Welcome! I follow American legal issues, international law issues, English language points, and international business and audit concerns. I'm usually responding to news, either with opinion or information, for Americans overseas and those interested in law, audit, or language concerns. These are filtered through my residence, in Norway.
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(Disclaimer: My blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.)
|Posted on August 11, 2012 at 5:30 PM|
Subject: Financial & tax reporting to the IRS and U.S. - for Americans Abroad
Take: This is an update of my discussion of several tax and foreign bank related issues that are particularly noteworthy for Americans living and working overseas. It has to do with the need to report to the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Treasury Department.
This summer, I've had the pleasure to spend the very rainy season doing tax forms for Americans overseas. Ahh, the beauty of formulas and the certainty of numbers when low pressure and constant rain become so challenging to love. And now a conflagration of related news of note has appeared on my personal horizon, albeit mostly digital given the foggy views these days.
It was then that I realized that I had not yet shared the presentation I did for the Fireside Forum group of the American Women’s Club of Oslo. This was delivered in April, 2012, and covers all the basics. Since I can't manage to upload it to this blog page, you will find the link to the presentation at my slideshare page:
One of my core points during that April presentation was that global financial concerns must be managed by creating greater transparency - at the individual level. After all, how will Greece solve its problems if they “only take cash” from the Norwegian tourists (the topic of my next blog post), instead of “having to show their income for tax purposes” (...they seem not to know what that is).
On the American side, most Americans overseas are busy working and reporting their income to their country of residence - for taxation in that country. They're rather less concerned with updating their filing status with the Internal Revenue Service while living abroad, and much much less interested in telling the U.S. Department of the Treasury how much they have in foreign banks (for no good reason I can think of, since it is not being taxed in the U.S. ;). And you, Stateside reader, probably think it would be nice to be an ‘American in Paris.’ From what I hear, you would be checking your French tax rate, then your U.S. taxes due, and then you would be cursing that you still owed tax to the U.S. after paying the lower French rates. And then you would report to the IRS, as required, and you would stop complaining, after all, since you would be living the joi de vivre life of brasseries-in-the-sunshine, with beauty and joyful ambience around every corner.
Now that you have studied up the forgoing, and are starting to become alarmed, let’s try this recent IRS notice on for size, dated June 26, 2012. This is entitled, “IRS Announces Efforts to Help U. S. Citizens Overseas Including Dual Citizens and Those with Foreign Retirement Plans.” Here is the link:
First, this notice from the IRS indicates that new procedures are going to be in place – to help Americans who have not been reporting to do so now. The new procedures go into effect on September 1, 2012. The article refers to the first new procedure as being that, for citizens who owe little or no back taxes, there will be no “penalties or additional enforcement actions” -if they catch up their tax form filings and financial bank report form filings now and would then owe less than $1500 in back taxes. Well, that is not so new, as most folks are in this category and don’t now pay penalties or experience enforcement actions when they catch up their tax form and bank form filings.
Here is some more specificity on the scope of the new procedures:
Let us say, for instance, that you would owe more tax than $1500 and/or have intentionally not been filing your U.S. tax forms while living abroad? You might then want to look into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP):
Here is the basic run-down, with links to forms and straightforward, relatively uncomplicated writing by the IRS (now that’s nice):
Now, do you finally “get the picture?” as we say in Chicago.
I may as well close with this interesting audio news report, covered on National Public Radio on Wednesday, August 8, 2012. You can find it on the www.npr.org website, at:
The title of the audio story is, "Tax Evaders, Beware."
Here is a link to the transcript:
As an aside, I really don't know why people don't want to file these forms, except that it's a bit of a hassle. Procrastination produces such unremitting guilt at some point, and even though death and taxes are both certainties in life, why should you let not-filing-your-tax forms ruin your happiness on a continual basis? Stress after all is linked to inflammation, which, left unchecked, can precipitate premature death.
Asides aside! Time to get yourself updated on the tax reporting and bank and securities financial reporting requirements which all American citizens (no matter where they live in the world, and no matter whether they are dual citizens or not) must abide by.
It’s not as scary as it sounds: it’s a matter of just doing it – or having someone do the forms for you, after you collect your information together. If you are in a country with a tax treaty with the U.S., the general routine results in the following scenario: you report your foreign income to the IRS, and if needed, also your foreign taxes paid. The IRS sees this return, reviews it, and says to themselves, “Oh, okay.” They then do not call you or write to you, do not bill you, and they never e-mail you. What could be better? Things could be a lot worse than catching up with these filings – such as not catching up with them before foreign banks begin providing your account information to the IRS anyway, under new rules coming soon. In other words, if you are like most U.S. citizens abroad, nothing is worse than not doing these forms. Therefore, if you are ‘like’ most U.S. citizens abroad, just do them.
|Posted on May 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM|
Seven days of trial. About events that occurred in approximately 6 ½ minutes.
In this section, I will discuss the contents of John’s attorney’s Motion for a Directed Verdict and Motion for a New Trial, as well as the prosecutor’s response in opposition to some points. I also comment on some of the prosecutor’s closing statements and discuss the context of the case generally.
The Motion for New Trial, and response papers were filed just last month. The Motion for a New Trial was summarily denied by the judge just before the sentencing hearing began less than two weeks ago, after which John was dumped in a solitary cell and stripped naked, as noted earlier. (Please see my earlier posts for other information.) While the transfer to an intermediate holding facility usually takes two weeks, John was whisked away in less than 3 days. This never happens, say those in the area. In fact, he was literally being whisked away while his mother, Liv, was meeting with his defense attorney, who was assuring her it would probably be a couple weeks before he would be transferred.
Who’s scared of what? Yes, rush him outtahere, so we can get him buried in the Arizona prison system. And shave his head right away. So we have the pleasure of humiliating him in that way, especially before he should manage in some way to save himself. And then let’s make sure he’s buried so deep in bureaucracy that everyone forgets about him. We’ll surely save the State’s face that way, won’t we?
I continue to have unanswered questions about this case. One question I asked about as soon as I heard about it was: why did the prosecutor spend 7 days to try this case? I couldn’t for the life of me think of an answer. Surely what happens in 6 ½ minutes can be reduced to less than 7 days of jury trial, no matter how questionable the evidence – unless of course it was very important to be sure that the jury realized how important it was to return the correct verdict. Which after 7 days would very clearly be guilty, of course.
Yes, we are re-visiting one of our latest conundrums – that involving two foreigners in a relatively new rental car – new to them, passing through an unfamiliar, small and criminal, western American town trying to pick up their luggage. Six and one-half minutes later, the mother is an Iranian terrorist and the son who was driving is thrown into jail for intentionally trying to kill the townspeople. For being perhaps a snot, he’s chased down in the streets by locals who attack and confront his car – while he is trying to find out where to pick up his luggage after an accident and leave the area to continue his trip with his mother.
His bail is set for $1 million dollars, which conveniently keeps him in a local jail – for seven months, while the showy trial is set up. Did I say set up? Putting someone in hand and foot chains for 7 months in jail is news that’s going to get around, you know. It makes him appear more dangerous – or, er, as if he were more dangerous than he might have been when he was driving around, negatively, while people chased him for less than 6 ½ minutes.
Did I call that town “criminal”? I should be more precise. Comparing city crime rates per capita (based on the size of the population), from across the country, Winslow, Arizona is not at all a murderous place. Nor is robbery a problem. And when it comes to auto theft, it’s only slightly over the national average. These all make sense. After all, you can’t get away with murder and auto theft while living in a small town. But come to aggravated assault, burglary and larceny theft, and Winslow is not only twice the Chicago average, but twice the national average. These figures are from the year 2006. Still, that’s a town with a crime problem – a local crime problem. And, of course, it is true that many wonderful people live there, and are doing good work every day.
It appears the county, which is a majority Indian reservations, had a State’s attorney who is going to do something about that crime rate. It is certainly more convenient, in a very small town, to do that by finding someone who doesn’t live there to blame things on. Welcome, John Kristoffer Larsgard.
And now, we also have an attorney from the area on Youtube, repeating and repeating what we have already heard: that Larsgard was a dangerous dangerous guy, and he, well, he nearly hurt some kids, and he scared them and, well, he was driving like a crazy person, and he drove straight towards someone (um, who was trying to confront him on foot, arguably trying to corral him, taunt him, dare him and/or waylay him), and he brushed against someone else (um, who was trying to attack the car and be in the way and whom he did not see, after being smashed in the face so hard his nose was broken). And by the way, the jury found him guilty. This attorney is a member of the Navajo County Attorney’s office. Since Navaho County proudly claims that “People are arrested and booked into the Navajo County Jail on warrants for failure to appear for traffic tickets and failure to pay fines,” we can see that the old ‘debtor’s prison’ still exists in this particular western county: I’m sure jail helps them collect the funds to support the administration, which is busy booking 360 people into the jail each month. Jobs jobs jobs. America used to prioritize human rights.
There is also a new blog, called “The Truth About John Kristoffer Larsgard” which seems a front for someone who agrees with the jury’s decision, and is trying to counter criticism of the verdict by claiming that . . . see above paragraph. The related website, http://larsgardtruth.com, was registered on May 1st, and the identity of the creator is hidden, according to my ‘Whois’ search registration check. Who thinks it is so important to pay for this? A Facebook page is also dedicated to “The Truth” while, frankly, “liking” the verdict has little to do with whether John Kristoffer Larsgard should be in prison right now.
What they’re not telling you is what I am going to tell you, as it was reported to me. And from where I sit, the “truth” about John Kristoffer Larsgard, and this whole incident, is that he should have been cited for traffic violations, been made to pay a fine – and for external damage to the rental vehicle, and sent on his way with his mother. At the same time, the townsfolk who harassed him and bated him with their unfamiliar anger, while corralling and chasing his car, should have been sent back home - along with the bill for the interior damage to the car, possible charges of harassment, and a charge of aggravated assault against Mendoza.
Now, it also appears that John’s student visa for staying in the U.S. had expired, so he should have renewed that but had not. The Navajo County authorities appear to like the idea of deporting him. OF course they like this idea: it would lend ‘face’ to their own actions by continuing a stream of negative legal activity against the guy. It is reported that he could be eligible for deportation after half his prison sentence of 7 ½ years is served, a sentence he should never have gotten in the first place, and which still should be set aside. But can they ride out the storm of criticism for the 3 ¾ years of prison John should not have had to serve and is now serving? And who’s going to ‘pay’ for this wrong judgment when the last hammer falls?
But first, back to the jury. We all know that a jury trial is sacred, isn’t it? No, Readers. Consider the question more closely. A jury is human, behaves in human ways and makes human judgments and human mistakes. In a town with a population of approximately 10,000 persons and a total of just over 2,000 households, where the jurors were hand-picked by the prosecutor and where nearly everyone has a close connection to everyone else - and where the star witness, the one with the bludgeoning fist, is determined to be found blameless in reaching into a car and crushing the driver’s nose, a jury has its work cut out for it. After all, the victim doesn’t live there. The star witness does. And now the car is full of blood. Who’s paying for that? Yes, in an area where everyone involved knows everyone else, it is probably not hard to decide that, after 7 days of trial over what happened in 6 ½ minutes, the verdict must be guilty. How could it even have taken them two hours to come to that conclusion? After all, they have to walk out of that courtroom and, well, live there. There, with the star witness and his family and friends. In a county which is mostly Indian reservations. (Real Asset Inventory, Real AZ Corridor, Dec., 2011). And a relatively poor county, with per capita income that is about half of Arizona’s state average, and only 40% of the country’s income average. People here need to be pretty concerned about their money, since they generally don’t have as much as the rest of us. And fixing a broken car is something that will cost money. And so does 7 days of trial, an impressive amount of money. More than they have, but then it was a good show.
I have some words on my mind. Hazing is one. Justice is another. Impeachability is another. Deposition is another. And politics is another. I will explain.
It has been very interesting to me, not only as an American attorney but as a person with a professional interest in the use of language, English, inter-cultural communication, Norwegian and American cultural differences, and how to bridge culture gaps, to consider what has occurred in this case and what is occurring in American culture.
Right now, John languishes in the Arizona version of purgatory while they try to decide which prison is best suited to dampen his pentient for murdering innocent by-standers, for quelling his fully-trumped-up maniacal and dangerous killing instincts.
I had barely stepped off the plane in the U.S. this past week when I heard the word hazing – multiple times, as in hazing, a felony crime in Florida. Apparently, hazing is taking over America. Other concepts we don’t hear on the Norwegian news when the subject of the United States comes up include the need to identify terrorists in our midst, which I heard at least 6 times in my first two days on American soil, and continue to hear repeatedly every day – until I turn off the radio and TV. Were we prepared to see them when they arrived? To know them when we saw them? How could we possibly be more vigilant? Persons around the world would love to ruin America and we should do what we can to prevent that. It’s human nature, after all, to run around looking for who has things better than you, and try to get a piece of it for your own. Pure greedy selfish human nature. Like hazing. Like a bunch of locals chasing a rental car being driven badly by a person who, frankly, doesn’t want to get to know you and doesn’t care. A person from a culture in which persons never yell at you as you drive along, and never run around chasing cars or confronting cars. A person from a culture where even the police speak softly when they stop you for no-probable-cause searches. In Norway, it’s called kontrol and it means control.
No, I almost thought I should find out how I could, myself, take part in the campaign to find hidden terrorists in America. It was then I realized I was suffering from jet lag and a lingering cold. I was being too hard on myself. After all, I had just landed in my beloved homeland, the country of my birth. The land I have, over the years, loved to come back to. The land where I’ve been lucky enough to experience so many unbelievably beautiful sights - the crowning glories of nature, the most deliriously competent works of man. Where I’ve heard the most beautiful music ever made, by Nature and by man. The land where I’ve had so many close friends, now scattered to all corners of the country, all of them working their magic in their work for the good of all. The land of so many committed souls, committed to service and mankind in every way. A land of tolerance and patience, of hard work and caring natures.
