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Finland for Thought » Everything | 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

Moi! Thanks for visiting!
I have a new blog: BETTER! FUNNER! - come say hi!
Be sure to check out my new book: "How to Marry a Finnish Girl"
And find out more about me: www.philschwarzmann.com

...Enjoy!


26.1.2012

My new blog: Better! Funner!

Tags: Everything — Author: @ 7:22 pm

Okay, so it’s clear I’m not blogging on Finland for Thought anymore, but I think seven years about Finland is plenty. I published a book, escaped to San Francisco, drank heavily, and launched a new blog: Better! Funner!

It’s written and curated by yours truly. You’ll find funny original pieces, some not-so-funny pieces, plus stuff that made me laugh from around them internets. Would love to hear what you guys think. It’s hopefully better and funner than this blog. :-)

Enjoy!

21.5.2010

Hail to the Lord

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 12:59 pm

Now this definitely is a “hail storm” that struck Oklaholma City on 16th May. Never seen a boiling swimming pool before.

I am just sort of curious if there are some other phrases than “ahmigaawd” in the American language, as it frankly gets a bit boring after the 15th time?

6.12.2009

Happy Independence Day, Finland!

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 9:20 am

Farmville_Finnish_flag

See the Finnish flag? This is in Farmville, in Facebook. The flag is made of white and blue hay bales.

Happy Independence Day!

5.12.2009

Do Finnish government bodies regard the High Administrative Court as a joke?

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 10:27 pm

The High Administrative Court (Korkein Hallintooikeus) in Finland issued a clear statement on September 9 stating that what Veropörssi is doing is illegal. You can see the text of the statement here in Finnish. The actual court decision is here. In it they emphasize protection of privacy.

In October, after that statement was issued, I sent a web feedback to the Tax Authority (Verohallinto) requesting that they respect my privacy in accordance with the court’s decision, KHO:2009:82, and got a reply, which was a copy-paste of the law regarding the publicity of tax records. And guess what else? Veropörssi is back on the store shelves with the 2010 edition. It seems that the Finnish Tax Authority regards their own Administrative High Court as a complete joke. Also Iltalehti, Iltasanomat, YLE, etc. all have their own lists or databases so the Tax Authority has been selling tax records to the press just as before, even if a court decision came out over a month prior emphasizing protection of privacy.

In October, I also sent an e-mail to the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman. In it I said that the court decision sounds great and they seem to agree with your stance, and that I would hate to have my taxation personal data end up in publications or the internet once again. The data protection board are the ones that ultimately make the decision, though, like they did before. When the Data Protection Ombudsman try to bring a little order to this tax record publication circus previously, the Data Protection Board completely undermined his efforts by defending freedom of speech/press. Well who wants to try to regulate the quality of journalism? What kind of publishing of tax records is OK and what isn’t? Veropörssi is a lot closer to the traditional definition of journalism than, for example, YLE’s Verokone. Trying to define what is journalism and what isn’t won’t get far. That can eventually end up in the European Court of Human Rights and lose. The simplest approach would be to treat all personal data like personal data, and regard the universal human rights more highly than archaic Swedish governing principles used so the state, church and neighbours could police how much each person was paying. That has no place in modern society, unless the Tax Authority is totally incompetent, of course. In that case we should outsource them anyway. And if the court says that protection of privacy is important, does that mean now, later, 6 months from now, or whenever it is convenient?

If government transparency was working the way it should work, I could easily search and find the yearly budget of the Data Protection Board office, so that people would know how much tax they are paying for people who don’t seem to be willing or interested in really protecting their personal data, but instead defend people selling and publishing it with “freedom of speech/press” or bicker about what is journalism and what is not. It’s probably a lot of money, money Finland probably doesn’t have to waste. And more is about to be wasted on upcoming court cases, now that noone seems to have paid any attention to the High Administrative Court’s verdict.

I was told by an involved government official that I should file charges with the police. I am not sure who is guilty and who to file the charges against. When the government bodies treat a decision from their own High Administrative Court as a joke, one is not really sure where to turn anymore. Maybe all national remedies have been exhausted and the only place left is the European Court of Human Rights. They might find a case like this interesting for a change. The cases coming out of Finland in the ECHR have mainly dealt with the long length of court proceedings. A clear, serious Human Rights offense case they might find rather engaging. (the right to  protection of one’s private and family life)

PS, according to a priest friend of mine, you can calculate if people belong or don’t belong to one of the official churches (Lutheran or Orthodox) by calculating their tax percentage vs. income. I haven’t verified that myself. At least you can probably quite clearly see, however, people who have left the official churches during sequential tax periods.  How about a “Luopiopörssi”? Heh, heh imagine that.  If that’s true, I don’t think privacy protection (or lack thereof) gets much worse than this.

