Welcome! I follow American legal issues, international law issues, English language points, and international business and audit concerns. I'm usually responding to news, either with opinion or information, for Americans overseas and those interested in law, audit, or language concerns. These are filtered through my residence, in Norway.
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|Posted on April 25, 2012 at 8:25 AM|
John Kristoffer Larsgard, a Norwegian young man, lately living in the United States. Liv Larsgard, his mother, a nursing home nurse in Oslo. Myself, an American attorney living and working in Norway, also assisting and commenting on cultural and legal issues of interest and note. And John, now and for several months, sitting in a prison in Arizona, and recently convicted after over a week-long trial.
I was asked by John’s mother, Liv Larsgard, to assist her. We’ve spoken on the phone on more than one occasion at length and she recently sent me portions of the court transcript in the case. She would like me to help her to get what is arguably also her story out to the public, in English, and, if I would like to do that, to comment on the legal merits of the case, on its problems and issues it seems to raise, as I deem appropriate.
So here we go, dear American and global Reader, as we look into what appears to be a classic example of how not to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. As well, how not to present criminal evidence in a jury trial. And we can also get to the rather long list of international human rights which have been broken with impunity later. First, let us simply look together at what has happened here. Let me whet your appetite. Here are some versions of headlines I could write, none of which is without some truth:
• Norwegian thrown in jail for messing up a three-point turn in unfamiliar rental car
• Norwegian punched in nose for going wrong way on poorly marked one-way street and trying to flee attackers
• Batterer goes free - Victim gets years in prison
• Norwegian with neck disability refused his medicine while held in solitary confinement
• Norwegian guilty of bad driving held in steel hand and foot chains at all times out of cell
• Norwegian punched to the floor and neck stomped on by other prisoner for doing nothing
• Norwegian with history of being mobbed in Norway finally mobbed to near-death in Arizona
• Lack of social skills becomes criminal intent in Arizona when non-Americans show up
• Need help? Don’t stop in Winslow, Arizona. Especially if you’ve never been there.
• Beer-happy festival crowd turns on foreigners for lack of American communication skills
• Foreigner drives wildly as reaction to attacking public . . . who over-reacted to his unfamiliarity
• Local prison needs prisoners after losing federal contract: Find foreigners fast and lock ‘em up
• A slam-dunk into prison means protecting local jobs - Now that’s a priority.
• Hearsay evidence illegal since 17th century – but not in Winslow, Arizona
Let’s begin with the exclusive coverage prepared and published in VG, one of Norway’s largest daily newspapers and most read. The coverage is by Eirik Mosveen, a veteran reporter stationed in New York. The paper has availability online for those interested in reading the Norwegian story portions. I don’t cover all the aspects, but I will summarize some of the written coverage as the story has just broken here. By doing that, I will primarily present it from the perspective from which it is reported - by a Norwegian reporter, to the Norwegian population in Norway. For me, it is a sign of respect, and also, like many Americans here, will ‘ring true’ with respect to our own education as to the differences between our two cultures. It may also be enlightening for those who should develop a professional interest in this case, and who have the ability and position to influence what should now occur and how that can be effected. In general, it’s interesting because it points up what people think they know about how they should perceive others’ actions. It also highlights how persons use the law and legal system, themselves, through their different roles within the criminal justice ‘sub-culture’ of this American rural county. We can analyze those cultural and legal differences in later entries. Now to the core story.
VG’s coverage began Monday, April 23, 2012: There was just a mother and son in the car that drove onto a deserted motorway through Arizona’s desert on a warm and peaceful Saturday. Then all hell broke loose. For seven months, John Kristoffer Larsgard, 32, has sat in jail in Navajo County Jail, mainly in solitary, with foot links and handcuffs. What happened on September 24 (2011) isn’t taken from an American B-film. It’s hard reality. On March 29th he was found guilty of so-called “aggravated assault” for trying to cause harm using a deadly weapon – against 6 Americans, 2 of them small children. The weapon, according to the judgment, was the rental car rented by his mother Liv, and the son drove it that ill-fated day. Tomorrow, the sentencing comes, at which the Norwegian risks being sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in prison, while he fears he could get 35 years.
Liv was driving her son’s Volvo as they made their way from Los Angeles to Chicago, and John was half-sleeping in the passenger seat. Suddenly, a red light on the dash began to blink. They decided to get off at the next exit to check it out. At that exit, Liv became confused as to how to proceed and ended up crossing into a median area which was full of un-noticeable rocks. There, the Volvo bottomed out and its under-carriage was substantially damaged. They therefore needed a rental car to continue their trip. The taxi driver that came to assist them drove them to Flagstaff where they rented a car and then returned to the Winslow area to find their baggage. Note that since the Volvo had been towed, and there were no rental agencies in Winslow, they had not been into the town before and were now entering it to find their luggage so they could continue their journey north and east. Now, John is driving. They are to find their auto at Dalton Auto Parts.
On this day, there is a large local music festival. They accidentally turn the wrong way down a one-way street, which causes onlookers to react. John is driving slowly, but some call to him that it is a one-way street. He tries to yell something back at those who are yelling at him, mainly a mother standing on the sidewalk. Liv is very anxious now and begs him to turn around and get them out of there. When John goes to execute a three-point turn, he runs over the curb behind him, scaring the persons hanging out in front of a store. Here is the woman with two children who claims he screamed at her, “I will kill you” before he executes the three-point turn. Note that another witness heard him say, “I will sneak through.”
