th.  Clients naturally like having more time on the weekend to do their shopping.  Employees like the idea of earning another day off  and of making a little extra money.  Companies want the business which is not a crime last time I looked.  Is it really so hard to consider that this might be a win-win for all parties?

So I'm inclined to come down on the side of the Collectif on this one.  I think the ultimate answer lies in keeping it exceptional, making companies pay for the privilege and ensuring that it's always a good deal for the employees.  The job of the union should be to make 100% that people are not being implicitly or explicitly pressured to "volunteer" when they would rather be with their families.  

I will add however that I am a bit amused that we are talking specifically here about not just any day of the week, but Sunday in particular.  I would never be a volunteer for "le travail dominical" simply because my Sunday's are already booked solid with Mass and a day of rest and reflection.  This is no longer the case for many (if not most) and I have no quarrel with that or with them.    However I do think it is worth reflecting on the origins of this day Christians call "The Lord's Day," which has been turned to a more secular (but still worthy) purpose -  allowing hard-working people time to rest and to be with their families.  As Chesterton puts it, "And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men."

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Parole

After many months of treatment (surgery, chemo and radiotherapy) for breast cancer, the kind staff at the Centre René Huguenin  liberated me late December to enjoy the holidays.  This was not a "get out of jail free" card - it was more like a conditional parole.   I am no longer strictly speaking "sick" but I'm not "cured" either.  There is medicine to take every day.  I still feel some of the effects from the chemo - my joints ache some days like I have arthritis.  I'm also aware of a certain physical fragility.  I got sick with a cold this week and went downhill in a matter of hours.  Also when I work in the garden or around the house, I have to pay close attention to my energy level because I can unintentionally drive myself into a state of exhaustion all too quickly.  I've learned that when I start to get very cold, I need to stop writing checks my body can't cash, however deep I am in the flow of whatever project I'm undertaking at the moment.  It's very humbling.  Never have I had to discipline myself to take it easy.

That's the physical side of recovery but what about the psychological?  Oddly enough that's the hardest part.  The treatment is over for the time being and I feel like a marathon runner who after persisting and suffering to reach the finish line, gets there only to discover that there is no trophy, no prize, no cheering crowds.  Just a note that says, "Wait here for the next four months and we'll let you know if you "won" or if you have to start running again.

So the challenge right now is to keep myself busy mentally and physically while taking into account certain limitations.  Here are a few of the things I've been up to that seem to help.  I'm also open to suggestions - I had a pretty bad case of chemo brain so my creativity has been a bit limited.

Writing:  In addition to the blog I wrote an editorial that I submitted one of the major papers in the U.S. They did not run it but it was a great exercise.  A journalist I met on another site offered to help me and it was the first time I've ever worked with an editor.  What an experience.  Made me wish I had an editor for the Flophouse because what a difference it made.  We have not given up trying to get it published.   We'll see what happens.

Recovery:  The great thing about being a recovering alcoholic is that at the end of every day, whatever else happened or didn't happen, one can always say, "I didn't drink today."   And that's the foundation of everything.

Music:  Nothing like a little Bruce Springsteen to clear your head. I also found my classical music CD's during the move and I've been listening to one of my favorite composers, Arcangelo Corelli.  I'm particularly fond of his violin sonatas:

Friends:  I have friends from the clinic who are going through the same thing though we are all at different stages.  We talk and I can unload when I'm feeling low.  More importantly I can offer support in return.  In Gonzales' Deep Survival he talks about how people in a life threatening situation come out better (have a higher chance of survival)  if they can help others.  He's right.  Gives you purpose and something else to focus on.  Perfect example of how altruism is in your best interests and may even save your life.

Quilting:  I've been making quilts for years and I always have a project waiting for me in my sewing basket.  Nothing fancy here - they are made almost exclusively with scraps and old clothes.  My skill varies depending on the day.  Sometimes I can "match my points" just fine and some days not so much (il y a des jours avec et des jours sans).  Doesn't matter because the final result is always pleasing to the eye and has a practical purpose too - nothing like a quilt to keep you warm.  Here's a picture of the latest project.

Reading:  I always have a pile of books to read.  During treatment I  splurged and purchased some very expensive books.  One I recommend highly is Martin and Hailbronner's Rights and Duties of Dual Nationals.  Pricey but worth it.   Another good one is Clunan and Trunkunas' Ungoverned Spaces:  Alternatives to State Authority in and Era of Softened Sovereignty.  To be read along with anything by James C. Scott.  On the lighter side, I am a big fan of paranormal romance novels.  Right now I'm making my way through  Stacia Kane's Unholy Ghosts series.   Really fine series.

Two other activities worth noting that are a kind of "two for one":  I try to get some exercise every day weather permitting and I go to church.  Versailles has a lot of churches and several are within walking distance of my house.  During the week I go to mass at the gorgeous chapel of the Soeurs Servantes on the avenue de Paris.  Friday and Sunday I can be found at my parish church, Saint Elisabeth de Hongrie.

The decision to start going to a local church and to stop going into Paris for the English-language mass at St. Joseph's was a very hard one for me but it turned out to be the right one.  I could not have asked for a more welcoming parish.  When I walked in for the first time I was nervous and felt a bit awkward:  I didn't know anyone, I didn't look too good, I didn't know the responses in the mass in French and I was conscious of my very heavy American accent.  From the very first day I was met with acceptance, firm kindness and discretion - no one asked me what was wrong with me, they just let me know that I was very welcome and that they were there if I needed anything.  Since that first day I've gone to see the parish priest (a really amazing fellow - when I went up for Communion last Sunday he recognized me and used the English words "Body of Christ" which put a huge smile on my face).  I've also volunteered to do service and am coming to know more people in the parish as a result.  What a joy to be walking down the street in Versailles and to meet people I know through the church. We may live in a globalized world but we need the local too - a place where we are recognized, where we can smile at others and have them smile back, where we can experience someone's touch on the elbow or on the shoulder in quiet support.

