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Monday, March 15, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"MI5 is worried about sex. In a 14-page document distributed last year to hundreds of British banks, businesses, and financial institutions, titled 'The Threat from Chinese Espionage,' the famed British security service described a wide-ranging Chinese effort to blackmail Western businesspeople over sexual relationships. The document, as the London Times reported in January, explicitly warns that Chinese intelligence services are trying to cultivate 'long-term relationships' and have been known to 'exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships ... to pressurise individuals to co-operate with them.' This latest report on Chinese corporate espionage tactics is only the most recent installment in a long and sordid history of spies and sex. For millennia, spymasters of all sorts have trained their spies to use the amorous arts to obtain secret information. The trade name for this type of spying is the 'honey trap.' And it turns out that both men and women are equally adept at setting one -- and equally vulnerable to tumbling in. Spies use sex, intelligence, and the thrill of a secret life as bait. Cleverness, training, character, and patriotism are often no defense against a well-set honey trap." (ForeignPolicy)



"I have argued that rising unemployment inevitably imperils the political prospects of a president and his party. So I’m not surprised that President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have steadily fallen over the last year, or that Democrats have fared poorly in recent elections. And it’s fair to say that if unemployment continues to rise, or stays at the same elevated level, the Democrats will have trouble in the midterm elections this November. Still, this is not an iron law. Sometimes other factors have overshadowed rising unemployment or falling wages. In 2002, Republicans were able to parlay the public’s trust in George W. Bush’s war on terror into election victories. And a president’s political acumen--his ability to put the best light on his and his party’s accomplishments--can mitigate the effects of rising unemployment. That’s what Ronald Reagan and the Republicans achieved in the 1982 midterm elections." (TNR)



"I met Rielle Hunter for the first time the day of our first interview, at her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, though we'd already spoken for some months on the phone. And would continue to, as more developments were reported. (Are she and John Edwards engaged? 'I am not engaged.') There were no conditions, no ground rules, no topics or questions that were off-limits. Just a request that her words be her words, unfiltered and unspun. While everyone else in the Edwards drama has said their piece, in books and/or television interviews, the mistress and campaign videographer and mother of his child has, in her own words, 'kept my mouth shut.' Until now (as they say in the tabloids). My first impression of Hunter, when she opened the back door of the screened porch filled with toys and strollers in the three-bedroom house she is renting (for $1,500 a month), her hair pulled up in a scrunchy, was that she was much prettier, and a whole lot softer, than all those National Enquirer spy photos suggest." (GQ)



"News Corp. will earn $350 million to $400 million from James Cameron’s 'Avatar' once the world’s top-grossing film is also released on pay television and DVD, said two people with knowledge of its financial performance. The sum represents News Corp.’s about 40 percent cut of as much as $1 billion that the film is expected to earn for its Twentieth Century Fox and 'Avatar' investors, said the people, who declined to be named because the projections are private. Fox also collects a distribution fee on the box-office revenue. News Corp.’s share amounts to almost half of the New York- based company’s average quarterly operating profit in the past year. It also highlights what Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch gave up when he took on investors to hedge the risks on the movie, produced for about $300 million, according to one of the people. New York-based Dune Entertainment LLC owns about 40 percent and London-based Ingenious Media Holdings PLC has the rest." (Bloomberg)



"THIS is the American story. Not making a mix tape and partying with Paris Hilton and getting a photo in TMZ... Snooki is a diversion for the masses, the losers. Do you want to be a winner? Winners start off in the wilderness. They do it their own way. They stick to their guns. They work incessantly and they never give up. Whew. That just does not sound like enough people in the record business, on either side of the fence, talent or businessman. We live in a confusing, crazy world. But one thing is constant. The winners pay their dues. And it's not solely time on the chain gang. No, there's a ton of anxiety involved. Questioning yourself, taking risks, sticking to your guns when no one believes in you. It's every man for himself out there. Shouldn't be, but it is." (LefetzLetter)



"Equinox may be headed to Russia. The fast-growing fitness chain's CEO, Harvey Spevak, was overheard discussing a planned expansion to Moscow with Vladimir Doronin -- who's better known as Naomi Campbell's boyfriend -- at the Standard Grill in the Meatpacking District the other day. "He was saying that they hoped to be in the country in 12 to 16 months," says our spy." (pageSix)



"It’s a funny thing, fidelity. Last week’s enormous bankruptcy-report filing on shady financial practices at the late Lehman Brothers investment house depicts an internal braintrust desperate to conceal reckless debt transactions and deceptive accounting practices from public view. The court-appointed examiner in the firm’s bankruptcy proceedings, Anton Valukas, found that senior Lehman officials tried to alert their bosses of blatant efforts to reclassify debt as 'sales' under a recondite accounting trick known in house as 'Repo 105'—so named because it permitted the company to assess buy-back transactions of assets sold for cash at a value representing 105% or more of the cash the company actually pulled in. And presto, Valukas observes: 'Unbeknownst to the investing public, rating agencies, Government regulators, and Lehman's Board of Directors, Lehman reverse engineered the firm's net leverage ratio for public consumption.' In other words, notes the Wall Street Journal reporting team of Mike Spector, Susanne Craig, and Peter Lattman, what normally would appear as debt exposure was minted, in the alchemy of creative internal accounting, into assets: 'Assets shifted away from Lehman’s balance sheet, reducing the amount of debt it showed to investors.'" (Chris Lehmann/TheAwl)



"So South by Southwest is upon us again, whereupon thousands of fledgling bands (and this year, for some reason, Stone Temple Pilots) descend upon Austin, Texas, which, shockingly enough, has enough clubs, parking lots, and seedy back rooms to accommodate them all. Often, it seems like 75 percent or more of the action that results involves NYC bands, and with good reason—sure you could save yourself the trip, but then again, the weather (and the BBQ) are liable to be a little more palatable down south. Usually, two or three bands play like 15 showcases in four days and are declared The Victors; here, let us take a few shots at predicting this year's locally derived breakout crew. Oh, and don't walk down the street squinting at everyone's nametag, trying to read it—hella gauche, dude." (VillageVoice)



"With a lack of blue-chip tentpoles, surefire sequels and fanboy fare, the 2010 summer box office is expected to suffer from franchise famine. There are currently 10 sequels or reboots scheduled to hit screens this summer, roughly the same as previous years. But without four-quadrant blockbusters like 'Transformers 2,' 'Star Trek,' and 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,' don't look for a repeat of last summer's record-shattering $4.2 billion. While 'Twilight: Eclipse,' 'Sex and the City 2,' 'Shrek Forever After' and 'Toy Story 3D' may break big, each is heavily weighted toward women and children. The key demographic being neglected: fanboys .." (TheWrap)

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