Reader, I must digress here, on cross-cultural language usage and pronunciation. Have you heard a Norwegian say, “I will kill you” and “I will sneak through”? Do you realize that they don’t sound very different from each other? Do you know that the Norwegian language doesn’t do the ‘th’ sound very well – most of their consonants are sharper and more distinct. And they don’t do the ‘ough’ sound in ‘through’ very well either: most of their o’s are longer and deeper ooooo’s. In addition, all their i’s are e’s: they don’t have the short ‘i’ sound very much in the language: first, the ‘i’ is always pronounced as “ee” is in English. When they ‘will,’ they say, ‘veeel’.
Now, reader, another digression. When you have found yourself going the wrong way on a one-way street, what do you do? If it is safe to do so, you do as I have done: you sneak through to the next turn and get off of it. If no or few cars are seen, street direction can be under-signed. In many cases, sneaking forward to the next turn would be less disruptive and more ‘friendly’ than stopping and executing a three-point turn. So, it makes perfect sense that John was trying to tell the lady that he would try to sneak through, as he slowly proceeded, even if she heard something else instead, not recognizing his foreign accented English in the same way she would understand her western American English. Who said he said, “I will sneak through”? A young dental assistant who, presumably, has perfect hearing, who also testified at the, er, seven day trial.
And what does the prosecutor do with little lady number one’s statement? Well, of course, he offers it in testimony for, um, intent? To kill people? After all, he has to find an exception to the hearsay rule or he can’t get that assertion into evidence. Why? Because, the fact that this little lady swears under oath that she heard him say, “I will kill you” doesn’t mean he said that, and it also doesn’t mean one can accept that statement for the truth of the matter asserted. As every first year law student knows, hearsay is evidence which depends on the credibility of someone who cannot be cross-examined for its probative value (Goldberg). In other words, when little lady one says she heard him say, “I will kill you,” who are we to say she did not hear him say that? This is why HEARSAY IS NOT ADMISSIBLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVING THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER ASSERTED. Of course, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you keep a little lady on the stand repeating and repeating that he said “I will kill you,” and then everyone around her decides that must’ve been what the guy said, and they further testify to the same, (except for the lady who testified that he clearly said, “I will sneak through”), and then you have a situation where the jury is asked to find that this fellow intentionally set about hurting people in the town, and what will they find? It’s almost a Catch-22: you get the jury to answer only the question you ask them – and definitely not the question you should have asked them. Figure this one out.
Back to VG’s coverage. John manages to turn around and is trying to both flee people running after him who are angry, but basically find his luggage so they can leave town. In particular, the father of the children on the sidewalk is running after the car, angry as can be. John doesn’t see him, but pulls into the parking lot nearby while they hope to get their luggage. The car becomes surrounded and, coming from behind, John is smashed in the nose through the open driver’s window. The father who crushed his nose is rushing back while John’s blood is spurting profusely all over the unfamiliar rental car interior. Still, he is afraid to get out of the car.
Both John and Liv manage to call 911. Immediately, about 10 police arrive. Ten? It has been 6 ½ minutes since they began to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Winslow, Arizona.
Criss Candaleria, John’s attorney, tells VG, (in my translation from the Norwegian paper), “This is really an embarrassing case. It should have been dropped from Day One. There isn’t even one shred of evidence in the case that John intended to kill someone in the course of those 6 ½ minutes, in a town he had never been in before. The police didn’t even assign one investigator to it. The witnesses were angry, and the police and the court chose to believe the witnesses’ version, namely that he was trying to hurt and kill these people. If he was trying to kill them, why would he call the police and tell them where he was? The case is completely illogical. Therefore, I’ve asked for a new trial.”
None of the witnesses contacted would talk to the VG reporter who was in town requesting it, although everyone knows that ‘there was a foreigner here last year who drove like a crazy man and tried to hurt and kill folks.’
Eirik Mosveen was able to talk to John at the Navajo County Jail, which is in Holbrook, Arizona. John says, (in my English translation), “I’ve got no connection with Arizona, other than that my mother and I drove along I-40. For me, it’s as if we’ve been taken in a highway robbery.” (John is in solitary confinement.) Further, “The treatment I am getting here in jail is based on what I was arrested for. It’s pretty bad right now. I’m getting out of my cell 3 times each week, one hour each time, to take a shower and maybe read documents. Otherwise, I’m in the cell, which has a toilet, a sink and a mattress pad.” John is always in hand and foot links when he is out of his cell unless he is showering. John says, “It’s completely laughable. It’s because, according to them, I am the most dangerous prisoner in the entire county.” Eirik asks him what he thinks of this. John replies, “That it’s complete lunacy. It’s like a bad film, where you swing in and land on a deserted peninsula, filled with angry residents. Because I was charged with trying to hurt children, many of the jail staff have treated me very badly, despite the fact that that charge was dropped. I’m like their mass murderer, the unfortunate mass murderer since, under the circumstances, no one was hurt.” Eirik and John continue their discussion of what seems to have been a completely insane description of what in fact occurred. John then adds, “What I’ve learned for myself at this place is that, here, anything can happen.” When asked if he had been there before, John replies, “No, I’d never heard of the place, and if I had, I would have thought it was a new data virus by Windows,” he says and smiles.