When I was at that last appointment with my oncologist, I asked her what I should do in the months to come and she replied, "Reprenez votre vie." (Take up your life).  I understand what she wants me to do but I would counter that counsel with the great saying about not being able to step into the same river twice.  I'm not the person I was a year ago.  I don't feel the same way or want the same things.  The most radical change I think has been a kind of softening.  It's as if, for 47 years, I've had a kind of carapace (shell) around me that I erected for my own protection - to not feel too much or too deeply.  These days the shell has a lot of holes in it and that's a Good Thing. If "taking up my life" again means going back to what I was before then I want none of it even if it was more comfortable.  I don't even think it's possible.  Some mornings I wake up and I wish I knew if I was truly in remission and then I ask myself what in heaven's name would I do with this information?  Toughen up?  Crawl back into my shell?  Un-know everything I have learned about how uncertain life really is?   Seems wiser to simply go forward and see where it takes me.
Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender.  when we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously.  By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what is happening, we begin to access our inner strength.
Yes it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief.  If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground.  But something has shaken up our familiar patterns and frequently they no longer work.... The open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta.  Staying with it is what heals.  It allows us to let go of our self-importance.  It's how the warrior learns to love. 
Pema Chodron
The Places that Scare You

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flophouse Milestone

We have to stop meeting like this, dear readers.

Some time between Christmas and the first of the year the Flophouse reached 100,000 all time pageviews. The Flophouse has been around for about two years and I just checked and I've written well over 500 posts.  That set me back on my heels - I can't help but think that all those words might have added up to a book or two if I wasn't so lazy and disorganized.

100,000 pageviews is both reassuring and kind of scary.  It is nice to know that it's not just my mother reading.  It's a bit scary because I'm not quite sure how it happened.

There was never any grand design behind the Flophouse and there still isn't.  I literally ask the universe ever morning what I should write about and then I sit down and do it.  That's about it.  Apparently right now the universe wants me to talk a lot about FATCA/citizenship-based taxation.  Or maybe the universe just has a really twisted sense of humor.

I have readers.  What a concept and I still have some trouble wrapping my head around the idea.  I know some of you through your comments and others through your emails.  I wish I knew more of you better.  Regardless of how you came here and whether or not we've been formally introduced, I'd like to thank you all for coming here and reading.  I am so grateful that, given all the things that I'm sure you have to do every day, you choose to spend a few moments reading my musings.  I hope that whatever you are finding here keeps you coming back.  I give you my word that I will always do my best to make it worth your time.

Pax vobiscum.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brian Eno: Day of Light

To watch while you are sipping your morning coffee.  Highlighted yesterday by Open Culture, this is a "crowdsourced" short by Brian Eno.  The theme was "play of light" and Eno put the images he received from his fans together and set them to his music.  Beautiful.  Will put you in the right frame of mind to meet the day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is U.S. Emigration Changing?

Overseas Exile has a very good post up about U.S. emigration (Americans leaving the U.S.)  He is arguing that what was once a phenomenon almost entirely about "pull" (the attraction of other countries) it is now also about "push."

"Emigration for US expats used to be about adventure, love, or a new job abroad. More and more it seems to be about Americans trying to get out."

I think he's right though it is impossible to get any hard data about U.S. emigration because the U.S. doesn't  track it nor do they make any effort like the French have to learn more about its citizens living in other countries and their reasons for leaving and for staying abroad - the "sojourners" versus the "settlers."  There are more of the latter than Americans in the homeland would like to admit.

In addition the U.S. census does not include American civilians living abroad which means that the United States of America has no idea how many citizens it really has.

Finally in all my research I have only come across one serious study on recent American emigrants, Americans Abroad:  A Comparative Study of Emigrants from the United States by Dashefsky et al, which is a great read but since it was published in 1992, it is a bit outdated.

Nonetheless, if you live abroad for an extended period of time and you maintain some contact with places and institutions where the newly arrived American might show up,  you can get a feel for trends.

The adventurers are still around but these days you hear more and more about the "push" factors Overseas Exile talks about:  high unemployment, shrinking wages, bankruptcies, debt, and less upward mobility.  I would add to the list the search for a more family-friendly country (a safer place to raise kids  and better school systems), better social safety net,  and opportunity (often cited by those headed for Asia).

Should Americans in the homeland be worried about this?  That's not for me to say but I think it would be prudent of them to at least look into it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A "Petit Godin" for the Flophouse

As we settle into our new house in Porchefontaine we have one project that is still in progress:  putting in a wood stove (un poêle).

Why do we want one?  Well, we had a tiny fireplace in the old apartment which was utterly useless for heating but was so nice to have on those cloudy, rainy, damp days that are the usual winter weather here in Versailles.

Our house, built in 1929, has two chimneys but no fireplace.  When we drew back the old carpeting on the floor, however, we found spaces (concrete slabs on the floor) where some sort of wood or coal stoves existed at one time.  We found three in all:  one in the living room, one in the dining room and the last in the front bedroom.  From what we know of the house, the old stoves were removed (along with the original wood panelling) and the chimney blocked up sometime in the 1970's during a modernization project.

Since that time other houses have sprung up on either side of ours which means that the original chimney is too short.  We asked for (and received) authorization from the mayor's office here to have it extended.  Our contractor even found us a mason to do the work.

While all this discovery was going on we started looking for a stove.  We drove out to many a showroom in the 78 and consulted with several experts in town.  Quite a selection to choose from these days - what I saw bore no resemblance to the wood stoves of my childhood in the U.S.

But I wasn't very happy with what I found.  The modern ones sure look spiffy but it seems a travesty to put something like that in an 80-year old house and frankly the room is so small that most of them are just too big and give off too much heat.

Then one day around Christmas we were driving through Saint Cyr and we saw a billboard for a shop that specializes in wood stoves.  We stopped and on the second floor I found exactly what I was looking for.

It's called a "Petit Godin."  This is a wood stove first created back in the 1800's and was made and distributed by a company owned by Jean Baptiste André Godin.  This fellow has a fascinating biography.  He was an industrialist/philanthropist and he invented and patented this little cast iron stove, perfect for small spaces, which could be had for a reasonable price.

