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Finland for Thought » 2007 » July | Politics, current events, culture - In Finland & the United States | Blog of an American living in Finland

Finland for Thought
             Politics, current events, culture - In Finland & United States

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31.7.2007

Finnish parent dies, kids get half?

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 3:26 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong here – In Finland, when one of your parents die leaving your other parent a widow, the children are automatically and immediately entitled to entire deceased’s estate. So if you have one sibling and dad dies, you get 50% and your sibling gets 50% and mom gets nothing (but you can’t boot mom out of the house). Even if the will changes this, the children can still demand their share.

Now this would make sense I guess if the child was a minor, but even adult get children get this, and even if the adult child is some long lost alcoholic that hasn’t spoken with the family in years.

When my father died, my mother got everything. I didn’t expect anything, neither would I want anything. My parents saved money together and shared assets, why should I be entitled to a single thing? I didn’t pay a penny for their house, why should I get a piece of it? My mother just lost an income provider, how could giving away her stuff to her kids help her out in a serious time of need?

Someone help me understand the Finnish system…

30.7.2007

Helsinki’s public transit best in Europe?

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 3:56 pm

According to a new Europebarometer report, Helsinki’s public transit is voted best in Europe!

It comes as quite a shocker in the wake of a visit from my European acquaintances who commented about the long wait times and lack of sufficient nighttime service. Perhaps they’ll bring their walking shoes next time.

Of course we all know that there are alternatives to public transit. And not to worry, because taxis accept credit cards—it beats spending the rest of your evening hiking all the way home, right?

That’s not to say that the sunrise isn’t pretty in ultra-high-tax Finland. It most certainly is.

Anyway, I was almost taken-in by this new report. But then I read more closely…

Nine out of ten of local residents say they are satisfied or extremely satisfied with public transport in the capital.

Ah, now I understand. They asked residents, themselves, to rate the service—most of whose frame-of-reference is limited to the nearby (and considerably smaller) city of Tampere. Or maybe Turku at best.

So is this like the famous “Happiness Survey” wherein Finns were asked “Are you happy?” Finland emerged on-top in that survey, too.

20% of Finns don’t want immigrants next door

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 12:04 am

Finns would rather have alcoholics and criminals living next door to them, than pot smokers…

The vast majority of Finns don’t want to live next to drug users or alcoholics. Meanwhile, about twenty percent said that they wouldn’t want a homosexual, immigrant or person suffering from AIDS living next door.

In a survey commissioned by Väli-Suomi Sunday newspaper supplement, 92 percent of respondents said they did not want a drug user as their neighbour, while 78 percent said they didn’t want to live next to an alcoholic.

Fifty-six percent of Finns said they preferred not living next to a criminal, while 44 percent said they did not want an emotionally instable neighbour.

According to Researcher Timo Kopomaa, people are becoming increasingly interested in their living environment. Opposition to living near people with problems or differences is often found in areas where residents are educated and have higher salaries.

…I guess cause educated people with decent salaries are more likely to own their home and have to worry about their real estate value dropping.

28.7.2007

30 fastest cities in the world

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 11:52 am

The latest edition of “Fast Company” magazine (soon to be my favorite magazine if Business 2.0 goes under) rates the 30 “fastest” cities in the world. They “scoured the globe in search of the perfect place to transplant yourself and your business” using attributes such as green leaders, R&D clusters, and culture centers.

Unfortunately Helsinki didn’t make their list (although their website calls Helsinki “Absolutely the capital of mobility and design”) but our two neighbors Tallinn and Stockholm did, and St. Petersburg is listed as “on the verge” – here’s what they had to say…

The capital of Estonia, as it’s known, is the most connected city in Europe. There are no Internet cafés, because wireless service is everywhere and mostly free. (Universal Net access is actually guaranteed by Parliament.) Wi-Fi is free on commuter trains, and drivers pay parking fees by text message. Cyberattacks may happen, but the place radiates a switched-on vibe–an ease with and saturation of technology, and an abundance of youth.

Home to almost 2,500 green-sector companies and powered by the research output of its Karolinska, Beijer, and IVL institutes, Stockholm is the fuel cell under the hood of a country that aims to be oil-free by 2010. Its Hammarby Sjöstad district is a living eco-laboratory of 4,000 apartments with quadruple-glazed windows, ovens and cookers that run on biogas from wastewater, and central heating wired to photovoltaics.

Feel free to nominate Helsinki (or any other city) on their website and leave your comments.

27.7.2007

Simpsons movie premiere tonight!

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 7:00 pm

Going to The Simpsons movie premiere tonight!! As a longtime Simpsons fanatic, I’ve been anxiously waiting for this one for a long time. Anyone else going? Anyone out there actually NOT like The Simpsons?! BTW, good job Simpsons producers for releasing it globally on the same day (well, kinda), wish they’d do more of that.