Alright, Reader, here we take another break. Do you have to love this guy? No, but I think his cynical sense of humor may be helping him stay alive. And he’s definitely not stupid. Can we see why driving a bit wildly might ‘piss people off’? Yes. Can we understand why he was trying to get out of the wrong-way predicament he was in, while women were screaming at him to turn around? Yes. Can we understand that we also don’t have to ‘like’ him to see that the type of treatment he has gotten has gone way way beyond the reasonable? Yes. Might he have exacerbated the bad-driver side in response to provocations from persons attacking the car? Quite possibly, but so. Can we understand that it would have been appropriate to cite him for traffic violations? Yes. When someone runs at your car, and brushes against it intentionally while you are driving and you can’t see them, are you responsible for the fact that the car touched them? As a Chicagoan who has more than once watched pedestrians attack and damage cars in traffic, I’ll leave that question open. Did the car he was driving, while being chased, brush against someone? Yes. Are they responsible for putting themselves in harm’s way? Quite possibly. If they are on a sidewalk when the three-point turn fails, and the tire blows out on the curb, is this something you could have prevented when you had never driven that car until right then? No, not necessarily. Is it reasonable to think that this scared the persons on the sidewalk? Of course. Would the children be afraid? Of course. American response: Get offended (which is also considered smart) and get even. Norwegian response: Stop all action, calm down and exchange names and numbers. Is it reasonable for them to claim that he was trying intentionally to kill them? Based on the actual evidence, of course not. But in Winslow, Arizona, who cares about the evidence? Just ‘hang ‘em high’ as they say, right?
Eirik asks John what he thinks of the future. John replies, “I don’t know. I’m just trying to survive each day as it comes here.” When asked about his mother, John replies, “It’s not easy. Because she feels a large responsibility because it was she who crashed the car, and the reason we had to hang around here. She’s suffering with guilt feelings. In addition, she’s been here, away [from her work and Oslo] for long periods, and taken out vacation for two years in the future. She has gotten large economic problems [from this].
VG’s first day’s coverage ends with this information: In Winslow, Arizona, both the State’s Attorney and the judge in the case are publicly (popularly) elected and are political office holders, and 2012 is an election year. There is little doubt that many people in Winslow, which has about 6,000 residents, would like to see Larsgard sentenced to time. To let John free of a punishment ‘would not be especially popular.’
If you’re able to and interested, check VG’s video story link, entitled, “Her pågripes nordmannen,” shown and downloadable at: http://www.vgtv.no/#!id=52059 .
To be continued. By me and hopefully by other concerned and engaged professionals from our two countries.
|Posted on March 5, 2012 at 4:30 AM|
Identity Theft Attempts through ‘IRS’ E-mail ‘Notices’
It appears that at least two Americans overseas in Norway, prospective tax clients and concerned citizens, have been contacted recently by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by e-mail. That’s very interesting, seeing as the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.
They contacted me, telling me that they had received notice letters from the IRS, letters that told them they must file tax forms to the U.S. Well, so far, so good: if they meet the minimum income threshold for filing generally, they would have to file IRS tax forms, sending them to the IRS. I ask them if they have not filed lately, and they both replied that was the case. I give them all the information about filing their tax forms, and my services, and ask if they would like to use me to do that. They both replied yes. I then asked them to send me the notice letters they received in the mail – so I can reference those in doing their forms. That is when the word, e-mail (also known as email) shows up in the discussion. And, just to be sure that anyone reading this does not miss the message, it is stated several times. “The IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.”
If that is the case, then where is this e-mail coming from? And what do they expect to get out of it? Question one first. This particular e-mail string came from an e-mail registered to vsnl.com. For privacy purposes, I will call it: email@example.com. When one looks up to see who that could be, one discovers that one of the things that vsnl.com does is register e-mail addresses to persons who purchase those from them. A dead-end, as far as I’m concerned. Let the security police continue from there. It didn’t hurt that the text they placed in the ‘from’ box on the e-mail (note also: this was not the e-address) was: “IRS Tax Notification Department.” Sounds impressive. Just that it wasn’t the IRS – or the ‘IRS Tax Notification Department.’
Question two: What do they expect to get out of it? I imagine they would like confessional replies stating your social security number, your income, and while you’re at it, your bank account numbers, and PIN codes. Say you owe tax? Throw in your credit card numbers, etcetera? STOP before you even begin. Why? Because the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers! Do not reply, and above all, do not open attachments, rather hard for flustered folk to resist.
Rather clever that they think they’ve found some Americans overseas they can utilize for identity theft purposes. Hopefully, we do not hear any sob stories about emptied accounts and identity theft.
Still, it made me a bit sentimental. I recall the first (and only) e-mail I received from the IRS. I may be a taxpayer, but I am also a tax preparer, and an Acceptance Agent, assisting foreigners in filing Form W-7. It was rather recently. I had been doing tax work for Americans in Norway for 12 years and had a question about my Acceptance Agent work. The somewhat-secret phone number I was given to call had a voicemail with an e-address suggested on it, so I sent my question along by e-mail to the IRS. Voila: several hours later, a reply was in my e-mail inbox. Was that special? Yes. Am I special? No. It is still true, you see, that “the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.” One could always say that “the IRS never initiates e-mail contact with taxpayers.”
Therefore, whether you are an American taxpayer or a non-American taxpayer, IF YOU GET an e-mail that appears to be from the IRS, the IRS requests that you forward it to an e-mail address they provide for this purpose. Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Guess what: they will not reply!
Additional information is available at: http://www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=179820,00.html and at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4523esp.pdf .
Then, go fishing if you can. Before you update your tax filings. It will ease your mind to know that you are making your own small but important contribution to responding to the burden of growing global financial accountability. Besides, fish for dinner is good for you.
|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.
|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:
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!
|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!
|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:
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.
|Posted on September 23, 2011 at 7:25 AM|
We all know that excellent lawyers are not necessarily excellent writers. At least when it comes to the English language, they are not world-reknowned for their contributions to its clarity. I will omit the name of the poor attorney who, after many years of good practice, submitted materials to a U.S. court that were rejected, as he indicates he was quite ill during the time he had to develop the submission. Still, how can one not love the court's response when it read like this, in part, as reported and quoted by the American Bar Association in their ABA Journal Weekly Newsletter of Sept 23, 2011:
"The district court was well within its discretion when it refused to accept [the attorney's] second amended complaint, the appeals court said. “Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency,” according to the appeals court. “Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general 'kitchen sink' approach to pleading the case.”
