Edvenson Consulting

English Services, American Legal & Tax Services 


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. 

If you find this interesting, check out my company Facebook page, where I post links to interesting articles and news.

(Disclaimer: My blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.)

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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!

English Language Learning Resources Online and Free

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. 

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,



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.

Hacking Big and Small

Posted on January 20, 2011 at 6:42 AM


Dear Blog Reader,

They are hacking big and small.

They are hacking one and all.

They are hacking high and low.

They are hacking fast and slow.

They are hacking you and me.

If you don’t know it, you shall see.


Dear Blog Reader, Please accept my

Best apologies for saying ‘Nei,’ to

Reader comment uploading, you see,

I’ve been hacked – laid low by ... thievery.

Deceptively, one could abuse my home page.

How, I’m not sure, but instead turn to words sage:

“When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”

Although in France, I hear they “dance.”

So if you’d like to comment on my post,

I promise to be an appreciative host,

And consider your remarks by e-mail,

Sent to me which, as a (mouse) tail,

Can be added to my meritorious matter,

For development, discussion ... er, or chatter.

Thus, do I dispense (in part) with the fine art of...um,

Silly web-trickery and muggery that is our age, post partum.



©June Edvenson


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

Posted on January 3, 2011 at 6:12 AM

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


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


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


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


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

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM

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


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


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


Cash-poor attorneys of the  . . . western world

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


Let's go a bit further. 

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


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


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


Yes, It's Better 'Over Here'

Posted on October 18, 2010 at 9:40 AM

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

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


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


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

Hardanger fjord power-project update

Posted on October 6, 2010 at 7:31 AM

Just a quick update here.


Since I - and others - have questioned the government's plans to construct high power stations stringing lines across the Hardanger fjord, several developments have occurred:


1. The government had a showdown behind closed doors, resulting in Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg arriving camera ready: angry as heck with pursed lips, and ready to simply bite off the head of anyone who suggested they had not done their research duties on this.


2.. The ‘government’ agreed to re-study the situation (ie. eat crow).


3. The political cartoonists had a field day, illustrating Jens as being tethered to Norway’s energy big-boy, the energy giant Statnett’s boss (which answered my earlier question of who they were ‘in bed with’ on this project).


4. The area affected started losing Arbeidsparti memberships, scaring the party leaders.


5. Other parts of Norway now scheduled for giant electric power line projects suggested that they, too, might like some other alternative (so much for communal living and equality).


6. The Aftenposten newspaper ran a special weekend magazine article on the history of the tight relationship between the Worker’s party – Jens Stoltenberg’s party – now losing prestige and support generally in Norway, and the Norwegian state’s efforts to bring, um, real ‘Power’ to the People. This was an interesting article in which we could literally see the advertising posters campaigning for the ‘Arbeidspartiet’ – the Worker’s Party – as it prepared to engage in bringing the hydro-power from the mountains of Norway to the city of Oslo, where most Norwegians still live. Obviously, when labor was strong and power was nowhere near being distributed in Norway (during the last mid-century),(ie. back when Norway was poor), labor and energy could sleep together quite well. From an art perspective, it was superb art-deco style stuff, very nifty. The power tower even got to resemble the giant A, A for Arbeidspartiet. How cool was that? Now, for the hard bargains:


7. Statnett reports that the ‘sub-sea cable’ solution is “not a possibility.”


8. Some have suggested simply re-drawing the map so the huge power lines do not cross the fjord in the publicly visible way they were planned to do. And,


(9) of course, it’s hardly worth mentioning that the use of the famous painting by Tidemand, showing a bridal party crossing the Hardanger fjord, one of Norway’s most famous paintings, was a perfect foil for raising the profile of this important environmental issue, even if the power lines did not go precisely where the re-drawn painting showed them to go - and what trouble some folks went to to make a point of this, (which only went to show that they were more interested in putting their feet in their mouths when there was nothing left to say than to agree they disagreed).