BACK: It’s great, laughed my ass off the entire time, not just an “extended episode”, go see it!

simpsons_movie_finland.jpg

26.7.2007

Companies banning smoking vs. Countries banning smoking

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 8:13 pm

Former Finnish PM Paavo Lipponen (Social Democrat) said a few months ago that Finland should consider banning tobacco altogether, possibly by the year 2040 – And many Finns applaud this!

Workplaces in both Finland and the United States have begun banning smoking both inside and outside of the premises. Some U.S. companies have even gone so far as to forbid their employees to smoke outside of work hours, even in the privacy of their own homes!

While many people are applauding Paavo Lipponen and his tobacco ban, most of those same people are furious about some company banning employees smoking outside the workplace. How is this? What’s worse – some companies banning smoking, or an entire nation throwing people in prisons for smoking?! Both bans are insane, but surely Lipponen’s is crazier? One is voluntary, the other is mandatory (you can always strike or quit). One might you fired, the other puts you in jail!

25.7.2007

Mike Gravel for President?

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 9:57 pm

A close friend of mine is a big Mike Gravel (former Alaskan senator and current Democratic Presidential candidate) supporter, so I had to check him out, and I like what I’m seeing – from his official website

- Senator Gravel’s position on Iraq remains clear and consistent: to commence an immediate and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops that will have them home within 60 days.

- Senator Gravel firmly opposes a military confrontation with Iran and advocates a diplomatic solution to the current situation.

- There is only one entity in the U.S. that pays taxes: the individual. Businesses and corporations do not, they merely collect taxes from consumers of their products and pass on the taxes to the government. The Fair Tax proposal calls for eliminating the IRS and the Income Tax and replacing it with a progressive national Sales Tax on new products and services.

- Senator Gravel believes that global climate change is a matter of national security.

- Senator Gravel advocates a universal health-care voucher program in which the federal government would issue annual health care vouchers to Americans based on their projected needs. Under the Senator’s plan, all Americans would be fully covered and would be free to use their vouchers to choose their own health care professional. No one would ever be denied health insurance because of their health, wealth, or any other reason.

- Senator Gravel supports a woman’s right to choose and a woman’s control over her own body. [...]He unequivocally supports same-sex marriage and adoption.

- He strongly opposes the military’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, as it restricts the rights of gay Americans, and he opposes any state or national constitutional amendment that restricts the rights of the LGBT community.

- Senator Mike Gravel wants to put real money, rather than borrowed money, in the Social Security Trust Fund, investing it properly and identifying the interests of individual beneficiaries so they can leave their surplus funds to their heirs.

- We are losing an entire generation of young men and women to our prisons. Our nation’s ineffective and wasteful “war on drugs” plays a major role in this. We must place a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention. We must de-criminalize minor drug offenses and increase the availability and visibility of substance abuse treatment and prevention in our communities as well as in jails and prisons.

- Senator Gravel guarantees a free and open Internet with no restricted access to any site, for any reason. He will do this by supporting legislation and regulation that keeps you in control of your Internet usage.

I’ve been a big Ron Paul supporter and I still am, but honestly I’m getting tired of his “Leave it up to the states” reply for any “difficult” question thrown to him.

23.7.2007

Overpriced taxis in Finland

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 3:36 pm

Previously, we discussed how Finland’s overtaxed and over-regulated economy results in ultra-expensive car ownership and sparse public transit. Now we fill-in the missing vertex of Finland’s tripartite transportation snowjob by examining taxi fares

For example, the start charge on the meter at the beginning of a journey on weekdays will go up from the present 4.50 euros to 4.70 euros, while the start charge nights, Sundays and holidays will increase from 7.00 to 7.20 euros.

Daytime rates are almost bearable, but with an evening start charge of €7.20 (plus km-charges), getting around is not cheap. If you want to save money, then it’s necessary to resist joining the minions who, on a single weekend night, squander the discretionary portions (or more) of their tiny salaries on taxi fares to reach overpriced dining destinations.

So maybe it’s best to stay home with a bottle of Suomi Viina and drink yourself into oblivion whilst thinking warm thoughts about suicide. Otherwise, hopping across town to your favorite nightspot will cost you about €15 one-way—or €30 round-trip. Dining and drinks are extra.

Fortunately, not all of Europe is so expensive—or we’d all be killing ourselves! For example, here’s Munich’s taxi rate schedule

There is a fixed basic charge of €2.50 to which a graded fare per kilometre is added, as listed below.

Price per kilometre:
0 to 5 km: €1.45 per kilometre
5 to 10 km: €1.30 per kilometre
10 km or more: €1.20 per kilometre

Ok fine, they charge €0.50 extra for animals. But if everyone behaves themselves, then even this fee can be avoided.

