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Congress? Give Republicans What They Deserve

Posted on October 9, 2016 at 9:05 AM

Congress: Give Republicans What They Deserve


The NPR commentator says, “Why?” Why have Republicans suddenly decided to abandon their support of Trump? Especially noting that those in ‘battleground states’ who are running for Congress as Republicans are taking a very active role in that abandonment.


Journalist 2 replies, saying, “That’s a real good question!”


Really? You think so?


And Paul Ryan - showing up at a rally to say that, despite the fact that he is not there to talk about Trump’s sexist comments, frankly he is really disgusted personally – and he really wonders what the heck is not right with a certain candidate for, you know, President.


Gee, I’m feeling a little clairvoyant then: I think I know why. And Paul, I’m really disgusted with, well, your disingenuous disgust. Because what is going on here is precision-driven. This party has had to – and has been planning for a long while to derail or split their support at the last minute if Trump turned out to be the crazy candidate he always promised to be – because, well, actual Republican Senators and real Republican House members, are trying to be re-elected. Or elected.


So let’s GLOAT OVER the PEOPLE’S POWER to change the course of Congress!


Who’s on the ballot? How many Senators are affected? How many Representatives are involved? Standing Republicans seeking re-election themselves or seeking to get another Republican elected to their already-Republican state or district?


I have been saying (for years) that we must get rid of the current Congress and get a new Congress, one that will actually do something. I could say, instead, do something good.


So, just to be clear, these are the people who spent THE LAST YEARS FAILING to coordinate politically with both the other side and our President, Barack Obama, and did nothing (except for themselves, the NRA and their own favorite pork projects) while holding high office.


These are the Republican Senators to VOTE AGAINST:

Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire)

Roy Blunt (Missouri)

John Boozman (Arkansas)

Richard Burr (North Carolina)

Dan Coat’s seat (Indiana) retiring in 2016

Mike Crapo (Idaho)

Chuck Grassley (Iowa)

John Hoeven (North Dakota)

Johnny Isakson (Georgia)

Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)

Mark Kirk (Illinois)

James Lankford (Oklahoma)

Mike Lee (Utah)

John McCain (Arizona)

Jerry Moran (Kansas)

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)

Rand Paul (Kentucky)

Rob Portman (Ohio)

Marco Rubio (Florida)

Tim Scott (South Carolina)

Richard Shelby (Alabama)

John Thune (South Dakota)

Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)

David Vitter’s seat (Louisiana) retiring in 2016


Again, in every one of these cases, vote for the Democratic candidates.


For those of you who are foreigners or did not have Government in high school, there are two houses to Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, the figures are even more dramatic: Yes, it is hard to believe, but according to www.ballotpedia.org, there are 19 Republicans who are actually retiring rather than run again. Luckily, there are only 9 do-nothing Democrats retiring in this election.


Currently, 24 of the 435 House seats, of those that are up for election this November, are expected to be competitive. (Many go always to the party-in-power.) And the general feeling of those reporting on such things is that there is doubt that the Democrats could become a majority in the House.


The current make-up of the Congress is: 187 Democrats and 247 Republicans. This totals 434 and there are 435 seats (one is empty pending a special election).


If ALL 24 seats classified as ‘truly competitive’ were to go to the Democrats, the House would have 211 Democrats and 223 Republicans. THAT WOULD BE AN EXCELLENT RESULT! Vote for the Democrats and DO YOUR PART to balance the powers of the two dominant parties in the House of Representatives.


In fact, in a long list of districts, the House winner is expected to win by less than 5 percent! So be SURE to VOTE AGAINST any Republicans in these Congressional races. If the Democrat is an incumbent, hard questions must be answered to gain your vote. IF the Democrat is brand-new to the race, great – go for it.


Representative races for 18 districts are already called a “toss up.” Decide to change that now – in a positive, Democratic direction. Then there are those that are leaning Democratic, which already total more than those districts that are leaning Republican. Hurray!


Should things get even closer, an additional 8 districts’ Representatives will be in danger. (www.ballotpedia.org)


As well, it’s going to be a very exciting general election for Congress – an ‘open season’ in a way – since not many ‘incumbents’ were defeated in their own party primary races. So the boring old Congress members are still carrying most of their ticket places on the ballots.


Back to the question that the national journalist is asking: “Why?” are the Republicans playing a self-destructive take-back, play-back dodge - and so near the touchdown line? Because they want to do nothing to create a consistent public policy while, at the same time, protect with evasive excuses their abuses of their positions of public service. They want to NOT be sucked down with the dross flowing from Trump’s campaign mouth, but also manage to evade losing their privileges. The problem is that their privilege is, actually, to act - positively and together - to take positions that HELP the health, safety and welfare of the people in their states and districts. Along with guiding foreign policy in positive and effective directions, this is the ONLY thing they are asked to do while in Congress. And, for the most part, they have not been doing it.


So, welcome to the insanity! But be sure to toss most of the Republicans’ back-pedaling bull into the garbage where it belongs, by voting Democratic. And DO try to vote for someone with the public’s good at heart when you make your choice for your Congressional Senators and Representatives. You know what result I would like. I actually care about the people of the United States of America. Make me happy.

...

 

- June Edvenson is an American attorney and former candidate for Judge in Cook County, Illinois, for the Republican party. As such, she could say what she believed and thought should be changed, while knowing that the Democratic machine was sufficiently entrenched and corrupt to assure the delivery of the victory to all Democrats in the general elections. She is now an American living and working overseas and has already cast her ballot for President and members of Congress by absentee ballot from her last permanent residency in the U.S. She encourages all Americans in the U.S. and overseas to vote in all elections in which they qualify to vote.

 

Police Behavior on the Lovely Gulf Coast - May, 2015

Posted on May 29, 2015 at 1:05 AM

Police behavior on the lovely Gulf Coast: May, 2015

 

While Americans were cursing the grand jury’s announcement not to prosecute police officers from Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown’s police-caused death – and then exploding in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s police-caused death, I was, I thought, basking in the sunshine of the Gulf coast. I was also working, but in any case, I felt removed from the violence, despite the strong notion that the neighborhood I was in was distinctly white because of the many condominium projects in the area, whose private rules control entry to ownership.


I dutifully picked up my neighbor’s paper every morning since they were out of town, enjoying the local “Gulf” news, police blotter hilarities, and the Florida governor’s shell game excuses for not permitting the state to expand Medicaid.


So it was a soft surprise to read that police in Sarasota County to the south had managed to land someone they were picking up in the hospital where he quite promptly died. Let’s not say he was black, but he wasn’t white either. Off the radar, they probably thought. Let’s say he appeared disturbed when stopped in a car by police, along with another relative deadbeat. Drugs were found. Good reason to die today? He was handcuffed and put into the police cruiser. End of story? He was really upset and emotionally distraught – word was that he was afraid of losing custody of his children – or visitation, something like this. They lived in the area. He was a local - with a history of minor problems on his chart. Good reason to die? He claimed he couldn’t breathe and felt sick, police say, so they called for medical support. When he looked like he felt more stable, they cancelled the call. Is that a police ‘call’ to make? He managed somehow to climb out the window of the police car when it was stopped somewhere en route, while also being handcuffed, and police ‘apprehended him’ again taking him into custody within a half minute or so. Reason to then taser him three times? What is a taser doing out when he is already apprehended? Time to teach him not to climb out the window of the police car when he actually wants to get away? Even if he is mentally challenged, a good reason he should die? Over a traffic stop with drugs in the car? Reason to taser someone? He was also beaten on the head with the officer’s large flashlight. Reason to be beaten on the head with a virtual club? While in custody with hands bound? Reason to die today? Or tomorrow, as he generously lived longer than that day, I think. And his kids are where? How old? Reason to leave them fatherless? When he loved them? Reason a taser is to be used? When? Only when? The police flashlight? When? Only when you need to see something you can’t see – right? And the paper is acting like this is all just ho-hum news. The next day the same – more details, more ho hum news? Then a glimmer of the word, investigation – by whom? By when? A review of police procedures not mentioned. But, as the paper notes, “Just four minutes after he was stopped by Sarasota Police, John Paul Kaafi was Tasered three times and beaten with a flashlight.”


A couple days pass, and news arrives on the neighbor’s doorstep that a young man has died of police gunshots near a pier in St. Petersburg, just a hop skip jump north. He was apparently distressed, was on medication that he felt was not addressing his needs, was brandishing a gun. He managed to shoot a man in the arm, then shoot a police officer in the leg. When challenged by police to drop the gun, he acted like well, hey, shouldn’t he use it? Weren’t they scared? He reportedly said, “Go ahead and kill me.” So they shot him: dead. Reason to die? Fear of police and highly reactionary mental instability? When asked, a friend tellingly told radio reporters, to the effect, ‘I really hope he will not be remembered as someone who wanted to hurt police: that wasn’t who he was at all. He was just confused and afraid.’ Fear and confusion apparently is a real good reason in police circles for police to kill an unstable and beautiful young man. Story over – end of story – end of history.

 

What is the reason to kill an unstable and unattractive man whose car is not perfect and has drugs in the car? What is the reason?


What is the reason to kill an unstable and attractive young man who was brandishing a gun and was said to say, “Go ahead and kill me” before police shot him? Are police allowed to kill a young man who is obviously deranged and distressed if he gives them permission to do so, supposedly? Isn’t there a way to take down a person in this circumstance without killing them? Have we forgotten how to disable danger? Yes apparently. Have we forgotten how to prioritize the preservation of human life? Yes, absolutely.


Now the demilitarization of the police in the US is already called for – decades after it should have begun. What is also needed is a complete overhaul of how police intercept public persons at all levels of incident. What must happen is that life must be respected and preserved, despite a man – or woman’s – criminal behavior, stupidity, meanness, filmic brandishing, or the usual subterfuges. And as for those who are mentally unstable, ill and fear police, they are certainly more sane these days than those that club them, taser them and shoot them.


The level of disgust these stories generate should be multiplied a thousand-fold if even one life would be saved. A flashlight is for seeing things. A Taser is for stopping ongoing criminal misconduct that cannot be otherwise controlled, not punishing those caught in today’s terrible stranglehold of a police ‘pull-over’ and detention. A man’s call for medical assistant should be respected. And a young man with a gun is to be disarmed - not killed, then helped to find stability in his health and life.

 



-June Edvenson is an American attorney who lives and works in Norway, where police do not generally carry guns but are considering distribution of Tasers. She writes for publication, consults on international legal issues and teaches part-time.

 

Olympics stand-off in Norway bodes change

Posted on September 7, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Many real experts and political ploy-boys have been weighing in on suggested plans for a Winter Olympics in Norway. It's been going on for over a year already and the suggested date of execution was to be 2022.  Now, instead of experts being ignored, we are seeing movement at the top. Norway's main newspaper is taking on the hot potato. Here are some comments on my part, and a translation of the editorial, published Sept. 6, 2014.  First my remarks.


The Olympics are run by a non-transparent pomp-and-puff assemblage of royalty, sheiks, barons and famous, a Swiss corporation without banking transparency whose top activity is to assemble media dollars and pass them on to sports organizations it independently selects for encouragement. Within its global monopoly, it alone decides how much money is enough money to run an Olympics, and refuses to contribute more than a very small portion to the actual costs of producing the games. It uses the argument that a host country will, as a result of bearing most of the costs of creating the facilities and running the games, experience a surplus of value that is readily put to uses which make the initial investments worth it . . . when, in fact, Olympics facilities are not appropriate or continually useful for most countries who have hosted them, and cause their losses in infrastructure to simply create un-sustainable and worldwide facility junk. The IOC is also not involved in de-structuring a games venue, nor in re-applying previous game venues in order to save future country host funds. It’s a continuous, ever-spiraling-upward display of mythic show that is not appropriate for a shrinking world in which even host countries struggle to balance their budgets for the health, welfare and the education of their citizenry. It utilizes, as now constituted, an unsustainable business model, and scorns suggestions that it should be re-organized. Better yet, it needs to be placed into global non-profit administration, and it shields itself from change in part through posturing poorly-detailed ‘finessing’ financial reports. What I’d like to see is more of an audit report, not a financial report – a management audit report.