I began to land in another country when I landed here. It started about 5 years ago. I would know I was home when someone gave me or someone I could see from my bicycle or car the finger. And it was rather odd as it almost always occurred within a day or two of my arrival in the U.S. It was usually accompanied by choice epithets, such as “F___ Y__!” Since I now drive like a Norwegian, this would occur while I was either obeying the speed limit, or riding my bike on the sidewalk. When I would hear this, I would simply say to myself, “Ah, there you are, America. Showing me your new real colors. Now I’m finally ‘home’ again. God bless America!”
But I must be getting scatter-brained, what with all the commotion and different directions I could go on this story. Back to that one question I asked the reporter early on, and never did hear an answer to. The question, why did the prosecutor spend 7 days to try this case? It stewed. I slept on it. And then I had a revelation. I knew the answer. I know exactly why the prosecutor spent 7 days to try this case. You know why? Because the judge let him. Reader, read on.
The Motion for a New Trial arguments described and the prosecutor’s response
John’s attorney filed, this April, his Motion for a New Trial. It’s been read by more than one disinterested American attorney, and found to be just fine, as legal filings go. His arguments were several. It stated that the trial should be new because the verdict was contrary to the law and the weight of the evidence, the prosecutor was guilty of misconduct, the court erred in deciding a matter of law or in instructing the jury, to the substantial prejudice of John, and/or, for other reasons that were not John’s fault, he had not received a fair and impartial trial.
Among the details mentioned were that John was not permitted to have his medicine, medicine prescribed by his Norwegian doctor, which the nurse practitioners at the jail had in their possession but chose not to give him. In response, the prosecutor claimed no evidence of this had been produced at the trial. Well, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
The Motion for New Trial also claimed that the prosecutor had failed to disclose that two of the witnesses “entered the litigation process against the rental car insurance company.” The prosecutor’s response was that he didn’t know that, so how could he disclose it.
Now, Reader, what is happening here? An arguably-enraged local sneaks up on the driver, John, and smashes him in the face. There’s blood all over the interior. Proximate cause? The guy with the iron fist of course. Result? It does not take actual notice to the prosecutor to know that everyone knows that the car rental agency’s insurance company is doing what insurance companies do best: they perform their “duty to defend” - and they go after the people who caused the damage and try to get them to pay. How much does the front interior of a 2010 Toyota Camry cost to replace? That would cost a good amount of money, I would imagine. And who is responsible for the damage to the exterior of the car, especially if the driver was being mobbed into a cross-cultural panic attack? I ask John’s mother, Liv, who says, “They keep asking me to pay for it, and I keep telling them no, it wasn’t our fault there was blood all over the car.”
Getting back to those witnesses, apparently two witnesses entered the litigation “against the rental car agency”? That means that two witnesses were busy saying that they had to – absolutely had to – pop this guy in the face - or surround him – or chase him – or cause him to stop driving and get ‘caught’ because? Otherwise, they would have to pay for the interior damage to the car, at least. And at least one ‘someone’ has a giant incentive to frame the incident as a need to defend himself. After all, what’s left after the extremely aggressive personal violence against the driver but to claim self-defense? It’s the only ‘way out,’ as everyone can plainly see. That 7 days of jury trial over what occurred in 6 ½ minutes sure got long, though. Well, what is one to do when the case can only be made by arguing that the witnesses were strictly involved only for their own protection? After all, ”Self-defense is about protection, not getting even.” (Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Criminal Justice System, p. 130) It would not be an available defense to someone who was actually just pissed off that a jerky driver was making a snotty correction to his lost-en-route status. And decided to run after the car, stare at the driver through the front window, crouch and play his bets, and confront the car, and the driver, and be joined by others who attempted to surround the car and the foreign couple in it, and then blame them for the bloody car and damages afterwards.
The fact that two witnesses were testifying “against the rental car agency” would have meant that the credibility of their testimony would have been impeachable. As we know, one way in which a witness’s testimony can be diminished in significance, and one way in which that creates “reasonable doubt” in the mind of a juror is by attacking the credibility of a witness. “This is called impeaching the prosecutor’s evidence.” (Complete Idiot’s Guide, p. 128) Here we have two witnesses for the State whose testimony would have been impeachable on the basis of their own conflict of interest in the case, and yet, it would seem from the Motion for New Trial and the prosecutor’s response to it, that such impeachment was never conducted – because the basis for it was not known to the defense attorney during the trial. But the Motion for new Trial was dismissed – without argument – by the judge.
The impeachability of two main witnesses, never explored. What’s going on there? A 2010 Toyota Camry whose interior is covered with blood, the proximate cause of which was the bludgeoning fist of the star witness for the State hitting the victim –that would be the accused, of course, who was, as a consequence, so dangerous that he was kept in hand and leg irons for 7 months before his trial, at which he was then strutted out like a pig to a slaughter. It looks more and more like this, and that makes the ‘truth about John Kristoffer Larsgard” start to, well, stink.
The Motion for a New Trial continues, arguing that the prosecutor committed misconduct when he argued to the jury that Larsgard was placing a fake ‘911’ emergency call in order to pretend to not be at fault, because, he argued, Larsgard could have seen the police coming to the scene at the time the call was made. Based on the evidence, this theory was, factually, shown to be clearly untrue; John could not have seen or known that the police were ‘on their way’ when he called 911 for help. And yet, even after the evidence showed this to be untrue, the prosecutor continued to argue it was the case.
On a point of law, it was required that the prosecutor prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, not just that Larsgard was driving toward people, but that he intended to put them in fear of immediate physical injury. The Motion for New Trial suggests he was actually already trying to flee when he executed the famous three-point turn.
The Motion for New Trial suggests that the verdict was “against the weight of the evidence,” noting that the jury acquitted John of aggravated assault against Mendoza, the guy with the magic protected fist. And if that was the case, he could not be guilty of the same crime against the lady with children at the sidewalk hot dog stand. My question is, did they have a permit for that stand? Don’t they know it’s dangerous to set up business on the sidewalk?
The Prosecutor’s response was that he was “arguing reasonable inferences.” Well, it was a nasty few minutes – that is certain. Let’s see what those look like, in the prosecutor’s closing argument.
In opening, the prosecutor states to the jury, “I’m asking you to compare what they said to what the defendant’s story was that you heard . . ., because only by comparing the two can you decide who is telling the truth and who is not.” Really? This is not the standard by which the jury was to decide what conclusion to come to in the case. The standard was to follow the wording of the criminal statute and ask themselves if they could find that those precise acts were, word for word, found in this case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the prosecutor fills the case with every single person who ever laid eyes on the car, both before they were yelling at him, and then afterwards, when various locals try to talk to him, angry already, and try to chase him down in the streets.
The standard in the main count, as noted by the prosecutor, involved proving intent: “you have to show that that person intentionally, means it’s the person’s objective or goal to cause that result. Was it the defendant’s goal to place these people in reasonable fear of injury?” My question is: before or after being screamed at and your lost rental car run down in the streets? Before or after having your face broken up while sitting stock-still in your car with your window open?
The prosecutor continued, further into the closing statement, “And if it’s the defendant not telling the truth, why not? Could it be that the defendant doesn’t want to admit on something as minor as going the wrong way, that he wouldn’t follow the rules, he doesn’t want to admit that much to you?” Reader, what did this have to do with a charge that could earn this Norwegian years in prison in the land of the free? When I hear this, I hear taunting. Of course it’s not taunting: it’s zealous advocacy of the State’s important interest in protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Or is it? The prosecutor criticizes for not turning his head, if he did not, to see the people on the sidewalk when he made the three-point turn, but he doesn’t mention that John has had cervical surgery that may limit his ability to turn his head in the way required to see that. Not only does the prosecutor approach the jury in the closing with the above taunting remark about the possibility that John would not admit to a slight offense, but also includes a criticism of John’s having made a written statement to police before having the consultation with an attorney. In that statement, as the prosecutor even mentions in the closing argument, John wrote, admitting he had gone the wrong way. It seems what in literature would be called a Catch-22: John can’t win by admitting he did do something wrong – which he did admit, and John will be counted as having not admitted that he did do something wrong, which will demonize him before the jury.
The prosecutor’s magic wand travels in similar ways over the testimony of the 7-day trial in his closing. He states at one point, “If everybody got their stories together, if everybody got together and wrote a script and said: everybody, remember this, this is what we are going to say. Then their stories would have matched perfectly, but they didn’t, because people . . have different focuses and hear different things, but they didn’t get together and get the story straight. There isn’t a script here they are testifying from, but that claim was made.” Does someone such as myself really have to say, at this point, that just because the stories are close and are not completely similar, does not mean that they were not created, embellished and re-packaged by individuals who have no other place to live but there, and no other choice but to fit in there - so as to assure that the foreigner would not walk? Nor that they didn’t have to be “scripted” to be managed for the purpose of assuring that they would do their best to - save the star witness from losing face in the situation?
The facts are reviewed in the closing statement having to do with John ‘backing up hard’ and also driving on a flat tire. Apparently, it was real important that John should realize – or not – whether he was driving on a flat. Remarkable Catch-22 stuff. If I’m having a panic attack as I become surrounded by yelling, screaming, running people I don’t know, in a foreign country, I am not going to be more or less guilty of aggravated assault in that jurisdiction because I am or am not driving on a flat. Lack of flat-tire familiarity is something most Norwegians suffer from, in part since the standards by which a car is controlled in Norway includes roadblocks at which Norwegian police check over everything in your car to see that it meets legal standards. If you or your car don’t meet the standards, your car can be towed and you can find another way to get around, sometimes for an extended period of time and sometimes forever, if you’ve had a drink. By the way, had these witnesses been drinking?
The prosecutor reminds the jury that they don’t have to prove motive, but that the motive when he drove towards Mr. Mendoza at one point could be seen by his actions – and that was reported by, ere, Mendoza, one of the witnesses who must have been appearing “against the rental car agency.” He claimed John’s goal was to hurt him, while John claimed it was not to hurt him. And he didn’t hurt him – or hit him. The various confrontations John has with townspeople yelling at him and chasing him in the car, challenging him by standing in front of him, and what sounds like corralling behavior on the part of some of the townspeople, should have shown the jury, in my opinion, that the man was panicking and was not responding well – perhaps was incapable of responding well - to arguably wild behavior on the part of the local population. I still say, the various confrontations smack of Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Anyone’s a sucker if you’re after them. And you get to be king for spurring the attack on: Long live the Lord of the Flies. “I’m asking you to simply hold the defendant responsible for what he did that day, no matter what his reasoning was for it, he needs to be held accountable. So I’m asking you to find him guilty of eight counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, one count of endangerment,” and the prosecutor’s closing statement ends. Hey, you tell people in your community what to do often enough, and guess what: they’ll do it, even it goes against the law and is unethical. That’s been proven: I heard it on NPR last week.
In the reply to the Motion for New Trial, the prosecutor reminds the court of the cherished right to trial by jury. The right is, historically, to a trial “by a jury of one’s peers.” The idea was to prevent a judge – or someone beholden to the king – from deciding on a harsh fate for an accused, for political or other non-evidentiary reasons. In John’s case, a jury of his peers would be 12 Norwegians who know English, perhaps also who live part-time in the U.S. In fact, a “jury of one’s peers” is not the wording of the U.S. right. Instead, the right is to a “speedy and public trial” which, arguably, John did not get, and “by an impartial jury of the state and district . . .,” which, I am suggesting, he actually could not get in that county and that location.
So we’re back to the 7 days of trial testimony and the 6 ½ minutes during which all of these events occurred.
One of the types of evidence that is used to great and good effect in court cases is based on depositions. Depositions are recorded interviews that do not occur in the courtroom, but are treated as court testimony, are recorded by a court transcriber, and in which the person who would be interviewed is asked questions by both sides in the case. A deposition is useful to preserve testimony for trial. Either party can request that a deposition of a witness be taken. In this case, the defense attorney requested a deposition of Liv Larsgard. She was, after all, the only person who was actually in the same place at the same time as all of the events which took place. And it was necessary that she, eventually, go back to Norway, while John was held on $1 million dollars bail. According to what I have been told, when the defense attorney sought to have Liv deposed while she was present in Arizona, the prosecutor demanded that a deposition of the mother not occur, under any circumstances, not then and not later. When the judge hesitated, the prosecuting attorney approached the bench and said, tightly, No deposition. The judge looked down and softly mumbled, No deposition. Two weeks later, when Liv Larsgard was busy in Norway trying to put her work life at the nursing home back together and pay her bills, the prosecuting attorney was strutting in the Arizona court, taunting the defense for not having her available at that time.
As for myself, I can’t imagine why the prosecutor wanted to hear her say anything at all. After all, in the course of that 7 day trial, Liv Larsgard was on the stand for less than one hour. Reader, this is by her own estimate. The rest of the time she was made to sit outside in the hall during all other witness testimonies. She says she even recalls the State asking the judge if they couldn’t hurry up and finish with her.