‘Nuff said for now! This story will be continued in English here – over time – to its hopefully environmentally positive conclusion.

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.

Hardanger fjord views still at risk of loss

Posted on July 21, 2010 at 10:17 AM

This post updates my last on this topic, with "government" representatives coming out supposedly swinging.  If only they would be more clear when they swing, and where they are swinging to, the dust-up on this monumentally stupid electricity project might be over.  It seems that very powerful forces are at work, forces that appear completely unnecessary. 


Last evening, the main Norwegian news on NRK television featured a prominent member of the government commenting, as well as news of growing protests against the high-tension power line project.  People are dropping their party affiliations in the area over the proposed Hardanger fjord scenic destruction project, and that's saying a lot. Jens Stoltenberg has noted recently in the press that the answer is actually not 'yes' - and also not 'no.' Meaning the extensive network of power-transmission poles may still go up - just not until folks calm down, it seems. 


NRK internet television includes related radio broadcasts, including this one, of yesterday (http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/indeks/222392/ ) in which Eirin Sund, next leader of the Energy and Environmental Committee, with the Worker's party, from Bergen, I believe, spoke.   The other guest was Steinar Strøm, professor of Socio-economics at the University of Torino and U. of Oslo, who, in good Norwegian, presented his findings upon being requested to report on the possibilities: (1) the proposed poles project is uneconomical (in Norway, that means it is a sin); and, (2)  to wit: cables in the sea off of another area (not cables in the sea at the Hardanger fjord) would be suitable for power transmission to Bergen, and not cost as much as the solution proposed involving sea cables at Hardanger. In addition, (3) the oil platforms off the coast of Bergen use the Bergen net for obtaining their power needs now;  if they would develop their own alternative sources of power, including gas power, the Bergen net would not need more power to generate their on-land electricity needs, and the poles project could be dead.  To which Eirin replied, Well, she was surprised, and also the cables in use in the sea now are not cables, they're pipes (excuse us).  Also, all of these options have really been studied up and down, and can't we just move on with it now? Sure, Eirin, anything for you, dear.


The program host then had the quick-wittedness - and temerity - to note that Eirin Sund is considered an "environmental activist"  - who wouldn't support the transmission lines over Hardanger fjord project unless it was "helt nødvendig," as she had noted.  For the Norwegian-challenged, that means: "completely necessary."


I know what "completely necessary" usually means in the law, although I'm not sure politicians are interested in a strict definition, especially if it is not related to the relative price of a project and which of their porker-friends get the short-term financial benefits of building it.


If the government really wants to take the position that they won't undertake the pole project unless it is "completely necessary" . . . then, they will not undertake the project.



Again, the site for registering disapproval of the project, which claims to not harrass one with later e-mails:


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?

Norwegian? Work in Norway! Falsify your credentials today!

Posted on July 6, 2010 at 12:32 PM

There are times when it is hard to believe the pathetic employment reality for non-native-Norwegian professionals in Norway. One can be Norwegian-American; it simply does no good: not only will Norwegians not hire well-qualified professionals who immigrate to Norway - that is, into positions consistent with their existing education, experience and general qualifications; if a Norwegian 'can' do the job,' a Norwegian will do the job!


However, apparently, it is perfectly alright to hire Norwegians who are not qualified for jobs – and while doing so, avoid confronting those Norwegians who do take high offices with, er, questions about their own education, experience and specific qualifications for those jobs.


Case in point, and a prefatory remark. I make this case-in-point primarily because, frankly, I am a very well qualified candidate to replace the, er, fraud, Norwegian, Liv Løberg. Thus,

"Dear Interim Director of the Statens Autorisasjonskontor for Helsepersonell (SAFH),( the Norwegian State Office charged with establishing whether health personell are properly authorized to accept specific certifications and eligibility for specific jobs in Norway),


Please accept this blog as an expression of my sincere interest in working as administrasjonssjef of SAFH. I am presently available for full-time employment, and am a candidate well-suited to this position. I have an extensive background in health planning and worked as an administrative law judge in the U.S. I have higher education in law, as well as several years of auditing and management experience. I have been in Norway for over 11 years, took Norwegian classes, and have a good knowledge of Norwegian. I have been working on contract due to underemployment in fields of my past experience, but have many years of appropriate government service for such a position." You get my point.


