Sunday, February 28, 2010

Iceland's vilified bankers have fled abroad

REYKJAVIK (AFP) - A year after Iceland's stunning economic collapse, most of the directors of its failed banks have fled abroad, tired of angry verbal attacks and the red paint daubed on their homes and cars.

A year ago, the small North Atlantic nation saw its oversized financial sector crumble amid the global credit crisis, as the government took over the three biggest banks and the stock market suspended all financial shares.

With the country on the brink of bankruptcy, Icelanders took to the streets to vent their fury over having lost their savings and their jobs -- while inflation soared and the currency plunged -- all because of the actions of what they saw as a few overly-aggressive and out-of-control bankers.

According to Iceland's special prosecutor investigating the collapse of the banks, 50 to 60 people from the banks' top layers of management have been taken in for questioning so far -- but no charges have been pressed to date.

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William S. Burroughs - Burroughs The Movie (1985)

Things your body can do after you die

 1. Get married

Death is no obstacle when it comes to love in China. That's because ghost marriage -- the practice of setting up deceased relatives with suitable spouses, dead or alive -- is still an option.

Ghost marriage first appeared in Chinese legends 2,000 years ago, and it's been a staple of the culture ever since. At times, it was a way for spinsters to gain social acceptance after death. At other times, the ceremony honored dead sons by giving them living brides. In both cases, the marriages served a religious function by making the deceased happier in the afterlife.

While the practice of matchmaking for the dead waned during China's Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, officials report that ghost marriages are back on the rise. Today, the goal is often to give a deceased bachelor a wife -- preferably one who has recently been laid to rest. But in a nation where men outnumber women in death as well as in life, the shortage of corpse brides has led to murder.

In 2007, there were two widely reported cases of rural men killing prostitutes, housekeepers, and mentally ill women in order to sell their bodies as ghost wives. Worse, these crimes pay. According to The Washington Post and The London Times, one undertaker buys women's bodies for more than $2,000 and sells them to prospective "in-laws" for nearly $5,000.

2. Unwind with a few friends

 Today, most of us think of mummies as rare and valuable artifacts, but to the ancient Egyptians, they were as common as iPhones. So, where have all those mummies gone? Basically, they've been used up. Europeans and Middle Easterners spent centuries raiding ancient Egyptian tombs and turning the bandaged bodies into cheap commodities.

For instance, mummy-based panaceas were once popular as quack medicine. In the 16th century, French King Francis I took a daily pinch of mummy to build strength, sort of like a particularly offensive multivitamin. Other mummies, mainly those of animals, became kindling in homes and steam engines.

Meanwhile, human mummies frequently fell victim to Victorian social events. During the late 19th century, it was popular for wealthy families to host mummy-unwrapping parties, where the desecration of the dead was followed by cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

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Elinor Ostrom wins Nobel for common(s) sense

For one thing, she is the first woman to receive the prize. Her Ph.D. is in political science, not economics (though she minored in economics, collaborates with many economists, and considers herself a political economist). But what makes this award particularly special is that her work is about cooperation, while standard economics focuses on competition.

Ostrom's seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, was published in 1990. But her research on common property goes back to the early 1960s, when she wrote her dissertation on groundwater in California. In 1973 she and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. In the intervening years, the Workshop has produced hundreds of studies of the conditions in which communities self-organize to solve common problems. Ostrom currently serves as professor of political science at Indiana University and senior research director of the Workshop.

Fran Korten, YES! Magazine's publisher, spent 20 years with the Ford Foundation making grants to support community management of water and forests in Southeast Asia and the United States. She and Ostrom drew on one another's work as this field of knowledge developed. Fran interviewed her friend and colleague Lin Ostrom shortly after Ostrom received the Nobel Prize.

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The political philosophy of Oscar Wilde

The renowned playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.” At the height of his career in 1895, Wilde dominated London dinner-tables, stages, and opinion. Two of his plays opened that year to rave reviews by both critics and the public. His epigrams and activities were repeated — often by him — in the best of homes while his philosophy of art and life were printed in newspapers of note. Wilde was intensely admired and intensely disliked because he was, among other things, a propagator of radical ideas.

Aesthetically, Wilde advocated art-for-art's-sake — the theory that art should be judged on its own merits rather than upon the morality or politics it expressed. Personally, he declared pleasure to be the purpose of life even though the Victorian era surrounding him assigned that role to “duty.” He was also homosexual. These aspects of Wilde have been documented in hundreds of books and essays but Oscar Wilde “the libertarian” and advocate of social reform has received comparatively little attention.