Which brings us back to the conduct of this case, and that brings us back to the judge. The judge in this case is an accomplished graduate not only of Stanford but also of Northwestern, and is administratively supervised by another judge, who happens to be the woman married to the prosecuting attorney in this case. I find it hard to believe that this would not affect the manner in which this case was conducted. I know, myself, what it’s like to try to rule on evidence in a case when the attorneys are using all their political weight to get at you administratively behind closed doors. In my own situation, the case that threatened to break my back involved two elderly ladies who found petroleum products in their kitchen water one day, and several heavyweight oil company litigators on the other side of the fence. One doesn’t survive being a hearing officer in environmental cases in Chicago without knowing something about the back rooms of power. After ruling on evidence in such a way as to displease the heavyweights, I was forced to hand off the case to my own supervisor, who thought I had done fine and apologized confidentially to me for bending under the pressure of his arguably frivolous political appointee boss. (He then went on to displease the heavyweight litigators some more, and they finally consolidated and made a settlement with the ladies.)
So I think it is too bad that politics may have played a role in how this expensive case was managed. This 7 days about 6 ½ minutes. Of course, if a superior officer of the judge is not married to the prosecuting attorney in this case, I would appreciate knowing immediately, as I am simply reporting what was told to me and would be quick to delete the suggestion if it were not so.
I would be remiss if I did not attempt to share at least a quick word on hazing crimes. In Arizona, hazing is defined as “any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or in concert with other persons, against another student, and in which both of the following apply: (a) The act was committed in connection with an initiation into, an affiliation with or the maintenance of membership in any organization that is affiliated with an educational institution. (b) The act contributes to a substantial risk of potential physical injury, mental harm or degradation or causes physical injury, mental harm or personal degradation.” Hazing laws are designed to help schools prevent such behavior, and not on how similar behavior manifests itself in the community at large. Still, it sounds too familiar to not be noticed.
Here’s John who doesn’t want to join the Winslow club. And here are the people who decided, possibly because John was not interested in getting to know them or do what they were telling him to do, that he was a good target for intentional acts designed to disorient him, cause him to panic and contribute to a substantial risk of his being hurt, both exciting themselves and endangering themselves in the process. Synonyms for hazing include shadowing, obfuscating and obscuring. Crushing someone’s nose surely meets part b, while screaming at the man to get out of his car, his only protection, certainly contributes to mental harm.
There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion. I also can’t figure out why the prosecutor decided to prosecute this case, and in the way they did, not prosecuting the others present – for various crimes against John. We hear that the prosecuting attorney and the star witness appear to be pretty close buddies. Is that so? What is the connection between the star witness and the State? Why was this case handled like this? That’s a political question. That’s my new question.
The first is answered: who let the trial run 7 days? The judge.
|Posted on April 29, 2012 at 3:40 PM|
Here, I continue my translation of VG’s coverage of the events surrounding John Kristoffer Larsgard, and my comment.
Wednesday, April 25th:
Larsgard can appeal.
If he is judged and receives a sentence, he can go to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Here, the accused can present legal objections, the method the court case would be carried out. The sentencing and clear constitutional questions, explained criminal law attorney, Michael Harwin in Tucson, Arizona. Harwin has not assembled the Larsgard story, but the attorney understands that the judgment is considered severe.
The Poor Man
Such has his life been behind the wall
Holbrook. Overextended, must Live Larsgard, 68, yesterday see her son be hastened out of the courtroom, strongly guarded by American police.
“I don’t know so much about prisons in general in Arizona, but I unfortunately know a lot about Navajo County Jail, where he has sat until now. And it is a scary place, completely hellish. The way they have treated my son in these seven months is nearly impossible to believe,” she tells VG.
Racial conflicts and violence:
Wearing orange pants, iron handcuffs and foot chains, Larsgard was taken promptly out of the courtroom after the judgment was stated in the local courthouse last evening Norwegian time. Over-filled jails where racial conflicts, gang pressures and violence imbue daily life are believed to be what waits the Norwegian behind the walls in Arizona. Until now he has sat in Navajo County – and now will be transferred to another custodial institution in Arizona.
“Since April 4th, he has been newly sat in isolation. My son is completely sure that this is because they want it to show on his papers when he is transferred to a state prison that it has been necessary to set him in isolation. This scares us, that his custodial situation will be worsened.
How shall you get to visit him in prison?
“I have no idea. I live in Oslo. It takes between 12 and 15 hours just to fly here,” says Liv Larsgard.
“This coming up is going to be tough. The poor man,” says Thore Henki Holm Hansen, 68, to VG. The motorcycle gang the Outlaws’ European chief was imprisoned for 7 years for narcotics offenses in a prison in Miami, up until 2004. “Behind the wall, there are their own rules. My only advice to him is that he must weave himself into a group in the prison. To sail his own sea in that system is difficult,” says Hansen.
The Swede, Annika Ostberg, was sentenced to assisting in murder in 1982 and was sentenced to 28 years in prison in California. She says it was tough behind the wall in the southern States. “Prisons there are overcrowded. He must plan to be imprisoned in a room together with 50 others. To be alone is impossible, but it could help to survive,” says Ostberg to VG. “The most important rules are not to say anything, but see everything and hear everything. To be with a group is essential,” she states. “There is much violence, narcotics and sexual maltreatment in American prisons, unfortunately. Prison guards see what they want to see,” says Ostberg, who in 2009 was transferred to a Swedish prison. Hansen confirms that there is still sexual mistreatment among the prisoners. “He must find a way to form an image and get respect. It is not just a joke that one doesn’t bend over after the soap in the shower,” he says.
In Arizona, it is common that the sentenced are getting out after having served one-half their time. There are 15 prisons in the state, but it is uncertain at this writing which prison Larsgard must go to. “I’m no expert on the state of the prisons in Arizona. My impression is that they are very different from place to place. Some of them have the reputation of being very tough,” says Larsgard’s attorney, Criss Candelaria to VG.
“He is, despite necessity, to be imprisoned at least 85% of his sentence before he can come out. It is important for me now to try to hold him up mentally. He must think that he can go further. In fact, it could have been much worse today than 7 ½ years in prison,” says Candelaria.
Thomas Ugelvik at the Institute for Criminology and Judicial Sociology at the University of Oslo also brings forward overcrowded prisons in the U.S. as a huge challenge. He doesn’t think it will be easy for Larsgard to serve his sentence. “Arizona can be distinguished from Texas and California on the number of prisoners. The prisons are often very full and it is not normal that one would get one’s own cell. One is housed much tighter with the other prisoners, and, as a result, it is important who is serving time with whom. One can, for example, hang out in a prison gym room with hammocks. The quality of life that coordinates with the social services and school work is not equally available in American prisons, as it is in Norwegian ones. Often there is a private contractor that is running these institutions. This reduces the level of the prison experience, when those who run it shall make money. Here in Norway, prisons are run from the perspective of a humanitarian thought-set, and one has quite equal rights within as outside the walls. This is probably not the case in Arizona,” says Ugelvik.
Amnesty International has recently released a report which butchers the conditions in prisons in Arizona. The Norwegian State Department (UDI) indicates to VG that 7 Norwegians sat imprisoned in the U.S. as of January 1, 2012. These are for violations of the law such as murder, fraud and narcotics smuggling.
“In such a small local community, there are various standards for both police and the legal system. I have lived south in the state and driven by the place Larsgard was sentenced. This is a country [i.e. hick] town! And it is still this way in the wild West, that one has a great faith in hard lines when it comes to handling the law,” says professor and U.S. expert Ole O. Moen.
Prison in the U.S.
According to the American Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.2 million adults sat in prison in the U.S. at the end of 2010. This amounted to approximately .7 percent of the population of adult citizens. . . . (etc.)
That ends the August 25th coverage in VG.
Reader, back to the prisoner, John. After the sentencing hearing last Tuesday (at which the man who assaulted John and broke his nose last Fall got his ‘revenge finger’ moment . . . as if that was deserved, which appears to have taken place without any reported judicial comment or, well, a citation for contempt of court? After John is taken out of the courtroom, as the story above ends, John is feeling down. (Surprise surprise.) His face seems sad, so the guards escorting him claimed. As a result, he was taken to the cell where all of his clothes were taken from him. Just a preventative measure, as he might try to commit suicide, you know. He was left naked from immediately after the sentencing hearing - until the next morning, Wednesday last week, when, unexpectedly, some journalists showed up to visit him. The guards hurried up and gave him his clothes to throw on so he could attend to their questions. They had so many of their own questions and their time together was limited. John didn’t have a chance to tell them he’d been kept stripped in solitary since the hearing.
John is scheduled to be transferred to an ‘assessment center’ very soon, where he is expected to be for 1-2 months while they determine which prison he is going to be sent to. First, it's said they will shave his head. His mother is told she cannot see him at all during this time.
|Posted on April 29, 2012 at 3:50 AM|
I am commenting on recent news in the John Kristoffer Larsgard case, held in Arizona, involving a Norwegian young man and his mother, Liv Larsgard. In this blog entry, I am reviewing VG’s coverage of the Larsgard case published in their Norwegian edition of April 25, 2012. I am also introducing information not included in the paper. The VG translation into English is mine, and I take the liberty of commenting where I find it appropriate. I apologize for any embarrassment my comments may cause to individuals, and assure you that my only interest is in investigating what has actually occurred in this situation, a situation which I find both engaging and urgent.
John Kristoffer Sentenced to Prison for 7 ½ Years
Holbrook, Arizona. Inside the courtroom, John Kristoffer Larsgard, 33, stifling sobs, gives a tearful guarantee that he never had the intent to hurt anyone. But his statement falls on deaf ears.
Gives him the finger:
This, despite the fact that the main person in the case, aside from Larsgard himself, Mike Mendoza, shows his open contempt for the accused’s attempt to beg for forgiveness. In the middle of the long solo request by Larsgard, Mendoza gets up abruptly, goes quickly toward the door at the back of the courtroom, advances, and then goes out. Then he turns himself again towards Larsgard in the open courtroom door and gives his long [fuck you] finger.
“This shows you what kind of people they are, who have gotten Larsgard into prison, who have witnessed against him, the entire time with similar declarations, always consistent with one another. They are altogether within Mendoza’s circle of friends. He has the police, the prosecuting authority, and the jury believing in him 100 percent, zero percent on Larsgard. This is what is such a scandal,” says defense attorney, Criss Candelaria to VG right after the sentencing was read out, shortly after 10 p.m. Norwegian time yesterday evening.
What got Mendoza to react was that Larsgard said that what got him to go into a full panic was that Mendoza smashed him in the face such that he broke his nose. “Had he just come calmly up to me, instead of punching me, none of us would have been sitting here today,” said Larsgard.
VG has read the police interview of Mendoza in which he confirms that he hit Larsgard in the face. “The idea was to punch him unconscious – so that the wild-man-driving he was doing would stop” was the explanation given police. VG talked to Mike Mendoza about an hour before the episode in the courtroom. “We asked for an interview, but he refused that because he had been advised to not talk with the media by the prosecution.” Similarly, none of the other witnesses have wished to talk with VG at any time.
Reader, I interrupt: The case is supposedly all over, and the prosecutor has told the witnesses not to talk to the media. Why? Is the case going to start to fall apart if they do start talking? How much careful coaching went into creating the facade they needed to convict? Perhaps it’s all a house of cards, ready to fall when the least touch pricks it. Seems suspicious to me. And it’s too bad the witnesses are all in line on this. Like little soldiers. Of course, they probably have something to lose if they talk . . . and to gain if the prosecutor’s ‘discretion’ should ever have to fall on them. You know prosecutors do have discretion as to what crimes they prosecute, and who they prosecute. No skin off this prosecutor’s back - I mean, to take on a ‘non-resident,’ and a genuine foreigner at that.
I also can’t help but wonder why the prosecutor didn’t charge Mendoza with aggravated battery, which he seems clearly chargeable for – and possibly clearly guilty of - and which is a ‘crime.
Also, Reader, if someone punched you in the nose so hard, through the driver’s side window while you were stopped and parked, and coming at you from the back of the car, not the front, so you had no clue, and then they actually broke your nose, and your blood started spurting all over the car, might you begin to drive rather erratically? At least to get away? At least until you felt you had to stop and call 911, which these Norwegians did? Back to the article:
Is in shock:
Neither the witnesses in the case nor the judge, John Lamb, showed any prayer. The judge should just find the correct sentence, since a jury had already found him guilty on several points. “I am in shock. This is horrible. I don’t know what I can do with myself, what I shall do now. That they could do something like this to my son,” says Liv Larsgard. “These witnesses have ganged up against my son and they are lying. I know that, because I was there the entire time.”
Liv came over from Norway on Sunday and has gotten to meet with her son one time before yesterday’s court session. When she, during a recess, tries to pass her son a half-bottle of Coca-Cola, it is immediately jerked out of her hands. Crushed, she realizes defeat.
The attempt by the attorney to get a new trial was denied already by the judge at the opening of the [sentencing] court session. In addition, the prosecutor came forward with a bunch of new comments in the case: They had gotten together material showing Larsgard had been in trouble earlier in the U.S., especially at the University of Alabama about 10 years ago. That was discussed by VG in the past. A large part of the time in the court session of this date was spent discussing how relevant that might be to the case at hand. The judge approved that the information could be brought into the case, despite the fact that nothing in those circumstances resulted in Larsgard either being judged or fined for something.
Reader, this is just amazing! As the coverage has already noted, John has gotten into trouble before. Is he permitted to have a history similar certainly to more than a million other young men, that is, without ending up with a jail sentence for being unliked? Perhaps a person who doesn’t fit into the social circle that he is supposed to fit into? Who is intelligent as can be, and ends up deciding he doesn’t care if folks don’t like him – he’ll live his life as he sees fit, and he doesn’t hurt anyone while he does it.
What stories about him from his past - of being mobbed and harassed, or responding poorly to some people – what they do, for me, is just confirm that people who are looking for someone to mob and harass will often decide that it is him that should ‘get it.’ It is the Lord of the Flies. I, too, respond pretty poorly to victimization. I start yelling. I get angry. I try to make room for myself to get out of it. And you? And what does that have to do with the case which is now already over and whose record should be closed?