But then that’s about my preferences. Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed my share of televised Olympic game moments of enjoyment. But that doesn’t mean that the business of putting on an Olympics doesn’t deserve a major overhaul – and now! Norway’s primary newspaper has now weighed in on the possibility that Norway would host the 2022 Winter games at Oslo. Since this paper dropped their English translation/version services, I’ve made a fair translation of it, below. Here’s to those interested in reading what the Aftenposten editorial has to say, which is succinct and, as well, a fair and proud display of what Norway’s egalitarian business culture values look like in practice. Enjoy!


Aftenposten newspaper, Friday, September 5, 2014, Oslo, Norway

 

“No to the Oslo OL.


THESE DAYS, the Norwegian government is handling Oslo's application for a governmental 'State's guarantee' for hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022. The subsequent parliamentary proceedings will conclude whether Oslo shall next year submit a final application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).


We believe that Parliament should say no. The Olympics has become an event with a desperate need for fundamental changes and renewal. The best signal Norway can give about this is to join the long list of countries that have withdrawn their applications. RIGHT BEFORE the referendum in Oslo a year ago, Aftenposten expressed support for an Oslo Olympics. However, our 'Yes' was conditional. We have made it clear that the Olympics cannot be arranged at any price.


The IOC that turned up during the Sochi Olympics strengthened our skepticism concerning an organization that still clings to special rules and privileges.


We have seen that the IOC expects that the sponsoring country is giving the organization special treatment regarding taxes and fees. Or, as it says in the requirement specifications to applicant cities: "It is important to minimize tax exposures." What may be the upshot of this remains unclear, but this attitude witnesses, alone, global remoteness and pathetic arrogance which can cost Norway dearly.


Culture Minister, Torhild Widwey (Right party) tried to get exemptions from parts of the IOC rules when the provisional application was submitted in March, precisely to secure more national control over the event. That move caused the IOC to set its foot down very decidedly.


The Government therefore accepted the Olympic Charter without modifications. That doesn't mean that Norway is without influence in a further process concerning framing conditions and the events program, for it seems like, also, the IOC can see the need for something more modest. However, the regulatory framework provides an unacceptable level of uncertainty regarding cost responsibility for an event which, according to the most cautious estimates, will cost approximately 25 billion Norwegian crowns.


Under intense pressure from the negative public polls and hesitant national politicians, the Oslo 2022 planning group proposed this past week cuts that will save the public about 4.3 billion Norwegian crowns.


The proposal is understandable, but it is getting an undeniable and desperate tone when an arranger is pointing to the cultural opportunities that they themselves are rejecting. More importantly, several of the cuts undermine some of the arguments for the Olympics, namely the re-use of new sports facilities and apartments. Neither will an Olympics consistent with the proposed savings be a desirable option.


The OL is a national effort. The state pays almost the entire bill. Therefore we have throughout this entire process been concerned with the fact that the games must have broad support from the entire country. Today, one year after the referendum in Oslo, we must note that this is not the case. On the contrary, polls show that resistance has increased. Opposition in northern Norway is formidable and in no part of the country is there a 'yes' majority.


We think this attitude is based on healthy skepticism. The re-use' argument is not strong enough to justify the costs, and the Olympics will not in any way give Oslo the sports facilities the city has most need for.


Norway's remaining competitors are China and Kazakhstan, countries we generally find no reason to compare ourselves with, and regimes that do not tend to ask their populations about what they would like to spend money on. This also gives ominous signals that the Olympics have become a 'prestige project' and a money sink-hole Norway should not support.”

 

Get Out. Get the Hell Out: Musings on the Summer News in Norway

Posted on July 22, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Get out. Get the hell out:

Musings on the Summer News


Nice to be globalized, isn’t it? Didn’t we look forward to this for like, well, perhaps the last 10 or 20 years? After all, we are most of what we know exists in the universe that is alive. (By ‘we,’ I mean everything on the Earth that can think and that is alive including whales.) Most of what we know is happening on this planet. But, what? Have to live together in the same space? Forget it. We know we have to, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. And we don’t do that very well all the time because, well, our moods vary.


Plus, why not kill whales when we know we can, like Norway does, despite the global ban? Isn’t that part of the ongoing discussion related to the ‘civilization of the species?’ By that, I here mean just homo sapiens – which, by the way, means, rather pathetically, ‘wise man.’ Don’t talk to us about killing whales, Norway says: talk to us about global climate change.


Back to the summer news. To wit, “Berlin expels American spy chief as strains grow,” headlines the International New York Times on July 11th. Apparently, the CIA’s “station chief, who has not been identified” “has been asked to leave Germany.” Well, if he hasn’t been identified, couldn’t he just disappear instead? So they asked another CIA officer, who said “It’s one thing to kick lower-level officers out; it’s another thing to kick the chief of station out,” which, frankly, seems like a no-brainer to me, because, well, they are different.


Then there’s the latest row over the Obama administration’s choice for Norway’s next Ambassador to Norway from the United States, a Mr. George J. Tsunis. I try not to weigh in on such arguments – primarily because I worked in the Illinois state’s bureaucracy for enough years to know that no boss runs the show; the people who work there as civil servants do. Occasionally, a political appointee can claim to have improved matters more than they detracted from the generally tortoise pace of things of State, although that’s also rather rare.


But the fuss continues: The opinion page headline reads: “Fabian Stang har rett til å fortelle presidenten hva han mener,” meaning that Fabian Stang, the Mayor of Oslo, has the right to tell the President what he thinks, with the tag line, “Skiv til Obama!” or Write to Obama! According to the Aftenposten newspaper of July 20, quite a few people have gotten on the ‘No to Tsunis for Ambassador to Norway’ bandwagon. They claim he shouldn’t even get in, let alone be told to ‘Get out.’ They want him gone before he arrives. He’s unqualified and the whole appointment smacks of political pork. I do something for you (like give Obama lots of money for his campaign), and you do something for me (like send me to Norway as Ambassador from the U.S.). I don’t know; I think the pork scales don’t really ‘add up’ on this one. If I had something to say to Mr. Tsunis, it would be, “Listen, you don’t really want to move here, you know? You think you know how it would be to live in Norway, but frankly, it’s not all a bowl of cherries – there are lots of problems – most of which you can’t influence no matter who you are, and if you try to argue any sense into the government, you’d surely fail since they are not interested in listening to anyone who is not, well, them.


But no, in this latest article, it is noted that the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang (who I really really like, besides the fact that his name is Fabian and I still have my Fabian tear pillow which I actually cried real crocodile tears into when I was a teenager), would like to send President Obama a letter regarding Mr. Tsunis’s appointment – to express several points of opinion on this. The main one is, the Aftenposten confides, that never has the U.S. planned to send an Ambassador who is so thoroughly unqualified for the position, and Oslo is intrinsically engaged at all levels because that’s where he would live and where the Embassy is. Tsunis may be unqualified but I could have told him that. But should a Mayor of a city send a letter to the U.S. President? Well, if I can, Fabian, you can too. We have more democracy in the U.S. than you do here in Norway, anyway. Go for it.


Why, Fabian, I once sent a letter to Norway’s Secretary of State, Kjell Magne Bondevik. He was to host a conference sponsored by Norway against terrorism in New York City associated with the United Nations. I felt I could assist in that work. I also needed a job and was seeking appropriate connections desperately. He did not even write back. No one did. But once you move to Norway, you find out that no one ever does. It’s like we well-qualified foreigners are invisible, which is how Norwegians like us best.


While we’re on the subject of banishing people, let’s include the needy and unemployed, who are banished from Svalbard, the island Norway calls its own, located within the Arctic Circle. According to the New York Times of July 11, a remarkably good issue, “Arctic archipelago banishes the needy.” Svalbard’s Governor, Odd Olsen Ingero, has a police staff of 6, one detention cell, no one has been locked up since last summer, and that was only for two days. Why, you ask? Because you aren’t allowed to be unemployed, for one thing. As the article notes, Ayn Rand would love this place. If you aren’t employed, you are deported. “If you don’t have a job,” says Ingero,” you can’t live here.” Great. I love it.


Tell this (again) to the Norwegian government, whose most recent manifestation as a Høyre–FrP mix is less like a conservative government, and more like a quiz on Conservative Politics 101. Summer’s agenda was to legalize Segways, so parliamentarians had a chance to try them around town. Let’s see – shall we pass a law against begging? Sure. Send them back to Romania, too. Shall we deport the homeless? Yes, let’s – just don’t use more money on doing it. Some time ago, the Norwegian Supreme Court said no: one cannot let families micro-manage their immigration acceptance based purely on disadvantaging their own children in order to create their ultimate case for approval (a good decision). No, scream all the bleeding heart Save-The-Children brigades across the land, full of pity for kids that managed to learn a language they should never have been given a chance to learn in the first place, kids who are the pawns in their own parents’ games. And because the budget for getting rid of people is so high, cut the budget – so what if the applicants have to live in prison-style living quarters until we tell them they can’t stay . . . in 2 or 3 years. Because we’re backlogged!


The ‘cucumber news’ of summer streams on. Yes, they call it that here: “agurk nytt,” which news is doubly funny when it has to do with cucumbers, which Norwegians love and eat in great quantities, especially in summer.


Still, the prize for best ‘Get Out’ stories of summer come from Russia and Israel. As for Russia, they just want what they can’t have – without taking it, so everyone who doesn’t agree in the Ukraine should just get out. Which some are doing. As for Israel, the situation is a little different. From the perspective of most Norwegians, who have plenty of Palestinian refugees among their numbers, these are the folks who got permission to live on specific tracts of land, and then began wholescale takeovers of all the land around that they could manage to grab, fight for, wall off, and defend by tooth and bloody nail. Note I am not speaking for myself. Not only do they want the Palestinians to be gone – off the Palestinians’ own land, but to get out of sight. Out of sight is, after all, out of mind – when it’s on the other side of an apartheid Wall, completed in 2005 which runs for 422 miles and costs Israel $260 million dollars annually to maintain – and which helps to separate Israel from its nearest neighbors, with whom it should make peace and trade for the good of all. Therefore, as Israel’s Prime Minister told CNN yesterday, he is saddened when he hears of innocent civilian Palestinians being killed. After all, he would not be able to see it so he has to just hear about it. And is he really? I don’t know. I’ve been watching Israeli troops murder Palestinians since I could watch TV. I won’t say how many years that is, but now that you know I’ve got a Fabian pillow, the cat’s out of the bag. What I can’t understand is where the people who keep killing each other and getting killed come from. Wouldn’t they eventually run out of people in this area? They certainly won’t run of out of guns and weapons. Now that’s important. Call the arms traders today. They don’t have to get out.


Nice to be globalized, isn’t it? Privacy used to be a protected right, and now it’s just a checked box and an unwanted toolbar. Ask Ask.


Kids used to hang out at Utøya solving the world’s pressing problems, and today it’s a memorial to a stupid killing spree that happened three years ago, today. At least this year they’re making plans to get back to business next summer out there, not a moment too soon, in my opinion.


Ambassadors used to intervene for the good of their citizens in their countries of assignment, and now it’s either a spying mission or a pork job.


So go one’s thoughts as the fjord glimmers in the afternoon sun during one of Norway’s warmest and most beautiful summers on record.


I guess the upside is: Transparency is also improved. More people at all levels and in all places are going to be held more accountable. Maybe whale killing in Norway and by Norway will also someday stop. There’s always hope in the air that we will eventually discover ways to create sustainable biodiversity and save the planet’s species before it’s too late.


So look up. We can at least hope you won’t see a drone. Me, I’ll be collecting cherries for the jam that will help us survive the dark winter. Meanwhile, get out into the fjord and jump in today – it’s cold and feels wonderful.


**


“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

― Henry James

 

FBAR Reporting & the 4th of July

Posted on June 30, 2013 at 8:30 AM

It was time to come up with a topic for my next blog, but as summer crept into our lives here, in Norway, it was easier to wish the rain would go away, and wistfully recall good times with old friends. That must explain why I woke up this morning humming the words of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair, and not the Stars & Stripes Forever.