How can a teacher of Legal English not love it? With hopes that I will not offend too greatly, this also sounds quite a bit like the standard operating approach to a college examination in "Business Communications: Intercultural and Ethical Awareness;" when it's difficult to figure out what to write, the creative writer certainly comes forth!
|Posted on September 23, 2011 at 7:00 AM|
I am thrilled to announce that my blog is not dead! In the past weeks, it experienced a remarkably low profile, indicating that since I, the author, was no longer a ‘member’ of the site, the entries could not be displayed. To this, I must say that the new-fangled world of ‘IT’ certainly has a sense of humor. In truth, I am not only a member of this site. I wrote it. And I write it. I enjoy it also, and tend it, as a good gardener. Of course, now the days in Norway are getting chilly, and the darkness is already approaching us; both dawn and dusk encroach on our vision. Uff da meg. The gardener is busy putting tended issues to bed for a while. A bit of pruning, a bit of complaining.
Meanwhile, the American Embassy has, this calendar year of 2011, managed to awake the sleeping Americans living here to their duty to file their personal income tax forms with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, setting off screeches of fear and quaking of the knees. I’ve been the recipient of a fair amount of resulting tax work, and have widened my familiarity with various fact and income patterns . . . the hard way, in some cases: by having to re-file some of my clients’ tax forms.
But let’s speak about taxation. It has been awhile. Here are my latest gripes, the first of which is probably of greater interest to tax preparers than to tax clients.
The IRS requests that we complete the Foreign Earned Income worksheet to determine one’s taxable income. When this is not used (inadvertently, in part because it is a relatively new tax calculation requirement and in part because it is not placed intrinsically into the tax form itself), instead using the standard U.S. Tax Table, the tax appears to be under-stated. Using the Tax Table, it is only under-stated to the extent of the foreign earned income exclusion (Form 2555 and 2555-EZ), which is a convenient formulation for writing down one’s foreign earned income - income that has already been taxed in a foreign country – in our case, Norway. So when one uses the Tax Table, the tax is lower. However, any resulting foreign tax credit calculation (Form 1116) would show the IRS that the level of actual tax paid to Norway on the income was sufficient to cover even the larger amount of tax that would have resulted by use of the Foreign Earned Income worksheet for calculating tax. And let’s just say that the Form 1116 was included in that package of materials that did not use the Foreign Earned Income Tax worksheet, but did use the Tax Table to calculate the tax . . .
If you are still with me here, please note: Instead of the IRS, then (a) informing the tax client by mail that they should complete the Foreign Earned Income tax worksheet and re-file their forms (i.e. since they can see that the taxes paid to Norway are sufficient to cover the difference), the IRS instead does (b) informs the tax client by mail that they did not utilize the Foreign Earned Income worksheet to calculate their tax and should therefore immediately pay $8,765 dollars to the IRS, or will be subject to extreme penalties and possible legal action.
The ‘immediately pay’ part is tricky: since the payment to the IRS is due within 30 days of the IRS’s letter date, and the letters never arrive before exactly 30 days have elapsed, the payment is due on the date the letter is opened by the unsuspecting American overseas in, for example, Norway, who, to be honest, does not owe a penny to the IRS.
This brings me to the title of this entry: The IRS does not realize that this type of letter reply is not only questionable from the standpoint of “good faith business practice,” but could cause its recipient to have a heart attack or stroke, thus unintentionally causing their death. As for me, I will stick with the argument that this type of letter reply is, quite truthfully, exhibiting a lack of GOOD FAITH and FAIRNESS in BUSINESS PRACTICES.
Sadly, I don’t even want to speculate as to how many Americans overseas, around the world, who are paying taxes in their country of residence, have received this particular letter and responded by immediately wiring off the required payments to the IRS when, if they would re-file their forms using the FEI Worksheet to calculate their taxes, they would very likely not owe the IRS a penny, and, even if they had shown the IRS what their foreign taxes paid figures were, the IRS sent them that bill. Shameful!
Is anyone reading this? If so, glad to hear from you, albeit briefly.
This brings me to point number 2. The United States would like all Americans to file their foreign bank account numbers and totals with them, for their information. I have written about this before. The general area of concern is called: FBAR. FBAR stands for Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report.
First, it seems a reasonable enough requirement that all Americans living in the U.S. should have to do this. The point is: they should not be able to skip paying taxes to the U.S. simply by managing, in one way or another, to park their change in foreign countries’ banks.
My first gripe with this law is, therefore, conceptually simple: Americans who live and work overseas, hired by foreign companies and/or working solely in foreign lands, paying their rightful personal income taxes to those foreign lands, are already doing what they should have to do, given the tax treaties between the U.S. and most nations. Thus, double taxation is avoided. Therefore, why should they not fall under an exception to the rule that requires that they report their bank accounts and account numbers as well as highest yearly balances in those accounts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury?
This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question.