As long as we are bringing up prejudicial and inflammatory information, what about Mendoza? A source tells us that he sells cigarettes. And equipment. What kind? The kind used to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug subject to high rates of abuse, prevalent on the underground drug market, a drug responsible for destroying lives, health, families and communities. Maybe you can also make baby food with methamphetamine equipment. I have no idea. Just telling you what I heard.
Back to VG:
Larsgard’s strongest supporter here in Arizona, Sandy Curry, 68, who has become a close friend to the mother, Liv, said that, despite developments, she was relieved after the sentencing hearing. “The reason that I am a bit happy is that I unfortunately know what these people could have found him for [sentenced him to]. That he got 7 ½ years, minus the 230 days he has sat in prison detained, is therefore a relief. Of course I think, as I have thought the entire time, that this case was idiocy from one end to the other, that it never should have been brought. He should have gotten a fine for irresponsible driving in Winslow, and then the police ‘wave him on,’ said Sandy Curry to VG.
Reader, I can’t stop interrupting. The police did not wave goodbye. Why was that? Because they were Iranian terrorists. Yep. I turn to Liv. “We parked and made phone calls to Dalton Auto to try to find them and get our luggage. He said ‘Stay where you are, I’ll send a driver to find you and take you to your luggage.” John was then smashed in the face through the car window by Mendoza.” Liv continues, “After he was hit, he started the car and tried to find some street signs, but we had to stop and call 911. A few seconds after calling 911, we heard screaming and noise, which was the police. They came at us with their guns pointed at our heads.”
According to Liv, the police dragged her out of the car, twisting her arm and virtually threw her into the back of a police van, locking it. In the car were her handbag/purse and several mobile phones. She had her Norwegian mobile phone with her, and had bought a U.S. mobile phone. Her Norwegian passport was also in her purse in the car.
We must now go back to 2009. That year, John had developed a uniquely difficult cervical injury. His neck required special surgery. In Norway, he could not get that surgery quickly, and so, like many Norwegians, he considered obtaining the surgery out-of-country for reasons related to price and speed of scheduling. Liv and he were in Norway and researched the options. They discovered that one of the world’s best surgeons for the needed surgery was Dr. Muntazen who would be in Germany the following year, but was currently working in Iran. Since they did not feel they could wait, they scheduled with Dr. Muntazen in Iran, and proceeded to make their travel arrangements. Norwegians travel to Iran for cultural reasons, to see their ancient sites and experience the culture on vacation. A visa stamp is required. Liv’s co-workers noted that the ladies at the Iranian Embassy wore head scarves. They thought she might take one with her when she went to get her visa stamped into her passport. Thinking it would be wise, Liv completed her application and got her photo taken at the photo box machine. She decided it would be respectful to wear the scarf in her visa photo so she did. The visa was processed when she went to the Iranian Embassy in Oslo. Liv and John then took their trip to Iran, where John got the fantastic surgery which immediately improved his neck. The visa lasted for 2-3 weeks and they were there for about one week. The visa stamp usually takes up a full page in a passport, and sometimes includes a photo. In this case, it did.
Liv is locked in the back of the van while the police have searched her handbag, something which was not related to the circumstances of the incidents which have just occurred and which should have resulted in any evidence, even if it was considered germane, being excluded from the record. After being locked in the van for about 10 minutes, a policeman opens the door and literally screams at Liv, at the top of his lungs, “You are from Iran! You are Iranian and you are a terrorist!” Liv replied, “No, I’m Norwegian.” The police officer answers, “No, you’re Iranian. Because I have your passport.” By the way, Liv did not have an Iranian passport. Her belongings, though, were searched without her permission and without probable cause to suspect that she had any reason to be involved in a crime. In criminal procedure, as most criminals know, there is something called the exclusionary rule. It means one cannot place into evidence items that were obtained by illegal search and seizure. It is designed to act as a deterrent to overzealous police and prosecutorial discretion. While items of a third party can be used in one exception to the rule, (example, germane evidence from someone else, a third party, in the case of the first party), in general, both John and Liv were in the position of foreigners who had crossed into American borders (legally) and had the right to the protection of this rule.
The police did not speak to her further. She requested her handbag and phones and was told that she could not have them. According to Liv, they said, “We are going to keep everything as evidence and you can have nothing.” She was especially anxious as she expected another call from the people who were supposed to help them get their luggage, or else should call them back again. Little did she know how much deeper their tragedy had become.
Only some days after this incident, the cab driver who assisted them in getting to Flagstaff to rent a car to continue their journey on that fateful day was talking to a policeman she knew. He mentioned to her that he had heard about the Iranian terrorist. So, the word had gotten around.
By October 19th, it was time to see what the documents from the police looked like. The attorney had been selected for John, and his wife had come to Winslow to pick up some papers that were to be used in the case. It seems that the documents were faxed to Winslow and picked up there, at which time Liv had a chance to see them. Among the case documents was a page with, yes, a copy of the Iranian visa page from Liv’s passport showing Liv in her head scarf. This apparently constituted a part of the record of the investigation in the case on which the charges against John would be brought.
Months and months go by. During the several days of trial, Liv was told she should not attend in the courtroom, as it might be perceived that her own testimony would thus be contrived or changed. However, Liv was assured that the Iranian terrorist was not discussed in court. Heaven forbid. Besides, the story was already all over the area. Seems no one in this part of the State had seen an Iranian visa stamp before. The more disturbing question is how many people involved in the case and jury had heard of that terrorist connection. After all, like mother like son, right?
|Posted on April 26, 2012 at 12:15 AM|
I am commenting on the recent news in the John Kristoffer Larsgard case, held in Arizona, involving a Norwegian young man and his mother, Liv Larsgard.
In this blog entry, I am reviewing VG’s coverage of the Larsgard case published in their Norwegian edition of Tuesday, April 24, 2012. The cover is, in my translation, “Today he can get 35 years in prison” and “Now his mother beseeches Norway to help.” I shall start with the general spread. Liv sits with her paper spiral notebook. [She is not internet-savvy.] It is lined and well-thumbed. A ballpoint pen is clipped onto the page where continuing journal entries appear. A journal I suggested she keep, but which she had already begun months ago. She stares with continuing disbelief and apparent breathlessness into the middle distance, her inexpensive western motel environs evident behind her.
The VG coverage is translated, for the most part, closely, by me here. I insert some remarks, and interrupt when I see fit.
“Deeply desperate and powerless, Liv Larsgard prays now that the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway’s Secretary of State), Jonas Gahr Støre, aid her only son, John Kristoffer. “I hope intensely that there is something Jonas Gahr Støre and the Department of Foreign Affairs can do to get my son out of this terrible situation. We need help desperately.”
VG met late Monday, April 23rd Norwegian evening time with the nurse (Liv), who has worked the last 23 years at the Nesoddtunet elderly and hospital nursing home, at the motel in Timberlodge in the small town of Pinetop, Arizona. The unlucky mother is fighting her life’s fight now. It is only so long she can hold back the tears while Eirik Mosveen interviews her. John Kristoffer Larsgard is already found guilty for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by the court [a jury trial, I believe] in Holbrook, Arizona.
Liv is very exhausted – because at 6:30 last evening Norwegian time, her son’s destiny was sealed. Then the judge decided the sentence her son would get. It will be a minimum of 5 years in prison and a maximum of double that. “He has sat in prison under inhuman conditions for seven months for something he didn’t do, and I know that he did not do it, because I sat beside him in the car the entire time,” says Liv Larsgard.
The VG coverage of April 24th continues to recount some of the story presented the previous day. Translating from the Norwegian, “The court found that he had attempted to hurt people intentionally when he fled. For himself, he claims he just tried to get away.” Liv states, “We are just two ordinary law abiding Norwegian citizens who happened to swing off the highway and came into a scary and difficult situation. We turned off at Winslow, Arizona, a place we never before had been, and which we never shall go to again.”
Ahh, the Foreign Affairs Department of Norway. Let’s not digress. Let’s go back to VG: Liv tells Eirik, “The Foreign Affairs Department has told me the entire time [i.e. since last Fall when John was incarcerated and not released, pending a trial that only recently occurred], that there was nothing they could do because the U.S. stands on their list of countries with good protection of rights. But here in Arizona, there are many places completely different than the rest of the U.S. And in this case, there are many elements and rights principles that have been broken,” she states. [She’s right.] “The Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs has been represented by Professor George Olander, who is the honorary counsel in Arizona, under the general counsel in San Francisco. He has said both to me, to VG and to the Foreign Affairs Department, that this case is a scandal. Then I think it is rather odd that the Foreign Affairs Department in Oslo hasn’t thoroughly investigated the case. The alarm should have gone off then,” she states.
Liv has been in the U.S. three times in the last seven months. Costs for an attorney, rental car, motel and air tickets have, to date, cost this nurse 200,000 Norwegian kroner (about $35,000 dollars).
The Utenriksdepartmentet (UDI) states they will not engage themselves in the case. A person with UDI who (finally) made a statement to VG states, “I have a great understanding for what it’s like to have landed in a criminal case abroad. [He actually cannot have, especially in the U.S.]; it’s a difficult experience. One, in the same way as the Ambassador in Oslo cannot engage in a case that is ongoing in a Norwegian court, cannot attempt to affect a foreign judgment.” Frode Andersen indicates that the general counsel in San Francisco and the Counsel in Phoenix have aided in the case. They have ensured that Larsgard has gotten an attorney, and have held contact with the American public authorities. ”This is the common support we give,” he said.
VG’s reporter asks him, “What has to happen before you do what is over the usual practice?” Andersen replied, “Without commenting on this particular case especially, UDI has engaged itself in the past where there has been serious doubt as to the court’s functional security, or when there was talk of the death penalty.”
I get it. If John is in danger of being killed, they might step in. Well, he is, but not because he could get the death penalty for screwing up 6 minutes of driving in a small town. But if an American court does not sentence John to death for failing to successfully make a three-point turn, meanwhile pissing off several people with his somewhat nonchalant and potentially maddening anti-social responses, the Norwegian authorities should not be interested in paying attention – and ‘engaging’ in the resolution of it. Right? After all, now that he’s in the good old U.S. of A., he may as well have gone to hell – when he’s found with his neck crushed once again under the boot of a fellow prisoner. And if he has to spend a few years in solitary confinement - and hand and foot chains - for not killing anyone and not meaning to, so what: at least he wasn’t sentenced to death. Right, Jonas Gahr Støre? Right, Hillary? It may take a village to raise a child, but the sad corollary is: it doesn’t take more than that to hang a man who doesn’t deserve it.
Meanwhile, the locals – both citizen voters and public authorities – have gotten their own special benefits – they got their small and focused revenge – and they’ve got their votes lined up to stay in office. Meanwhile, thank the Lord and hang ‘me high. After all, he scared two children when he tried to make a three-point turn. And by the way, he didn’t act like a good American would act. He was anti-social. He must be a foreigner. Right, UDI? Right, Jonas Gahr Støre? Just let ‘em run all over us when we land there. No compunction. Best friends. Case closed.
It’s not the first time since I moved to Norway that I’ve heard of abuses of international human rights within the United States. Too bad the U.S. polishes its untouchable reputation with so much distance that even allies cannot complain. Meanwhile, the U.S. criminal justice system flops along rather unevenly, if you can call ‘pleading out’ real justice. It has plenty of emperors who do not permit self-examination. And yes, they are hunkered down in both big and tiny towns - and poor counties. Too bad they’re willing to sacrifice a foolish and unattractive foreign fellow, and count him a real fiend when he was not. And is not.
Meanwhile, from a cursory surf today, I’m not the first to find it ironic that while a Norwegian’s rights are being railroaded out of existence in the U.S., Norway is entertaining its own world’s greatest fiend in a lengthy and showy trial. The one who shall not be named has been granted 10 weeks of full-time publicity – in Norway – to explain why he killed 77 people last summer. He’s protected, listened to, studied and respected. He doesn’t live in chains. He’s dressed in a suit and tie and driven to court every day with high security. He’s given every opportunity to tell us exactly how he planned to kill and killed 77 people. Even what he wished he could have accomplished but didn’t manage to get done. Norway just today got done reporting their own replication of the bomb blow-up, a mini-second by mini-second analysis of the actual effect of the downtown blast that blew out the government’s main street offices. Gee, I’m so glad to have that forensic detail – it makes all the difference. The State of Norway has permitted dozens of attorneys to appear during this case, a case in which the accused has already confessed and claims he is competent to be judged for a prison sentence. The judges are proud to be insiders, some the children of judges who heard famous super-cases in Norway in the past. It’s a big show. And everybody in the limelight is connected, you know. That’s how things in Norway work. And our Norwegian tax dollars are paying for it. Because Norway is rich.
Too bad Liv Larsgard isn’t ‘connected.’ And isn’t rich.
Makes me glad I’m headed to the United States for a few weeks. God help me, though, if I get going the wrong way down a one-way street. After all, if I get flustered, I might have to serve time.
|Posted on April 25, 2012 at 8:25 AM|
John Kristoffer Larsgard, a Norwegian young man, lately living in the United States. Liv Larsgard, his mother, a nursing home nurse in Oslo. Myself, an American attorney living and working in Norway, also assisting and commenting on cultural and legal issues of interest and note. And John, now and for several months, sitting in a prison in Arizona, and recently convicted after over a week-long trial.
I was asked by John’s mother, Liv Larsgard, to assist her. We’ve spoken on the phone on more than one occasion at length and she recently sent me portions of the court transcript in the case. She would like me to help her to get what is arguably also her story out to the public, in English, and, if I would like to do that, to comment on the legal merits of the case, on its problems and issues it seems to raise, as I deem appropriate.
