Fare Thee Well Bank of Scotland!

September 19, 2008

The Bank of the Scotland is the latest victim to fall prey to the global credit crunch

avatarIt’s the credit crunch that just keeps on crunching. Latest victim – the Bank of Scotland, established in 1695, and the institution that invented banking as we know it in a Western sense.

Got an overdraft? You can thank the Bank of Scotland for that innovation and plenty more. The bank, known as HBOS after its merger with English bank Halifax, is the biggest home lender in the UK. And now, merged with Lloyds TSB, it will become even bigger.

But at what cost, and why? The cost to Scotland at this stage is unknown, though it’s inconceivable that no jobs will be lost. Some say with a Scottish Prime Minister and a Scottish Chancellor, pressure will be brought to bear on Lloyds to ensure there are not major cuts north of the Border.

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The Pirates Are Back….but no Johnny Depp this time

September 18, 2008

Suspected Somali pirates captured by security forces

The popular perception of pirates held by most in the West is a mixture of the funny best exemplified by the movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean and the downright silly, yet perfectly harmless characters in our literary history. These misconceptions can be forgiven since piracy in the First World has long since disappeared.

However, piracy is experiencing a renaissance in East Africa these days. The Gulf of Aden, the body of water where the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet, has become a haven for Somali pirates who prey on the international shipping that passes through the area. Since the collapse of a government in Somalia some 17 years ago, piracy has mostly gone unchecked in the area and has become more lucrative. Only yesterday, Somali pirates hijacked two ships off of the Somali coast, bringing their tally for 2008 to 30 hijacked ships in total.

A multinational naval force headquartered in Djibouti is patrolling the Gulf of Aden to ward off pirates, but the piracy has become very lucrative in recent years as Patrick Barkham explains: Read the rest of this entry »

Panic on Wall Street – Is this the end for America’s financial system?

September 18, 2008

Nervous traders on the trading floor in the midst of one of Wall Street’s most historic weeks

Things are looking grim down on Wall Street. Rather than trying to explain the chaos myself, I’ve chosen two articles that will do it better than I can. Suffice it to say that what is easily noticed is that the credo in American capitalism seems to be “privatize the profits, socialize the losses” as several companies have been rescued by the United States government and more rescues are bound to come.

From The World as we Know it is Going Under:

Things got worse after the markets closed. Washington Mutual, America’s fourth-largest bank, announced that it had started the process of putting itself up for sale. The Wall Street Journal reported that both Wells Fargo and the banking giant Citigroup were interested in taking over the battered American savings bank.

And then came the announcement that would dominate all of Thursday’s market activities: Morgan Stanley — the venerable Wall Street institution and one of the last two US investment banks left standing — had lost massive amounts and was fighting for survival. Media reports were saying that it was even in talks about a possible bail-out or merger. Rumor had it that possible suitors might include Wachovia or China’s Bank Citic.


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Africa: Land of Hope and Exploitation

September 9, 2008

The residents of the Magenge Mapya Charcoal Camp in Tanzania face an uncertain future — the trees they rely on to make charcoal are being cut down to plant oil-producing plants for biofuels

Roughly a century ago, the Ottoman Empire was considered “the sick man of Europe” because of its poor economy, backwardness, and misrule. Today, the continent of Africa and in particular the sub-Saharan part could rightfully be considered the sick man of the world. Disastrous economics, shoddy rule, violent wars, and the plague of HIV have left a once promising continent the failure of the world.

Decade after decade of foreign aid have not been able to lift Africa out of its mire. Even the so-called “benevolence” of wealthier states has left a situation best described in dependency theory as: “the way in which resources flow from a “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped states to a “core” of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former”. This exploitation continues today as Africa is now being utilized for the sake of biofuel production at the expense of locals. Der Spiegel reports about this new exploitation in Green Gold Rush: Africa becoming a biofuel battleground. An excerpt: Read the rest of this entry »

Manhattan: The Art of the Flip

September 9, 2008

Upper West Side
Manhattan’s Upper West Side

The 1980s was the era of junk bonds and Michael Milken. The 90s saw the dot.com bubble and made investors learn phrases like “e-commerce“. This decade has been the decade of real estate and in particular real estate speculation.

Like the previous two speculatory crazes, the real estate frenzy in the USA has ended and has fallen with a big thud. And like the previous bubbles some individuals have made out quite well in this latest one. New York Magazine takes a look at the 6 Most Impressive Flips in Manhattan. Here’s one of them:

15 Central Park West
How can a list like this not include this megaflip haven? To wit: This spring, a venture capitalist paid $13.8 million for a unit the seller bought just two months previous for $6.9 million, according to trade publication the Real Deal; a 29th-floor apartment — picked up for $7.3 million — went for nearly $14 million; and a cable mogul who bought his 36th-floor spread for $7.34 million is now on contract for somewhere near its $12.5 million price tag.

read the rest of the article here

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Sports Fandom Is More Positive Than We Once Thought

September 8, 2008

Fans of the legendary English soccer team Liverpool FC display their support

Fans of professional sports are a derided bunch. Usually associated with belonging to the lowest common denominator intellectually and culturally, others have gone as far as to claim that they represent the most prevalent form of social conditioning present in our modern society.

An observer in first century Rome coined the phrase bread and circuses to describe how Romans of that era chose food and fun over freedom, thus giving up their civic duty in favour of decadence. To people like Noam Chomsky, little has changed. In Manufacturing Consent Chomsky explains the role of sports in social conditioning:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

Is being a fan of professional sports all that bad? New research by economists and psychologists suggests that sports fandom actually has some benefits.

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How to score a Sicilian villa for only one Euro

September 3, 2008

Salemi, Sicily – overlooking the Mediterranean

English homes are dropping in value like a rock and the Spanish real estate market has taken a dive. What about Italy? Tuscany is simply too, too expensive for the average or above average investor but there is a place further down south where you can get a villa on the Mediterranean for only one Euro.

Vittorio Sgarbi, the controversial mayor of the Sicilian town of Salemi is offering investors the chance to snap up villas in his town for a single Euro. But there is a catch as Richard Owen explains:

The catch is that you have just two years to restore the homes, which were abandoned after an earthquake 40 years ago.

Vittorio Sgarbi, the colourful Mayor of Salemi – just 72km from Palermo – hopes to attract buyers who had “both the aesthetic sensitivity and the economic resources to take part in this adventure”.But prospective property owners who think the offer is too good to refuse should bear in mind that thhe restorations will have to meet standards laid down by the council and respect the original character of the buildings.

Here is the contact info plus the terms and conditions:

— Salemi does not yet have a website but Vittorio Sgarbi does, at www.vittoriosgarbi.it – e-mails can be sent by clicking on contatti. Inquiries can also be made to the council on (0039) 0924 991 111

— Buyers must use local builders, architects, decorators and plumbers since the aim ofthescheme is to help the local economy

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