 

The sense of loss brought on by living in what is still, ultimately, a foreign culture, combined with both the isolation many experience when at their sometimes remote ‘summer cabins’ and the simultaneous need to find solace in old and strong American friendships, with friends who are no longer anywhere near, is only raised another notch on the day on which the American Coordinating Council of Norway (ACCN) holds its Frogner Park, Oslo celebration of American ‘Independence Day,’ known more commonly in the U.S. simply as ‘the 4th of July.’ So . . .

 

Are you goin’ to Scarborough Fair?

(Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme)

Remember me to one who lives there –

He once was a true love of mine.

 

Now that we’ve gotten our priorities in order, it is time to note – to all Americans overseas – the imminent change in the FBAR reporting procedure. This is the reporting requirement for Americans overseas who have any combination of foreign (non-U.S.) accounts (bank and/or securities)(even one) with, a total of the equivalent of $10,000 at any time during the year. In that case, one is obliged to file what is called the FBAR report – Foreign Bank Account Report. The form itself has the innocuous title, TD F 90-22.1, which only reminds us of how pathetically out-of-tune bureaucracies can be when it comes to assuaging natural human fears of numbers, and people’s related reporting obligations. We leave that essay for another time.

 

Onward, Americans – to the challenge at hand: reporting your foreign bank accounts – but no longer ‘on paper.’ The imminent news is: you are now (well, starting in a few hours) supposed to only file those forms ONLINE. Yes, paper production has been officially squelched, and hundreds of trees are, on the day you are reading this, being saved as a consequence. On the other hand, hundreds of Americans overseas are trying to figure out how to e-file the online form. We’ll all see how it works out.

 

I’ve had quite a few inquiries about this form in the past few months, as more Americans in Norway and Europe get ‘on-board’ with their ‘filing obligations,' shall we say nicely. I therefore created a ‘form e-mail’ reply, which takes the desperate and clueless and leads them softly by the hand through the current FBAR form. I’ll copy that here, under the philosophical title, ‘How to Approach the FBAR Form.’

 

How to Approach the FBAR Form

 Here's some FBAR information I usually send folks when they express their concerns. Since it is mostly a secretarial job for me, I don't do it - it's really quite easy for you to do. Read this note below when you open up the form.

 

As you will see when you open it, each page or section is for a different type of circumstance.

 

The first page is for starting to list any accounts you actually own yourself. First, you enter your personal information, which will include your Social Security number (called ID number) at the top. Then, there is room in the middle of that page to list your first foreign account (a non-U.S. account)(one you own).

 

Page 2 is a continuation page. You just put some ID information in the top boxes and then can continue to list any other accounts you own yourself. You put the bank name, address, account number and highest balance during the year for each of the accounts you own yourself.

 

You use page 3 to start any list of accounts you own jointly with someone else. This can include any joint accounts owned with non-Americans (ex: your Norwegian wife or husband), and highest balance during the year you are filling it out for. (These are joint accounts – therefore, don’t forget to show their name and address, as required.)

 

You can see that page 4 is where you would list any accounts where all the money is someone else's and is in their account, but you can access it (example: you use that account, which only includes your husband's money, to buy groceries with your debit card). (Don’t forget to show all the requested information for each of those accounts including the name of the other person.)

 

You can see that page 5 is the page where you would list any account that you have in a company name, not your personal name. You show the company name on that page and the other information as requested, which is similar to that requested on the other pages.

 

You only use the page types that you need.

 

The rest of the pages are instructions to read if you need to do that.

 

At this time, you should report back to 2006. Also note, the year reported is just for you to enter at the top of the pages. Therefore, you are doing the same forms for each year, for each account that was foreign during that year. If you are catching up, you’ve got at least 6 pages involved for one account (1 page x 6 years), and multiples of that if you have more accounts to show.

 

If you have questions, you can call the IRS – they are the only experts in this matter.

 

They threaten grave actions against persons who have the obligation to file and don’t. If you had the equivalent of $10,000 in any given year in any combination of foreign accounts, you must file these forms annually. They are due to be received by June 30 of each year. This means not posted-by June 30th but received by them.

 

Don’t delay in doing these forms.

The address to post them to is in the middle of page 1 . . . .

 

End of my form e-mail message!

 

And - oops! No more mailing the form to Detroit!

“Imminent” means: almost immediately. Is tomorrow soon enough? FBAR filings will be electronic starting tomorrow, July 1st, 2013.

 

The notice was not received by this tax preparer until yesterday, so they’re really giving us a lot of notice on this. Ah, well, it’s probably part of the pared-down ‘American way.’ Still, if Congress wants to save money, I recommend they stop cutting the IRS’s budget, and start cutting their own salaries, redirecting lobbying outlays to public services for the needy, and increasing corporate tax coverage and tax rates. To start. It certainly makes more sense than crippling America’s tax administration.

 

To help them out a bit, here’s the latest link to information listed at the IRS website. It includes internal links to the form, the FBAR question and answer folks, and other information needed to get started with e-filing of the FBAR form: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Report-of-Foreign-Bank-and-Financial-Accounts-%28FBAR%29

 

 

And now, how can we Americans overseas respond when, for example, the ‘Independence Party’ takes place on June 30th, is bound to be rained out, and is half in Norwegian? Answer: With at least serious pride, if not outright glee. Therefore,

 

Hurrah for the flag of the free!

May it wave as our standard forever,

The gem of the land and the sea,

The banner of the right.

Let despots remember the day

When our fathers with mighty endeavor

Proclaimed as they marched to the fray

That by their might and by their right

It waves forever.


 

 

 

-June Edvenson

 

Define Sequestration. I'm glad you asked.

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 11:50 AM

In Norway, the old snow is starting to lay on the hills like wrinkles in a white sheet. My husband and I are sitting at our kitchen table, reading news and, well, we’re sequestered. We’re sick. The kids can’t visit and we can’t visit. It’s a little like sequestration, actually. It feels like a punishment, for what, maybe living the good life, which we also do.


As everyone who knows English knows, sequestration is what happens when you put something or someone in a room by themselves or with others that also don’t want to be there, a place where they can’t get out or do anything interesting. They also are not allowed to holler to those who are on the other sides of the walls. They’re like invisible. They do that to Norwegians who can’t turn their necks very well when driving in Arizona. Really, they get sequestration - in Arizona jails and prison, like John Kristoffer Larsgard.


As an American, a culture watcher and an English professional, I have to keep an eye on words. I therefore had to note the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune, page 5, column 1, which sounds like most of the other thousands of sound bites heard through the fog in the last few days, “Mr. Obama summoned the four top congressional leaders to the Oval Office in an effort to discuss how to move forward after the failure to avoid the cuts, known as sequestration, White House aides said.“


First, it was the fiscal cliff which, if we went over it, who knew what might happen and since we did not, most folks now think we really should have given it a try and seen what happened. Now it is sequestration, which has, somehow, happened. I was ready to blame White House aides for causing this problem with the definition of sequestration, until I discovered it emanates from a much more dangerous source, the Congressional Research Service. This appears to be a real office, located in Washington, D.C., which means they are completely in the dark on these English points. Besides, anyone who is defining sequestration and is also concerned with hiring a geospatial information systems analyst has their net spread too widely, let’s say.


Norwegians know how to focus on things. So I read the sentence to my Norwegian husband and asked him if he knew what sequestration meant. He said, “Er, sequencing?” and I said, “No, sequestration.” “Isn’t that when someone is frustrated when they are at sea?,” he replied. “Why, yes,” I replied. Like the clever Norwegian he is, he has captured the new and modernized core concept completely. I then corrected his understanding with my base-English knowledge. “No, actually, I think it has to do with being stuck somewhere and not being able to get out.” “Well, the congressional leaders were not trapped in the Oval office, were they? They went there of their own accord,” he ventures. Let’s give him that one, I thought. “No, they’re not trapped,” I agree. “No, they’re not trapped,” he continues, gaining ground, “They spent millions to get there, and now that they’re there, they find out the job is not so funny.” My husband means “fun.” He also means the job of being a member of Congress, not the job of going to visit the President.


After a few minutes, it became clear that someone needed to set the record straight – and tell the world what sequestration is and what it has to – or should have to - do with the current mess in Congress. I will try to do that in simple English, since, as everyone knows, sequestration is one of the those special words we don’t use very often – because it sounds very complex.


English has a wonderful way of building up the usages of words in specific areas, such that we can attempt to get at the core meaning and accepted usages of this word by studying its historical usage. Linguists, in addition, feed words into computers to see how often we use them, when, where and why. Since I am not a linguist, I’ll explicate in the old fashioned way – by reference.
The Oxford English Dictionary shows the word, sequestration, was first recorded as being used in the year 1450, with appearances in 1475 and 1581. By then, it referred to offenders who were excluded from the Sacraments. By 1854, it had to do with “delinquents” (yes, delinquents) who were punished by being kept from the Christian service (not that hard to take probably), the food table (very harder to take, probably) and common meetings (easy to take, probably).


Fast forward to now. The Congressional Research Service is reported to define sequestration as “a term used to describe the practice of using mandatory spending cuts in the federal budget if the cost of running the government exceeds either an arbitrary amount or the the gross revenue it brings during the fiscal year.”


Excuse me, but this is counter-intuitive to the actual meaning of the word. Since sequestration has to do with someone or something being kept from someone or something, it relies upon the premise that there is something or someone to be kept away from. And that the something or someone is kept away. Implementing spending cuts when there is no money in the money pot does not qualify as doing something to something. It does qualify as doing something to nothing, but that then does not satisfy the initial premise upon which the word was created and used down through the centuries. It also then does not carry any of its own emotional weight, as the word is supposed to do.


UspoliticsAbout.com (an oxymoron) continues, “Simply put, sequestration is the employment of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits.” Again, this statement simply confirms my point.


The Congressional Research Service defines sequestration:
"In general, sequestration entails the permanent cancellation of budgetary resources by a uniform percentage. Moreover, this uniform percentage reduction is applied to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account.
However, the current sequestration procedures, as in previous iterations of such procedures, provide for exemptions and special rules. That is, certain programs and activities are exempt from sequestration, and certain other programs are governed by special rules regarding the application of a sequester.”


This makes sequestration a two-faced taker, what the Norwegians would call ‘double-moral,’ something they are sure the U.S. does a lot of. Besides, to be exempt from sequestration should mean that one is free to move about. Most public programs in the U.S. these days barely have enough flexibility to wag their social tails, let alone try to move about.


We know. It’s a big laugh contest, a giant drama. Why else would David Falcheck and 
hundreds of other journalists write stuff like this:

“Days away, sequestration - the dramatic federal spending cuts - may seem like the crisis du jour for the gridlocked U.S. Congress, but the impact would be far-reaching, impacting everything from food inspection, to air traffic control, to defense.” -David Falcheck for newsitem.com


It’s quite scary, but that French touch really helps the medicine go down. Still, why are they holding the lack of money in a room and not letting it out?


I suggest the following alternative definitions be applied, despite the green-eyeshade crowd at CRS:


Option 1. Sequestration is “a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with.” In this sense of the word, Congressional leaders are in contempt of their public duty, and the Sheriff has the right to lock up their mansions and fancy cars until they come up with a decent budgetary arrangement, which, by the way, IS one of their duties. (Thanks to Merriam-Webster online for these.)


Option 2: Sequestration is “a deposit whereby a neutral depositary agrees to hold property in litigation and to restore it to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong.” Now, at least, we are working with a fiscal-related definition. In this case, the money that isn’t there, which is the taxpayers’ money, should be held by a neutral party, say, the President, until the fighting in Congress is over, at which time it should be given to the public. Well, after all, it is theirs. I trust the President to do that.


A third sense is worth noting for its effect on quelling bad-talking, as noted in the following classic example usage: “During their sequestration, jurors were not allowed to speak to reporters.” That’s right. Congress should be sequestered and not be allowed to speak to anyone – until they come to some important decisions on the budget, agreed and common decisions.