Remarkably, Liv Løberg held the position noted above, while consistently mis-representing herself to those who have employed her. (http://www.vg.no/nyheter/innenriks/artikkel.php?artid=10002237) And the Google versions of her pre-problem CV/resume are now pulled offline. Among the degrees Løberg claimed to have acquired legitimately: a certified nurse, a 3-4 year medical bachelor's degree program; a sivil økonom, a 4-year university business-economics degree from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH); a master's degree from the London School of Economics; and a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the Queen Mary College in London. (http://pub.tv2.no/multimedia/TV2/archive/00814/falskCV_814089a.jpg) Did she have any of these? No.


Liv Løberg is presently chargable under several laws in Norway, including:

• Document falsification

• Falsification of inquiry by a public authority

• Bedrageri: ie. fraud, swindling.


She has, according to yesterday's Aftenposten, retracted her participation and membership in the FrP political party, Norway's most conservative party. Please, Aftenposten: how hard it is to tell the truth? She was forced out, and everyone knows it. Fact is, Kari Kjønaas Kjos, leader of the Akershus county Frp party, was kind enough to let them put it that way. "Dear Kari, I'd love to get involved in Akershus Frp, too."


But is the case going to be prosecuted? It's not yet clear. Norway has its own rules for democracy, which have something to do with the commonly practiced and well-respected, "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Some are suggesting that Ms. Løberg go to jail. I think this would be highly unfair. After all, once she is in jail, she will have a nice room, a roof over her head, three square meals a day, and possibly even qualify to stay at an open-door, island prison. Perhaps even a 'prison' in a southern Spain paradise.


As to her future, I challenge the government to come up with an especially appropriate response, one that has all of the new judicial concern for 'giving back' to the community that is found to be so appropriate in modern cases of abuse of public trust.


Granted, she will probably claim she can no longer be employed, due to her crushed emotional state. After all, she is now 60, and has been taking everyone for everything she got for all these years. She will, as most Norwegians do, get disability income. She may also be eligible for unemployment income, which as a contractor, I cannot get and never have been able to get, despite my 11 years of under-employment in Norway.


No, there is one thing that Liv Løberg can do that she is qualified to do. She is an authorized CNA (the American title for it). She is authorized and educated as a Certified Nurse Assistant. This is the person, below a nurse, who changes bed-pans, and is permitted to shift the patient's sheets, etcetera. Their role in our society is critical, and, as a good Norwegian knows, no job is a small job nor an unimportant job. In fact, I believe that Liv Løberg should be ordered to work as a Certified Nurse Assistant until her retirement, at which time she can go to jail. She can join the many hundreds of Somali refugees that Norway has been kind enough to import and educate for such life-time jobs. During those years, she can be placed into wage garnishment - for re-payment for her years of fraudulently working at jobs she was not only not qualifed for but no good at.


Once she gets to retirement age, she should be eligible only for those pension points she made while being employed at a legitimate level, not those she accrued while lying about her work qualifications all her life. At this time, all pension credits she gained while being employed at jobs for which she falsely represented herself should be stricken from her record. In all fairness, I would be happy to take those pension points, since I cannot earn any when I am not employed full-time in Norway. I would consider this quite a fair exchange with the State. This would assure that Liv Løberg qualifies for a minimal Norwegian pension. Just what she so richly deserves.


It's called the 'Oil Spilling': Massive Ecosystem Devastation Occurring

Posted on June 27, 2010 at 5:01 AM

I am happy to report that some news and government sources perked up after my peek into BP's latest financial reports.  Don't get me wrong:  I'm not taking credit for, um, the quick response . . . although I might, for all the hullabulloo that 'hit the fan' in the 24 hours after I last posted on this topic, in both news and government circles, both in Europe and the U.S..