Believe it or not, they still make them in France.  The showroom in Saint Cyr had several models but I fell in love with the original.  Small (5 kW) and round and fits perfectly in our living room.  Good price, too.  And it appears that this little stove will heat our entire first floor so we can burn a lot less oil.

For those of you who never had the pleasure as a child of being responsible for chopping wood and feeding the family fire as I was, here is a short video that shows how it works.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Extradition and Dual Citizens

Not a very cheery topic and not one I like to think about.  It is however an interesting question:  When a citizen is under the sovereignty of two nations, is alleged to have committed a crime in one and then flees to another, what happens?  There are treaties between countries to manage this but how does it actually play out?

To learn more I looked into a case I came across that had a fair amount of publicity and was resolved fairly recently.  It concerned a crime committed in the United States, an alleged criminal with dual U.S./French citizenship who fled to French territory.

In 2007 Hans Peterson turned himself in to French authorities in St. Martin, Guadeloupe (a French territory in what is called DOM-TOM). A warrant for Peterson's arrest had been issued in the United States concerning the 2006 death of an American doctor, David Cornbleet, in Chicago.  Peterson was alleged to have tortured and killed him - a very violent crime indeed.

The U.S. authorities requested his extradition and they were refused.  Why?  Because the French determined that Peterson was a French citizen and, in the words of a spokesman from the French embassy, France does not extradite its own citizens to face trial in other countries no matter what the penalty and that this is a matter of French law:

“It’s not a decision by our government, it’s just a legal provision in our law,” he said. “We can’t do it. We’ve never done it.”

So what about that extradition treaty that exists between the U.S. and France?  Read the fine print.  It says in Article 3:

"1. There  is no  obligation  upon  the Requested  State to grant  the extradition  of a person
who  is a national  of the  Requested  State,  but the executive  authority of the United  States
shall have the power to surrender a national of the United States if, in its discretion, it deems
it proper to do so.  The nationality of the person sought shall be the nationality of that person
at the time the offense was  committed."

Or as IntLawGrrls puts it, this treaty is based on a template that includes certain standard stuff:

"...a pledge of mutual obligation to extradite fugitives in certain serious criminal matters; detailed procedures for such transfers; and exceptions from extradition, for certain offenses of a political nature, and for capital offenses absent assurances that the fugitive will not be subjected to the death penalty if convicted.

But it also says that neither country is under any obligation to surrender its own nationals.  The U.S. could do it if they wished.  France says they couldn't do it even if they wanted to.  Interesting.

Does that mean that French citizens (or dual U.S./French citizens) can escape justice if they flee to French territory?

No, it just means that France will try that citizen in her own courts on her own territory.  That is exactly happened to Peterson.   He was tried in France, convicted and originally given a sentence of life in prison.  On appeal in 2012 the Cour d'assises de Paris reduced this to 30 years: 20 years in prison and 10 on parole.

These are the kinds of situations that cause tensions between countries.  For some Americans, it may seem that Peterson got away with murder which is not true. He was simply judged under his other country of citizenship that convicted him and applied penalties under her own law.  Had he been tried in the U.S. would it have gone differently?  Hard to know what a U.S. court would have said.  Peterson is clearly mentally unstable and who knows what defense his lawyers would have used.   What he avoided completely was any risk that he would be tried and sentenced to execution for his crime since France abolished the death penalty in 1981.  Interesting enough so did the state of Illinois in 2011. So he would not have faced that penalty in any case. 

As for the U.S. government's reaction, when France informed the U.S. that they would not turn him over, the U.S. senators from the state of Illinois got involved and wrote to the French asking that they reconsider.  A delicate diplomatic situation.  In the end, of course, it didn't happen and hard to see what the U.S. could do about it under the circumstances.  

There you have it - an interesting example of how treaties, dueling sovereignties and conflicts of domestic laws lead to a particular outcome when it comes to dual nationals and extradition.   

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Snowfall of the Season

We got up this morning and saw that it snowed last night here in Versailles. It may snow again on Thursday.  Temperatures during the week will range from -6 to 1 degree Celsius.

I had to salt the front and back porch steps because it's pretty icy out there.  I was going to head into Paris today but I may change my mind and stay home and enjoy the snow while it lasts.  It's surely nothing compared to what my daughter experiences in Quebec but for Versailles it's rare enough to be savored.

Here are a few pictures from where I sit (Porchefontaine district).

View from the back porch:

View from the front porch:

If the light gets better (pretty gloomy right now) I'll take some more this afternoon and post them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Sovereign Citizen

Patrick Weil has a new book out called The Sovereign Citizen.  My blogging confrère, Arun of Arun With a View, sent me a note a few weeks back saying that it was available.  I ordered it tout de suite and I finished reading it over the weekend.  This is one to add to the Flophouse Citizenship and International Migration Reading List.  All of Weil's books are brilliant and this one is no exception.

The topic of the book is the un-making of American citizens in the 20th century.  Two terms to know:  Denationalization which is the stripping of birthright citizenship from a citizen who obtained it through jus soli or jus sanguinis;  and denaturalization, the stripping of citizenship from those who obtained it through naturalization.

Citizenship for both types of citizens used to be conditional.  There were (and still are) acts that a person could commit, or sometimes even beliefs one could hold, that could get an individual denationalized/denaturalized faster than you can say "Emma Goldman. "  Some of them were: service in a foreign military, voting in a foreign election, marriage to a foreigner, residence abroad, membership in a blacklisted organization like the Communist party,  lying on a naturalization application, and crimes against humanity.

How common was this?  In the 20th century:  "The Soviet Union revoked the citizenship of 1.5 million individuals.  The Nazi regime denaturalized forty thousand people and revoked the citizenship of another forty thousand native-born citizens.  In France, between 1940 and 1944, the Vichy regime denaturalized fifteen thousand people and stripped the citizenship of five hundred native-born French nationals."

In Europe this was primarily occurred during the period of the two World Wars and had to do with states' reactions to that sanguinary conflict.  As for the United States of America however it all too often concerned individuals doing things that were considered "un-American."  Clearly it was (and still is) much safer to be a birthright citizen as opposed to a naturalized one.  Between 1907 and 1972 over 22,000 naturalized American citizens were stripped of their American citizenship.