So here we go, dear American and global Reader, as we look into what appears to be a classic example of how not to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. As well, how not to present criminal evidence in a jury trial. And we can also get to the rather long list of international human rights which have been broken with impunity later. First, let us simply look together at what has happened here. Let me whet your appetite. Here are some versions of headlines I could write, none of which is without some truth:
• Norwegian thrown in jail for messing up a three-point turn in unfamiliar rental car
• Norwegian punched in nose for going wrong way on poorly marked one-way street and trying to flee attackers
• Batterer goes free - Victim gets years in prison
• Norwegian with neck disability refused his medicine while held in solitary confinement
• Norwegian guilty of bad driving held in steel hand and foot chains at all times out of cell
• Norwegian punched to the floor and neck stomped on by other prisoner for doing nothing
• Norwegian with history of being mobbed in Norway finally mobbed to near-death in Arizona
• Lack of social skills becomes criminal intent in Arizona when non-Americans show up
• Need help? Don’t stop in Winslow, Arizona. Especially if you’ve never been there.
• Beer-happy festival crowd turns on foreigners for lack of American communication skills
• Foreigner drives wildly as reaction to attacking public . . . who over-reacted to his unfamiliarity
• Local prison needs prisoners after losing federal contract: Find foreigners fast and lock ‘em up
• A slam-dunk into prison means protecting local jobs - Now that’s a priority.
• Hearsay evidence illegal since 17th century – but not in Winslow, Arizona
Let’s begin with the exclusive coverage prepared and published in VG, one of Norway’s largest daily newspapers and most read. The coverage is by Eirik Mosveen, a veteran reporter stationed in New York. The paper has availability online for those interested in reading the Norwegian story portions. I don’t cover all the aspects, but I will summarize some of the written coverage as the story has just broken here. By doing that, I will primarily present it from the perspective from which it is reported - by a Norwegian reporter, to the Norwegian population in Norway. For me, it is a sign of respect, and also, like many Americans here, will ‘ring true’ with respect to our own education as to the differences between our two cultures. It may also be enlightening for those who should develop a professional interest in this case, and who have the ability and position to influence what should now occur and how that can be effected. In general, it’s interesting because it points up what people think they know about how they should perceive others’ actions. It also highlights how persons use the law and legal system, themselves, through their different roles within the criminal justice ‘sub-culture’ of this American rural county. We can analyze those cultural and legal differences in later entries. Now to the core story.
VG’s coverage began Monday, April 23, 2012: There was just a mother and son in the car that drove onto a deserted motorway through Arizona’s desert on a warm and peaceful Saturday. Then all hell broke loose. For seven months, John Kristoffer Larsgard, 32, has sat in jail in Navajo County Jail, mainly in solitary, with foot links and handcuffs. What happened on September 24 (2011) isn’t taken from an American B-film. It’s hard reality. On March 29th he was found guilty of so-called “aggravated assault” for trying to cause harm using a deadly weapon – against 6 Americans, 2 of them small children. The weapon, according to the judgment, was the rental car rented by his mother Liv, and the son drove it that ill-fated day. Tomorrow, the sentencing comes, at which the Norwegian risks being sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in prison, while he fears he could get 35 years.
Liv was driving her son’s Volvo as they made their way from Los Angeles to Chicago, and John was half-sleeping in the passenger seat. Suddenly, a red light on the dash began to blink. They decided to get off at the next exit to check it out. At that exit, Liv became confused as to how to proceed and ended up crossing into a median area which was full of un-noticeable rocks. There, the Volvo bottomed out and its under-carriage was substantially damaged. They therefore needed a rental car to continue their trip. The taxi driver that came to assist them drove them to Flagstaff where they rented a car and then returned to the Winslow area to find their baggage. Note that since the Volvo had been towed, and there were no rental agencies in Winslow, they had not been into the town before and were now entering it to find their luggage so they could continue their journey north and east. Now, John is driving. They are to find their auto at Dalton Auto Parts.
On this day, there is a large local music festival. They accidentally turn the wrong way down a one-way street, which causes onlookers to react. John is driving slowly, but some call to him that it is a one-way street. He tries to yell something back at those who are yelling at him, mainly a mother standing on the sidewalk. Liv is very anxious now and begs him to turn around and get them out of there. When John goes to execute a three-point turn, he runs over the curb behind him, scaring the persons hanging out in front of a store. Here is the woman with two children who claims he screamed at her, “I will kill you” before he executes the three-point turn. Note that another witness heard him say, “I will sneak through.”
Reader, I must digress here, on cross-cultural language usage and pronunciation. Have you heard a Norwegian say, “I will kill you” and “I will sneak through”? Do you realize that they don’t sound very different from each other? Do you know that the Norwegian language doesn’t do the ‘th’ sound very well – most of their consonants are sharper and more distinct. And they don’t do the ‘ough’ sound in ‘through’ very well either: most of their o’s are longer and deeper ooooo’s. In addition, all their i’s are e’s: they don’t have the short ‘i’ sound very much in the language: first, the ‘i’ is always pronounced as “ee” is in English. When they ‘will,’ they say, ‘veeel’.
Now, reader, another digression. When you have found yourself going the wrong way on a one-way street, what do you do? If it is safe to do so, you do as I have done: you sneak through to the next turn and get off of it. If no or few cars are seen, street direction can be under-signed. In many cases, sneaking forward to the next turn would be less disruptive and more ‘friendly’ than stopping and executing a three-point turn. So, it makes perfect sense that John was trying to tell the lady that he would try to sneak through, as he slowly proceeded, even if she heard something else instead, not recognizing his foreign accented English in the same way she would understand her western American English. Who said he said, “I will sneak through”? A young dental assistant who, presumably, has perfect hearing, who also testified at the, er, seven day trial.
And what does the prosecutor do with little lady number one’s statement? Well, of course, he offers it in testimony for, um, intent? To kill people? After all, he has to find an exception to the hearsay rule or he can’t get that assertion into evidence. Why? Because, the fact that this little lady swears under oath that she heard him say, “I will kill you” doesn’t mean he said that, and it also doesn’t mean one can accept that statement for the truth of the matter asserted. As every first year law student knows, hearsay is evidence which depends on the credibility of someone who cannot be cross-examined for its probative value (Goldberg). In other words, when little lady one says she heard him say, “I will kill you,” who are we to say she did not hear him say that? This is why HEARSAY IS NOT ADMISSIBLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVING THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER ASSERTED. Of course, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you keep a little lady on the stand repeating and repeating that he said “I will kill you,” and then everyone around her decides that must’ve been what the guy said, and they further testify to the same, (except for the lady who testified that he clearly said, “I will sneak through”), and then you have a situation where the jury is asked to find that this fellow intentionally set about hurting people in the town, and what will they find? It’s almost a Catch-22: you get the jury to answer only the question you ask them – and definitely not the question you should have asked them. Figure this one out.
Back to VG’s coverage. John manages to turn around and is trying to both flee people running after him who are angry, but basically find his luggage so they can leave town. In particular, the father of the children on the sidewalk is running after the car, angry as can be. John doesn’t see him, but pulls into the parking lot nearby while they hope to get their luggage. The car becomes surrounded and, coming from behind, John is smashed in the nose through the open driver’s window. The father who crushed his nose is rushing back while John’s blood is spurting profusely all over the unfamiliar rental car interior. Still, he is afraid to get out of the car.
Both John and Liv manage to call 911. Immediately, about 10 police arrive. Ten? It has been 6 ½ minutes since they began to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Winslow, Arizona.
Criss Candaleria, John’s attorney, tells VG, (in my translation from the Norwegian paper), “This is really an embarrassing case. It should have been dropped from Day One. There isn’t even one shred of evidence in the case that John intended to kill someone in the course of those 6 ½ minutes, in a town he had never been in before. The police didn’t even assign one investigator to it. The witnesses were angry, and the police and the court chose to believe the witnesses’ version, namely that he was trying to hurt and kill these people. If he was trying to kill them, why would he call the police and tell them where he was? The case is completely illogical. Therefore, I’ve asked for a new trial.”
None of the witnesses contacted would talk to the VG reporter who was in town requesting it, although everyone knows that ‘there was a foreigner here last year who drove like a crazy man and tried to hurt and kill folks.’
Eirik Mosveen was able to talk to John at the Navajo County Jail, which is in Holbrook, Arizona. John says, (in my English translation), “I’ve got no connection with Arizona, other than that my mother and I drove along I-40. For me, it’s as if we’ve been taken in a highway robbery.” (John is in solitary confinement.) Further, “The treatment I am getting here in jail is based on what I was arrested for. It’s pretty bad right now. I’m getting out of my cell 3 times each week, one hour each time, to take a shower and maybe read documents. Otherwise, I’m in the cell, which has a toilet, a sink and a mattress pad.” John is always in hand and foot links when he is out of his cell unless he is showering. John says, “It’s completely laughable. It’s because, according to them, I am the most dangerous prisoner in the entire county.” Eirik asks him what he thinks of this. John replies, “That it’s complete lunacy. It’s like a bad film, where you swing in and land on a deserted peninsula, filled with angry residents. Because I was charged with trying to hurt children, many of the jail staff have treated me very badly, despite the fact that that charge was dropped. I’m like their mass murderer, the unfortunate mass murderer since, under the circumstances, no one was hurt.” Eirik and John continue their discussion of what seems to have been a completely insane description of what in fact occurred. John then adds, “What I’ve learned for myself at this place is that, here, anything can happen.” When asked if he had been there before, John replies, “No, I’d never heard of the place, and if I had, I would have thought it was a new data virus by Windows,” he says and smiles.
Alright, Reader, here we take another break. Do you have to love this guy? No, but I think his cynical sense of humor may be helping him stay alive. And he’s definitely not stupid. Can we see why driving a bit wildly might ‘piss people off’? Yes. Can we understand why he was trying to get out of the wrong-way predicament he was in, while women were screaming at him to turn around? Yes. Can we understand that we also don’t have to ‘like’ him to see that the type of treatment he has gotten has gone way way beyond the reasonable? Yes. Might he have exacerbated the bad-driver side in response to provocations from persons attacking the car? Quite possibly, but so. Can we understand that it would have been appropriate to cite him for traffic violations? Yes. When someone runs at your car, and brushes against it intentionally while you are driving and you can’t see them, are you responsible for the fact that the car touched them? As a Chicagoan who has more than once watched pedestrians attack and damage cars in traffic, I’ll leave that question open. Did the car he was driving, while being chased, brush against someone? Yes. Are they responsible for putting themselves in harm’s way? Quite possibly. If they are on a sidewalk when the three-point turn fails, and the tire blows out on the curb, is this something you could have prevented when you had never driven that car until right then? No, not necessarily. Is it reasonable to think that this scared the persons on the sidewalk? Of course. Would the children be afraid? Of course. American response: Get offended (which is also considered smart) and get even. Norwegian response: Stop all action, calm down and exchange names and numbers. Is it reasonable for them to claim that he was trying intentionally to kill them? Based on the actual evidence, of course not. But in Winslow, Arizona, who cares about the evidence? Just ‘hang ‘em high’ as they say, right?
Eirik asks John what he thinks of the future. John replies, “I don’t know. I’m just trying to survive each day as it comes here.” When asked about his mother, John replies, “It’s not easy. Because she feels a large responsibility because it was she who crashed the car, and the reason we had to hang around here. She’s suffering with guilt feelings. In addition, she’s been here, away [from her work and Oslo] for long periods, and taken out vacation for two years in the future. She has gotten large economic problems [from this].
VG’s first day’s coverage ends with this information: In Winslow, Arizona, both the State’s Attorney and the judge in the case are publicly (popularly) elected and are political office holders, and 2012 is an election year. There is little doubt that many people in Winslow, which has about 6,000 residents, would like to see Larsgard sentenced to time. To let John free of a punishment ‘would not be especially popular.’
If you’re able to and interested, check VG’s video story link, entitled, “Her pågripes nordmannen,” shown and downloadable at: http://www.vgtv.no/#!id=52059 .
To be continued. By me and hopefully by other concerned and engaged professionals from our two countries.
|Posted on March 5, 2012 at 4:30 AM|
Identity Theft Attempts through ‘IRS’ E-mail ‘Notices’
It appears that at least two Americans overseas in Norway, prospective tax clients and concerned citizens, have been contacted recently by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by e-mail. That’s very interesting, seeing as the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.
They contacted me, telling me that they had received notice letters from the IRS, letters that told them they must file tax forms to the U.S. Well, so far, so good: if they meet the minimum income threshold for filing generally, they would have to file IRS tax forms, sending them to the IRS. I ask them if they have not filed lately, and they both replied that was the case. I give them all the information about filing their tax forms, and my services, and ask if they would like to use me to do that. They both replied yes. I then asked them to send me the notice letters they received in the mail – so I can reference those in doing their forms. That is when the word, e-mail (also known as email) shows up in the discussion. And, just to be sure that anyone reading this does not miss the message, it is stated several times. “The IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.”
If that is the case, then where is this e-mail coming from? And what do they expect to get out of it? Question one first. This particular e-mail string came from an e-mail registered to vsnl.com. For privacy purposes, I will call it: firstname.lastname@example.org. When one looks up to see who that could be, one discovers that one of the things that vsnl.com does is register e-mail addresses to persons who purchase those from them. A dead-end, as far as I’m concerned. Let the security police continue from there. It didn’t hurt that the text they placed in the ‘from’ box on the e-mail (note also: this was not the e-address) was: “IRS Tax Notification Department.” Sounds impressive. Just that it wasn’t the IRS – or the ‘IRS Tax Notification Department.’