In the book Liberty and the Great Libertarians, Charles Sprading includes an excerpt from Wilde's essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” This essay and the lengthy poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” — of which Benjamin Tucker published the first American book edition in 1899 — are Wilde's most important political works. Wilde was primarily a playwright, a poet, and a novelist who only occasionally strayed into political theory. His importance as a libertarian stems from the events and consequences of his life as much or more than from his political writing. This is particularly true in the area of penal reform.

Part of the reason Wilde's libertarianism is overlooked is because like many 19th-century libertarians, including Tucker himself, Wilde sometimes called himself a “socialist.” Just as the term “liberal” has evolved, however, the term “socialist” was often used in a different way than it is today.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism” is Wilde's most direct commentary on politics but the ideal of socialism expressed is confused and contradictory. For example, Wilde assumes socialism will create a society in which production problems are solved and machines perform all drudgery, leaving the individual free to express himself. Thus, self-expression or “individualism” is the goal of Wilde's socialist vision. Individualism is defined as the ability to pursue artistic goals without submitting to the “tyranny of want.” Wilde presents a paradox: namely, embracing “the collective” will not only result in individualism but also in artistic expression without social or state control. Thus, the essay does not argue for socialism on economic or moral grounds but on rather naive artistic ones.

Wilde's arguments against private property are equally vague, contradictory, and aesthetic. Wilde believed private property had a “decaying” effect on man's soul. “It [private property] has made gain nor growth its aim,” he explained. “So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing was to be.”

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House Democrats in disarray over anti-torture provision

By Muriel Kane, Raw Story

Democratic leadership in the House was in disarray last night after having to withdraw the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, moments before it was to have been voted upon, as the result of a controversial anti-torture provision.

The amendment was added in the House Rules Committee late on Wednesday and had not previously been vetted in committee. It would have criminalized the most extreme forms of "enhanced interrogation" and provided stiff sentences for intelligence officers or medical professions who engaged in them.

Republican opposition caused the Democrats to attempt to remove the provision from the bill on Thursday by a unanimous consent agreement. When the Republicans refused to go along, the Democratic leadership was forced to pull the bill entirely.

In the wake of the debacle, there was confusion as to how the provision had gotten into the bill, and Democratic leaders appeared to be attempting to distance themselves from it.

The American Prospect had reported earlier that the amendment was proposed by House Intelligence Committee Chair Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX). After the withdrawal of the bill, however, Politico cited Democratic sources as saying that "House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter attached the provision to the bill Wednesday over the objections of other House leaders." One source told RollCall (reg. req.), "No one wanted it in there," and Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA) insisted, "It's a mystery how that language got in there."

Ayn Rand as big admirer of serial killer

There's something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don't have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be as hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population who thought like this, but the US is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd, but whose influence is only starting to spread out of the US.

One reason why most countries don't find the time to embrace her thinking is that Ayn Rand is a textbook sociopath. Literally a sociopath: Ayn Rand, in her notebooks, worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of "ideal man" that Rand promoted in her more famous books -- ideas which were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America's most recent economic catastrophe -- former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox -- along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The loudest of all the Republicans, right-wing attack-dog pundits and the Teabagger mobs fighting to kill health care reform and eviscerate "entitlement programs" increasingly hold up Ayn Rand as their guru. Sales of her books have soared in the past couple of years; one poll ranked "Atlas Shrugged" as the second most influential book of the 20th century, after The Bible.

So what, and who, was Ayn Rand for and against? The best way to get to the bottom of it is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten by Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation -- Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street -- on him.

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Man who broke the Bank of England, George Soros, 'at centre of hedge funds plot to cash in on fall of the euro'

A secretive group of Wall Street hedge fund bosses are said to be behind a plot to cash in on the decline of the euro.

Representatives of George Soros's investment business were among an all-star line up of Wall Street investors at an 'ideas dinner' at a private townhouse in Manhattan, according to reports.

A spokesman for Soros Fund Management said the legendary investor did not attend the dinner on February 8, but did not deny that his firm was represented.

At the dinner, the speculators are said to have argued that the euro is likely to plunge in value to parity with the dollar.

The single currency has been under enormous pressure because of Greece's debt crisis, plus financial worries in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

But, it has also struggled because hedge funds have been placing huge bets on the currency's decline, which could make the speculators hundreds of millions of pounds.

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