Today it is very rare for any U.S. citizen to lose his or her citizenship.  It still happens but since the 1970's it is only those who have lied on their naturalization applications or committed war crimes who are subject to denaturalization.  Birthright citizen denationalizations are non-existent in our time.

How did that happen?  Weil documents the denationalization/denaturalization activities of the U.S. government in the first part of the 20th century and show how case by case in the latter part of the same century the U.S. Supreme Court made decisions that severely restricted the ability of the U.S. government to take citizenship away from any U.S. citizen.  In ruling after ruling all the old conditions on citizenship were swept away and today about the only way a birthright (jus soli or jus sanguinis) U.S. can lose that "right to have rights" is by voluntarily relinquishing or renouncing it.

Weil argues convincingly that this change came about not because of news laws but because the Court formulated a new and very unique conception of the origins of citizenship.  U.S. citizenship is derived from the Constitution of the United States of America (The Fourteenth Amendment), not from the U.S. Congress or government and certainly not from the changing winds of American public opinion.  In the decision to reverse Perez vs. Brownell the court wrote:
"We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to, and does, protect every citizen of this Nation, whatever his creed, color or race.  Our holding does not do more than to give to this citizen that which is his own, a constitutional right to remain a citizen in a free country unless he voluntarily relinquishes that citizenship."
Under the Constitution the citizen is sovereign here.  Not the state which has no right to strip an American citizen of his citizenship and his right to have rights.

How does this novel conception of citizenship play out in a globalized world?  There are some issues around U.S. citizenship that are of critical importance today.  One concerns the rights of American citizens accused of committing acts of terrorism and their right to due process under American law.  The Obama administration has had American citizens killed in foreign countries without going through the courts and it defends its right to do so if such citizens pose "an imminent threat of violent attack."  Hard to see how the U.S. government can get away with this argument though thus far it has.

The other issue is an open sore in the immigration debate in the United States and has to do with the children of undocumented aliens in the U.S.  These children are, under the Fourteenth Amendment, birthright citizens of the U.S.  However, there is no end it seems to efforts by U.S. lawmakers to strip these children of their birthright under the U.S. Constitution.  Hard to see how any of these effort would even come to fruition and they poison the discussion over immigration in the U.S. with serious consequences for the nation.

Patrick Weil talks about both of these cases.  I would like to add a third: "Accidental Americans."  These are people who have U.S. citizen by right of blood or birth on American soil but who are unknown to the U.S. government and who very often do not know themselves that they are U.S. citizens.  Under the extra-territorial U.S. legislation called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) which requires foreign banks to report to the IRS (or the local government) those individuals that the U.S. considers to be their citizens, these Americans abroad (known and unknown) are about to be revealed.  These citizens could number in the hundreds of thousands.  There are several unintended consequences to this:

The Security of U.S. Citizens Abroad:  It is a bit scary to think that lists of American citizens (complete with addresses and other identifying information) living in a country will be compiled by private entities (not governments). Depending on the country these lists could be made public and put American citizens in peril if they happen to be living in places where the United States is not loved.

Increase in the Number of U.S. Citizens in the World:  Some people, when informed by their banks, that they are U.S. citizens, will find this to be a pleasant surprise.  They will ask for and get U.S. passports.  Some surely will exercise their right to move to the U.S. Those who don't will nevertheless now understand that they are U.S. citizens and have a right (albeit limited) to the protection of the United States wherever they happen to be.  That is a huge responsibility.  And there are so many questions that cannot be answered today.  How many citizens will the U.S. discover as a result of FATCA?  What will be the impact of their being "outed" as citizens of a foreign power in the countries where they live?  What is the impact on U.S. embassies and consulates?  No one really knows.

Conflicts of Sovereignty:  Some will surely protest being told that they are U.S. citizens especially if it causes them trouble:  denial of banking services, for example, or the imposition of taxation.  To what extent will these people refuse to accept their status as dual citizens?  How many will ask their other country of citizenship for relief?  How will the U.S. and other countries resolve this?   Will there be cases, for example, brought before the European Court of Human Rights?  Will the EU recognize the United States' unqualified jus soli citizenship transmission as valid for those whose only attachment to the U.S. was to be born there and accept U.S. sovereignty over such persons?  Again, no one really knows how this will play out.

One last comment.  As an American abroad who has committed two acts that would have resulted in my being stripped of my U.S. citizenship in an earlier era (marriage to a foreigner and long-term residence in a foreign country) I was deeply grateful that the U.S. changed the rules so that I didn't have to live in fear of being expatriated against my wishes.  There was even a time when I was so uncertain about U.S. rules governing dual citizenship that I was very reticent about asking for citizenship in my country of residence.  Even today when I talk with homelanders in the United States about my life as an American abroad, I encounter people who in no uncertain terms tell me that I should have lost my citizenship long ago.

Good to know that it isn't up to them.

And here is a fine interview with Patrick Weil about Sovereign Citizen. 

The Sovereign Citizen par CentreHistoireSociale

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Flophouse in the New House

Got a note from a friend asking, "Did ya move?" and I'm pleased to say that we did on December 28th.

I thought about posting about it before but the trauma was so great I needed a few weeks to recover.

I also wanted to wait until the house was clean and reasonably in order before putting up any pictures (even discreet ones).  Well, the way things are going that might happen sometime in 2014.  I did manage to get all the stuff off the front porch so my neighbors wouldn't think that a bunch of Franco-American hillbillies just moved in next door.  (I mean really, what's next?  An old Renault 5 with no tires sitting on the front lawn? Though if one of my fellow Americans wants to come over and teach me how to make moonshine in the cellar, they might like that.)