Alright, so we don't freeze BP's assets;  we go for the 20 billion dollar 'compensation fund' - with a non-BP administrator (as a former auditor, this is the sort of 'control' touch I love to see). And yet, the oil spill is still spilling.


Let's noun-ify this right now.  After all, gerunds are 'in.'  It is a spilling.  Call it the spilling, since that is what it, sadly, is. 


My point now (one of them) is this:  The news of the continued oil spilling is taking less and less attention in the media - while all related ecosystems are taking more and more of a beating. When is the oil spilling going to stop?


Pundits as recently as yesterday (The Copenhagen Post, June 26, 2010) suggested it's simply a matter of time until the oil spilling is no longer spilling.  Why should I take comfort in this news - when no one seems to know how to stop a deep-water oil leak?  In the opinion of many, the time to have performed the necessary technical research and development for deep-water oil leak responses was before such exploration began.  Now, we see how long it takes to find those solutions.


Meanwhile, David Cameron's austerity measures, announced also in the last week, say everything but that the elephant is in the room:  The principle first message priority:  Pensions will be cut.  Why?  Well, er, because this is something we (the UK) should do to protect itself from further financial risk, etcetera etcetera.  Read:  BP, BP, BP.  In fact, if one were to sing it, it would sound like the siren on European ambulances.


To David Cameron and BP, I say, tell the dolphins.  Tell the turtles.  Tell the pelicans.  Tell all the fish, the lobsters, shrimp and crabs.  Tell the untold microscopic forms of life that this oil is slathering by the thousands of barrels each day, in one of the world's most perfect estuaries for sea life protection and formation.  Then, get something done about what is actually the important news:  the devastation of a vast ecosystem.

BP to pay huge quarterly dividend, share price falling: Freeze BP's assets now

Posted on June 10, 2010 at 12:04 PM

Not too long ago, I was watching BBC World television in Norway. It was a few days after the terrible accident that continues to spill oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Sounding like this was some very difficult issue to understand, the BBC World reporter asked a British Petroleum executive the question on everyone's minds: "What effect will this have on the size of dividends BP shareholders rely on?" He assured her it was not a problem. I was more stunned by the question than the answer. These Brits had obviously never seen the Gulf of Mexico. They had never considered the complex and fragile role this huge bay plays in the global glory of sea life on Earth.


A few days later, I found myself, luckily, admiring some of the Gulf's stunning Florida beaches, pristine, filled with turtle nestings, feeding birds of many species, fish and sea life of every variety. I then heard that President Obama was interested in all ideas related to what to do. Immediately I thought of the lesson my favorite supervisor of all time, Kevin Carhill, taught me, as we audited government operations, management and programs: "Follow the money." This was always excellent advice. I knew what my suggestion to the President would be: Freeze BP's assets now.


And have they been? No. Well, we can assume that, with every passing oil-spilling day, BP is scrambling ever more frantically over their . . . um, money. Let's take a look at what I can find, just up to today, which, frankly, isn't much; I simply don't have the resources; much more investigative effort should be placed on BP financial activity just right now.


That said, 40% of BP is share-owned by UK owners, 33% of that by UK institutions and 7% by UK individuals. Surprisingly, and sadly, 39% of BP is share-owned by US sources, 25% by US institutions and 14% by US individuals. In 2008, BP had replacement cost profit before interest and tax of 26.4 billion USD, down from 2007's 35.2 billion USD. The usual tax rate runs about 28-33%, resulting in a conservative estimated after-tax profit of 17.7 billion USD. For 2009, BP claims after-tax profits of 14 billion USD.


