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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.

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.

English in the Courtroom & the Classroom

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!

Taxes and Death: Tending the Tax Garden

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.

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


Sell music itunes

Sustainability and the Law

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.

App-filing your U.S. tax forms?

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!

Buying Property Overseas - The Siren Call

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,

http://www.escapeartist.com

 

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.

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.

Tax Time for Americans Overseas . . . Who & When?

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!

Mandatory E-filing of IRS forms for Tax Preparers

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:

http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/providers/article/0,,id=222533,00.html .

 

Got it? or Get it!

Networking Nordic Attorneys

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,

 

June

ESTA program sends expiration note by e-mail

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 11:02 AM

Topic:  The ESTA program - which is used by non-visa non-Americans required to register when they are planning to travel to the U.S.

 

Sub-topic:  The ESTA program's reminder

 

I thought I should publish a short note to let those interested know that, although the ESTA online registration process may  have its challenges in the user-friendliness category, it scores well for (1) knowing what date you registered last, and (2) notifying you by e-mail 30 days before your registration is about to expire with useful information.

 

The notification would remain a problem for anyone who has not continued to use the same e-mail address with which they registered with ESTA earlier.  We do have a tendency to move, change employers, etcetera.

 

Thus, if you are registering online with ESTA for the first time, I suggest that you use an e-mail address that you can plan (in advance) to continue to use, regardless of changes in employer, internet service provider, etcetera.  Examples of such:  yahoo.com, gmail.com (Google), or hotmail.com.

 

Other tips are appreciated - feel free to e-mail me with your ESTA story, problem or solution.

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.

 

ESTA Registration website needs work - New fee for non-citizens to go to the U.S.

Posted on October 6, 2010 at 6:40 AM

Non-American visa-waiver travelers must now pay a $14 dollar fee per trip to the U.S., completing registration online and in advance. The problem is that the system is cumbersome and clumsy. If ESTA got a grade on this procedure, it must be D. The D stands for dense. I explain.

 

As of September 8, 2010, non-U.S. citizens who are eligible for non-visa travel to the U.S. will have to pay a fee in addition to their pre-registration requirement. As stated at the ESTA website, this affects you if you:

• “Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less for business, pleasure or transit;

• Have a valid passport lawfully issued to you by a Visa Waiver Program country;

• Have authorization to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization

• Arrive via a Visa Waiver Program signatory carrier;

• Have a return or onward ticket;

• Your travel does not terminate in a contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless you are a resident of one of those areas; and

• Are a citizen or national of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries.”

 

The Visa Waiver program includes all the Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. The website for conducting this piece of business is: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html?_flowExecutionKey=_c17C89841-C61F-5310-033A-A10A2607EE3A_k9AD36A80-42E0-E390-6BB0-45CD32648511" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html?_flowExecutionKey=_c17C89841-C61F-5310-033A-A10A2607EE3A_k9AD36A80-42E0-E390-6BB0-45CD32648511. Go look for yourself. Then read on.

 

The registration lasts two years, so you should be able to check and see if you need to re-register within that timeframe.

 

Also note: If your passport does not have the electronic chip added in 2005, you will be required to get a VISA or get the newer style passport which includes the machine-readable chip.

 

Recall a suggested timeline: The U.S. authorities reserve the right to return your permission to travel to the U.S. status to you as late as 72 hours after your ESTA registration. Therefore, it would seem essential that you apply for – and pay online for – your ESTA registration at least 3 days prior to your departure time.

 

Note: If you already have filed an ESTA registration for a trip to the U.S. during, for example, the last two years, and you go online and begin to register, the ESTA program software tells you that your passport number is on file, and therefore you do not need to continue to register and pay. Why is this? I thought they wanted to know when non-nationals travelled to the U.S. The system then gives you the option to continue to register anyway, paying, or cancel your registration.

 

This step, just described, is 100% obscure, and should be modified by ESTA at their earliest opportunity. It suggests that one does not have to register to go to the U.S. if one has done so for a past trip within the last two years. Yet, if one begins to register and the system finds one’s passport number in it, it behaves as if it will then cancel your registration process. Yet, as I understood it, registration is still required for every flight to the U.S.

No information is given on the pop-up screen to notify the visa-waiver individual as to whether they are now, in fact, registered for their new upcoming flight, although it is clear the system has found their last registration – for a past trip. Because the system can return a non-permission within 72 hours, and because one cannot necessarily recall one’s last registration date – or number, it is possible to attempt to go to the U.S. without the proper registration, despite trying to do the right thing. In addition, because the ESTA registration screen would not then know the date of your upcoming flight, you could have gone past the two years by that future date while obtaining notice at this point online from ESTA that you were still registered.

 

Let’s assume most people are trying to do the right thing: would it be too much to ask to provide sufficient information to let them know that they are now registered for their future voyage? Given that voyage date? And in advance of that 72 hours before that voyage date? Without collecting unnecessarily fees from those who are so afraid of not being approved, or overstepping that date, that they re-apply and re-pay during the 2 year period?

If one is registered from a past trip but is unsure what one is doing on the ESTA registration website, one can do one of two things: click on ‘Cancel registration,’ or click on ‘Continue to register anyway’.

 

The ESTA registration system does not tell the individual, during this process, how long their registration lasts. It does not even state on the top pages that an ESTA registration lasts two years. When one is registered, it simply states that the system has found a registration for you which is more than 30 days long. So what? If the system knows this, it also knows how long your ESTA registration is good for. So why doesn’t it tell you?

 

I tried the new ‘pay-to-go-to-the-U.S.’ system approach out with a visa waiver non-American in Norway shortly after it came up this past month. Let’s call him Mr. X. Mr. X could not figure out if he had reported his future travel plan or not. He also could not figure out if his Fall tickets were inside or outside the 2 year period, although it did tell him he was previously registered. This, because the ESTA screen encouraged him to cancel his registration since he had one in the system which was at least 30 days long. He travels to the U.S. in slightly over 30 days. Even if there is no further need for registering to go to the U.S. for a specific trip, which was the point of this process, how is ESTA collecting the information that tells it when Mr. X is on a specific flight if, when one is already ‘registered’ in the ESTA system, it does not get to the point that it collects the flight date for the future trip? Why would one then scroll down (the out-of-sight portion of the screen) and click through in the column entitled: “Update or Check the Status of a Previously Submitted Authorization to Travel to the United States”? Why could it not say: “Report a New Trip Plan”?

 

This brings us to the next black hole in the new ESTA website process: Mr. X’s “Registration number.” Once you have decided to “update or check” your “status,” you must have the application number which was provided to you by, er, ESTA, when you last travelled to the U.S. First, who has this number? Who keeps this sort of information handy? Answer: No one. Second, why? If they have found your identity in their system, using your passport number, they already know what your ESTA registration number is, even if you do not. They have already been able to notify you that, based on your name, country of origin and passport number, they have an application for you. This is not ‘translated’ into usable information on the screen, however, since, if you have followed the “Apply” process to check, you have, as noted above, been asked to “Cancel” your registration process when you tried to let them know you were going to go on a new trip (hopefully) to the U.S. Unhandily, “You will find further details at the general website.”

 

My advice is: “Personal questions may be addressed to the American Embassy in your country of origin.” Perhaps someone in a position of authority with the ability to do something about it even reads this blog. Perhaps then we will see some user-friendly improvements in this unfortunately dense security feature.

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?