Artificially sweetened beer?

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 3:07 pm

I have come across two different brands of beer sold in Finland that is artifically sweetened with saccharin. Both of them are Czech and assure you on the label of the authenticity and quality of the product. The brands are Kozel and Eggenberg. The Kozel dark beer is artificially sweetened, whereas the other products aren’t. The only Eggenberg beer I have seen in Finland is the dark, artificially sweetened variety and it is usually sold in a brown cardboard box of 4 cans. There’s no warnings on the label of either.

Why would a beer brewery that claims to have been around since 15-something need to sweeten its beer with saccharin?

Fortunately, I have not seen Finnish beers doing this (yet anyway).

Recipe authenticity fail!

5.11.2009

Three Americans feeling lucky they weren’t in the USA

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 10:24 am

This is the kind of news you read in the newspapers on and off “Three football players accused of rape”. Then you read how the judge threw a book at them. But thats in America, so really…

Wait up now – actually we do have “American football” here and we do get players come in from the US and we had three football players accused of rape.

Well, this is Finland so the judges don’t throw books. As the rape wasn’t aggravated, and the men had been jailed for a significant amount of time (two months), the sentence was guilty on two counts of rape and one assisting, all three men sentenced to 1,8 months probation. Oh and yes theres damages to be paid to the women in question 4500 euros each. Somehow I find it slightly bizzarre if they’d run out of the house and pushed over someone who broke their hip, thats worth 8400 euros.

I somehow have in inkling thought if these guys had been back “at home” they might not have gotten off with 3000 euros and two months in jail.

But then again theres the Finnish guy in Brazil facing 18 years for killing his girlfriend. He should’ve come home to strangle her, might have gotten off with 3000 euros and two months in jail.

4.11.2009

Eat the Rich

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 11:27 am

Ilta-Sanomat and other evening newspapers are at their yearly exposé again:

www.iltasanomat.fi
www.iltasanomat.fi

So do you want to know who is who in Finland? Its all there. Eat the rich.

1.10.2009

Government of Mr. Teflon

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 10:36 pm

I was expecting the outcome of the votes of confidence, but not quite the farce. There were two statements on the floor, the one made by Social Democrats requiring the Prime Minister to resign which was voted out and then another one by Christian Democrats which then both the SD and the Left Alliance abstained from. There were a few colorful speeches though. The Left Alliance’s whip made a speech deriding the Greens giving their unanimous support to the Prime Minister regarding the “pile of planks” and suggested they’re nesting in it. The Prime Minister couldn’t help giggling himself silly but the Green minister was not amused.

The pile of planks revealed by YLE hasn’t caused much laughter otherwise. The Prime Minister is actually quite annoyed about YLE and its timing of the allegations. Meanwhile the Centre party is facing investigations into its foundations. Now its bad when the ombudsman investigates you, worse you get investigated by the police, but total panic when the tax office joins in. And the other parties aren’t immune to whistleblowing either.

The whole campaign funding scandal is more likely to cause people to become even more apathetic, so it might be in the 2011 elections the “sleeping party” will be the winner.

29.9.2009

Will Vanhanen be an old joke by the end of the week?

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 7:08 pm

As I predicted, the election funding scandal has started to get dirtier and dirtier while the government parties are trying to save their respective asses. The prime minister arrived back from the USA quite annoyed and has been giving press monologues – as he does not welcome unprepared questions. However the press and lately YLE have dug up some old shit that while it may not stick, it might be the final thing to draw him under. Meanwhile investigations into the foundations, especially the Nuorisosäätiö have brought forth allegations of corruption in the real estate business and kickbacks of government funding to the Centre party members.

Of course the Centre party leaders are now frantically looking for a way out. All options seem if not bad then worse. As we remember the previous Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki had to resign in 2003 over the “Irakgate”, so if two Centre party Prime Ministers resign in a row – now that would need some serious image consulting. However as Vanhanen pigheadedly denies any responsibility and generally remains aloof it doesn’t convey any image of a trustworthy politician, rather a squirming worm in a fishook. The old guard such as hard-boiled veteran politician, Minister of Foreign Trade Paavo Väyrynen have kept silent, probably as they have had their share of negative media publicity back in the day.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the Government will face a vote of confidence over elderly care, and Thursday will be the big show when the government will present its views on the election funding issue and bring forth the new legislation that has been proposed, facing another vote of confidence. Now it will not surprise me at all if the government will get the vote of confidence as the government parties have a majority in Parliament, but if there are enough rebels the scales might dip. Then again the opposition parties, Social Democrats especially, are not in a strong enough position to make it into a coalition government, so even there is a vote of no confidence, the status quo might not necessarily change.

Awaiting more scandals and more squirming.