What is BP's impact in the U.K.? Let's see. According to BBC News, BP employs 10,105 people in the UK, and paid taxes to the UK totaling 5.8 billion GBP in 2009, or 8.5 billion dollars. I think we can safely say that BP runs the UK. BP is responsible or paying 1 out of every 7 pounds entering UK pension funds. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/10282777.stm ) On June 10th, Anthony Reuben reported for BBC that Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to the US has told BBC, "The government must put down a marker with the US administration that the survival and long-term prosperity of BP is a vital British interest." I find that quotation remarkably political – and remarkably unclear. Don't you? I mean, really. It could be as weak as: Tough guy demands wimpy national cheer. Still, I love that word, "marker." That's right, UK: Guarantee BP's debt over this – including ALL of what are, unfortunately, being called "ripple" effects. (Metaphors should be protected from abuse, too.)


But speaking of dividends, BP is feeling chipper, as they say in the UK. BP is getting ready to pay one of the highest quarterly dividends to shareholders in recent memory. On June 21st, BP will be paying their ordinary shareholders 10.6187 pence on the share. This amounts to 15.44 cents on the share. BP last paid this much in the first quarter of 2009 and last quarter of 2008, although generally, quarterly share dividend payments in CY 2008 averaged 8.9 pence per share, and in CY 2007, 6.26 pence per share.


Cutting to the chase, BP has, in the first quarter of 2010, 18,784,361,000 shares in issue. This means they are getting ready to pay a quarterly dividend of (18,784,361,000 x 15.44 cents)... 29 million dollars. Yes, BP is getting ready to pay 29 million dollars in dividends to their ordinary shareholders on June 21st, while the oil spill continues to ruin a global estuary of unimaginable and nearly incomprehensible importance.


Dividend payments should also be stopped. Granted, this hurts institutional investors - and individual investors. The institutional investors are probably supporting pension funds. In any case, ordinary people (maybe even 'rich people') are going to be hurt if BP's assets are frozen. Still, as Abraham Lincoln, said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” I realize I'm lifting Old Abe out of context, but don't you agree?


And BP's cash is disappearing before their eyes. Are you watching also? BP's price per share is plummeting just now, from a late April high of 660 pence per share to its present rate of about 390 pence per share. (http://www.bp.com/onefeedsection.do?categoryId=152&contentId=2002499 )


Have I said enough? Is anyone listening? That's my part. I do what I can do.


Here are some outside references asking for the same action:

Here is a blog directly on point, also criticizing statements made by related federal administration officials: from Greg Hunter, with 9 years of experience as an investigative correspondent, for the ABC network and later for CNN: "Freeze BP's Assets Now!": http://usawatchdog.com/freeze-bp%E2%80%99s-assets-now/


'Wooglet Voot,' a Top Contributor to Yahoo's Answers service, agrees: Freeze BP's assets now. He adds several small points, "Capitalism will not work if they are able to shift the costs of drilling for oil to innocent victims. If BP cannot pay, they should be forced into bankruptcy as a warning to other operators that may want to cut corners. There was better technology available that they use in the north sea and they chose not to use it in the Gulf." According to Voot, the President of BP also indicated clearly he would not be responsible for all "ripple effects." The source for this was a Public Broadcasting Service interview. (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/jan-june10/oil1_05-03.html ) The videotape for that interview has since been pulled, production date, May 3. Voot's remarks are found at: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100504214232AA2pKva


In the same PBS report, President Obama was reported as stating, "BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill."


Change.org: This blog-based signature/response website now has a petition, "Freeze all of BP's assets, before it is too late" As of today's date, it has 208 signatures, some with additional actions taken. This should be millions of signatures. Millions upon millions. (http://www.change.org/petitions/view/freeze_all_of_bps_assets_before_it_is_too_late )


Facebook has several Freeze BP assets groups, none of which sports a high membership yet.

Phillip Morris, Norway's Goliath

Posted on April 4, 2010 at 6:01 AM

Subject:  The company that makes Marlboro cigarettes has decided to sue Norway

Take:  I hope they will lose this fight - for all the right reasons. 

My information comes from the short article published to date in Norway's major paper, unfortunately only in Norwegian, in March (http://www.aftenposten.no/okonomi/innland/article3555869.ece).  I'll do the translating as well as the editorializing.