FBAR II: A flurry of e-mails appeared in my inbox after the Democrats Abroad of Stavanger sent a relatively scary e-mail around to those on its e-mail list, identifying a series of dates for filing the FBAR form, links for where to find the latest version, and indications of what might happen to persons who did not file this information with the U.S. government. Therefore, it is time to update my previous entry on this topic. Not because I understand any more fully why the U.S. government insists on requiring this information from Americans who live and work overseas while paying taxes overseas as required. Why? Because, there is a new revision of the form which is to be filed. In other words, I remain clueless when I was recently quizzed on both the conceptual justification for requiring this of us – or at least those of us with at least the equivalent of $10,000 in a foreign bank account – or stocks or securities, and what would happen to someone who wanted to do the right thing, but had happened to not hear of it until after the latest drop-dead deadline of September 9, 2011. My answer was: (1) I don’t know, and (2) I don’t know. I will try to find out. In the meantime, the new FBAR filing form can be found here, and is called the TD F 90-22.1, revised March, 2011 (and don’t use previous versions!).
According to the information I am aware of, one should file these forms if one qualifies as required to file them. The IRS advises those who have filed their income tax forms, but who have not filed their FBARs, that they should file the delinquent FBAR reports (back to 2003) and send them to the Department of Treasury, Post Office Box 32621, Detroit, MI 48232-0621, also attaching a statement explaining why the reports are filed late. Non-intentional non-filing is also subject to penalty.
What, you say? Listen, I’m going to work on this and try to obtain more clear information as to the consequences for those who have not yet filed the FBARS but are supposed to have done so. Meanwhile, my question as to why overseas Americans should be required to file this information remains, to my mind, a very good question, one in need of a better answer than is found to date in any online resource, including the Department of Treasury. My tentative thoughts are that this could be an appropriate agenda item for the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means.
As recently as this past June, 2011, this House Committee heard testimony from Robert Stricof, Tax Partner at Deloitte Tax LLP, concerning the collection of foreign banking information with respect to foreign-based companies with U.S. interests, in an inquiry into whether foreign companies were engaging in “earnings stripping” to pad their deductible expenses paid to foreign parties. He indicated that the related reporting forms had been unclear since they were released 4 years ago, and nothing had been done to either clarify the related forms or to determine if they actually even managed to achieve their purpose.
With the FBAR, let’s go further, much further. I am forced back to my first question, above: What is the financial interest of the U.S. government in individual Americans’ bank account balances in foreign countries when they do not spend significant time in the U.S., have no special employment-related ties to the U.S., and live and work, for all intents and purposes, legally within countries with which the U.S. has agreed tax treaties assuring no double taxation? Should they not be subject to an exception to the requirement for filing of the FBAR forms?
You are welcome to forward this message. Alternatively, since our language is devolving as we speak, you can also, sadly, ‘like it’ or ‘not like it.’ As for me, I've got work to do: it's already getting dark outside.
|Posted on August 12, 2011 at 11:35 AM|
Subject: The recent bombing of Oslo and attack and murder of young people at Utøya
As families and loved ones say their farewells to those murdered, as the injured continue their difficult recoveries, and as all who were affected in Norway and beyond struggle to come to grips with the implications of what occurred, I took a pen in hand. This is natural for a writer. Everyone has their own way to grieve. And it is noted that the grieving process is especially important, and will vary from person to person.
One way I cope in life is by visiting literature I love. When I first saw some of the footage of one of the first memorial services, which took place in the Domkirke, I was drawn to reflect upon a piece of Victorean literature I have always loved, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot. This poem, which is classified as 'fantasy literature,' was inspired by Arthurian legends, and has, itself, inspired many writers, poets and artists since Tennyson penned it.
I took my cue from his verses, and have composed a likeness, retaining many of his beautiful images. This likeness is, I think, a suitable tribute to the spirits of the young people who were there that day, both those who died and those who lived. I also mean to embrace those affected in Oslo. With the stories of those affected still coming out, it is, it seems, the miracle of life and love that is continually before us, square and center stage.
Should you wish to read it, I hope you like it, and that you find it helpful to you. I would like to formally publish it at some time in the future, and of course, be paid for that effort. I am also open to revising it, and will do that if I think it improves it. For now, I will post it here, in part, so that it can be shared with others who may find comfort, love and peace in reading it now:
The Spirits of the Young
Nearby to Tyrifjorden lie
Long fields of wheat and also rye
That cloak the land and meet the sky.
And near the fjord, a road runs by,
A road that runs to Oslo.
Now up and down the people go,
Gazing where the roses blow,
‘Round an island there below,
Utoya, it is called.
Willows whiten, birch trees bow,
Little breezes dusk and plough,
Rippling through the fjord’s cold waters,
By the island’s grass green bowers,
Flowing north of Oslo.
On the island, camps and buildings
Overlook a flowered shrine,
And the morning isle empowers
Dreams and spirits of the young.
By the margin, blue ridge-veiled,
Slide heavy trucks and trains,
The commerce of a nation hailed;
Its ships and planes the world has sailed.
They’re driving down to Oslo.
But who hath seen that spirit’s hand?
Or at a window seen them stand?
At Utoya, known throughout the land,
For the spirits of the young?
Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes clearly
From the fjord and island, nearly
Down to Oslo.
And by the moon, the reaper, weary,
Piling his sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, “’Tis the fairies,
And the spirits of the young.”
There, they weave by night and day,
A magic web, all colors gay.
The young have heard a whisper say
A curse is on them if they stay,
And look downward to Oslo.
They know not what that curse may be.
The fairies weave on, steadily.
And little other care have they,
The spirits of the young.
Yet, moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before them all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There, they see the highway near,
Winding down to Oslo.
There the cold fjord’s eddies swirl,
And there a sleepy village churls,
And the red coats of the market girls
Pass onward in a throng.