We are still adjusting to living in a house and not in an apartment.  The other day I walked out onto the back porch and saw that the garbage can was filled to overflowing and realized that there was no longer a nice gardien (apartment manager) to take it out to the street for me.  If I wanted it taken care of I was going to have to go out and do it myself.  But I didn't know how.  And you can stop laughing right now because it turned out to be not as straightforward as I thought.  They pick up the garbage every other day here in Versailles but there are RULES.  You are to put out the garbage can on the sidewalk between 19:00 and 19:30.  Not before and not after.  You are to bring the garbage can back in before 9:00 in the morning.  It's all explained in a little booklet called "Versailles Grandparc:  Calendrier de collecte 2013."

I swear to God I read the entire thing and I still screwed it up.  It was Tuesday and the book said they would collect on "Me" Mercredi  (Wednesday).  So I put the can out on Tuesday evening where it sat and sat and sat.  I started to get really nervous about it.  I mean, what do I know?  I've never owned a house in France.  What if someone tips it over and it makes a mess in the street?  What if the garbage police come to my door to chastise me?  Turns out that when they say "Wednesday" then you put the can out on Wednesday evening between 7 and 7:30 PM.  Okay, I think I got it.  The next collection is "Ve" Vendredi (Friday) so I'm going to test my hypothesis and leave the can out on Friday evening at the proper time and see if they pick it up. If that works then I'm good.

I'm sure there will be many more adventures to come with lots of material for posts.  But for right now a few "thank you's" are in order:

Susan and Dewey from Pheonix, AZ:  Thanks so much for helping me with colors for the walls.  The gold/yellow in the living/dining room is just perfect.  You need to get on a plane right now and come see. :-)

Leila and Curtis Poe from the other side of Paris:  Curtis has one of my favorite blogs, Overseas Exile, and I had pleasure of meeting both of them before Christmas.  Curtis took some books off my hands and Leila made a suggestion for the color of the hallway which turned out to be inspired.

Mike from Dax:  Flophouse reader and friend, he drove all the up from southwest France to Versailles to help us move.  We couldn't  have done it without him.  The extra pair of hands made all the difference and he is one hell of a "Certified IKEA technician."  He gets a key to the house and he can come stay here anytime he likes.

My contractor and all the guys who worked on the house:  We got someone local (Porchefontaine) to do the heavy work on the house since I was just too sick at the time for us to do it ourselves.  This guy and his team turned out to be great.  Professional, efficient, and they brought the project in on time and on budget. If you live in or around the 78 and you need some work done, I recommend these guys without reservation.

The other day when we made yet another trip to the hardware store, we caved and got a Fidelity Card.  As we walked out of Leroy Merlin, the magnitude of what we have done washed over me.  Home ownership.  When the pipes leak, they are my pipes.  Same for roof problems, the dying shrubbery in the garden, and so on.

Ristic the contractor and I had a conversation one day where we exchanged sayings about houses (American on my side, French/Serb on his).  I said in the U.S. they were often compared to leaky boats.  He replied that the equivalent in French was an old pail with a hole in it and money pouring out the bottom.

Between the American and French fiscs and this 80 year old fixer-upper, I am doomed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Migration, Faith, and Hope

I learned this morning at Mass that today is the Journée Mondiale du Migrant et du Réfugié 2013 (Worldwide Migrant and Refugee Day).

And to my shock I discovered for the first time that the Catholic Church has something called La Pastorale des Migrants which is there  "pour aider les chrétiens migrants a prendre leur place en Eglise dans les pays ou ils vivent." (To aid Christian migrants find their place in the Church in the country where they live.)

This is a worldwide service (the Church is international in scope).  In France there is a bishop, Mgr. Laurent Dognin of Bordeaux,  who is responsible for the Service National de la Pastorale des Migrants.  Their website is here and I like very much their logo which has this quotation from Pope John Paul II:

As an American Catholic who had some trouble in the beginning finding her way in the French Church, I wish I had known that this organization existed.  But at least now I know where to orient people who are in the same situation.

Bon Dimanche!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The US, the UK and the EU

At first I thought the headline was a joke:  Obama administration warns Britain to stay in the European Union.   I double-checked and The Guardian is running the same story so there is basic agreement here on what was said and by whom.

In response to news that the UK may hold a referendum on membership in the EU, Philip H. Gordon of the U.S. State Department who was in London recently made it very clear what the United States thinks of that idea.
“We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU. That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.” 
“The EU in particular is such a critical partner for the United States on all of these global issues and therefore we also value a strong UK voice in that European Union. Britain has been such a special partner of the United States - that shares our values, shares our interests, and has significant resources to bring to the table. More than most others, its voice within the European Union is essential and critical to the United States."
Frankly I have never given a moment's thought to what the U.S. thinks of the EU.  Sure, I am vaguely aware that some right-wingers in the U.S. are pretty contemptuous of it but since I know many Europeans who have equal contempt for the American Right, I figured it was a draw and safe to ignore.  I've noticed however that when it really matters the U.S. and the EU seem to work pretty closely on security issues and migration.  

But the above statements by Mr. Gordon are practically a declaration of love.  The EU is not only a fine institution with a "growing relationship" with the US but it's at the level of "critical partner."  All Europeans should go out tomorrow and buy themselves bigger hats.  

All except for the Brits of course who only get one if they agree to stay on the team.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Citizenship Policy and Nation-State Security

Patrick Weil talks about three dimensions most commonly invoked when people talk about citizenship:  the affective, that sense of belonging and attachment;  the political/civic which means participation in the community;  and the legal, the "formal linkage" that is each individual's direct relationship with a nation-state.  The last two are tangible, manifested by concrete acts, formal processes, and papers like passports and voting registration cards.  But the first, the affective, isn't tangible at all.  No one can ever really know what's going on inside someone's head.  It is certainly possible to have a formal tie to a state with absolutely no particular affection behind it.  The reverse is also true - a person can have a deep and abiding love for a country without ever formalizing the relationship.

Individuals have strategies for making decisions about either the citizenship they already have or the ones they would like to obtain.  This is, of course, of deep interest to them personally but it is also of great interest to nation-states.  Does it matter that Americans abroad are taking on other citizenships (or renouncing) or that naturalizations in the U.S. are very low?  Of course it does.  Just as it matters very much when a high-profile figure like Monsieur Depardieu publicly accepts a passport from another state and says, "I am a citizen of the world."  It's not something that people are neutral about and it is quite naturally of deep concern to governments.  It changes how people view a citizenship in particular (or the idea of citizenship overall) and it impacts how states behave at home and abroad.  Dual citizenship can be complicated for an individual with all those intersecting rights and responsibilities - it is even more complex for states that must then make policy in response to it.