A bit of background:  A few months ago, the cigarette racks at the groceries, which are usually situated just behind or just to the right hand of the cashier, were covered over with small metal covers so that each set of rows was covered by a fold-up/fold-down lid.  This prevents you from seeing the stacked ends of the cigarette packs.  Over here in Norway, those include a lot of Prince packs, Camels, Pall Malls, and then Dunhill, and a few others including Marlboros.  As a result, when you get to the check-out and want to ask for your pack, you can't see them, you just ask, and the cashier gets the pack out and rings it up.  The system uses coupons, too, which you carry to the cashier, where they are validated. Anyway, if you want a pack of cigarettes and you're old enough, you can buy them . . instead of, based on their unbelievable cost here, a car after two years (which also has an unbelievable cost, but which you could afford if, instead of smoking a pack a day, you saved that money).  Background over.


From the beginning of this calendar year, it was forbidden to show tobacco products on the shelves in Norwegian kiosks (small groceries, other small stores) and larger stores. According to the Purchasers Association, it has cost Norwegian businesses a huge amount of money to implement this ban.  The goal is to protect the average customer from being exposed to seeing tobacco products.  The Norwegian government's ambition is to reduce the number of persons smoking, since smoking is dangerous. 


Phillip Morris responds that there is no scientific proof showing that such a visual prohibition has a health effect.  Of course, they've put a woman on the case, Anne Edwards.  Iceland has had a similar system since 2001, she argues, and there's still no proof that it improves health.  Phillip Morris took their case to the Oslo courts in March, claiming that it was a prohibition that worked against natural competition, and against economic freedom.


Several other European countries have a similar prohibition, and it's thought this case could lead to a slew of such cases being filed and fought for in various countries.  There has also been the suggestion that the Oslo court could refer the case directly to the EFTA court (European Free Trade Agreement court). The EFTA Court fulfills the judicial function within the EFTA system with regards to those states who embraced the '4 freedoms' (Free movement of workers, free trade, etc etc), and who are not EU nations: that includes Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.


Norway's director of public health said, (in Norwegian), "This shows that we are on the right track. If Phillip Morris really believes that the prohibition doesn't reduce tobacco usage, then they wouldn't be troubled by this law. In contrast, I think their case filing is a sign that the prohibition will reduce tobacco usage over time." Love it, Bjørn-Inge Larsen!


Sold by Phillip Morris worldwide in CY2008: for 150 billion NOK

Income of operations worldwide in CY2008: 60 billion NOK. Sales figures were not available for Norway alone. However, consider that Norway has a rather small population, 4.8 million.  Norway's gross domestic product (purchasing power parity) in CY 2008 was 279.6 billion U.S. dollars, or 1,621 billion NOK.  Per capita, this makes Norway one of the 'richest' countries in the world, at $60,200 per capita in CY 2008, but also one most impacted per capita by marketing and advertising campaigns. In general, Phillip Morris's overall sales and profitability continue to climb dramatically worldwide.


The World Health Organization has set up a body whose goal is to encourage the consistent regulation of tobacco products. Ideally, they discourage the use of tobacco products altogether.  The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the first international public health treaty on tobacco.  One of the FCTC's suggested approaches is to restrict the public display of tobacco products.


Who is the David?  Norway.  Who is the Goliath?  We know who.  


Norway needs to win this fight - for all the right reasons.  What are the reasons Norway would lose?  The restriction of competition in the marketplace is limited, generally - in order to foster economic activity and the free trade of goods.  The problem is that tobacco products are not 'good' goods.  What are the reasons Phillip Morris should lose?  The government has the right to regulate for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of its people.  Hiding cigarettes, even if 'out-of-sight means 'out-of-mind', is precisely what the government should have the right to do. 