Sometimes children pass them by,
Or business people, gals and guys,
The elderly, in busses, cars,
A boy holding a girl in his arms –
They all go by to Oslo.
And sometimes through that mirror blue,
The youths themselves ride, two by two.
The fairies watch them as they do,
The spirits of the young.
The fairies in their web delight,
And weave the mirror’s magic sights.
Yet often in the silent nights,
A funeral with plumes and lights
Goes by to storied Oslo.
And when the Moon is overhead,
Come two young lovers, lately wed.
“I am so sick of shadows,” said
These spirits of the young.
They gathered at the island green
To meet their futures, yet unseen.
Unglimpsed but bright, their social dreams,
On a red shield of labor, streamed
Their banners down to Oslo.
And policies of caring grace
Were balanced against, not race,
But human need, a human face,
A Nation’s needs, that’s all.
In the gray and cloudy weather,
Their leaders shared the purple heather,
Engaging tales of public service,
Fellowship, one flame, together,
Shining down to Oslo.
Participation, love of place,
Growing self-confidence and grace
Engaged them in their meetings, moved
The spirits of the young.
Too many shots that tragic day
Rang out from one who made his way
To Utoya - to make a play
Whose actors fall in death away.
From under years of hatred flowed
A senseless rage as on he ploughed.
He flashed his ‘badge,’ secret ill will,
He crossed onto the isle, to kill
The spirits of the young.
‘Twas then they left their colored looms,
The fairies scuttling to stop the doom.
They watched the water-lily bloom,
They saw a uniform, a gun,
And cried out to Oslo.
Out flew the web and floated wide,
The mirror cracked from side to side.
“The curse is come upon us,” cried
The spirits of the young.
Beneath the bright gray sky, wind straining,
Rocky shore, with green woods waning,
The fjord stream, cold, began complaining
Heavily, with low clouds raining
Over bombed Oslo.
Then down they came and found no boat,
Into the water jumped, swam, floated,
Were caught unawares on land or sea,
The spirits of the young.
And down the fjord’s dark blue expanse,
Like children, seers in a trance,
Came those who cleared and beat mischance,
With dark and glassy countenance,
Crying out to Oslo.
And at the closing of the day,
The dead, injured and safe ones lay,
Down in a darkness far away,
The spirits of the young.
Some spirits scattered, snowy white,
And loosely flew up, left and right,
Through leaves and flowers, falling light
Upon them, through the noisy night.
They floated down to Oslo.
And as their boat wound along,
The mountains and the fields among,
The people heard them sing a song,
The spirits of the young.
They heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Until their blood was frozen slowly
And they closed their eyes, wholly,
Turned towards Oslo.
For ‘ere they reached the other side,
Or spied their home or family ties,
Singing their song of love, they died,
The spirits of the young.
From churches’ eaves and balconies,
By garden walls and galleries,
As gleaming shapes, they floated by
Their mountains, fields, their seashores, sky,
Silently from Oslo.
Then out upon the wharfs they came,
The police and people - Prince and plain,
And then it was they saw their names,
The spirits of the young.
Who is this? What happened here?
And in the lighted palace near,
Died the sounds of summer cheer,
And all who saw them cringed with fear
And sadness through Oslo.
The King and Queen and all who saw
Wept and wept. Then spread the awe
Of those whose stories were then told,
Tales of bravery and heroism bold,
Of the spirits of the young.
Who are these? What happened here,
The stories of these heroes tell:
Who sprung with love and caring near
To those who otherwise would fall?
Who road into the danger zone
To grasp the arms of those forlorn?
Who chose an instant’s infinite grace
To face a demon in a place
Now known forever as the space
Of the spirits of the young.
Above the island’s lush green boroughs
Hovers the love of many. Those
Who passed away on that sad day,
And those who come anew, to say,
We won’t be stopped by fear and hate,
Nor stop our path to Oslo.
Meanwhile, the fairies to their bowers
Repair, wherein they spend the hours
Weaving on looms of colored flowers,
For the spirits of the young.
They carry forth their woven threads,
And in them they embrace the dead,
Lift up their spirits, overhead,
Assure them that their spirits live,
Above and beyond Oslo.
The spirits fly to fathers’ homes,
And visit mothers’ gardens, roam
Among our sacred places, play
In light and energy all day.
The spirits call to all of us:
They kiss the Nordic evening dusk.
“Be all that you can be among
All peoples of your blessed land,”
They say, and so their song is strong,
Forever striving, never undone.
Their gods embrace them as they tone,
‘Never forget our love: far-flung.’
-The Spirits of the Young
With attributions to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and ‘The Lady of Shallot’
June Edvenson, 2011
All rights reserved
Reprint and distribution rights reserved.
Permission to reproduce by direct inquiry to email@example.com
|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.
|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:
|Posted on May 24, 2011 at 11:29 AM|
Subject: Sustainability . . . and Law? What can we say about this concept, and how it informs our world and behaviors? I became interested in this topic when prompted by a call for papers for the 2011 EUKO conference at Aarhus, Denmark. The conference will be the 11th international conference organised by the Department of Language and Business Communication of the Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University, Denmark. This year’s theme is, “Sustainable Communication – Communicative Sustainability.” Their goal is to assemble a wide array of responses on this theme from various sectors of the global business community and communications specialists. The focus will be broad: sustainability and communication as seen regarding the economy, environment, globalization, social welfare and corporate communications, among others. I became interested in the topic from a legal perspective and began to do a bit of research. Thematically, I decided to focus on the dialectic within environmental law, corporate social responsibility and international human rights.
Over the past few months, I’ve assembled an array of resources, and am writing an article in this topical area, tentatively entitled, The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ & Sustainability ’Red Threads’ in the Language of International Law & Human Rights.