Last but not least, the word, sequestration, holds a strong sense of being alone. I’m inclined to think of the poor sod who landed in a dirty locked room, circa 1550, with no bread or water, for stealing an apple from the rich farmer’s garden. Of course, Congress would like you to think of it this way, too. After all, haven’t they done everything they could do? And now, sequestration has come to them anyway. And yet, Merriam-Webster shows the following (questionable) example in the ‘lonely’ category: “What would you bring for sequestration on a desert island?” This is easily modified to read, “What would you bring to a Congressional party?” Answer: Your money, of course, so you could buy some votes.


 

My husband has long ago lost interest in this, deciding to walk the dog on the ice instead. My balance is not as good. As for me, it’s time to consider today’s dinner menu, and the work waiting for me in my office. What I won’t be doing is holding my breath when some smartie-pants in Washington suddenly realize that sequestration, as they define it, is hurting real people who desperately need the social safety net that our modern tax, budgetary and social service systems were meant to and should provide - on an efficient and ongoing basis.

 


John Kristoffer Larsgard - Part 5

Posted on May 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Seven days of trial. About events that occurred in approximately 6 ½ minutes.

 

In this section, I will discuss the contents of John’s attorney’s Motion for a Directed Verdict and Motion for a New Trial, as well as the prosecutor’s response in opposition to some points. I also comment on some of the prosecutor’s closing statements and discuss the context of the case generally.

 

The Motion for New Trial, and response papers were filed just last month. The Motion for a New Trial was summarily denied by the judge just before the sentencing hearing began less than two weeks ago, after which John was dumped in a solitary cell and stripped naked, as noted earlier. (Please see my earlier posts for other information.) While the transfer to an intermediate holding facility usually takes two weeks, John was whisked away in less than 3 days. This never happens, say those in the area. In fact, he was literally being whisked away while his mother, Liv, was meeting with his defense attorney, who was assuring her it would probably be a couple weeks before he would be transferred.

 

Who’s scared of what? Yes, rush him outtahere, so we can get him buried in the Arizona prison system. And shave his head right away. So we have the pleasure of humiliating him in that way, especially before he should manage in some way to save himself. And then let’s make sure he’s buried so deep in bureaucracy that everyone forgets about him. We’ll surely save the State’s face that way, won’t we?

 

I continue to have unanswered questions about this case. One question I asked about as soon as I heard about it was: why did the prosecutor spend 7 days to try this case? I couldn’t for the life of me think of an answer. Surely what happens in 6 ½ minutes can be reduced to less than 7 days of jury trial, no matter how questionable the evidence – unless of course it was very important to be sure that the jury realized how important it was to return the correct verdict. Which after 7 days would very clearly be guilty, of course.

 

Yes, we are re-visiting one of our latest conundrums – that involving two foreigners in a relatively new rental car – new to them, passing through an unfamiliar, small and criminal, western American town trying to pick up their luggage. Six and one-half minutes later, the mother is an Iranian terrorist and the son who was driving is thrown into jail for intentionally trying to kill the townspeople. For being perhaps a snot, he’s chased down in the streets by locals who attack and confront his car – while he is trying to find out where to pick up his luggage after an accident and leave the area to continue his trip with his mother.

 

His bail is set for $1 million dollars, which conveniently keeps him in a local jail – for seven months, while the showy trial is set up. Did I say set up? Putting someone in hand and foot chains for 7 months in jail is news that’s going to get around, you know. It makes him appear more dangerous – or, er, as if he were more dangerous than he might have been when he was driving around, negatively, while people chased him for less than 6 ½ minutes.

 

Did I call that town “criminal”? I should be more precise. Comparing city crime rates per capita (based on the size of the population), from across the country, Winslow, Arizona is not at all a murderous place. Nor is robbery a problem. And when it comes to auto theft, it’s only slightly over the national average. These all make sense. After all, you can’t get away with murder and auto theft while living in a small town. But come to aggravated assault, burglary and larceny theft, and Winslow is not only twice the Chicago average, but twice the national average. These figures are from the year 2006. Still, that’s a town with a crime problem – a local crime problem. And, of course, it is true that many wonderful people live there, and are doing good work every day.

 

It appears the county, which is a majority Indian reservations, had a State’s attorney who is going to do something about that crime rate. It is certainly more convenient, in a very small town, to do that by finding someone who doesn’t live there to blame things on. Welcome, John Kristoffer Larsgard.

 

And now, we also have an attorney from the area on Youtube, repeating and repeating what we have already heard: that Larsgard was a dangerous dangerous guy, and he, well, he nearly hurt some kids, and he scared them and, well, he was driving like a crazy person, and he drove straight towards someone (um, who was trying to confront him on foot, arguably trying to corral him, taunt him, dare him and/or waylay him), and he brushed against someone else (um, who was trying to attack the car and be in the way and whom he did not see, after being smashed in the face so hard his nose was broken). And by the way, the jury found him guilty. This attorney is a member of the Navajo County Attorney’s office. Since Navaho County proudly claims that “People are arrested and booked into the Navajo County Jail on warrants for failure to appear for traffic tickets and failure to pay fines,” we can see that the old ‘debtor’s prison’ still exists in this particular western county: I’m sure jail helps them collect the funds to support the administration, which is busy booking 360 people into the jail each month. Jobs jobs jobs. America used to prioritize human rights.

 

There is also a new blog, called “The Truth About John Kristoffer Larsgard” which seems a front for someone who agrees with the jury’s decision, and is trying to counter criticism of the verdict by claiming that . . . see above paragraph. The related website, http://larsgardtruth.com, was registered on May 1st, and the identity of the creator is hidden, according to my ‘Whois’ search registration check. Who thinks it is so important to pay for this? A Facebook page is also dedicated to “The Truth” while, frankly, “liking” the verdict has little to do with whether John Kristoffer Larsgard should be in prison right now.

 

What they’re not telling you is what I am going to tell you, as it was reported to me. And from where I sit, the “truth” about John Kristoffer Larsgard, and this whole incident, is that he should have been cited for traffic violations, been made to pay a fine – and for external damage to the rental vehicle, and sent on his way with his mother. At the same time, the townsfolk who harassed him and bated him with their unfamiliar anger, while corralling and chasing his car, should have been sent back home - along with the bill for the interior damage to the car, possible charges of harassment, and a charge of aggravated assault against Mendoza.

 

Now, it also appears that John’s student visa for staying in the U.S. had expired, so he should have renewed that but had not. The Navajo County authorities appear to like the idea of deporting him. OF course they like this idea: it would lend ‘face’ to their own actions by continuing a stream of negative legal activity against the guy. It is reported that he could be eligible for deportation after half his prison sentence of 7 ½ years is served, a sentence he should never have gotten in the first place, and which still should be set aside. But can they ride out the storm of criticism for the 3 ¾ years of prison John should not have had to serve and is now serving? And who’s going to ‘pay’ for this wrong judgment when the last hammer falls?

 

But first, back to the jury. We all know that a jury trial is sacred, isn’t it? No, Readers. Consider the question more closely. A jury is human, behaves in human ways and makes human judgments and human mistakes. In a town with a population of approximately 10,000 persons and a total of just over 2,000 households, where the jurors were hand-picked by the prosecutor and where nearly everyone has a close connection to everyone else - and where the star witness, the one with the bludgeoning fist, is determined to be found blameless in reaching into a car and crushing the driver’s nose, a jury has its work cut out for it. After all, the victim doesn’t live there. The star witness does. And now the car is full of blood. Who’s paying for that? Yes, in an area where everyone involved knows everyone else, it is probably not hard to decide that, after 7 days of trial over what happened in 6 ½ minutes, the verdict must be guilty. How could it even have taken them two hours to come to that conclusion? After all, they have to walk out of that courtroom and, well, live there. There, with the star witness and his family and friends. In a county which is mostly Indian reservations. (Real Asset Inventory, Real AZ Corridor, Dec., 2011). And a relatively poor county, with per capita income that is about half of Arizona’s state average, and only 40% of the country’s income average. People here need to be pretty concerned about their money, since they generally don’t have as much as the rest of us. And fixing a broken car is something that will cost money. And so does 7 days of trial, an impressive amount of money. More than they have, but then it was a good show.

 

I have some words on my mind. Hazing is one. Justice is another. Impeachability is another. Deposition is another. And politics is another. I will explain.

 

It has been very interesting to me, not only as an American attorney but as a person with a professional interest in the use of language, English, inter-cultural communication, Norwegian and American cultural differences, and how to bridge culture gaps, to consider what has occurred in this case and what is occurring in American culture.

 

Right now, John languishes in the Arizona version of purgatory while they try to decide which prison is best suited to dampen his pentient for murdering innocent by-standers, for quelling his fully-trumped-up maniacal and dangerous killing instincts.

 

I had barely stepped off the plane in the U.S. this past week when I heard the word hazing – multiple times, as in hazing, a felony crime in Florida. Apparently, hazing is taking over America. Other concepts we don’t hear on the Norwegian news when the subject of the United States comes up include the need to identify terrorists in our midst, which I heard at least 6 times in my first two days on American soil, and continue to hear repeatedly every day – until I turn off the radio and TV. Were we prepared to see them when they arrived? To know them when we saw them? How could we possibly be more vigilant? Persons around the world would love to ruin America and we should do what we can to prevent that. It’s human nature, after all, to run around looking for who has things better than you, and try to get a piece of it for your own. Pure greedy selfish human nature. Like hazing. Like a bunch of locals chasing a rental car being driven badly by a person who, frankly, doesn’t want to get to know you and doesn’t care. A person from a culture in which persons never yell at you as you drive along, and never run around chasing cars or confronting cars. A person from a culture where even the police speak softly when they stop you for no-probable-cause searches. In Norway, it’s called kontrol and it means control.

 

No, I almost thought I should find out how I could, myself, take part in the campaign to find hidden terrorists in America. It was then I realized I was suffering from jet lag and a lingering cold. I was being too hard on myself. After all, I had just landed in my beloved homeland, the country of my birth. The land I have, over the years, loved to come back to. The land where I’ve been lucky enough to experience so many unbelievably beautiful sights - the crowning glories of nature, the most deliriously competent works of man. Where I’ve heard the most beautiful music ever made, by Nature and by man. The land where I’ve had so many close friends, now scattered to all corners of the country, all of them working their magic in their work for the good of all. The land of so many committed souls, committed to service and mankind in every way. A land of tolerance and patience, of hard work and caring natures.

 

I began to land in another country when I landed here. It started about 5 years ago. I would know I was home when someone gave me or someone I could see from my bicycle or car the finger. And it was rather odd as it almost always occurred within a day or two of my arrival in the U.S. It was usually accompanied by choice epithets, such as “F___ Y__!” Since I now drive like a Norwegian, this would occur while I was either obeying the speed limit, or riding my bike on the sidewalk. When I would hear this, I would simply say to myself, “Ah, there you are, America. Showing me your new real colors. Now I’m finally ‘home’ again. God bless America!”

 

But I must be getting scatter-brained, what with all the commotion and different directions I could go on this story. Back to that one question I asked the reporter early on, and never did hear an answer to. The question, why did the prosecutor spend 7 days to try this case? It stewed. I slept on it. And then I had a revelation. I knew the answer. I know exactly why the prosecutor spent 7 days to try this case. You know why? Because the judge let him. Reader, read on.

 

The Motion for a New Trial arguments described and the prosecutor’s response

John’s attorney filed, this April, his Motion for a New Trial. It’s been read by more than one disinterested American attorney, and found to be just fine, as legal filings go. His arguments were several. It stated that the trial should be new because the verdict was contrary to the law and the weight of the evidence, the prosecutor was guilty of misconduct, the court erred in deciding a matter of law or in instructing the jury, to the substantial prejudice of John, and/or, for other reasons that were not John’s fault, he had not received a fair and impartial trial.

 

Among the details mentioned were that John was not permitted to have his medicine, medicine prescribed by his Norwegian doctor, which the nurse practitioners at the jail had in their possession but chose not to give him. In response, the prosecutor claimed no evidence of this had been produced at the trial. Well, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

 

The Motion for New Trial also claimed that the prosecutor had failed to disclose that two of the witnesses “entered the litigation process against the rental car insurance company.” The prosecutor’s response was that he didn’t know that, so how could he disclose it.