Question two: What do they expect to get out of it? I imagine they would like confessional replies stating your social security number, your income, and while you’re at it, your bank account numbers, and PIN codes. Say you owe tax? Throw in your credit card numbers, etcetera? STOP before you even begin. Why? Because the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers! Do not reply, and above all, do not open attachments, rather hard for flustered folk to resist.
Rather clever that they think they’ve found some Americans overseas they can utilize for identity theft purposes. Hopefully, we do not hear any sob stories about emptied accounts and identity theft.
Still, it made me a bit sentimental. I recall the first (and only) e-mail I received from the IRS. I may be a taxpayer, but I am also a tax preparer, and an Acceptance Agent, assisting foreigners in filing Form W-7. It was rather recently. I had been doing tax work for Americans in Norway for 12 years and had a question about my Acceptance Agent work. The somewhat-secret phone number I was given to call had a voicemail with an e-address suggested on it, so I sent my question along by e-mail to the IRS. Voila: several hours later, a reply was in my e-mail inbox. Was that special? Yes. Am I special? No. It is still true, you see, that “the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.” One could always say that “the IRS never initiates e-mail contact with taxpayers.”
Therefore, whether you are an American taxpayer or a non-American taxpayer, IF YOU GET an e-mail that appears to be from the IRS, the IRS requests that you forward it to an e-mail address they provide for this purpose. Send it to: email@example.com. Guess what: they will not reply!
Additional information is available at: http://www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=179820,00.html and at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4523esp.pdf .
Then, go fishing if you can. Before you update your tax filings. It will ease your mind to know that you are making your own small but important contribution to responding to the burden of growing global financial accountability. Besides, fish for dinner is good for you.
|Posted on January 27, 2012 at 7:45 AM|
Arne Naess would have been one hundred years old today, January 27, 2012. He died in January, 2009. He was an important 20th century philosopher, an accomplished mountaineer and a man who lived his life with thoughtfulness and intensity.
The Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, paid homage to him in their Jan. 25th edition with a commentary by Johan Galtung, in Norwegian. He reminded readers of Naess’s principle theses of “deep ecology.” I read them and was immediately captivated.
The Guardian newspaper characterized Arne Naess’s work in this way, in their obituary article, found in its entirety online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/15/obituary-arne-naess
“A keen mountaineer, for a quarter of his life he lived in an isolated hut high in the Hallingskarvet mountains in southern Norway. Through his books and lectures in many countries, Næss taught that ecology should not be concerned with man's place in nature but with every part of nature on an equal basis, because the natural order has intrinsic value that transcends human values. Indeed, humans could only attain "realisation of the Self" as part of an entire ecosphere. He urged the green movement to "not only protect the planet for the sake of humans, but also, for the sake of the planet itself, to keep ecosystems healthy for their own sake.” Shallow ecology, he believed, meant thinking the big ecological problems could be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society. Deep meant asking deeper questions and understanding that society itself has caused the Earth-threatening ecological crisis. His concept, grounded in the teachings of Spinoza, Gandhi and Buddha, entered the mainstream green movement in the 1980s and was later elaborated by George Sessions in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (1995).” – The Guardian, Jan. 15, 2009.
In the spirit of spreading that philosophy, and re-examining it, I show below the first of the principles as noted by Galtung in the Norwegian article, translated by me, along with an English version found online. From the Aftenposten article, p. 7:
• It is of its own worth that life unfolds itself, independent of the narrowed interests of humans.
• The abundance and richness of life’s forms have worth in and of themselves.
• Humans do not have the right to reduce this abundance.
In English, the 8 theses are shown here, as found online:
1.The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value; inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
4. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.
Let’s have a long discussion on how these principles can be encouraged in the world as we know it. In a very real sense, the planet’s sustainability depends upon meeting these very challenges - while the ‘debate’ on sustainability veers always towards human premises and historical and political compromises. Reminds me of the discussion of whether trees have ‘standing’ – in courts. As well, of how modern deforestation practices undo the forest’s capacity to re-grow forever; of how modern agricultural methods are undoing our soil forever; of how modern fishing practices are unravelling our oceans’ biodiversity forever - the list goes on – and on and on.
The deep ecology movement continues, with book publications, grants and the spreading influence of this philosophy. Spreading how? By people like you, dear reader. Spread it; spread these significant values of Arne Naess – at home in Norway and everywhere. Live them, yourself, and try to help them flourish – yes, everywhere on Earth.
|Posted on January 15, 2012 at 3:05 PM|
The Norsk Opera recently staged Verdi’s opera, Macbeth, to great acclaim. Verdi was inspired, of course, by Shakespeare, which he read regularly throughout his life. Verdi’s Macbeth was under-appreciated in his own lifetime, but remained one of his favorite compositions.
In the second Act, the people appear – the public who are living under the terror reign of Macbeth. Verdi’s empathy for those who are persecuted in their own homeland could not be more inspiring or comforting at a time when so many are struggling to shake off the oppression of despotic rule. And so, it is only fitting that we measure our own compassion by the instructive influence of Verdi’s beautiful, timeless and universal chorus.
The chorus is variously staged. At Oslo this month, the opera choir 'public' struggled forward on a blank stage, addressing the audience directly while holding the photographs of their missing and the dead - men, women, husbands and children. Here, the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona presents their version of “Patria oppressa!” Below is an English translation created by Opera Australia:
Oppressed land of ours! You cannot have
the sweet name of mother
now that you have become a tomb
for your sons.
From orphans, from those who mourn,
some for husbands, some for children,
at each new dawn a cry goes up
to outrage heaven.
To that cry heaven replies
as if moved to pity,
oppressed land, it would
proclaim your grief for ever.
The bell tolls constantly for death
but no-one is so bold
as to shed a vain tear
for the suffering and dying.
Oppressed land of ours!
My homeland, oh my homeland!
|Posted on January 10, 2012 at 7:40 AM|
Subject: 2011, the aged gentleman with the long white beard, has taken his last shuffling steps across the paths of time. And now comes baby new year, 2012. . . . but what baggage the old man has left behind! Let's think about some of it for a minute, for perspective's sake.
Happy New Year! Notes from the North
January 10, 2012. Here are my picks for top Norwegian and American topics of 2011 and my suggestions for 2012. I look backward and forward, with a focus on being an American and living in Norway, altogether a very positive experience.
1. The Arab Spring and the Arab World. I love the Arab World. A world of particularism, and of ancient traditions and cultures. The efforts of the many who have risen up to overthrow dictatorial and non-representative forms of government during 2011 cannot be underestimated. Thousands have paid with their lives, lives whose hopes and wishes were for the peaceful coexistence of their peoples in communities controlled democratically. Democracy, on the other hand, is not an ‘efficient’ form of government, and so many find themselves struggling to create the mechanisms for representation and administration that were handled so efficiently – i.e. so top-down - in the past. Regardless of the efforts required, the goals are good, and will be good for the people. The need for people to control their means of livelihood, their communities and their national agendas bodes well for the common good. Now, Syria must rid itself of its own power-mongerers, and other nations will follow as the world shrinks, day by day.
Sustainability will become a much larger concern as this movement towards a one-playing-field global economy continues, and the law will have to play a more important part in seeing that sustainability is possible. This was the topic of a Fall, 2011 paper I delivered at Aarhus which I am now sending out for publication.
In addition, human rights, whose violations help hold dictatorships in power, will achieve new levels of undeniable recognition - as much through our new forms of global sharing of stories and events as through legislative and regulatory efforts.
2. American politics and the Occupy movement: Could Congress be any less effective as an organization? Could the President’s own powers be any further compromised, and could the Supreme Court be any less important at helping build a strong nation? Sadly, what we call “the balance of powers” not only needs re-balancing, but might start with training in the courtesies of discussion and decorum.
My suggestion: Occupy Congress – the balconies, your Representatives’ offices, your Senator’s office and phone lines, the e-mail and the snail mail, the hallways and the by-ways. Just take your real caring issues of concern to the persons who are supposed to work for you. In Congress and in the State legislatures, in the State departments and in the federal departments. When they don’t work for you, get rid of them with your vote. Think up new ideas and deliver them to those who can put them into practice. In this individualistic culture, more attention should be placed on respecting communal and group initiatives, and supporting individual efforts through group efforts.
In this, I am referring to the need to establish a better safety and health care net for Americans, as well as to re-structure the taxation of corporations and the rich so as to re-invigorate the American middle class. Don’t call it socialism because it’s not precisely that. Call it the Nor Way. It is the Nor way, and it is a good way to take care of society.
As for the Presidency, it’s too bad that this President inherited such a ‘perfect storm’ of problems. I don’t think anyone could have done any better, given the obstinacy of Congress. I also don’t think a Republican is going to be able to be good to the unemployed and powerless, even if he wants to be. Since there is as yet no viable woman candidate, 2012 will be the year Americans should vote for the man who is for the little man, regardless of his party. Who is that man?
3. Here, I am discussing Anders Breivik, Norway’s and the world’s mass murderer of 2011, as well as Odd Nerdrum, one of Norway’s greatest artists. How crazy can one country be when (1) the defense attorney for the mass murderer of 77 persons (the defense attorney requested by the accused) is busy on television and in the media telling us all about how difficult it is for his client, how his client thinks, what he wants, what he thinks, and why he thinks it; (2) the same country’s greatest artist is appealing a judgment that he be sent to prison for two years for tax fraud, rightly proven in Oslo court, with the special concern as to whether he should be granted the use of paints and brushes in his confinement; (3) the fact that a tax-paid commission is busy dragging its way through every known fact about the mass murderer’s life, striking quickly back at anyone who suggests that we just speed this up, hear the case and throw the self-confessed killer into prison for life; and (4) the parents of the children who were killed have had to get their own organization going just to try to get some recompense for the horrid job that the police and the State did, by protecting their own asses before getting in a boat and going over and catching or killing this guy so that their loved ones would still be living.
In order, (1) get off the TV, read the Rules of Professional Conduct, go back to your office, prepare your case in confidentiality, share it with the court, and get it over with. (2) Give this man a repayment schedule for the millions of kroner he should have paid the state, plus a sufficiently stinging punitive fine that he won’t get busy keeping his art sales activities ‘off the grid’ in the future. Don’t send him to jail, which accomplishes no purpose whatsoever. Then, someone find him an advisor who can help him decide which country he’d like to call his country of primary residence as well as his ‘tax home,’ and help him establish it legally. (3) Get this Commission out of their budget, paid for with my meager tax kroner, and get this report on the table, get this case heard in the court, and get this maniac out of the media – permanently. (4) Give these parents and their organization the support and compensation they deserve, and make the immediate changes needed to organizations such as the internal national guard and police at various levels. This whole episode should result in new standing orders for police (some of which were in place but not followed), a protocol of levels of orders and when individual initiatives are pre-approved, orders they actually obey when they are in the situation or are asked to intervene, as well as the equipment to immediately reach and answer mass calls for help from areas surrounding major population centers.
4. Global Financial Regulation. Ahh, what a mixed bag. Let’s see: Wall Street has battled Congress, while Congress has pretended to reply. The SEC has said their ‘follow-up’ activities are sufficiently strapping, even though the same financial giants break the law every other month or so, continuously. And the legislation designed to revamp the financial regulation of banks, shepherded by a small group of Congressmen, has blown up like a balloon stuck with a pin. In the same year, in Europe, the G-20, in an attempt to bring England into the European financial policy fold, attempted to establish their own over-arching and comprehensively revised financial regulatory structure for banks. To which David Cameron said, ‘No way,’ and ‘our banks need all the flexibility they can get’ (words to that effect). The immediate response to the fact that England refused to be held to the new European banking regulations were musings that perhaps England was ‘moving away’ from continental Europe again, as it has in the past – oh, dear, such a pity. No one has been discussing the fact that, if London is going to permit the same under-regulated financial structures to exist that the European Union is trying to get rid of, investors in the U.K. should be busy moving their money to Europe.
Greece and Italy have their own challenges, which would be quickly solved if their underground economies were brought to light. The rich underground of Italy can pay Italy back for its many blessings, satisfying all of its obligations. The Greeks can do the same for Greece but haven’t been. Financial accounting 101 – Record the income, spend less than you take in, deduct the taxes used for social and government services, repay your debts. Get everyone to do it. Everything’s fixed.
Respectively, first, get your votes behind someone who will actually deliver stricter financial regulation in the U.S. Second, get your money out of under-regulated financial institutions. Why not? Make a point. Money talks: make it walk. Go for financial regulation this year - as an ethical decision, if you have the funds to do that. There is still money to be made in the world’s economy - ethically and increasingly with good protections. Pay Europe back for financial regulation – invest in non-U.K. European banks. In sum, more global transparency and financial regulation now will be almost as important as anything we can do for the world as a whole in this next year.
I realize that these topics are over-simplified. However, as in art, the simplification of forms does occasionally reveal underlying truths. Here is a 2012 with many challenges. Some of these will have positive outcomes.
May some of those positive outcomes be yours in 2012!
|Posted on September 24, 2011 at 5:35 PM|
It’s remarkable how confused folks can be about something they don’t want to do, isn’t it? Let’s take the FBAR form, for example. While I may have my own reasons for suggesting that many Americans overseas should qualify for an exception from the reporting requirement - which could depend on several variables including the amount of time they spend in the U.S., their tax home nation, etcetera, this does not in any way affect an American’s responsibility to comply with the current law. Therefore, I will post here my reply to an individual client, of today’s date:
If you have had more than the equivalent of 10,000 USD in any set of combined accounts outside the U.S. during any single year since 2003, you should file the latest version (at this writing, the March, 2011 version) of the FBAR form for that year.