I am looking at the concept of sustainability of the environment from the perspective of the traditional positivist language of law, including environmental law, international law and human rights law, while developing a critique of existing structural approaches to its communication within existing rule-based and policy-based systems. Historically, Western property law has resulted in the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ in which resources belonging to the commons will ultimately be depleted beyond sustainability by group members, in contrast to the greater good of all, and in spite of the essential minimum needs of all. Resource utilization struggles of today confirm the tragedy’s principe dispositif, while laws regulating the environment remain under-developed both structurally and ideologically to the challenge.
Core values of sustainability and how it is communicated are found discussed in recent legal and environmental law scholarship. These values include, among others, the right to identity and the protection of language, culture, names and participation. Achieving the preconditions for sustainability through communication also requires challenging ineffective controls while opening political, business and social networks impeding its development. Modern means of communicating sustainability include corporate social responsibility platforms and codes. Beyond this, discussions are taking place on melding core concepts of environmental law with human rights law, and I will be discussing these in the article.
Already, I believe I have identified what could be called ‘red threads’ tying communications and sustainability together within a legal framework designed to address corporate activity affecting the environment, and find these red threads at the center of recent global political and economic trends, i.e. utilizing language, new visual media channels and social media platforms to secure the primary preconditions for sustainability. By focusing on legal perceptions, I hope to encourage law and policy makers to newly prioritize environmental sustainability law, suiting it to changing needs, transparency, and modern global conditions.
sustainability. n. 1. capable of being sustained; 2. Of or relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged (such as sustainable techniques, sustainable agriculture); of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods (such as a sustainable society). First known use: circa 1727. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I was pleased that the International Bar Association took my question on this, asking the Legal Director of Royal Dutch Shell about their work with sustainability at the conclusion of the IBA Webinar, May 24, 2011. Peter Rees’s response indicates that he is aware of the practical approaches to incorporating sustainability in their legal work, noting, first, that assuring that Shell is in full compliance with environmental regulation is a part of this. Beyond that, he noted that Shell is involved in looking at sustainability on a continuing basis with regard to reducing their carbon footprint, and seeking ways to reduce impacts of this nature. Rees's reference to the need for a global approach to corporate conditions is also a part ot this, what he called the need for "global consistency." Such goals require participatory action on a global level.
Sustainability: an evolving concept with specific pre-conditions and significant weight for our survival as a global community. Sustainabiliy: something that the global legal community can help to define and bring about.
|Posted on April 2, 2011 at 2:10 PM|
Time to unveil the unveiled, that is 'apps' for doing your taxes. This short video cleverly reveals some of the available options: http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,876692034001_2062830,00.html .
Now, if only I could have done this in the past! The 'take' is cute, including snapshots of hoped-for business deductions, ending up with, er, the dog.
I'm not sure that apps are up-to-speed for Americans filing from overseas, with their use of the Form 2555 and occasionally Form 1116, but taking photos of your W-2s and entering them into a simple application program is surely going to be good for many at-home on-salary individuals. Make it that simple for individuals to file, and it's got to be good for Uncle Sam, too. And what do we want right now? What is good for Uncle Sam!
|Posted on March 31, 2011 at 3:34 AM|
As the world gets ever smaller, and nuclear reactors seem to be ever-more-present, it is time to re-visit a topic I wrote about some time back for Escape Artist Magazine, an online publication found at the interesting and informative website,
I take my blog headline from Greek mythology in which a creature described as half bird and half woman lured sailers to their doom with her sweet singing. Also variously described as sea nymphs, the sirens live in rock outcroppings along the beaches, causing the destruction of ships sailing in too close. Odysseus was smart enough to have himself tied to the mast of his ship to avoid their sweet enticements, while his men plugged their ears with wax, all in their efforts to avoid being drawn in by these tantalizing babe magnets.
We all know, too, that the sirens still exist. Walking every non-radiactive beach in the temperate world, of course. And so, as northern Spring thaws re-awaken our sense of eternal youth and adventure, we head out again, around the globe, to find that perfect spot.
Here's a link to the article I wrote, and I hope you enjoy it. It still sounds quite current to me, and so I decided to re-introduce it through my blog. Ten Ways to Lose Your Property Overseas Without Really Trying: http://www.escapeartist.com/efam/78/10_Ways.html
As for Alice, Pippi and Peer, the update is simple: they're all doing fine back at home, have not yet recouped their investments, but surround themselves with work, family and friends, and continue their eternal travels.
|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,
as well as to the “2004 Protocol to the Paris Convention”
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?
|Posted on March 5, 2011 at 5:41 AM|
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.
|Posted on March 4, 2011 at 12:05 PM|
Americans abroad, I ask, “Who must file income tax forms to the U.S.? Who?"
All we Americans abroad who live abroad are supposed to know that we are required to file personal income forms with the Internal Revenue Service each and every year. And yet, what if a person makes little income? What is the level of income necessary to trigger the filing requirement? (1) Because, technically, not ALL Americans have to file with the IRS each year . . . specifically, those who have sufficiently low levels of total worldwide income to report in the first place. And (2) what types of income are included in the income level at which an American must file with the IRS? This question was posed to me recently by L. For purposes of illustration, L is an American gal, married to a Norwegian and does not work. She therefore has no earned income. She also has no interest or dividends, stocks, annuities, etc. that might be taxable as income, so she has no personal income. L’s husband happily pays all the bills. Lucky L!