 

Now, Reader, what is happening here? An arguably-enraged local sneaks up on the driver, John, and smashes him in the face. There’s blood all over the interior. Proximate cause? The guy with the iron fist of course. Result? It does not take actual notice to the prosecutor to know that everyone knows that the car rental agency’s insurance company is doing what insurance companies do best: they perform their “duty to defend” - and they go after the people who caused the damage and try to get them to pay. How much does the front interior of a 2010 Toyota Camry cost to replace? That would cost a good amount of money, I would imagine. And who is responsible for the damage to the exterior of the car, especially if the driver was being mobbed into a cross-cultural panic attack? I ask John’s mother, Liv, who says, “They keep asking me to pay for it, and I keep telling them no, it wasn’t our fault there was blood all over the car.”

 

Getting back to those witnesses, apparently two witnesses entered the litigation “against the rental car agency”? That means that two witnesses were busy saying that they had to – absolutely had to – pop this guy in the face - or surround him – or chase him – or cause him to stop driving and get ‘caught’ because? Otherwise, they would have to pay for the interior damage to the car, at least. And at least one ‘someone’ has a giant incentive to frame the incident as a need to defend himself. After all, what’s left after the extremely aggressive personal violence against the driver but to claim self-defense? It’s the only ‘way out,’ as everyone can plainly see. That 7 days of jury trial over what occurred in 6 ½ minutes sure got long, though. Well, what is one to do when the case can only be made by arguing that the witnesses were strictly involved only for their own protection? After all, ”Self-defense is about protection, not getting even.” (Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Criminal Justice System, p. 130) It would not be an available defense to someone who was actually just pissed off that a jerky driver was making a snotty correction to his lost-en-route status. And decided to run after the car, stare at the driver through the front window, crouch and play his bets, and confront the car, and the driver, and be joined by others who attempted to surround the car and the foreign couple in it, and then blame them for the bloody car and damages afterwards.

 

The fact that two witnesses were testifying “against the rental car agency” would have meant that the credibility of their testimony would have been impeachable. As we know, one way in which a witness’s testimony can be diminished in significance, and one way in which that creates “reasonable doubt” in the mind of a juror is by attacking the credibility of a witness. “This is called impeaching the prosecutor’s evidence.” (Complete Idiot’s Guide, p. 128) Here we have two witnesses for the State whose testimony would have been impeachable on the basis of their own conflict of interest in the case, and yet, it would seem from the Motion for New Trial and the prosecutor’s response to it, that such impeachment was never conducted – because the basis for it was not known to the defense attorney during the trial. But the Motion for new Trial was dismissed – without argument – by the judge.

 

The impeachability of two main witnesses, never explored. What’s going on there? A 2010 Toyota Camry whose interior is covered with blood, the proximate cause of which was the bludgeoning fist of the star witness for the State hitting the victim –that would be the accused, of course, who was, as a consequence, so dangerous that he was kept in hand and leg irons for 7 months before his trial, at which he was then strutted out like a pig to a slaughter. It looks more and more like this, and that makes the ‘truth about John Kristoffer Larsgard” start to, well, stink.

 

The Motion for a New Trial continues, arguing that the prosecutor committed misconduct when he argued to the jury that Larsgard was placing a fake ‘911’ emergency call in order to pretend to not be at fault, because, he argued, Larsgard could have seen the police coming to the scene at the time the call was made. Based on the evidence, this theory was, factually, shown to be clearly untrue; John could not have seen or known that the police were ‘on their way’ when he called 911 for help. And yet, even after the evidence showed this to be untrue, the prosecutor continued to argue it was the case.

 

On a point of law, it was required that the prosecutor prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, not just that Larsgard was driving toward people, but that he intended to put them in fear of immediate physical injury. The Motion for New Trial suggests he was actually already trying to flee when he executed the famous three-point turn.

 

The Motion for New Trial suggests that the verdict was “against the weight of the evidence,” noting that the jury acquitted John of aggravated assault against Mendoza, the guy with the magic protected fist. And if that was the case, he could not be guilty of the same crime against the lady with children at the sidewalk hot dog stand. My question is, did they have a permit for that stand? Don’t they know it’s dangerous to set up business on the sidewalk?

 

The Prosecutor’s response was that he was “arguing reasonable inferences.” Well, it was a nasty few minutes – that is certain. Let’s see what those look like, in the prosecutor’s closing argument.

 

In opening, the prosecutor states to the jury, “I’m asking you to compare what they said to what the defendant’s story was that you heard . . ., because only by comparing the two can you decide who is telling the truth and who is not.” Really? This is not the standard by which the jury was to decide what conclusion to come to in the case. The standard was to follow the wording of the criminal statute and ask themselves if they could find that those precise acts were, word for word, found in this case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the prosecutor fills the case with every single person who ever laid eyes on the car, both before they were yelling at him, and then afterwards, when various locals try to talk to him, angry already, and try to chase him down in the streets.

 

The standard in the main count, as noted by the prosecutor, involved proving intent: “you have to show that that person intentionally, means it’s the person’s objective or goal to cause that result. Was it the defendant’s goal to place these people in reasonable fear of injury?” My question is: before or after being screamed at and your lost rental car run down in the streets? Before or after having your face broken up while sitting stock-still in your car with your window open?

 

The prosecutor continued, further into the closing statement, “And if it’s the defendant not telling the truth, why not? Could it be that the defendant doesn’t want to admit on something as minor as going the wrong way, that he wouldn’t follow the rules, he doesn’t want to admit that much to you?” Reader, what did this have to do with a charge that could earn this Norwegian years in prison in the land of the free? When I hear this, I hear taunting. Of course it’s not taunting: it’s zealous advocacy of the State’s important interest in protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Or is it? The prosecutor criticizes for not turning his head, if he did not, to see the people on the sidewalk when he made the three-point turn, but he doesn’t mention that John has had cervical surgery that may limit his ability to turn his head in the way required to see that. Not only does the prosecutor approach the jury in the closing with the above taunting remark about the possibility that John would not admit to a slight offense, but also includes a criticism of John’s having made a written statement to police before having the consultation with an attorney. In that statement, as the prosecutor even mentions in the closing argument, John wrote, admitting he had gone the wrong way. It seems what in literature would be called a Catch-22: John can’t win by admitting he did do something wrong – which he did admit, and John will be counted as having not admitted that he did do something wrong, which will demonize him before the jury.

 

The prosecutor’s magic wand travels in similar ways over the testimony of the 7-day trial in his closing. He states at one point, “If everybody got their stories together, if everybody got together and wrote a script and said: everybody, remember this, this is what we are going to say. Then their stories would have matched perfectly, but they didn’t, because people . . have different focuses and hear different things, but they didn’t get together and get the story straight. There isn’t a script here they are testifying from, but that claim was made.” Does someone such as myself really have to say, at this point, that just because the stories are close and are not completely similar, does not mean that they were not created, embellished and re-packaged by individuals who have no other place to live but there, and no other choice but to fit in there - so as to assure that the foreigner would not walk? Nor that they didn’t have to be “scripted” to be managed for the purpose of assuring that they would do their best to - save the star witness from losing face in the situation?

 

The facts are reviewed in the closing statement having to do with John ‘backing up hard’ and also driving on a flat tire. Apparently, it was real important that John should realize – or not – whether he was driving on a flat. Remarkable Catch-22 stuff. If I’m having a panic attack as I become surrounded by yelling, screaming, running people I don’t know, in a foreign country, I am not going to be more or less guilty of aggravated assault in that jurisdiction because I am or am not driving on a flat. Lack of flat-tire familiarity is something most Norwegians suffer from, in part since the standards by which a car is controlled in Norway includes roadblocks at which Norwegian police check over everything in your car to see that it meets legal standards. If you or your car don’t meet the standards, your car can be towed and you can find another way to get around, sometimes for an extended period of time and sometimes forever, if you’ve had a drink. By the way, had these witnesses been drinking?

 

The prosecutor reminds the jury that they don’t have to prove motive, but that the motive when he drove towards Mr. Mendoza at one point could be seen by his actions – and that was reported by, ere, Mendoza, one of the witnesses who must have been appearing “against the rental car agency.” He claimed John’s goal was to hurt him, while John claimed it was not to hurt him. And he didn’t hurt him – or hit him. The various confrontations John has with townspeople yelling at him and chasing him in the car, challenging him by standing in front of him, and what sounds like corralling behavior on the part of some of the townspeople, should have shown the jury, in my opinion, that the man was panicking and was not responding well – perhaps was incapable of responding well - to arguably wild behavior on the part of the local population. I still say, the various confrontations smack of Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Anyone’s a sucker if you’re after them. And you get to be king for spurring the attack on: Long live the Lord of the Flies. “I’m asking you to simply hold the defendant responsible for what he did that day, no matter what his reasoning was for it, he needs to be held accountable. So I’m asking you to find him guilty of eight counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, one count of endangerment,” and the prosecutor’s closing statement ends. Hey, you tell people in your community what to do often enough, and guess what: they’ll do it, even it goes against the law and is unethical. That’s been proven: I heard it on NPR last week.

 

In the reply to the Motion for New Trial, the prosecutor reminds the court of the cherished right to trial by jury. The right is, historically, to a trial “by a jury of one’s peers.” The idea was to prevent a judge – or someone beholden to the king – from deciding on a harsh fate for an accused, for political or other non-evidentiary reasons. In John’s case, a jury of his peers would be 12 Norwegians who know English, perhaps also who live part-time in the U.S. In fact, a “jury of one’s peers” is not the wording of the U.S. right. Instead, the right is to a “speedy and public trial” which, arguably, John did not get, and “by an impartial jury of the state and district . . .,” which, I am suggesting, he actually could not get in that county and that location.

 

So we’re back to the 7 days of trial testimony and the 6 ½ minutes during which all of these events occurred.

 

One of the types of evidence that is used to great and good effect in court cases is based on depositions. Depositions are recorded interviews that do not occur in the courtroom, but are treated as court testimony, are recorded by a court transcriber, and in which the person who would be interviewed is asked questions by both sides in the case. A deposition is useful to preserve testimony for trial. Either party can request that a deposition of a witness be taken. In this case, the defense attorney requested a deposition of Liv Larsgard. She was, after all, the only person who was actually in the same place at the same time as all of the events which took place. And it was necessary that she, eventually, go back to Norway, while John was held on $1 million dollars bail. According to what I have been told, when the defense attorney sought to have Liv deposed while she was present in Arizona, the prosecutor demanded that a deposition of the mother not occur, under any circumstances, not then and not later. When the judge hesitated, the prosecuting attorney approached the bench and said, tightly, No deposition. The judge looked down and softly mumbled, No deposition. Two weeks later, when Liv Larsgard was busy in Norway trying to put her work life at the nursing home back together and pay her bills, the prosecuting attorney was strutting in the Arizona court, taunting the defense for not having her available at that time.

 

As for myself, I can’t imagine why the prosecutor wanted to hear her say anything at all. After all, in the course of that 7 day trial, Liv Larsgard was on the stand for less than one hour. Reader, this is by her own estimate. The rest of the time she was made to sit outside in the hall during all other witness testimonies. She says she even recalls the State asking the judge if they couldn’t hurry up and finish with her.

 

Which brings us back to the conduct of this case, and that brings us back to the judge. The judge in this case is an accomplished graduate not only of Stanford but also of Northwestern, and is administratively supervised by another judge, who happens to be the woman married to the prosecuting attorney in this case. I find it hard to believe that this would not affect the manner in which this case was conducted. I know, myself, what it’s like to try to rule on evidence in a case when the attorneys are using all their political weight to get at you administratively behind closed doors. In my own situation, the case that threatened to break my back involved two elderly ladies who found petroleum products in their kitchen water one day, and several heavyweight oil company litigators on the other side of the fence. One doesn’t survive being a hearing officer in environmental cases in Chicago without knowing something about the back rooms of power. After ruling on evidence in such a way as to displease the heavyweights, I was forced to hand off the case to my own supervisor, who thought I had done fine and apologized confidentially to me for bending under the pressure of his arguably frivolous political appointee boss. (He then went on to displease the heavyweight litigators some more, and they finally consolidated and made a settlement with the ladies.)