- UPDATE- The big guns are out 30.9 Vanhanen goes on offensive against YLE over corruption allegations

24.9.2009

Looks like the end of the road for Veropörssi and Satamedia…

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 3:25 pm

A decision has come down finally from the High Administrative Court. (link in Finnish) The court decision reverses the Data Protection Board’s previous decision that magazines, websites, SMS services, etc. publishing and selling peoples’ taxation personal data is expression of freedom of the press or freedom of expression. (“sananvapaus” = literally freedom of the word) The court’s decision is by no means light entertainment if you want to try to read it, but I recommend it. Some news sites have already understood it to mean that Veropörssi and Satamedia publishing and selling taxation personal data is now illegal. The court decision also said things like the government should not be arbitrarily interfering in peoples’ private lives, and that peoples’ privacy should not be violated so that a certain group of people can satisfy their curiosity. Google makes pretty readable translations, if you want to try that.

Here’s some links: (in Finnish)

http://www.kauppalehti.fi/5/i/talous/uutiset/etusivu/uutinen.jsp?oid=2009/09/26110

http://yle.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/2009/09/veroporssi-lehti_rikkoi_henkilotietolakia_1024362.html?origin=rss

23.9.2009

When you start to flick turds into the fan everyone gets sprayed

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 8:26 pm

As we all know Finns have been hugely proud of the “low corruption index”, while on the other hand “everyone knew” the political scene was a pile of manure just sitting there in the back of the yard. The old wisdom said “Shit don’t stink unless you go poking it” and now that shit has hit the fan. I don’t know how much the readership of this blog knows about the intricacies of Finnish politics, or the constitutional dependencies of the president, parliament and the cabinet, but mildly put the government right now is in neck deep, and any move they will make means more trouble.

The whole issue is about election funding – the whole stinkpot started bubbling already in May when it came clear that the legislation over party funding and especially its transparency were so full of loopholes that in principle there were no reprecussions for not disclosing where a politician got the money. Different parties came forward wanting to come clean and at the same time started to make all kinds of “privacy” excuses for not revealing their funding sources. Quite showing the slimy nature of politics the Left League was at first vocal demanding all parties open their books, but after the Left League was asked of their own funding the excuse was “the treasurer is on summer holiday”.

Unlike political scandals usually, this all wasn’t forgotten over the holidays. The parties started divulging their sponsors but the bankruptcy of Nova Group investment company started the domino effect. The investment company had channeled several hundred thousand euros towards the Centre party and the bankruptcy court eventually has sued the Centre party to return the monies as misappropriated assets. The Nova Group’s business dealings and municipal zoning started to raise questions of corruption, but more was to follow. As the different sources of money were investigated, centre party politicians were found to be in leading positions in government organizations and foundations that had then channeled money back to the party coffers. Of course the Prime Minister doesn’t see any troube in this kind of funding.

Now the other parties definitely don’t have unblemished reputations either, after all its a well-known fact the Social Democrats get huge funding out of the different unions’ and the Swedish Peoples Party from its rich cultural foundations. Which isn’t technically wrong if the purpose of the foundation or organization in the rules is actually to support political parties. Meanwhile the different opposition parties are starting to demand for the cabinet to resign and even a new early parliamentary election. Which provides an interesting dilemma – the Prime Minister, neck deep in the scandal is highly unlikely to call for a new election as his own party would definitely lose. The President’s powers have been curtailed, so she cannot dissolve the parliament either. And for the parties now in government, their outlooks of getting to form a new government looks slightly bad. The professor of public law from the University of Jyväskylä dryly stated that “in a Western Democracy the government would have resigned already”

The funding issues have caused several government organizations starting from the parliamentary ombudsman to start investigations regarding party funding, and it seems there might be more and more revelations as the weeks pass. So far there has been outrage over the fact that blatant tax evasion creative tax planning seems to be rife, and the secrecy of the funding has raised the question wasn’t the government-paid party support money supposedly put in place so that parties could function without dodgy support. There will be a lot more shit hitting the fan before the politicians can withdraw back to their cabinet schemings, so if the opposition manages to pull off a vote of no confidence we might well be looking for some interesting campaigning already this winter and not have to wait for 2011. Even though the politicians in power are definitely hoping that the shitfan will run out of power next year and the nations’ memory fade any moral outrage by the next. And we all can go sleep again peacefully as “there is no corruption in Finland”.

- UPDATE - The opposition parties made a statement today suggesting the Prime Minister to “make conclusions” over the issue. The Cabinet announced it shall be giving its “Government report to the Parliament” over the election funding issue – after which there shall be a “vote of confidence”. The discussion over the issue is still waiting the PM who is at the moment in the USA attending an United Nations Climate Change Conference.