Given that the Munich taxi driver enjoys a higher standard-of-living than his Finnish counterpart—e.g. he can buy a personal car for about half-the-Finnish-price, and consumer prices in general are much lower in Germany—one might ask:

Why all the layers of protectionist, state-run schemes? And why doesn’t Finland just assimilate its economy to the directives of the European Union, so that people in Finland can enjoy the same benefits as everyone else? Isn’t it time for a higher-standard-of-living in this icy Nordic nation?

20.7.2007

Pharmaceutical industry investigated

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 2:53 pm

getting_busted.BMP
Not so long ago, we talked about how Finland has some of the highest prices for medicine in the EU. Now, apparently some anti-trust action is being taken…

The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reports that the Competition Authority suspects the drug firms of paying excessive amounts for advertisements in pharmacies. In return, the pharmacies offer customers primarily products of the company paying for the advertisements.

Generally, there are two ‘schools of thought’ regarding anti-trust:

One describes anti-trust laws as a public service aimed at protecting consumers from monopolies. Without anti-trust laws, companies would either charge the highest prices possible (because they’d secure a position of power that’d enable them) or they might even charge the lowest prices and thereby create a barrier for new market entrants. In either case, the consumer is denied choice. And let’s face it, we know all about being denied choice here in Finland.

The other side contends that in a truly free marketplace, sans over-taxation and over-regulation, no such anti-trust laws are needed. Whereas monopolies might exist temporarily, they will eventually become unseated by new market entrants. Anti-trust only serves as a tool for selective enforcement, doing exactly the opposite of what it intends by granting advantage to those who currently hold political power.

So, do you think Finland’s high-priced pharmaceutical products result from an economy that is over-taxed and over-regulated, or is there simply not enough enforcement of laws to prevent cartels and collusion? Or is it a combination of both? And since Finland’s low-purchasing power has been reported lately, can we make any inferences concerning high-prices in other industries—or the economy, in general?

19.7.2007

Special offer: 1 car for the price of 2, offer valid only in Finland.

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 10:23 am

As we all know, the price of a new car is roughly 50% tax. Cars in Finland cost nearly 2 times the price in many other EU member states because of this extremely high tax. One might wonder what the rationale is behind it. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It keeps the standard of living down in the country, keeps the average age of cars high, and keeps new safety and pollution control innovations from being used. The original thought behind it was that if someone has money to buy a new car, then heck, they certainly should have enough money to pay a hefty tax as well. It was also probably partly due to the Finnish government’s  being pulled in to stuff like this with its membership in the Nordic Alliance. But nowadays the Nordic Alliance has little significance compared with the membership in the European Union. 

But the question this time is, do people really have money nowadays to buy new cars, or do they buy them with borrowed money? One workmate of mine looked up the owner of a Hummer with the registration plate number and got, owner: GE Money, holder: (some Finnish guy’s name) So it was purchased on borrowed money. The guy driving it probably had a fairly modest salary – that could have been looked up as well due to our lack of economic privacy in Finland. Basically, this means that the Finnish government is collecting taxes in the form of borrowed money. This must be going against all sorts of guidelines, and probably even laws. I wonder what the OECD or WTO would have to say about collecting taxes in the form of borrowed money? This is why most countries have little or no tax on purchasing cars, but rather have tax on using the car to help pay for the use of the road infrastructure. Likewise, there is usually no tax on the purchase price of land or buildings, since those types of property are often also bought with borrowed money, but there may be property taxes to help pay for the infrastructure, such as sewage, water, access roads, etc, especially if it is property inside a city.

The high car tax also creates the need for all sorts of elaborate protectionism, such as incredible amounts of bureaucracy needed to handle the customs payments on imported cars.  There are detailed lookup charts for calculating prices which are based on statistical analysis of consumer prices, which couldn’t have been very cheap to make.  This also really crimps the liberty a Finnish person could and should be enjoying in the European Union. Most people in the European Union can buy a car from anywhere inside the EU without worrying about having to pay enormous amounts of money just to register the car. I think Finnish people democratically voted to join the EU because they wanted this sort of liberty. It’s high time for some changes in this area.

Here is a pretty good explanation of how cars are taxed in Finland.

Previous blog article about car taxation.

18.7.2007

Statues in Finland

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 7:48 pm

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, it’s summertime in Finland and try to stay away from the computer as much as possible. Just biked near this new statue in Tapiola, I love it… (although still not as cool as the fat policeman statue in Oulu)

tapiola_statue.jpg

17.7.2007

Families complain about Care of Elderly

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 3:08 pm

Having witnessed relatives spend their last years in Finland’s elderly care facilities, reading news stories like this confirms my suspicions that things aren’t quite optimal…

In only a few years, the number of complaints aimed at elderly care has risen two-fold in southern Finland.
[...]
Mainly, county administrative boards are forced to address the lack of nursing staff, as many municipalities do not come close to reaching minimum staffing standards.