 

So I think it is too bad that politics may have played a role in how this expensive case was managed. This 7 days about 6 ½ minutes. Of course, if a superior officer of the judge is not married to the prosecuting attorney in this case, I would appreciate knowing immediately, as I am simply reporting what was told to me and would be quick to delete the suggestion if it were not so.

 

I would be remiss if I did not attempt to share at least a quick word on hazing crimes. In Arizona, hazing is defined as “any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or in concert with other persons, against another student, and in which both of the following apply: (a) The act was committed in connection with an initiation into, an affiliation with or the maintenance of membership in any organization that is affiliated with an educational institution. (b) The act contributes to a substantial risk of potential physical injury, mental harm or degradation or causes physical injury, mental harm or personal degradation.” Hazing laws are designed to help schools prevent such behavior, and not on how similar behavior manifests itself in the community at large. Still, it sounds too familiar to not be noticed.

 

Here’s John who doesn’t want to join the Winslow club. And here are the people who decided, possibly because John was not interested in getting to know them or do what they were telling him to do, that he was a good target for intentional acts designed to disorient him, cause him to panic and contribute to a substantial risk of his being hurt, both exciting themselves and endangering themselves in the process. Synonyms for hazing include shadowing, obfuscating and obscuring. Crushing someone’s nose surely meets part b, while screaming at the man to get out of his car, his only protection, certainly contributes to mental harm.

 

There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion. I also can’t figure out why the prosecutor decided to prosecute this case, and in the way they did, not prosecuting the others present – for various crimes against John. We hear that the prosecuting attorney and the star witness appear to be pretty close buddies. Is that so? What is the connection between the star witness and the State? Why was this case handled like this? That’s a political question. That’s my new question.

 

The first is answered: who let the trial run 7 days? The judge.

Arne Naess and Deep Ecology

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Arne Naess would have been one hundred years old today, January 27, 2012. He died in January, 2009. He was an important 20th century philosopher, an accomplished mountaineer and a man who lived his life with thoughtfulness and intensity.

 

The Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, paid homage to him in their Jan. 25th edition with a commentary by Johan Galtung, in Norwegian. He reminded readers of Naess’s principle theses of “deep ecology.” I read them and was immediately captivated.

 

The Guardian newspaper characterized Arne Naess’s work in this way, in their obituary article, found in its entirety online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/15/obituary-arne-naess

“A keen mountaineer, for a quarter of his life he lived in an isolated hut high in the Hallingskarvet mountains in southern Norway.  Through his books and lectures in many countries, Næss taught that ecology should not be concerned with man's place in nature but with every part of nature on an equal basis, because the natural order has intrinsic value that transcends human values. Indeed, humans could only attain "realisation of the Self" as part of an entire ecosphere. He urged the green movement to "not only protect the planet for the sake of humans, but also, for the sake of the planet itself, to keep ecosystems healthy for their own sake.”  Shallow ecology, he believed, meant thinking the big ecological problems could be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society. Deep meant asking deeper questions and understanding that society itself has caused the Earth-threatening ecological crisis. His concept, grounded in the teachings of Spinoza, Gandhi and Buddha, entered the mainstream green movement in the 1980s and was later elaborated by George Sessions in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (1995).” – The Guardian, Jan. 15, 2009.

 

In the spirit of spreading that philosophy, and re-examining it, I show below the first of the principles as noted by Galtung in the Norwegian article, translated by me, along with an English version found online. From the Aftenposten article, p. 7:

 

• It is of its own worth that life unfolds itself, independent of the narrowed interests of humans.

• The abundance and richness of life’s forms have worth in and of themselves.

• Humans do not have the right to reduce this abundance.

 

In English, the 8 theses are shown here, as found online:

 

1.The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value; inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

 

Let’s have a long discussion on how these principles can be encouraged in the world as we know it. In a very real sense, the planet’s sustainability depends upon meeting these very challenges - while the ‘debate’ on sustainability veers always towards human premises and historical and political compromises. Reminds me of the discussion of whether trees have ‘standing’ – in courts. As well, of how modern deforestation practices undo the forest’s capacity to re-grow forever; of how modern agricultural methods are undoing our soil forever; of how modern fishing practices are unravelling our oceans’ biodiversity forever - the list goes on – and on and on.

 

The deep ecology movement continues, with book publications, grants and the spreading influence of this philosophy. Spreading how? By people like you, dear reader. Spread it; spread these significant values of Arne Naess – at home in Norway and everywhere. Live them, yourself, and try to help them flourish – yes, everywhere on Earth.

New Year 2012: Part II

Posted on January 15, 2012 at 3:05 PM

The Norsk Opera recently staged Verdi’s opera, Macbeth, to great acclaim. Verdi was inspired, of course, by Shakespeare, which he read regularly throughout his life. Verdi’s Macbeth was under-appreciated in his own lifetime, but remained one of his favorite compositions.

 

In the second Act, the people appear – the public who are living under the terror reign of Macbeth. Verdi’s empathy for those who are persecuted in their own homeland could not be more inspiring or comforting at a time when so many are struggling to shake off the oppression of despotic rule. And so, it is only fitting that we measure our own compassion by the instructive influence of Verdi’s beautiful, timeless and universal chorus.

 

The chorus is variously staged. At Oslo this month, the opera choir 'public' struggled forward on a blank stage, addressing the audience directly while holding the photographs of their missing and the dead - men, women, husbands and children. Here, the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona presents their version of “Patria oppressa!” Below is an English translation created by Opera Australia:

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Oppressed land of ours! You cannot have

the sweet name of mother

now that you have become a tomb

for your sons.

From orphans, from those who mourn,

some for husbands, some for children,

at each new dawn a cry goes up

to outrage heaven.

To that cry heaven replies

as if moved to pity,

oppressed land, it would

proclaim your grief for ever.

The bell tolls constantly for death

but no-one is so bold

as to shed a vain tear

for the suffering and dying.

Oppressed land of ours!

My homeland, oh my homeland!

 

Happy New Year, 2012!

Posted on January 10, 2012 at 7:40 AM

Subject:  2011, the aged gentleman with the long white beard, has taken his last shuffling steps across the paths of time.  And now comes baby new year, 2012. . . . but what baggage the old man has left behind!  Let's think about some of it for a minute, for perspective's sake.

 

Happy New Year! Notes from the North

 

January 10, 2012. Here are my picks for top Norwegian and American topics of 2011 and my suggestions for 2012. I look backward and forward, with a focus on being an American and living in Norway, altogether a very positive experience.

 

1. The Arab Spring and the Arab World. I love the Arab World. A world of particularism, and of ancient traditions and cultures. The efforts of the many who have risen up to overthrow dictatorial and non-representative forms of government during 2011 cannot be underestimated. Thousands have paid with their lives, lives whose hopes and wishes were for the peaceful coexistence of their peoples in communities controlled democratically. Democracy, on the other hand, is not an ‘efficient’ form of government, and so many find themselves struggling to create the mechanisms for representation and administration that were handled so efficiently – i.e. so top-down - in the past. Regardless of the efforts required, the goals are good, and will be good for the people. The need for people to control their means of livelihood, their communities and their national agendas bodes well for the common good. Now, Syria must rid itself of its own power-mongerers, and other nations will follow as the world shrinks, day by day.

 

Sustainability will become a much larger concern as this movement towards a one-playing-field global economy continues, and the law will have to play a more important part in seeing that sustainability is possible. This was the topic of a Fall, 2011 paper I delivered at Aarhus which I am now sending out for publication.

 

In addition, human rights, whose violations help hold dictatorships in power, will achieve new levels of undeniable recognition - as much through our new forms of global sharing of stories and events as through legislative and regulatory efforts.

 

2. American politics and the Occupy movement: Could Congress be any less effective as an organization? Could the President’s own powers be any further compromised, and could the Supreme Court be any less important at helping build a strong nation? Sadly, what we call “the balance of powers” not only needs re-balancing, but might start with training in the courtesies of discussion and decorum.

 

My suggestion: Occupy Congress – the balconies, your Representatives’ offices, your Senator’s office and phone lines, the e-mail and the snail mail, the hallways and the by-ways. Just take your real caring issues of concern to the persons who are supposed to work for you. In Congress and in the State legislatures, in the State departments and in the federal departments. When they don’t work for you, get rid of them with your vote. Think up new ideas and deliver them to those who can put them into practice. In this individualistic culture, more attention should be placed on respecting communal and group initiatives, and supporting individual efforts through group efforts.

 

In this, I am referring to the need to establish a better safety and health care net for Americans, as well as to re-structure the taxation of corporations and the rich so as to re-invigorate the American middle class. Don’t call it socialism because it’s not precisely that. Call it the Nor Way. It is the Nor way, and it is a good way to take care of society.

 

As for the Presidency, it’s too bad that this President inherited such a ‘perfect storm’ of problems. I don’t think anyone could have done any better, given the obstinacy of Congress. I also don’t think a Republican is going to be able to be good to the unemployed and powerless, even if he wants to be. Since there is as yet no viable woman candidate, 2012 will be the year Americans should vote for the man who is for the little man, regardless of his party. Who is that man?

 

3. Here, I am discussing Anders Breivik, Norway’s and the world’s mass murderer of 2011, as well as Odd Nerdrum, one of Norway’s greatest artists. How crazy can one country be when (1) the defense attorney for the mass murderer of 77 persons (the defense attorney requested by the accused) is busy on television and in the media telling us all about how difficult it is for his client, how his client thinks, what he wants, what he thinks, and why he thinks it; (2) the same country’s greatest artist is appealing a judgment that he be sent to prison for two years for tax fraud, rightly proven in Oslo court, with the special concern as to whether he should be granted the use of paints and brushes in his confinement; (3) the fact that a tax-paid commission is busy dragging its way through every known fact about the mass murderer’s life, striking quickly back at anyone who suggests that we just speed this up, hear the case and throw the self-confessed killer into prison for life; and (4) the parents of the children who were killed have had to get their own organization going just to try to get some recompense for the horrid job that the police and the State did, by protecting their own asses before getting in a boat and going over and catching or killing this guy so that their loved ones would still be living.

 

In order, (1) get off the TV, read the Rules of Professional Conduct, go back to your office, prepare your case in confidentiality, share it with the court, and get it over with. (2) Give this man a repayment schedule for the millions of kroner he should have paid the state, plus a sufficiently stinging punitive fine that he won’t get busy keeping his art sales activities ‘off the grid’ in the future. Don’t send him to jail, which accomplishes no purpose whatsoever. Then, someone find him an advisor who can help him decide which country he’d like to call his country of primary residence as well as his ‘tax home,’ and help him establish it legally. (3) Get this Commission out of their budget, paid for with my meager tax kroner, and get this report on the table, get this case heard in the court, and get this maniac out of the media – permanently. (4) Give these parents and their organization the support and compensation they deserve, and make the immediate changes needed to organizations such as the internal national guard and police at various levels. This whole episode should result in new standing orders for police (some of which were in place but not followed), a protocol of levels of orders and when individual initiatives are pre-approved, orders they actually obey when they are in the situation or are asked to intervene, as well as the equipment to immediately reach and answer mass calls for help from areas surrounding major population centers.

 

4. Global Financial Regulation. Ahh, what a mixed bag. Let’s see: Wall Street has battled Congress, while Congress has pretended to reply. The SEC has said their ‘follow-up’ activities are sufficiently strapping, even though the same financial giants break the law every other month or so, continuously. And the legislation designed to revamp the financial regulation of banks, shepherded by a small group of Congressmen, has blown up like a balloon stuck with a pin. In the same year, in Europe, the G-20, in an attempt to bring England into the European financial policy fold, attempted to establish their own over-arching and comprehensively revised financial regulatory structure for banks. To which David Cameron said, ‘No way,’ and ‘our banks need all the flexibility they can get’ (words to that effect). The immediate response to the fact that England refused to be held to the new European banking regulations were musings that perhaps England was ‘moving away’ from continental Europe again, as it has in the past – oh, dear, such a pity. No one has been discussing the fact that, if London is going to permit the same under-regulated financial structures to exist that the European Union is trying to get rid of, investors in the U.K. should be busy moving their money to Europe.