19.9.2009

Twenty euro fine for public drinking and underage bagchecks

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 11:42 am

New laws being passed. A twenty euro fine for public drinking. Should I say “big fucking deal”? As if that would make any change – a bottle of vodka costs a tenner, a case of beer a bit less than the 20 + you get change from the cans. People who can afford to drink won’t feel the sting and the winos don’t pay their fines anyways. Government wisdom at work once again.

And who will be targetted – of course the youth. The law change now allows the police to do an “investigative” bag check to find alcoholic beverages in the possession of under-18 year olds, and spirits in the possession of under 20-year olds. And then promptly pour it down. Remembering my youth the police seemed to allow weed-smoking hippies to do whatever but your crew-cut army guys on leave got targetted. Which was unfair as those draft-dodging hippies and other cretins not going to the army as it hurts their hair seldom make into productive citizens but we had to pay out of our miserable day allowance.

Now the laws passed are aimed to curtail underage drinking which of course is a good thing. Then again the more draconian laws passed like in the USA – the end result is that kids start using dope as its easier to get. Lets face it – kids want to get messed up, but I rather have them swigging cider than sniffing glue. Its more to do with parents and upbringing and social values and mores than availability in the end.

13.9.2009

NFL GamePass FAIL!

Tags: Everything — Author: @ 9:08 pm

It’s the first week of the NFL season, yay! And for just $239, you can watch all the games live and in HD over the internet, cool!! It makes living abroad no that bad! Ooops, except that, their servers are down thanks to the heavy load. Not a single person can even get on the site. They knew EXACTLY how many paid members they had, yet they didn’t but enough servers. Sad.

We had these same problems last year, and the NFL along with their terrible online partners, NeuLion, have screwed it up once again. NFL GamePass sucks. NeuLion sucks!!

I’m so angry, I’ll finally admit it: FOOTball. The name, doesn’t make ANY SENSE!! It’s true! The guy who named it also gave Greenland its name.

UPDATE: Well it’s Week #2, and it’s down once more. They did NOTHING to fix last week’s problems.

NeuLion has setup a web page to provide refunds for Week 1′s failure (you get $13 back). Looking forward to Week 2′s refund.

If you haven’t done so already, please contact the NFL and complain about Neulion – Don’t let them sweep this under the rug.

And please feel free to contact Neulion directly…
Jennifer Powalski, Corporate Communications
Scott Paterson, VP Investor Relations
Nancy Li, CEO
Michael Her, EVP R&D

8.9.2009

Tax force “improving” taxation, means just that

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 8:39 pm

The big “Taxation taskforce” think-tank published a part of its findings yesterday. The HS international edition has a summary.

A working group set up to reform taxation in Finland has set as its goal the establishment of as wide a tax base as possible. In practice this means ending various tax deductions, which allow people to get some types of income tax-free.

Yeah, right, as if I would have seen much tax-free income in my life, let alone deductions.

By expanding the tax base through the elimination of gaps caused by various tax deductions, it is possible to lower the tax rate – the percentage of their income that taxpayers have to pay the state.

Probably by one fraction of a percent. Sounds good but the effects I would like to see.

In addition to eliminating deductions, the working group has agreed that consumption taxes, such as value-added tax, the tax on alcohol, the car tax, the rubbish tax, and the dog tax should be increased.

I’d have a novel idea – instead of rubbish taxes HOW ABOUT CUTTING GOVERNMENT SPENDING?

Dr. Halla-aho convicted of blasphemy

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 12:00 pm

The controversial blogger and Helsinki councilman Dr. Jussi Halla-aho recieved today a conviction of “breaching the sanctity of religion” i.e. blasphemy. He was sentenced by the Helsinki district court to pay 30 day fines amounting to 330 euros. Dr. Halla-aho has stated he will appeal on the verdict.

Dr. Halla-aho’s blog “Scripta – writings from the sinking west” came under scrutiny during his campaign for Helsinki city council as a nonaligned candidate on the True Finns ticket. Especially the women’s organization of the Green party took offence of his acerbic writings of immigration and multiculturalism. However bad taste is not a crime, which the Green Women found out trying in vain to destabilize Halla-ahos candidacy with frivolous police investigations.

The police took Halla-ahos blog under investigation after the state prosecutors office took interest in the case and the State Prosecutor Jorma Kalske raised two charges, one of “breaching the sanctity of religion” and another one “inciting hatered against a population group” of one blog entry appropriately named “A couple of baits for Mika Illman” (Mika Illman being the state prosecutor who had charged a few people over similar cases perviously). Halla-aho has stated he wanted to show the double standards regarding the treatment of different groups by the courts.

Surprisingly the charge on blasphemy stuck, even though that very law had been regarded as a dead letter since the 1960′s. According to the court “facts or logic do not have significance in religious discussion”. Fine by me, I’ll proclaim Charlie Manson as God and anyone claiming he is a deranged hippie will be charged, Helter Skelter.

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