I won’t say that Finland’s elderly care system is the worst in the world—after all, Finland’s economy approaches those of western Europe, where standards are comparatively higher—but it does highlight some of the economic difficulties this Nordic nation is facing.

While receiving accolades for things like being among the “most competitive” and “happiest” countries in the world (according to surveys and questionnaires), the country has difficulty nourishing and retaining talented professionals and entrepreneurs—precisely those who would help fund the care of its aging population.

Things we often mention, like exorbitant levels of taxation, low purchasing power and invasions of privacy, all contribute in convincing the most dynamic players to seek greener pastures elsewhere. And Finland’s elderly get left in the lurch.

15.7.2007

Finns buy some of EU’s most expensive food and drink

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 2:06 pm

Take in to consideration that Ireland’s and Denmark’s salaries are significantly higher, Finns are spending way too much (possibly the most in the EU27?) of their income on basic food and beverages…

Finland has the highest price levels for food and non-alcoholic drinks behind those in Denmark and Ireland, Eurostat said in a statement Friday.

The highest price levels for alcoholic beverages were registered in Ireland, where they are 181 per cent of the EU27 average, and the second-highest in Finland, with 170 per cent.

12.7.2007

Does Finland appeal to foreign experts?

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 8:33 pm

Interesting article about foreigners in Finland from Daryl Taylor, a British citizen living in Finland since 1986, whose been lobbying on behalf of foreigners for the past 15 years, here’s an excerpt…

The actual situation so far has often made the migrant worker pay for that welfare and affluence without benefiting from it. I have continually heard complaints, for example, that even though the pay slip shows that the foreigner has paid an unemployment insurance contribution, actual payment of unemployment benefit during a layoff was denied with reference to something called the “purpose of residing in Finland”.

Equally shameful is the fact that unemployment benefit funds, both within and outside the trade union movement, are willing to recruit such people as members and take their membership subscription, even though there is no way that they can ever be entitled to claim benefits from the fund. The directors of a private insurance firm selling empty insurance cover like this would certainly wind up behind bars. Nor does the welfare system function consistently, given that a pregnant immigrant may be eligible for free prenatal courses at the local clinic, but then ineligible for a maternity package.

We really have to ask how many future Finnish citizens have lost out on certain basic benefits of this kind, given that these are the very things that Finland likes to brag about at international conferences. When it comes to welfare services, then, there is still a lot of truth in the old saying: if you want to know the human rights situation in a country, then you should look at how it treats the foreigners who live there. End of aside.

9.7.2007

Allofmp3.com shut down

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 2:18 pm

The Russian government finally agreed to shut down Allofmp3.com, after getting pressure from the US and the UK. They also used it as a prerequisite to join the WTO. Allofmp3.com claimed to be operating legally under Russian law, which meant that they needed to pay 30% royalties to the Russian equivalent of the RIAA. The prices they were charging were based on the amount of data, and were typically about 20 cents per average length song in their default high quality mp3 format. So one could get a whole album for 2-3 dollars. In my opinion, that’s about what it should cost to download music.

 I am already missing them. For me, it was the only music business model that worked. I could easily spend 20-30 dollars a month at allofmp3.com, whereas otherwise I don’t buy any music from anywhere. At Allofmp3.com, I was able to get a lot of music for my money. I don’t pay 20+ EUR for a new CD, nor do I pay 1 EUR/piece for downloading songs.

When paying for downloading songs, you sometimes find that a 20 second little drum solo song costs the same as a 17 minute song. This is why I can’t use Calabash Music, which has an otherwise good business model that gives the artist a large share of the money. The prices are simply too high for downloaded mp3 music. The bands I like also often come up with little filler songs and I always have to have the whole album. They charge the same for the little filler songs and there is no logic to that. At Allofmp3.com, it was based on the data amount.

 The last CD I bought was when I heard some music I liked playing in a cafe. I asked them what it was and later bought it when I saw it in a shop. When I popped the CD into my computer in order to rip it, so I could take the mp3′s to work, I found that the CD was actually a PC CD-ROM with a large data file and a small program to play it with. Naturally, the small program was for Windows. Since I haven’t used Windows since 2003, I couldn’t play it on my machine. That was the last CD I ever bought. Later I read that Sony made CDs that actually attacked the operating system in much the same way is a virus, making it un-copyable, which incidentally rendering Windows unstable. That was enought of that for me.

 I am hoping that someone will take the music industry into the right direction. Now CD sales are dropping, and the music industry, with it’s outdated business model, doesn’t seem to have much of a future. Maybe the artists will start to lead things in the right direction.  Or will it totally go to peer-to-peer networks and file sharing? Allofmp3.com was supposed to reopen as mp3sparks.com, but I have not been able to access that domain name.

Link to news article.

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