 

Greece and Italy have their own challenges, which would be quickly solved if their underground economies were brought to light. The rich underground of Italy can pay Italy back for its many blessings, satisfying all of its obligations. The Greeks can do the same for Greece but haven’t been. Financial accounting 101 – Record the income, spend less than you take in, deduct the taxes used for social and government services, repay your debts. Get everyone to do it. Everything’s fixed.

 

Respectively, first, get your votes behind someone who will actually deliver stricter financial regulation in the U.S. Second, get your money out of under-regulated financial institutions. Why not? Make a point. Money talks: make it walk. Go for financial regulation this year - as an ethical decision, if you have the funds to do that. There is still money to be made in the world’s economy - ethically and increasingly with good protections. Pay Europe back for financial regulation – invest in non-U.K. European banks. In sum, more global transparency and financial regulation now will be almost as important as anything we can do for the world as a whole in this next year.

 

I realize that these topics are over-simplified. However, as in art, the simplification of forms does occasionally reveal underlying truths. Here is a 2012 with many challenges. Some of these will have positive outcomes.

 

May some of those positive outcomes be yours in 2012!

Should I File the FBAR Form?

Posted on September 24, 2011 at 5:35 PM

It’s remarkable how confused folks can be about something they don’t want to do, isn’t it? Let’s take the FBAR form, for example. While I may have my own reasons for suggesting that many Americans overseas should qualify for an exception from the reporting requirement - which could depend on several variables including the amount of time they spend in the U.S., their tax home nation, etcetera, this does not in any way affect an American’s responsibility to comply with the current law. Therefore, I will post here my reply to an individual client, of today’s date:

 

Dear So-and-So,

 

If you have had more than the equivalent of 10,000 USD in any set of combined accounts outside the U.S. during any single year since 2003, you should file the latest version (at this writing, the March, 2011 version) of the FBAR form for that year.

 

To determine whether you should file for that year, you can add up your highest total in all accounts in a foreign country or countries for that year, and then view the conversion rates approved by the U.S. Treasury Department, which can be found at this page

 

Conversion rates for years prior to 2007 can be found by using the search function at this page, for example:

  

I do not file this form for other persons because it does not require any sort of special knowledge to complete it. In contrast, the IRS personal income tax forms I complete for individuals require quite a bit of special knowledge to put together correctly. Since the FBAR’s TDF form is asking for direct information, and since the instructions are included in the form, it is up to persons who qualify to look it up, read it, fill it out, include an explanation, and then send it in.

 

I hope this information helps you determine whether you have an obligation to file the form, and wish you all the best.

 Frequently asked questions are noted at the IRS website, where they state the answers will be kept updated.  Here is the link to the FAQs.

The Enemy Within 2

Posted on July 25, 2011 at 5:54 AM

I would like to broaden and refresh this discussion with the following comments, which examine both the idiomatic phrase, and Western cultural perspectives on the Oslo and Utøya tragedy.

 

There is an old Irish proverb that, translated, means, “It is a wedge of itself that splits the oak.” The phrase suggests that one beware of the ‘enemy within.’ The enemy within Norway is not only the illegal immigrant who will not regularize his or her status, take and keep gainful employment and pay taxes. It is not only the eastern European gang of con men and women who thrive on stealing purses and robbing homes.  It is also the deranged nationalist or the cynical Norwegian, and even the neighbor who 'looks away.' That enemy is characterized not only by psychosis, but also by complacency and the fear of change, thus devaluing the rule of law and distancing the nation's citizens from corrective action.

 

Many thought initially that the Oslo bombings were a response to Norway’s participation in Afghanistan, or Libyan NATO activities. However, it is very interesting to find that this is not the case, and time to refuse to classify people or religions based on some presumed political posturing.

 

John D. Cohen, principal deputy counter-terrorism coordinator at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, visited the Oklahoma City bombing site last year, and is reported to have “often spoken of the need to assess the risk of violence without regard to politics or religion.” As the New York Times reports on July 25, 2011, Mr. Cohen states, “What happened in Norway is a dramatic reminder that in trying to prevent attacks, we cannot focus on a single ideology.”

 

More lessons, as we bravely face a new day in Norway.

The Enemy Within

Posted on July 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Commentators are already writing well-composed responses to the tragedies that have engulfed Norway in grief, disbelief and sorrow since the 22nd of July, 2011.  And it will be weeks before the tears of the nation are dry.  However, when the tears have dried, the anger will be ripe, and that energy must be channelled to effect changes - changes that will prevent, as much as possible, a recurrence of such a senseless tragedy. 

On the agenda will, I'm sure, be some of the following, not all of remark to date:

  • stricter security for access to public buildings
  • widened closures of streets in sensitive and historical neighborhoods (without 10 years of debate resulting in the street remaining open some few final weeks)
  • increased police presence (everywhere, especially in the inner cities)
  • improving police response procedures (they can show up when called some thousand times)
  • required police process times
  • securing social services to the mentally ill
  • reducing isolation of the mentally ill, required reporting of suspect psychotic behavioral traits and patterns instead of isolation and looking the other way
  • improved social and medical service levels for the mentally ill
  • ridding public debate of poor excuses for inaction on significant infrastructure maintenance and updating of public buildings, standard operating procedure in this rich nation
  • securing the borders in more effective ways, such that illegal immigrants are not overrunning Norway without remorse and with complete impunity 
  • assuring that illegal drug and weapons distributions are stopped to Norway
  • investigating individuals who claim the need for automatic weapon ownership through Norwegian gun clubs, or stopping such ownership rights altogether
  • securing tighter controls over police identification falsification
  • improved overall terror response management plans
  • requiring non-church-based professional psychological teams be the key resource in personal response actions

Well, now, this list is subject to future updates.  We've got some work cut out for us.  It will be very interesting to see what Norwegians actually 'do' in response to these tragic events.  But right now, there are no words to describe the loss and pain.  Norway's public servants mowed down at their desks.  Norway's bright future of youth, mowed down at their summer retreat, their place to become, their place to plan how to bring Norway into a bright and rosy future.  Only questions. Questions such as:

  • why
  • how


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Radiation and the Big L: Liability that is

Posted on March 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM

The terrible tragedy of Japan’s failed nuclear reactors continues at this writing, and raises questions that nearly everyone alive would like answered. Each nation and geographic area has its own stories and concerns, from broken monitoring equipment in California to Germany’s announced decision not to develop nuclear power further. Then, we have a couple reactors sitting on a fault line-California again, close to mega population centers. And France, unfortunately, deep into nuclear power. Boy, what a good time to be in Norway. And time for a re-think? You betcha.

 

I was a bit curious, and had already been looking into the international law of the environment for other research and writing reasons.  So I turned around and grabbed the book, International Law of the Environment, edited by Patricia Birnie, Alan Boyle and Catherine Redgwell, Oxford University Press (2009). Here are some of my resulting notes, in case you are interested.

 

State responsibility for nuclear-related damage is found under two different theories. The first is strict or absolute responsibility, which makes a State responsible for damages caused, purely on the basis of the ultra-hazardous character of nuclear installations. The point of this, from a litigation standpoint, is that States would have the role of guarantors for the operators and companies that caused the damage. The burden of proof would fall on the State, therefore, to show that it should not be held liable. However, as Birnie et al. note, ‘Conventions are still considered weak’ (517).

 

The second theory is that the State is liable for a breach of their obligation, which is diligent control. Under this theory, there is no discussion of fault, and so this approach eliminates the need to discuss the subjective elements of intention or recklessness. Despite this, there does seem to be a difference in the treatment of damages due to, for example, dumping, and those due to unintended releases.

 

In 1990, the IAEA established the Standing Committee on Liability for Nuclear Damage. This resulted in suggestions to revise the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. Some States agreed that strong revisions were needed, while others were opposed, stalemating effective action in important areas. What was agreed was that a publicly-funded compensation scheme should be implemented. The State with the problem installation would provide limited funding to that, while other States would contribute, “up to a ceiling.” Birnie et al. cite the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage,

(http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1279_web.pdf)

 as well as to the “2004 Protocol to the Paris Convention”

(http://www.oecd-nea.org/law/paris-convention-protocol.html).

 

To conclude, the authors forecast that, due to uncertainty in the prevailing laws, parties to a new problem would turn to the schemes outlined in these agreements, and noted, also, that “non-party claims are possible” (520).

 

So where’s this Fund? And when is Japan going to put some new money into it?

Financial Regulation & Debt Reduction Time

Posted on March 5, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Dear Reader,

Banking Regulation and Debt Reduction. Sound interesting to you? I didn’t think so. Not to the average reader, anyway. Yet, little, it seems, could be more important than that serious banking regulation take place in the U.S. (Eeeks, the new and old financiers are muttering). In fact, it should also take place in Europe. (Errrr, the Europeans are muttering.). It should also take place in Asia. (Mmmm, the Chinese are muttering.) But shouldn’t the U.S. lead the way? Of course, it should: it’s also responsible in many ways for popularizing the sorts of Mobius-strip financial ‘instruments’ that don’t belong in anyone’s bank anywhere.

 

Here, Time takes a look at the new CFPB – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2056587,00.html.  Great article.

 

Of course, the CFPB is supposed to be an effective organization, ready to take on the banks and protect individuals. Can it do that? Mmm, say the Senators, it sounds suspiciously effective; we think we should gut its budget.  I refer to the article at Huffington Post of this week, “Top Republican: ‘Senate May Approve Elisabeth Warren for CFPB,” March 1, 2011: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/01/elizabeth-warren-cfpb-senate-approval_n_829704.html

 

But as for Elisabeth Warren, who has the perfect credentials for the job of directing the CFPB and who has not been confirmed yet, the Senators, are saying, 'Mmm, she’s perhaps not our preferred candidate.’  What a bunch of hooey;  what Americans should ask is whether these Senators are the sorts of persons who will protect their individual, personal rights and expectations, and answer that question by tossing  the whole lot of them out as soon as possible.  Those who can be spared are working on a debt reduction plan, Senators Chambliss, Warner and others: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703886904576031954131728840.html

 

Elisabeth Warren, who chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the U.S. financial meltdown and identify responsible parties and nasty behavior, is the only proper person to head the CFPB organization. She is the one and only right person, and she should be confirmed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, as the HP points out in their article, the banks are holding their breath, none to happy for what may happen when the CFPB begins to work. And the newly-radicalized American Chamber of Commerce has the gall to stall. Meanwhile, “if a permanent director is not confirmed by July, the agency will lose jurisdiction over payday lenders and some mortgage companies.”

 

This stalemate is hurting the effectiveness of the new laws designed to govern financial behavior. Even the executive branch is stalling on debt reduction, while Congress dedicates itself to decimating the last vestiges of civilized society by further gutting social program budgets, and refusing to participate in debt reduction.

 

I don't think this is an easy situation, but I would expect those in a position to do something about it to embrace the chance to make a positive difference, rushing to confirm Elisabeth Warren and get the CFPB going as soon as possible, protecting social service budgets, and creating a debt reduction plan that would pass with flying colors.   What?  What? 

 

Politics is terribly dirty business, but this has to be something that everyone can agree to: save the financial stability of the United States, as well as its ability to serve those in need. Is this something Americans would disagree about? No. Is this something anyone is doing something about, i.e. actually doing something about? Apparently not.

 

Such a chance - to do the right things. Such a shame - everybody’s pointing and shuffling.

A Good List . . . of "15 Good Things to Celebrate in a Bad Year"

Posted on January 3, 2011 at 6:12 AM

Ah, yes:  the year of 2010.  How can we say it:  so much to do, so much stupidity, and so much ennui. 

 

I have written in the past my own compilations of this sort, but Ms. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and the Global Exchange, has done a fair job, in my opinion, in her article, posted at Michael Moore's website under "Open Mike."