Why?  Because for one thing it has an important impact on the raison d'être of the state:  national security.

I came across this Master's thesis the other day when I was researching something else.  It's called Denationalized Citizenship Theory:  What is the role of citizenship theory in Homeland Security? by
Cherie A. Lombardi (Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, December 2011).  I don't have a link for it but it is available on-line as a PDF and you can Google it.  It's an interesting read not only for its synopsis of various formal theories of citizenship (and good links and books) but because the author gives some practical examples of how states struggle domestically and internationally with dual citizenship in a globalized world.  The author also had some recommendations for the U.S. security community based on her research one of which was a pleasant surprise for me as an American abroad.

Ho does citizenship theory and policy play out domestically?  One scenario Lombardi explores is the case of a dual Pakistani-American citizen who wants to work for the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation - you could call them the national police force in the U.S.) "But, before he is told what day he will start his new job, he is presented with one last form to complete and sign, a loyalty oath for dual citizens attesting that the United States of America will receive his primary loyalty while he works for the U.S. government."  So the FBI's policy here (formulated in response to de facto acceptance in the US of dual citizenship) is that duals may serve but they must declare themselves as being loyal to (and only to) the United States of America. If Americans weren't allowed to be duals then such a thing would be superfluous. Right?

Even more interesting is that, while the FBI has made such a policy, other U.S. government agencies don't necessarily have the same requirement.  Her research revealed:
Open source information shows that the same secondary loyalty oath (this is the FBI) (“secondary” due to the fact that it is an oath to be signed in addition to the required oath of any U.S. civil servant when starting the job) is required by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) whenever a dual citizen wants to join the organizations but, a call to the human resources section of the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed no such loyalty oath is required of dual citizens seeking employment in that organization. 
What this says is that the U.S. government doesn't have one particular policy that applies to dual citizens in the U.S.who wish to work for the Federal government.  Instead this appears to be managed agency by agency and apparently some choose to not have any formal policy (though you cannot tell me that they are indifferent to the citizenship(s) of their employees.) 
"This situation symbolizes the lack of any formal consensus regarding dual citizenship, even among federal agencies, let alone the entire homeland security community."
Moving from the domestic to the international Lombardi talks about the changing context which is in part about the growing acceptance by so many countries in the world of dual citizenship.  Latin America, for example, changed its citizenship laws to allow it and that had a huge impact on the ability of immigrants to the U.S. to retain their prior nationality even after becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.  

But the other part which is equally significant is the ability of those duals, thanks to advanced communication technologies, to maintain a strong link with their other country of citizenship.  As an migrant myself from the U.S. I have been personally rather grateful for  these things because they have enabled me to maintain some contact with my home country and even, if I choose to do so, to be occasionally active in political life there.  I am willing to admit, however, that there are some situations where this could be problematic.   

Let's imagine, for example, a situation where one country was undergoing some sort of internal strife and duals used the host country as a base to support one side or another - even to the extent of trying to get  the host country or other country of citizenship to do something about it.  Lombardi points out that such a situation has in fact existed for years in the U.S.  Cuban-Americans have been very active in U.S. politics and have tried to influence how the U.S. manages its relationship with Cuba.  In France during the recent election some French politicians tried to win votes with the French-Armenian population by supporting some of their claims.

What is legitimate here and what isn't can be a tough call.  Duals are still citizens of both countries and have a voice and the right to use that voice in both.  Where is the line?  

The question is more than just academic for all parties.  Immigrants and duals can get into real trouble here with one or the other government.  For immigrants and duals in the U.S. Lombardi cautions them because:  
Currently, under the PATRIOT Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act,  many of the activities that many immigrants would consider only to be assisting the political opposition, or freedom fighters, back home fall into the legal category of providing material support to terrorists, which renders them ineligible for most immigration benefits and status in the United States.
That's a policy that effectively limits what a dual can do in support of the home country (or elements within it).  Aside from the law I think there is a kind of moral contract operating here as well.  When it comes to the political activities, there are lines most of us do not cross and things that we do not do as a dual (or as a legal resident in another country far from home) because one suspects trouble - either potential legal problems (even if you are unsure of the exact policy of the state in question) or the moral outrage of the citizens of one or the other country. 

I would argue that states do have a legitimate interest in those activities but Lombardi is right - it is not always so clear for the individual.  Another example (just for fun):  Let's say someone is a French-American dual citizen and sends money and offers open public support to organizations in the U.S. to maintain the death penalty?  What if this person had some contacts in the French government and tried to lobby politicians and bureaucrats to either support the U.S. internationally or turn a blind to its activities?  I'm sure that death penalty supporters in the U.S. would be thrilled.  But would the French nation have a legitimate problem with that kind of behaviour?  I am not sure what the French government (or the EU) would say but I'm pretty sure the French people I know would be furious.

Lombardi completes her analysis with some recommendations.  I won't go over all of them here (gives you an incentive to read the paper) but I was surprised by this paragraph buried in the final pages of the thesis:
"The other lesson to be learned from all the discussion about how sending nations are trying to use their immigrant populations to affect U.S. policy is that the United States also has its own migrant population living in other nations around the world, and they too may serve as America’s voice in foreign lands. While it is beyond the scope of this thesis to recommend the use of Americans overseas to influence the policies of other nations, this is a call for the homeland security community to recognize and consider U.S. citizens living abroad as a resource for information collection and dissemination as well as contacts within other nations. Though the international aspect of homeland security is mentioned in both the National Security Strategy and the National Strategy for Homeland Security the role of U.S. citizens living abroad appears under-recognized and under-utilized by the homeland security community." 
May I humbly suggest that propositions of this nature must await the resolution of the American Diaspora Tax War of 2012/2013?  Frankly, I don't think we are in the mood right now.  :-)

Still, it might be a basis for negotiation and it sure was nice to get a nod.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Three Cheers for the Taxpayer Advocate Service

And the American Taxpayer Advocate Service, our voice at the U.S. IRS, has done it again - come out swinging on behalf of Americans abroad.