With tobacco a continuing scourge to all who have contact with it, ruining lives, families, health care systems, estates, and the future for generations of young people the world over, I hope - at the very least -  that such products will remain covered in Norway.  That is at least a stand in the continuing and spreading battle to rid the world of the debilitating deadly economy of tobacco.

Thankfulness - One Step at a Time

Posted on February 19, 2010 at 6:15 AM
Subject: Gratefulness and thankfulness Take: We need to be more thankful - for our daily experiences as well as for our many blessings. Take 2: Culturally, levels of thankfulness appear to vary. I discuss some possible tendencies. What better way to enjoy the umpteenth snowstorm of our very snowy winter here in Norway than to focus on all that we are grateful for. And what better way to do that than to write about it, hoping others will hear the distant cabin mountain horn's sweet warbling call and enjoy the music. I was reminded of this topic after listening to 'Judge Judy' speaking with Larry King on CNN the other day. She observed wryly that we human beings simply are not so nice to one another a great deal of the time. Judge Judy, for those of you unfamiliar with her, has been a judge on U.S. television, hearing real cases, for many years, and continues to do so. Her take-responsibility approach and take-no-prisoners attitude have helped many minor miscreants face their personal and related legal demons. Recent research into this topical area suggests that we are more likely to be healthier if we take the time to appreciate what we have, as well as to appreciate something in our everyday lives - um - every day. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis recently found that people who focused on gratitude were simply happier, reported fewer negative physical ailments, exercised more and had more energy. They were also less materialistic and more generous. Other studies have found consciously grateful people to have: more clear thinking, better immune system responses, lower stress levels and longer lives. A small treat appears to help also. A Cornell University study found that doctors given a small 'token' candy were better able to process complex information quickly, were more considerate of diagnostic complexity and less likely to jump to wrong conclusions. Persons with a high gratefulness quotient exercised it as a discipline. They consciously considered their thanks for specific experiences, views, etcetera. Suggested ways to reinforce such behavior in our own lives include: recordation, passing on such thoughts (called the 'boomerang' effect), and reaching out to others. With reference to that last item, might we note the existing English word, eudaemonia? My goodness, it almost looks Norwegian, with that � type of feeling. The word, eudaemonia, means the happiness or fulfillment that comes from an action itself, not as a result of the action. I personally think of this as related to RAK. That is, random acts of kindness. RAK is responsible for the happiness experienced by many people. What is the cultural barometer on RAK? I'm not sure. It would be interesting to compare Hofstede's cultural dimensions in business to RAK. For example, business cultures that are more universalistic, such as that in the U.S., rely on contracts and rules that all are expected to respect and observe. Doesn't sound very RAK-ish, does it? At the other end of the scale, business cultures that value handling issues on a very specific or particularist manner would likely be involved in RAK activities only for those who are valued as more special in that culture - for example, men in Middle Eastern cultures, or the elderly in Asian cultures. Business cultures that value individualism also value individual achievement, separate from group-related values and activities. The U.S. takes the prize for the world's most individualistic business culture. Again, not a RAK-ish feeling here, I don't think, unless of course we take our personal ethics and moral duties with us when we walk around in America being big individuals. On the other hand, the Chinese business culture, which values collective enterprise to a great degree, prioritizes elements of caring for others above one's sense of individual self. Not a bad value to try to incorporate in one's daily life, and definitely RAK-ish. My own experience of China resulted in my falling in love with the people as a whole, and made me want to embrace their individual and collective hopes and dreams. Most Chinese were very friendly, very personable, caring and interested, willing to go out of their way to make our welcome complete in almost every way imaginable, and just because that is what is of value to do - for others. Not just for yen, but for the yin and yang of it. Well, now it is time to trudge to the little grocery with Tinkerbell, the resident Shetland sheepdog. The wind is bracing, it is minus 9 celsius, and there are at least several inches of new snow on top of the old ice-and-snow package. Everything is white or shades of gray. Dull, insistent, unforgiving. Perhaps it is time to buy some small token treats to carry around. And, by God, I'm so thankful for it all, every bit of it.