 

It is hard to argue that these 15 items are bad, overall, in a world only growing smaller and more co-dependent. Recommending this to any readers that stroll my way:

 

15 Good Things to Celebrate in a Bad Year | MichaelMoore.com

http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/15-Good-Things

Open access to law-related films online & the needs of global attorneys

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM

Subject:  The International Bar Association has, at its website, open access to several interview films on topics of interest to international attorneys.  I think this is great.  Open access to law-related information of special interest to attorneys means that the information is surely spread further - to those in the legal profession who cannot afford the cost of online 'webinars' and courses, and to those who cannot even afford the cost of professional association membership.  Here is a link to their page of interviews concerning international human rights, with one recent interview, with law professor Fu Hualing, on present related legal issues of concern in China: http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=4dcfb472-ae82-4bf7-8e01-654115ac751c#human .

 

It's just as good a time as any to expand on this point.

 

Many lawyers are struggling in this global economic climate, while coming from countries with mixed affordability standards.  Open access to legal webinars and informational/ educational interviews is a sign that the profession is sufficiently open to provide what can also be seen as globalizing - and harmonizing - services.  Informational and educational materials available with free access help international attorneys to foster and continue their work for 'the rule of law' in the world, work which is more critical now than at any other time in our history.

 

Cash-poor attorneys of the  . . . western world

One way in which the effect of lawyer's financial constraints has been seen is in the American Bar Association's revised membership payment structure, still not low enough for me to afford to belong.  Another is to provide for a small amount of professional development coursework which can be taken online - either free or at very affordable rates - so that attorneys can successfully maintain their required continuing legal education.  This effort, in Illinois, resulted in what might be called a 'last-minute' offer of suffiicient hours of instruction online - to meet a summer deadline for specific CLE hours.  This is an offer I am guessing that hundreds took.

 

Let's go a bit further. 

More should be done to lower the cost of annual attorney registrations.  In Illinois, for instance, the cost of maintaining an active attorney registration is upwards of $300 per year, even if one is practicing only a small portion of time.  I don't think I am stretching it to suggest that this is a cost many part-time working attorneys marginally afford.  The cost of registration covers attorney misconduct work, and so is used to assure that professional standards of conduct are maintained.  However, the cost might be more fairly distributed, reflecting in some way the amount of attorney work conducted by the attorney needing to maintain an active license.

 

I applaud the IBA on their movement to provide online access to significant law-related films and materials irregardless of IBA membership, and urge the American Bar Association to do more of the same. 

 

Let's create an affordable structure for lawyers to (1) practice law, and (2) continue their legal education, both online and offline - even when they are without the financial means to pay.  Period.

 

Yes, It's Better 'Over Here'

Posted on October 18, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Subject:  "Social Democracy," such as that found in Germany, Norway and other western European nations

Take:  Passing on a link to a recent article by Katha Politt, writing for The Nation magazine, in the September 20, 2010 issue, with a wistful sigh

 

I don't often stop and blog purely on the basis of finding a single article I would like to share, but Katha's simple and down-to-earth comment on the value of social democracy is one I couldn't agree with more.  When I am headed to the U.S., I brace myself, not because of the security queuing, but because when I get there, I will find the most helpful and customer friendly people in the world, working hard to make not-enough-money to live on or get ahead.  I will see the destitute ignored, struggling to walk the public sidewalks, falling down and wandering in streets, cars jockeying to avoid them.  I will usually see, within one day, someone in a car give someone else in a car the finger.  I will look with sadness at the dismal hell that has become America for many - and they are decent people - people who need that long-lost safety net for social services and interventions, in particular, those of a health and medical variety, besides needing jobs, respect, honor and companionship.

 

I've been reading The Nation most of my adult life, and Katha Politt, a regular contributor, has always been a guaranteed voice of sanity and curious investigation.  This article examines and compares the German social democracy and life in New York and the U.S. http://www.thenation.com/article/154477/its-better-over-there .  It's entitled "It's Better Over There."  I live near Germany, in Norway, and, despite the coldness - of every type, I have to sadly agree.  I only wish it were not true, but at least for now, I have to say, "It's better over here."  I also can't help but feel that a revolution is coming, one in which the continuing distance between the American haves and have-nots must be bridged - with sensitivity and respect for all.

Additional Voices Criticize Hardanger Fjord Power line Plan

Posted on July 26, 2010 at 2:01 AM

This is an update of my earlier discussion of this issue, which is coming to the forefront again now in Norway, despite having been on the back burner since as long ago as 2005-6. The latest opinions concerning the project are shared best in the Norwegian newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (Today’s Business News), on Saturday, July 24, 2010 (archive not free, in Norwegian). I will do a bit of translating to communicate some of the details shared, with some remarks in brackets:

 

Several experts believe government authorities have done a too-bad job in exploring alternatives to the power lines at issue. One of these is Einar Hope of Norway’s Business College. To begin with, the Energy Minister has said that Statnett has no obligation to explore alternative resolutions as thoroughly as the chosen alternative. [In the U.S., this would have required an environmental impact statement, as well as a public hearing, which would have forced the authorities to examine both the environmental and economic costs of the project before further planning of any specific solution.] Einar Hope mentions the fact that the government has not developed the gas power alternative available in the North Sea, for its reserve capacity. Gas turbines already exist in this location and could be turned on again, but that they then come into conflict with power-hungry industry already in this geographic area.

 

A likely solution would be to couple the power grid to the aluminum industry in Karmøy and Husnes. Wind power generators already planned for the North Sea could also be coupled in to that net. This would create a north-south line, attaching the Bergen area to the power market in Europe, the European power grid, which is desirable for many reasons. [Much of the population of Norway lives in the Oslo area and is on the Europe power grid, from which we usually are sourcing power in mid-late winter, when hydro-power supplies in Norway are occasionally diminished.]

 

Other comments are noted by Ståle Navrud, who agrees with Hope. He is a professor with the Institute of Economy and Resource Management at the University for Environmental and Biological Sciences in Norway. Navrud points to the economic environmental costs. If you add these to the equation, it would be unacceptably costly to ruin nature using this equation. Given these costs, sea cable becomes more acceptable. Sea cable would cost 3 million more norsk kroner. This, it is estimated, would cost each Norwegian 50 kroner per year, or, in the Hordaland area alone, 500 kroner per household per year (just under $100.] [The total difference in price is really only the equivalent of $486,000. It astounds me that Norway can spend so much money on farmers’ price supports, tax gasoline at the pump at +80%, and tax nearly everything else purchased in Norway, including services, at 25%, and then argue about a sum under $500,000 - to save a pristine natural wonder.]

 

The argument against sea cable is that it is not technologically reliable, forming a longer cable than has hitherto been placed for such a purpose.

 

As the article notes, a variety of alternatives have been proposed, but too few have been examined thoroughly. One of the problems with the proposed solution – hanging over Hardanger fjord - is that it has the same net-risk weakness as an already existing east-west Bergen power source. One would think greater attention would be placed on Hope’s European grid-related suggestions and north-south routes along the sea.

Norwegian government approves plan to permanently destroy fjord views

Posted on July 8, 2010 at 8:49 AM

Winner: Statkraft

Loser: Norwegians and the World

 

Summary:  The Norwegian government has, after years of haggling and arguing, finally approved high-voltage transmission towers which would criss-cross Norway's most beautiful and untouched fjords and fjord views, views currently enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

  

I know something about this: I am sitting in a cabin with a view of similar high-voltage transmissions towers, which jut with great ugliness from the Drammen fjord at Svelvik, Norway, crossing it, traversing menacingly over a series of lovely old white wooden homes to climb the other side at Klokkarstua, where they disappear into the inland with equal ugliness. They are, to be modern about describing these, suck ugly. And there is no longer any reason to use this form of electricity technology to get power around. Granted, Bergen needs more power. Let them get it another way!

 

When my husband and I were discussing this over our morning coffee (with the suck ugly view I just referred to), I asked him how the"Norwegian government" could make such a decision: ie. didn't the legislature have to approve it? Where would the money come from if they did not? The answer was: No, they don't have to approve it: we have a majority government in Norway, and therefore the legislature is a majority of what the government is, so no one has to approve it except "the government." "But," I continued, "who owns Statkraft?" Answer: "The government."

 

To be honest, I thought these fjords and fjord views were already world-protected. The area is similarly as lovely and nearly on top of one added to the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2005  (http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/134 ). World Heritage areas are supposed to be protected from excess human development and modifications under an international treaty. (This is embodied in the international treaty, Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.) The idea is to safeguard such sites. Countries involved (such as Norway) should report to UNESCO how they are preserving such sites. Not destroying such areas. The site of the present proposal should also qualify for protection under UNESCO.

 

Another point: Norway has been slow to protect natural areas by national legislation, such as establishing national park territories, as the U.S. has done. Norway's first national park was designated in 1962, and a second not again until 1989, while the U.S. established its National Park Service in 1872, when Yellowstone became its first national park.

My husband's argument against these, er, suck ugly lines and towers is that high-voltage power lines are not the best economic alternative available when one considers the loss of tourism Norway could experience as a result of such lines. The lines are not the least of it: the government then gets busy killing everything that dies within a wide space of the high-voltage assemblages (they're not poles). Add to this the fact that the tourism losses will be multiplied year after year after year. Add to this the fact that power lines are showing up everywhere in the world: is there no place that they cannot and should not show up? Of course there is. . . but is there anything about this that is not some political pork project paying off someone who is on the inside before the government is voted out of power? That's a rather more interesting question.

 

In fact, Norway is quite capable of making sea cable that would accommodate all the power needed, which is, after all the result that is sought. As the famous Danish designer, Poul Henningsen, has said, as I paraphrase: Focus on the light, not the lamp. Similarly, Bergen, focus on the result, not the means. Focus on getting the power to your homes and offices by sea cables, not by overhead wires.

 

This lead me into a broad array of related memories of lessons learned when I moved to Norway. If it sounds like Norway's version of democracy has forgotten about those precious words we revere so in the United States of America, balance of powers, you would be correct. New permanent residents are right to be suspicious when they get to the polling place and are asked not which person they would like to vote for, but which party's ballot they would like to be handed to take into the polling booth. That's right: there is no true representation in Norway; a Norwegian has no representative whose duty is to vote for those things of interest to him/her – the person whose office you call and blast when bad decisions are being made, the person you call when you want a new initiative to be taken up in the law. This makes doing whatever the government wants quite easy – in fact, it's a free-for-all. Once you're 'elected,' as they call it, you're in – in like Flint. Which means in with the budget. Roads? Screw 'em: we won't build better roads. So what if Sweden is so proud of theirs? Schools? Let them rot – look the other way. It's all party-politics. Want to get something for your community? Good luck.

 

The fact that the legislature is the same as the government doesn't help matters right now either, since the present government is a majority government and that government, as we noted, represents the legislature. It's kind of like putting the wolves in charge of the chicken coop: and then kicking out the chickens. The present government is really quite unpopular, despite the fact that they got re-elected last year. "They" are a combination of the Labor party, Center party (the farmer's party – price supports), and the Socialist party (everybody's equal – we mean it. . . and the government is always right, just like in communist countries.) This present "government" – have they really done anything? My husband says, Yes: they saved Norway from the economic crisis by... using the Oil Fund (excuse me, now called the Pension Fun.) They've done exactly what everyone else has done – gone to Afghanistan, send money to Africa, walk around acting holier-than-thou, and give two hoots about infrastructure and communities at home. They have not failed to deliver on any initiatives by never being quite clear enough to commit themselves to some, and are generally obfuscatory when put on the point. Being offended by critique is one of their favorite childish ploys. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, for example, will appear frowning and 'pissed off' in public photos. That takes care of things. Be nice about things and Jens will smile. We want Jens to smile, so most folks around Norway keep their critical opinions to themselves. They just keep quiet, like good Norwegians do.

 

I myself should have shut up two paragraphs ago. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some for your perusal on the topic of the post: http://stoppkraftlinja.no/index.jsp?pid=5001 . There are plenty of terrible photos here. You don't have to know Norwegian to see that. Now, what is anyone going to do about it? . . . who can, that is?