In their 2012 Report to Congress (and many thanks to ACA for the link on Facebook) they once again take issue with how the IRS is conducting its business with respect to U.S. citizens living outside the U.S.  One section concerns folks who were unaware of a little known filing obligation called the FBAR (Form TD F 90–22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).  Failure to file can lead to fines of up to 10,000 USD per account.

As the word has spread of this requirement many Americans abroad are living in a state of panic and fear.  Confusion reigns. There is no clear path to compliance even for those who would be more than happy to provide the information.  It's a real mess.

 The IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs Discourage 
Voluntary Compliance by Those Who Inadvertently Failed to Report Foreign Accounts

TAS says that the IRS has turned this situation into a real nightmare by treating people who made an innocent mistake (many of them lower or middle-income people aka "The Minnows") the same way they treat those who willfully and criminally evade U.S. tax and reporting requirements (the rich tax evaders aka "The Whales").
"As discussed in prior reports, these programs applied a resource-intensive, burdensome, punitive, one-size-fits-all approach designed for “bad actors” to “benign actors” who inadvertently violated the rules."
TAS says that IRS actually discouraged people from fixing the problem themselves (by just filing the damn missing 1040's and FBARs which is called a "quiet disclosure") once they became aware of the requirement by insisting that the non-compliant needed instead to go into one of the special programs for tax evaders (OVD) which meant hiring lawyers and going through a very complicated, bureaucratic (and dare we say it) punitive process.  Talking to some of the people who did I can only say that I am surprised that any of them are still sane.  

I agree with TAS 100%.  I remember reading that IRS FAQ which had these encouraging words,  "Those taxpayers making “quiet” disclosures should be aware of the risk of being examined and potentially criminally prosecuted for all applicable years."  So if you made an innocent mistake and try to make it right, we will still consider sending you to jail?  How comforting.

That and the horror stories coming out from all around the world of people's experiences in the OVD program had a chilling effect on everyone else who were still trying to determine what to do.  People became too afraid to do anything lest they run the risk of losing their houses, pensions plans, life savings and so on.  TAS is right again.  If the goal of the IRS was to get people to voluntary comply, they blew it.

And TAS is once again right on the money when they talk about the new IRS compliance program for non-resident non-filers.  Again the language is very unclear.  Apparently one can qualify if one is "low risk" but they don't define what that is.  That's not much help and given what went on before, no one trusts them anymore.  I would be very surprised if they get many takers.

And for the cerise sur le gateau (cherry on the cake) TAS announces in the report that IRS initiatives to communicate and educate people about their filing/reporting obligations are being abandoned.  They are giving up.  The FBAR Compliance Initiative Project has been shut down.  The FBAR Stop Filer Program never got off the ground and they aren't working on it anymore. 
"In addition, the IRS has not conducted in-person presentations about the FBAR filing requirements in foreign countries, even in countries where it has a tax attaché and a significant number of residents are required to file."
Excuse me?  I'm not sure I read that correctly.   I'm still meeting people here in France who have no clue about FBARs.  Welcome to a globalized world.  Americans citizens and Green Card holders move in and out of the U.S. all the time.  Immigrants are still coming to the U.S. and they had lives before they crossed that border which included bank accounts.  Are they really saying that no effort is going to be made so that these folks don't end up in the same pile of merde as those of us who came before? 
"This approach sends the message that the IRS will spend resources to punish, but not to educate, U.S. citizens abroad."
Perhaps homelanders will accuse me of being too negative  (when they aren't calling me a cowardly, traitorous, guilty until proven innocent, potential evil tax-evading Benedict Arnold) but that is exactly the message I am getting from the homeland government.

And the only bright spot I can point to today is that there is one lonely voice in that government that sees the situation clearly and is trying to get it fixed.  From the bottom of my heart, TAS, thank you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I was under the Eiffel Tower last week with a friend who clearly was far more observant and aware of his surroundings than I was.  As I was strolling along oblivious to anything but Eiffel's majestic structure, he was paying attention and saw the team of pickpockets working the crowd and told me to watch my purse.

Some days I really wonder if I should be allowed to walk outside my home without an escort.

Then yesterday evening I came across an article and a video on-line at the New Yorker featuring the work of the pickpocket Apollo Robbins of Las Vegas, USA.  The article by Adam Green (a very good read) can be found here.

And here is the video in which Mr. Robbins gives us all a practical demonstration of his skill.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Citizenship - Who Decides?

A few months ago I was walking down the street to the train station when a French woman came up to me and struck up a conversation.  At that time it was clear that I was going through chemo and, as it turned out, so was she.  Nice lady and we exchanged phone numbers. In the course of our conversation she told me something I found rather fascinating:  Through she spoke no English (or Spanish) she claimed to have been born in the United States in one of the southern states (Texas, I think).  However, her family left the U.S. when she was very young and she had never been back, not even once,  in her entire life.

Owing to the oddness of American citizenship law - that very radical form of jus soli (citizenship via place of birth) that the U.S. practices - that woman is legally just as much an American citizen as I am.  If she chose to do so, she could ask for and receive a U.S. passport, live and work in the U.S., and vote in U.S. elections.  A simple matter really since all she would need to prove this would be a copy of her birth certificate - something that can be ordered on-line from many jurisdictions in the U.S.for a mere pittance.

She was not unaware of this fact.  Her words were, "Je peux" (I could) be an American citizen if I wanted to be one, though she really didn't see any interest in pursuing it.  For her this was a possibility, a potential future, an avenue that she had the right to walk down if she chose to do so.  She was both right and wrong.  Right in knowing her rights.  Wrong in thinking that it was entirely up to her.  By American law she is an American citizen just as she is a French one.  One by just soli (right of soil) and the other by jus sanguinis (right of blood).  This is a fact, not a choice.