The answers to this are found at IRS Publication 54. For those of you with chronic tax-avoidance syndrome, this is found online at the IRS’s quite user-friendly website, www.irs.gov. You are welcome to visit it, and you will find out all types of things you wanted to know . . . as well as some you surely would rather not! The Search box is not natural-language-savvy, but it’s also not completely hopeless. Here’s the link to the current Publication 54: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p54.pdf. We didn’t think we’d get sentimental about this, but the IRS stopped sending this around to folks just this year, and frankly, it means I can’t add it to my book shelf.
For my part, I’ll share the American overseas core filing lower limits here in reader-friendly English. Chicago-style English, that is: For adults (non-dependents), are you single and did you make less than $9,350 dollars - or if you’re 65 or older, less than $10,750 dollars in 2010? Don’t count foreign pensions, either. Well, then you don’t have to file for 2010. If you’re married filing separately, though, which most of my clients are, did you make less than $3,650 dollars in 2010? Yeah, I thought not – and then you better be filing, buddy. Ah, and, say, you were self-employed? Sorry, chump. You have to file even if you made only $400 dollars the entire year.
Now, when to file?
If you have not been filing and should have been filing, you should file RIGHT NOW: the current tax year’s forms that are due (in this case, for 2010), and the 3 prior years’ forms (in this case, 2007, 2008 and 2009).
If you have been filing on an ongoing basis, and you will owe tax, you should file by April 15th - since any taxes owed are due on that date (no matter where you live). However, if you don’t file by that date, you should file as soon afterward as you can, and, frankly, the interest on a small tax bill due is so low, most can live with that difference if they don’t have their current year figures in overseas income figured out until sometime after April 15th.
Most Americans overseas have moderate incomes: If you are filing and know you won’t owe any taxes, you can file by June 15th or submit an auto-extension form. If you submit an auto-extension form, you can file up to Oct. 15th. (Just note that the auto-extension form means, they give you permission to file late: it doesn't excuse you from NOT sending in the extension request....It's not exactly that 'automatic.')
That wasn’t too hard, was it? Now, if you’re still scared to death, you can use my services, and I do the filing work for you. Up to you. Velkommen or Best Wishes!
|Posted on February 15, 2011 at 11:18 PM|
Professional academic quality instructional materials for learning English are plentiful on the internet, but many are not free of charge to the general inquirer. As a result, it can be frustrating to attempt a more comprehensive approach to self-education efforts.
This note is simply to point out some great resources for learning English online, including a small handful for (1) grammar, (2) pronunciation or oral speech development, and (3) listening comprehension and vocabulary development.
In the grammar category, I have to mention the work of Dr. Charles Darling, may he rest in peace. During his years teaching English at Capital Community College in the northeastern U.S., he developed a 'Guide to Grammar and Writing' that, as they say, 'took on a life of its own.' His clever contexting of materials, with easy-to-use quizzes, tips and comments, make learning written English (and grammar) about as pleasurable for a non-English native as it could possibly be. This is found at http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/imoDarling.htm. The top page is the dedication to his work, and requests donations. The site access is free and supported by private donations and the college itself. Click on the title "Guide to" and you will soon be involved in a wide array of exercises, rules, tips, quizzes and games.
In the area of English pronunciation, I would refer those interested to http://www.manythings.org. There are specialized word combinations to practice, and the site also includes vocabulary and grammar guidance, listening possibilities with mp3 files, and more. The site is the property of Charles Kelly and Lawrence Kelly, who appear to be as interesting as their compilations on English.
For general and business English listening and development, for those with an interest in the U.S., I would highly recommend any of the regular programs found at National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/ . From the Programs menu, select All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Talk of the Nation, or another program. In the humor area, hardest for a non-native speaker to appreciate, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, is a fun and interesting program, as is A Prairie Home Companion. In the radio essay category, select This American Life, produced by PRI.
For British English language learning, one will find an interesting and continually updated approach at the BBC's radio-related website, "Business Language to Go." http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/talkaboutenglish/2009/02/090211_tae_bltg.shtml
This includes radio spots on various topics, some video tutorials, as well as business English listening, vocabulary and pronunciation builders. The stories featured are interesting and timely, and the language learning materials professionally produced, including mp3 files, transcript downloads, vocabulary lists, pronunciation audios and more.
So, looking to learn English online? Good luck! Have fun! These materials should help you to make it so.
|Posted on February 13, 2011 at 7:02 AM|
Here's a quick entry to share information with other U.S. tax preparers - persons who are doing business as professional preparers of tax forms - who prepare Internal Revenue Service forms for others. Alright, you know who you are.
Mandatory e-filing of IRS forms isn't just coming. It's here! Starting this year, 2011, tax preparers who expect to prepare 100 or more returns for clients must e-file. Beginning in 2012, tax preparers who expect to prepare as few as 10 returns for clients must e-file.
The IRS link to the announcement is shown here: http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/providers/article/0,,id=223832,00.html .
To e-file, a preparer must "create an e-filing account." This process starts here:
Got it? or Get it!
|Posted on February 9, 2011 at 6:59 AM|
For those interested, here is a quick tip for legal networking options in the Nordic countries: LinkedIn’s group, "Nordic Lawyers and other Legal Professionals."
LinkedIn continues its meteoric climb in the social media field, specifically directed at connecting business professionals. As to the Nordic Lawyers group, they have both professional and personal links, remarks, discussions. The language of postings is what have you: Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, English. They all work.
You will find the main group at: http://www.linkedin.com/. They are also beginning a new blogger-assembly project, through blogspot. For those interested, and to begin to connect, here is that link: http://nordiclawyer.blogspot.com/.
As always, to better networking, understanding, harmonization and the rule of law,