To determine whether you should file for that year, you can add up your highest total in all accounts in a foreign country or countries for that year, and then view the conversion rates approved by the U.S. Treasury Department, which can be found at this page.
Conversion rates for years prior to 2007 can be found by using the search function at this page, for example:
I do not file this form for other persons because it does not require any sort of special knowledge to complete it. In contrast, the IRS personal income tax forms I complete for individuals require quite a bit of special knowledge to put together correctly. Since the FBAR’s TDF form is asking for direct information, and since the instructions are included in the form, it is up to persons who qualify to look it up, read it, fill it out, include an explanation, and then send it in.
I hope this information helps you determine whether you have an obligation to file the form, and wish you all the best.
Frequently asked questions are noted at the IRS website, where they state the answers will be kept updated. Here is the link to the FAQs.
|Posted on September 23, 2011 at 7:25 AM|
We all know that excellent lawyers are not necessarily excellent writers. At least when it comes to the English language, they are not world-reknowned for their contributions to its clarity. I will omit the name of the poor attorney who, after many years of good practice, submitted materials to a U.S. court that were rejected, as he indicates he was quite ill during the time he had to develop the submission. Still, how can one not love the court's response when it read like this, in part, as reported and quoted by the American Bar Association in their ABA Journal Weekly Newsletter of Sept 23, 2011:
"The district court was well within its discretion when it refused to accept [the attorney's] second amended complaint, the appeals court said. “Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency,” according to the appeals court. “Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general 'kitchen sink' approach to pleading the case.”
How can a teacher of Legal English not love it? With hopes that I will not offend too greatly, this also sounds quite a bit like the standard operating approach to a college examination in "Business Communications: Intercultural and Ethical Awareness;" when it's difficult to figure out what to write, the creative writer certainly comes forth!
|Posted on September 23, 2011 at 7:00 AM|
I am thrilled to announce that my blog is not dead! In the past weeks, it experienced a remarkably low profile, indicating that since I, the author, was no longer a ‘member’ of the site, the entries could not be displayed. To this, I must say that the new-fangled world of ‘IT’ certainly has a sense of humor. In truth, I am not only a member of this site. I wrote it. And I write it. I enjoy it also, and tend it, as a good gardener. Of course, now the days in Norway are getting chilly, and the darkness is already approaching us; both dawn and dusk encroach on our vision. Uff da meg. The gardener is busy putting tended issues to bed for a while. A bit of pruning, a bit of complaining.
Meanwhile, the American Embassy has, this calendar year of 2011, managed to awake the sleeping Americans living here to their duty to file their personal income tax forms with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, setting off screeches of fear and quaking of the knees. I’ve been the recipient of a fair amount of resulting tax work, and have widened my familiarity with various fact and income patterns . . . the hard way, in some cases: by having to re-file some of my clients’ tax forms.
But let’s speak about taxation. It has been awhile. Here are my latest gripes, the first of which is probably of greater interest to tax preparers than to tax clients.
The IRS requests that we complete the Foreign Earned Income worksheet to determine one’s taxable income. When this is not used (inadvertently, in part because it is a relatively new tax calculation requirement and in part because it is not placed intrinsically into the tax form itself), instead using the standard U.S. Tax Table, the tax appears to be under-stated. Using the Tax Table, it is only under-stated to the extent of the foreign earned income exclusion (Form 2555 and 2555-EZ), which is a convenient formulation for writing down one’s foreign earned income - income that has already been taxed in a foreign country – in our case, Norway. So when one uses the Tax Table, the tax is lower. However, any resulting foreign tax credit calculation (Form 1116) would show the IRS that the level of actual tax paid to Norway on the income was sufficient to cover even the larger amount of tax that would have resulted by use of the Foreign Earned Income worksheet for calculating tax. And let’s just say that the Form 1116 was included in that package of materials that did not use the Foreign Earned Income Tax worksheet, but did use the Tax Table to calculate the tax . . .
If you are still with me here, please note: Instead of the IRS, then (a) informing the tax client by mail that they should complete the Foreign Earned Income tax worksheet and re-file their forms (i.e. since they can see that the taxes paid to Norway are sufficient to cover the difference), the IRS instead does (b) informs the tax client by mail that they did not utilize the Foreign Earned Income worksheet to calculate their tax and should therefore immediately pay $8,765 dollars to the IRS, or will be subject to extreme penalties and possible legal action.
The ‘immediately pay’ part is tricky: since the payment to the IRS is due within 30 days of the IRS’s letter date, and the letters never arrive before exactly 30 days have elapsed, the payment is due on the date the letter is opened by the unsuspecting American overseas in, for example, Norway, who, to be honest, does not owe a penny to the IRS.
This brings me to the title of this entry: The IRS does not realize that this type of letter reply is not only questionable from the standpoint of “good faith business practice,” but could cause its recipient to have a heart attack or stroke, thus unintentionally causing their death. As for me, I will stick with the argument that this type of letter reply is, quite truthfully, exhibiting a lack of GOOD FAITH and FAIRNESS in BUSINESS PRACTICES.
Sadly, I don’t even want to speculate as to how many Americans overseas, around the world, who are paying taxes in their country of residence, have received this particular letter and responded by immediately wiring off the required payments to the IRS when, if they would re-file their forms using the FEI Worksheet to calculate their taxes, they would very likely not owe the IRS a penny, and, even if they had shown the IRS what their foreign taxes paid figures were, the IRS sent them that bill. Shameful!
Is anyone reading this? If so, glad to hear from you, albeit briefly.
This brings me to point number 2. The United States would like all Americans to file their foreign bank account numbers and totals with them, for their information. I have written about this before. The general area of concern is called: FBAR. FBAR stands for Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report.
First, it seems a reasonable enough requirement that all Americans living in the U.S. should have to do this. The point is: they should not be able to skip paying taxes to the U.S. simply by managing, in one way or another, to park their change in foreign countries’ banks.
My first gripe with this law is, therefore, conceptually simple: Americans who live and work overseas, hired by foreign companies and/or working solely in foreign lands, paying their rightful personal income taxes to those foreign lands, are already doing what they should have to do, given the tax treaties between the U.S. and most nations. Thus, double taxation is avoided. Therefore, why should they not fall under an exception to the rule that requires that they report their bank accounts and account numbers as well as highest yearly balances in those accounts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury?
This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question.
FBAR II: A flurry of e-mails appeared in my inbox after the Democrats Abroad of Stavanger sent a relatively scary e-mail around to those on its e-mail list, identifying a series of dates for filing the FBAR form, links for where to find the latest version, and indications of what might happen to persons who did not file this information with the U.S. government. Therefore, it is time to update my previous entry on this topic. Not because I understand any more fully why the U.S. government insists on requiring this information from Americans who live and work overseas while paying taxes overseas as required. Why? Because, there is a new revision of the form which is to be filed. In other words, I remain clueless when I was recently quizzed on both the conceptual justification for requiring this of us – or at least those of us with at least the equivalent of $10,000 in a foreign bank account – or stocks or securities, and what would happen to someone who wanted to do the right thing, but had happened to not hear of it until after the latest drop-dead deadline of September 9, 2011. My answer was: (1) I don’t know, and (2) I don’t know. I will try to find out. In the meantime, the new FBAR filing form can be found here, and is called the TD F 90-22.1, revised March, 2011 (and don’t use previous versions!).
According to the information I am aware of, one should file these forms if one qualifies as required to file them. The IRS advises those who have filed their income tax forms, but who have not filed their FBARs, that they should file the delinquent FBAR reports (back to 2003) and send them to the Department of Treasury, Post Office Box 32621, Detroit, MI 48232-0621, also attaching a statement explaining why the reports are filed late. Non-intentional non-filing is also subject to penalty.
What, you say? Listen, I’m going to work on this and try to obtain more clear information as to the consequences for those who have not yet filed the FBARS but are supposed to have done so. Meanwhile, my question as to why overseas Americans should be required to file this information remains, to my mind, a very good question, one in need of a better answer than is found to date in any online resource, including the Department of Treasury. My tentative thoughts are that this could be an appropriate agenda item for the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means.
As recently as this past June, 2011, this House Committee heard testimony from Robert Stricof, Tax Partner at Deloitte Tax LLP, concerning the collection of foreign banking information with respect to foreign-based companies with U.S. interests, in an inquiry into whether foreign companies were engaging in “earnings stripping” to pad their deductible expenses paid to foreign parties. He indicated that the related reporting forms had been unclear since they were released 4 years ago, and nothing had been done to either clarify the related forms or to determine if they actually even managed to achieve their purpose.
With the FBAR, let’s go further, much further. I am forced back to my first question, above: What is the financial interest of the U.S. government in individual Americans’ bank account balances in foreign countries when they do not spend significant time in the U.S., have no special employment-related ties to the U.S., and live and work, for all intents and purposes, legally within countries with which the U.S. has agreed tax treaties assuring no double taxation? Should they not be subject to an exception to the requirement for filing of the FBAR forms?
You are welcome to forward this message. Alternatively, since our language is devolving as we speak, you can also, sadly, ‘like it’ or ‘not like it.’ As for me, I've got work to do: it's already getting dark outside.
|Posted on August 12, 2011 at 11:35 AM|
Subject: The recent bombing of Oslo and attack and murder of young people at Utøya
As families and loved ones say their farewells to those murdered, as the injured continue their difficult recoveries, and as all who were affected in Norway and beyond struggle to come to grips with the implications of what occurred, I took a pen in hand. This is natural for a writer. Everyone has their own way to grieve. And it is noted that the grieving process is especially important, and will vary from person to person.
One way I cope in life is by visiting literature I love. When I first saw some of the footage of one of the first memorial services, which took place in the Domkirke, I was drawn to reflect upon a piece of Victorean literature I have always loved, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot. This poem, which is classified as 'fantasy literature,' was inspired by Arthurian legends, and has, itself, inspired many writers, poets and artists since Tennyson penned it.
I took my cue from his verses, and have composed a likeness, retaining many of his beautiful images. This likeness is, I think, a suitable tribute to the spirits of the young people who were there that day, both those who died and those who lived. I also mean to embrace those affected in Oslo. With the stories of those affected still coming out, it is, it seems, the miracle of life and love that is continually before us, square and center stage.
Should you wish to read it, I hope you like it, and that you find it helpful to you. I would like to formally publish it at some time in the future, and of course, be paid for that effort. I am also open to revising it, and will do that if I think it improves it. For now, I will post it here, in part, so that it can be shared with others who may find comfort, love and peace in reading it now:
The Spirits of the Young
Nearby to Tyrifjorden lie
Long fields of wheat and also rye
That cloak the land and meet the sky.
And near the fjord, a road runs by,
A road that runs to Oslo.
Now up and down the people go,
Gazing where the roses blow,
‘Round an island there below,
Utoya, it is called.
Willows whiten, birch trees bow,
Little breezes dusk and plough,
Rippling through the fjord’s cold waters,
By the island’s grass green bowers,
Flowing north of Oslo.
On the island, camps and buildings
Overlook a flowered shrine,
And the morning isle empowers
Dreams and spirits of the young.
By the margin, blue ridge-veiled,
Slide heavy trucks and trains,
The commerce of a nation hailed;
Its ships and planes the world has sailed.
They’re driving down to Oslo.
But who hath seen that spirit’s hand?
Or at a window seen them stand?
At Utoya, known throughout the land,
For the spirits of the young?
Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes clearly
From the fjord and island, nearly
Down to Oslo.
And by the moon, the reaper, weary,
Piling his sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, “’Tis the fairies,
And the spirits of the young.”
There, they weave by night and day,
A magic web, all colors gay.
The young have heard a whisper say
A curse is on them if they stay,
And look downward to Oslo.
They know not what that curse may be.
The fairies weave on, steadily.
And little other care have they,
The spirits of the young.
Yet, moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before them all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There, they see the highway near,
Winding down to Oslo.
There the cold fjord’s eddies swirl,
And there a sleepy village churls,
And the red coats of the market girls
Pass onward in a throng.
Sometimes children pass them by,
Or business people, gals and guys,
The elderly, in busses, cars,
A boy holding a girl in his arms –
They all go by to Oslo.
And sometimes through that mirror blue,
The youths themselves ride, two by two.
The fairies watch them as they do,
The spirits of the young.
The fairies in their web delight,
And weave the mirror’s magic sights.
Yet often in the silent nights,
A funeral with plumes and lights
Goes by to storied Oslo.
And when the Moon is overhead,
Come two young lovers, lately wed.
“I am so sick of shadows,” said
These spirits of the young.
They gathered at the island green
To meet their futures, yet unseen.
Unglimpsed but bright, their social dreams,
On a red shield of labor, streamed
Their banners down to Oslo.
And policies of caring grace
Were balanced against, not race,
But human need, a human face,
A Nation’s needs, that’s all.
In the gray and cloudy weather,
Their leaders shared the purple heather,
Engaging tales of public service,
Fellowship, one flame, together,
Shining down to Oslo.
Participation, love of place,
Growing self-confidence and grace
Engaged them in their meetings, moved
The spirits of the young.
Too many shots that tragic day
Rang out from one who made his way
To Utoya - to make a play
Whose actors fall in death away.
From under years of hatred flowed
A senseless rage as on he ploughed.
He flashed his ‘badge,’ secret ill will,
He crossed onto the isle, to kill
The spirits of the young.
‘Twas then they left their colored looms,
The fairies scuttling to stop the doom.
They watched the water-lily bloom,
They saw a uniform, a gun,
And cried out to Oslo.
Out flew the web and floated wide,
The mirror cracked from side to side.
“The curse is come upon us,” cried
The spirits of the young.