But in all her years the U.S. never reached out to embrace her and if you stopped any American on the street in homeland America and asked him or her whether this charming Frenchwoman was a full member of the political community called The United States of America I suspect the answer would be a resounding, "of course not." And she would agree with him.  For both sides something more would be needed - an act, for example, that would demonstrate a desire, a willingness, to be a part of that community.  A desire that clearly she did not have.

So here we have a rather interesting situation:  An American in the homeland would say that she is not an American.  She herself would concur since she sees herself only as someone with the potential to become one, not a full-fledged citizen.  But from the point of view of the U.S. government (and one has to wonder if the French government would agree) she is both American and French.  This means that both have rights over her person.  End of story.  But in all her years, no effort was ever made by the U.S. government to exert sovereignty over her.  In fact, I doubt they know she exists though clearly a time is coming soon when her French bank will know and will, if I understand the law correctly, inform the French government of this fact.  I have to wonder what all this revealing of America's "Accidentals" living in the 190+ countries of the world will mean.  Surely for some it will be a pleasant surprise.  For others not so much.

But it did raise the question in my mind of what would happen if a sufficient number of people outside the U.S. upon being informed of their status as U.S. citizens simply stood up and said, "This is rubbish" and rejected any attempt by the U.S. government to exert sovereignty over their persons?

Does the individual have the right of refusal when it comes to citizenship?  A person can renounce but in renouncing (and going to interviews, filling out the paperwork and paying the applicable exit taxes) is that person not admitting that this other state has sovereignty over him or her?   In the end, in this conflict of dueling citizenships who would decide and is there any recourse for those who don't wish to be considered the citizen of a foreign state to which they have the most tenuous of connections? Is there a higher law or custom that would apply?  Are there any limits to the ability of a state to ascribe nationality/citizenship to an individual?

All good questions.  Just for fun and because I'm feeling perky and curious I tried to answer them.  Here is what I came up with.  As always feel free to correct me if you find errors or disagree.

Does the individual have the right of refusal when it comes to citizenship?

The citizenship laws of nation-states are for the most part a purely domestic matter.  The Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Law says very clearly:

Article 1.
It is for each State to determine under its own law who are its nationals. This law shall be recognised by other States in so far as it is consistent with international conventions, international custom, and the principles of law generally recognised with regard to nationality.

Article 2.
Any question as to whether a person possesses the nationality of a particular State shall be determined in accordance with the law of the State.

Article 3.
Subject to the provisions of the present Convention, person having two or more nationalities may be regarded as its national by each of the States whose nationality he possesses.

So the short answer to the question, "Does the individual have the right of refusal when it comes to citizenship?" is a clear "no."  If the French decide you are French under the French citizenship laws then that's the way it is.  A person can, of course, renounce but citizenship/nationality is clearly a status that the individual has no control over (unless of course he or she obtains it through naturalization).

Are there any limits to the ability of a state to ascribe nationality/citizenship to an individual?

Now this is where it gets interesting.  As a practical matter it is clear that there are limits.  The United States of America cannot simply decide to turn the entire French nation into American citizens with the stroke of a pen.  I'm not sure what principle this would defy but it seems that it might fall under one of the exceptions in Article 1 above that calls for consistency with international conventions and customs.

One very interesting article I found on-line talks about (and criticizes) something called the "genuine link" doctrine that was used (and perhaps still is) to limit the right of a state to ascribe nationality/citizenship to an individual.  It says that there must be some sort of legitimate attachment in existence before a state can claim someone as "theirs."  And this link is?    “A legal bond having as its basis a social fact of attachment, a genuine connection of existence, interests and sentiments, together with the existence of reciprocal rights and duties.”  In my mind this raised more questions than it answered.  Going back to the Frenchwoman I talked about above, the legal bond exists but there is no real attachment behind it.  Or is there?  Is the mere fact that she was born on U.S. soil sufficient in the eyes of the United States to create a permanent and abiding attachment?  Given that she was aware of her rights, is it unreasonable to say that she should also be aware of her duties even if the connection is inactive?  To put it another way, should she be held to the obligations of that yet to be actualized citizenship and pay, for example, U.S. taxes?  Or, for another example, could she called upon to defend the U.S. and her Constitution if these things were under attack?  Could she be considered a traitor if she didn't?

What I gathered as I read is that international law around citizenship is practically non-existent.  Nothing is explicit. The only thing that states seem to be able to agree upon is that jus soli and jus sanguinis are the two customary methods by which citizenship is transmitted and that's about it.   If you have information to the contrary I would be most interested in knowing it.

Can states enforce their sovereignty over its nationals wherever they may be?

Final question and the answer is 'yes" and they do it all the time if they are sufficiently motivated and an opportunity presents itself.  States may not be able to immediately force compliance in some cases if the individual is living in another country but they can and do (if they are so motivated) go after that person or detain him at the border if he or she tries to enter the other country to visit family or just to visit. 

The excellent Dual Nationality FAQ has these cautions to offer naturalized and "Accidental" citizens who enter another country of nationality.  The example here uses the example of U.S. birthright or naturalized citizens but what he says is equally true of other countries as well.

"So, even after becoming a naturalized US citizen, you should still check carefully with diplomatic officials both of the US and of the "old country" before going back for a visit. If you get arrested there for draft evasion, for voicing opinions about their government while you were in the US which are considered taboo in the old country, or for whatever other reason -- or if you find yourself forced into their armed forces -- you may very well find that the US can't help you too much, because the other country will insist you're one of their own citizens and that the matter is therefore none of the US's $@&%# business.

This same word of caution may also apply to people who were born in the US, but whose parents (or even grandparents) came from somewhere else. Many countries have laws conferring citizenship on the basis of the citizenship of one's parents or grandparents (even the US has a limited law of this kind). I personally knew someone, some years ago, who got into trouble in South Korea because his father was born in Korea. Even though my friend was born in the US and had never claimed or believed himself to be a Korean citizen, he had to cut short his visit to his ancestral homeland in order to avoid being drafted into the South Korean army."

So there you have it.  Rather chilling isn't it?  I will stop there and get ready to take my train into Paris.

As always your comments would be most welcome.