Beneath the bright gray sky, wind straining,
Rocky shore, with green woods waning,
The fjord stream, cold, began complaining
Heavily, with low clouds raining
Over bombed Oslo.
Then down they came and found no boat,
Into the water jumped, swam, floated,
Were caught unawares on land or sea,
The spirits of the young.
And down the fjord’s dark blue expanse,
Like children, seers in a trance,
Came those who cleared and beat mischance,
With dark and glassy countenance,
Crying out to Oslo.
And at the closing of the day,
The dead, injured and safe ones lay,
Down in a darkness far away,
The spirits of the young.
Some spirits scattered, snowy white,
And loosely flew up, left and right,
Through leaves and flowers, falling light
Upon them, through the noisy night.
They floated down to Oslo.
And as their boat wound along,
The mountains and the fields among,
The people heard them sing a song,
The spirits of the young.
They heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Until their blood was frozen slowly
And they closed their eyes, wholly,
Turned towards Oslo.
For ‘ere they reached the other side,
Or spied their home or family ties,
Singing their song of love, they died,
The spirits of the young.
From churches’ eaves and balconies,
By garden walls and galleries,
As gleaming shapes, they floated by
Their mountains, fields, their seashores, sky,
Silently from Oslo.
Then out upon the wharfs they came,
The police and people - Prince and plain,
And then it was they saw their names,
The spirits of the young.
Who is this? What happened here?
And in the lighted palace near,
Died the sounds of summer cheer,
And all who saw them cringed with fear
And sadness through Oslo.
The King and Queen and all who saw
Wept and wept. Then spread the awe
Of those whose stories were then told,
Tales of bravery and heroism bold,
Of the spirits of the young.
Who are these? What happened here,
The stories of these heroes tell:
Who sprung with love and caring near
To those who otherwise would fall?
Who road into the danger zone
To grasp the arms of those forlorn?
Who chose an instant’s infinite grace
To face a demon in a place
Now known forever as the space
Of the spirits of the young.
Above the island’s lush green boroughs
Hovers the love of many. Those
Who passed away on that sad day,
And those who come anew, to say,
We won’t be stopped by fear and hate,
Nor stop our path to Oslo.
Meanwhile, the fairies to their bowers
Repair, wherein they spend the hours
Weaving on looms of colored flowers,
For the spirits of the young.
They carry forth their woven threads,
And in them they embrace the dead,
Lift up their spirits, overhead,
Assure them that their spirits live,
Above and beyond Oslo.
The spirits fly to fathers’ homes,
And visit mothers’ gardens, roam
Among our sacred places, play
In light and energy all day.
The spirits call to all of us:
They kiss the Nordic evening dusk.
“Be all that you can be among
All peoples of your blessed land,”
They say, and so their song is strong,
Forever striving, never undone.
Their gods embrace them as they tone,
‘Never forget our love: far-flung.’
-The Spirits of the Young
With attributions to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and ‘The Lady of Shallot’
June Edvenson, 2011
All rights reserved
Reprint and distribution rights reserved.
Permission to reproduce by direct inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
|Posted on July 25, 2011 at 5:54 AM|
I would like to broaden and refresh this discussion with the following comments, which examine both the idiomatic phrase, and Western cultural perspectives on the Oslo and Utøya tragedy.
There is an old Irish proverb that, translated, means, “It is a wedge of itself that splits the oak.” The phrase suggests that one beware of the ‘enemy within.’ The enemy within Norway is not only the illegal immigrant who will not regularize his or her status, take and keep gainful employment and pay taxes. It is not only the eastern European gang of con men and women who thrive on stealing purses and robbing homes. It is also the deranged nationalist or the cynical Norwegian, and even the neighbor who 'looks away.' That enemy is characterized not only by psychosis, but also by complacency and the fear of change, thus devaluing the rule of law and distancing the nation's citizens from corrective action.
Many thought initially that the Oslo bombings were a response to Norway’s participation in Afghanistan, or Libyan NATO activities. However, it is very interesting to find that this is not the case, and time to refuse to classify people or religions based on some presumed political posturing.
John D. Cohen, principal deputy counter-terrorism coordinator at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, visited the Oklahoma City bombing site last year, and is reported to have “often spoken of the need to assess the risk of violence without regard to politics or religion.” As the New York Times reports on July 25, 2011, Mr. Cohen states, “What happened in Norway is a dramatic reminder that in trying to prevent attacks, we cannot focus on a single ideology.”
More lessons, as we bravely face a new day in Norway.
|Posted on July 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM|
Commentators are already writing well-composed responses to the tragedies that have engulfed Norway in grief, disbelief and sorrow since the 22nd of July, 2011. And it will be weeks before the tears of the nation are dry. However, when the tears have dried, the anger will be ripe, and that energy must be channelled to effect changes - changes that will prevent, as much as possible, a recurrence of such a senseless tragedy.
On the agenda will, I'm sure, be some of the following, not all of remark to date:
- stricter security for access to public buildings
- widened closures of streets in sensitive and historical neighborhoods (without 10 years of debate resulting in the street remaining open some few final weeks)
- increased police presence (everywhere, especially in the inner cities)
- improving police response procedures (they can show up when called some thousand times)
- required police process times
- securing social services to the mentally ill
- reducing isolation of the mentally ill, required reporting of suspect psychotic behavioral traits and patterns instead of isolation and looking the other way
- improved social and medical service levels for the mentally ill
- ridding public debate of poor excuses for inaction on significant infrastructure maintenance and updating of public buildings, standard operating procedure in this rich nation
- securing the borders in more effective ways, such that illegal immigrants are not overrunning Norway without remorse and with complete impunity
- assuring that illegal drug and weapons distributions are stopped to Norway
- investigating individuals who claim the need for automatic weapon ownership through Norwegian gun clubs, or stopping such ownership rights altogether
- securing tighter controls over police identification falsification
- improved overall terror response management plans
- requiring non-church-based professional psychological teams be the key resource in personal response actions
Well, now, this list is subject to future updates. We've got some work cut out for us. It will be very interesting to see what Norwegians actually 'do' in response to these tragic events. But right now, there are no words to describe the loss and pain. Norway's public servants mowed down at their desks. Norway's bright future of youth, mowed down at their summer retreat, their place to become, their place to plan how to bring Norway into a bright and rosy future. Only questions. Questions such as:
|Posted on May 24, 2011 at 11:29 AM|
Subject: Sustainability . . . and Law? What can we say about this concept, and how it informs our world and behaviors? I became interested in this topic when prompted by a call for papers for the 2011 EUKO conference at Aarhus, Denmark. The conference will be the 11th international conference organised by the Department of Language and Business Communication of the Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University, Denmark. This year’s theme is, “Sustainable Communication – Communicative Sustainability.” Their goal is to assemble a wide array of responses on this theme from various sectors of the global business community and communications specialists. The focus will be broad: sustainability and communication as seen regarding the economy, environment, globalization, social welfare and corporate communications, among others. I became interested in the topic from a legal perspective and began to do a bit of research. Thematically, I decided to focus on the dialectic within environmental law, corporate social responsibility and international human rights.
Over the past few months, I’ve assembled an array of resources, and am writing an article in this topical area, tentatively entitled, The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ & Sustainability ’Red Threads’ in the Language of International Law & Human Rights.
I am looking at the concept of sustainability of the environment from the perspective of the traditional positivist language of law, including environmental law, international law and human rights law, while developing a critique of existing structural approaches to its communication within existing rule-based and policy-based systems. Historically, Western property law has resulted in the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ in which resources belonging to the commons will ultimately be depleted beyond sustainability by group members, in contrast to the greater good of all, and in spite of the essential minimum needs of all. Resource utilization struggles of today confirm the tragedy’s principe dispositif, while laws regulating the environment remain under-developed both structurally and ideologically to the challenge.
Core values of sustainability and how it is communicated are found discussed in recent legal and environmental law scholarship. These values include, among others, the right to identity and the protection of language, culture, names and participation. Achieving the preconditions for sustainability through communication also requires challenging ineffective controls while opening political, business and social networks impeding its development. Modern means of communicating sustainability include corporate social responsibility platforms and codes. Beyond this, discussions are taking place on melding core concepts of environmental law with human rights law, and I will be discussing these in the article.
Already, I believe I have identified what could be called ‘red threads’ tying communications and sustainability together within a legal framework designed to address corporate activity affecting the environment, and find these red threads at the center of recent global political and economic trends, i.e. utilizing language, new visual media channels and social media platforms to secure the primary preconditions for sustainability. By focusing on legal perceptions, I hope to encourage law and policy makers to newly prioritize environmental sustainability law, suiting it to changing needs, transparency, and modern global conditions.
sustainability. n. 1. capable of being sustained; 2. Of or relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged (such as sustainable techniques, sustainable agriculture); of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods (such as a sustainable society). First known use: circa 1727. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I was pleased that the International Bar Association took my question on this, asking the Legal Director of Royal Dutch Shell about their work with sustainability at the conclusion of the IBA Webinar, May 24, 2011. Peter Rees’s response indicates that he is aware of the practical approaches to incorporating sustainability in their legal work, noting, first, that assuring that Shell is in full compliance with environmental regulation is a part of this. Beyond that, he noted that Shell is involved in looking at sustainability on a continuing basis with regard to reducing their carbon footprint, and seeking ways to reduce impacts of this nature. Rees's reference to the need for a global approach to corporate conditions is also a part ot this, what he called the need for "global consistency." Such goals require participatory action on a global level.
Sustainability: an evolving concept with specific pre-conditions and significant weight for our survival as a global community. Sustainabiliy: something that the global legal community can help to define and bring about.
|Posted on April 2, 2011 at 2:10 PM|
Time to unveil the unveiled, that is 'apps' for doing your taxes. This short video cleverly reveals some of the available options: http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,876692034001_2062830,00.html .
Now, if only I could have done this in the past! The 'take' is cute, including snapshots of hoped-for business deductions, ending up with, er, the dog.
I'm not sure that apps are up-to-speed for Americans filing from overseas, with their use of the Form 2555 and occasionally Form 1116, but taking photos of your W-2s and entering them into a simple application program is surely going to be good for many at-home on-salary individuals. Make it that simple for individuals to file, and it's got to be good for Uncle Sam, too. And what do we want right now? What is good for Uncle Sam!
|Posted on March 31, 2011 at 3:34 AM|
As the world gets ever smaller, and nuclear reactors seem to be ever-more-present, it is time to re-visit a topic I wrote about some time back for Escape Artist Magazine, an online publication found at the interesting and informative website,
I take my blog headline from Greek mythology in which a creature described as half bird and half woman lured sailers to their doom with her sweet singing. Also variously described as sea nymphs, the sirens live in rock outcroppings along the beaches, causing the destruction of ships sailing in too close. Odysseus was smart enough to have himself tied to the mast of his ship to avoid their sweet enticements, while his men plugged their ears with wax, all in their efforts to avoid being drawn in by these tantalizing babe magnets.
We all know, too, that the sirens still exist. Walking every non-radiactive beach in the temperate world, of course. And so, as northern Spring thaws re-awaken our sense of eternal youth and adventure, we head out again, around the globe, to find that perfect spot.
Here's a link to the article I wrote, and I hope you enjoy it. It still sounds quite current to me, and so I decided to re-introduce it through my blog. Ten Ways to Lose Your Property Overseas Without Really Trying: http://www.escapeartist.com/efam/78/10_Ways.html
As for Alice, Pippi and Peer, the update is simple: they're all doing fine back at home, have not yet recouped their investments, but surround themselves with work, family and friends, and continue their eternal travels.
|Posted on March 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM|
The terrible tragedy of Japan’s failed nuclear reactors continues at this writing, and raises questions that nearly everyone alive would like answered. Each nation and geographic area has its own stories and concerns, from broken monitoring equipment in California to Germany’s announced decision not to develop nuclear power further. Then, we have a couple reactors sitting on a fault line-California again, close to mega population centers. And France, unfortunately, deep into nuclear power. Boy, what a good time to be in Norway. And time for a re-think? You betcha.
I was a bit curious, and had already been looking into the international law of the environment for other research and writing reasons. So I turned around and grabbed the book, International Law of the Environment, edited by Patricia Birnie, Alan Boyle and Catherine Redgwell, Oxford University Press (2009). Here are some of my resulting notes, in case you are interested.
State responsibility for nuclear-related damage is found under two different theories. The first is strict or absolute responsibility, which makes a State responsible for damages caused, purely on the basis of the ultra-hazardous character of nuclear installations. The point of this, from a litigation standpoint, is that States would have the role of guarantors for the operators and companies that caused the damage. The burden of proof would fall on the State, therefore, to show that it should not be held liable. However, as Birnie et al. note, ‘Conventions are still considered weak’ (517).
The second theory is that the State is liable for a breach of their obligation, which is diligent control. Under this theory, there is no discussion of fault, and so this approach eliminates the need to discuss the subjective elements of intention or recklessness. Despite this, there does seem to be a difference in the treatment of damages due to, for example, dumping, and those due to unintended releases.
In 1990, the IAEA established the Standing Committee on Liability for Nuclear Damage. This resulted in suggestions to revise the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. Some States agreed that strong revisions were needed, while others were opposed, stalemating effective action in important areas. What was agreed was that a publicly-funded compensation scheme should be implemented. The State with the problem installation would provide limited funding to that, while other States would contribute, “up to a ceiling.” Birnie et al. cite the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage,
as well as to the “2004 Protocol to the Paris Convention”
To conclude, the authors forecast that, due to uncertainty in the prevailing laws, parties to a new problem would turn to the schemes outlined in these agreements, and noted, also, that “non-party claims are possible” (520).
So where’s this Fund? And when is Japan going to put some new money into it?