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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The drama of rewriting the postwar social contract is taking place across Europe. Over the past generation, globalization has challenged Western economic dominance and forced wages downward throughout the industrialized world; the economic crisis that began in 2008 delivered the coup de grace. The crop of European leaders unlucky enough to hold office amid all this has been stuck with the unpopular job of offering solutions. British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a radical assault on the benefits of social democracy, including not just deep cuts in welfare spending, but the elimination of cherished middle-class subsidies. Cameron has also proposed raising the retirement age -- to 66. Greece, where a wildly intrusive and inefficient government brought the country to within a hairsbreadth of bankruptcy, has been convulsed by popular resistance to Prime Minister George Papandreou's proposed cuts. Germany is widely admired for having made painful changes to labor laws without endangering social peace, but the Social Democrats who drove those reforms were booted out of office in a spasm of public anger. What Sarkozy is proposing is quite modest by comparison. Raising the minimum age to 62, and the age at which a full pension kicks in from 65 to 67, hardly solves the problem of a smaller and smaller number of workers supporting an ever increasing number of retirees." (James Traub)


"When Kanye West spoke Friday evening at the New York screening of his mini-movie 'Runaway,' he mentioned the film’s massive worldwide premiere this Saturday reminded him of the way Michael Jackson used to debut his music videos on multiple channels. It would be an outrageous statement, if it wasn’t already true considering MTV, MTV2, BET, MTV.com, BET.com, and Vh1.com will air 'Runaway' simultaneously at 8 p.m. EST. Kanye explained 'Runaway' was a film made from the perspective of his five-year-old self, back when he “wasn’t told what to like, and wasn't told what not to like.' The description was fitting. 'Runaway' is a cross between an epic music video and a charming indie-house flick. The plot, a simple love story about a man who witnesses a beautiful phoenix (played wonderfully and effectively by model Selita Ebanks) fall to Earth, and then takes her home, only to end up falling head over heels for her, despite the fact that she is half-human, half-bird. On the surface, none of it makes sense, but considering Kanye's goal to tell a story from the perspective of a five-year-old, 'Runaway' is a vision fully realized." (wsj)



"Now that the X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 directing job went to Darren Aronofsky, The Hunger Games was gobbled up by Gary Ross and Zack Snyder got the Superman job, there are only a couple films left that have directors hot and bothered. One is Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, the Lionsgate film that David O Russell departed, and Mike Newell is still frontrunner to direct Scarlett Johansson and Bradley Cooper. But for sheer ambition and budget scale, the big directing job is the James Cameron-produced Fantastic Voyage at 20th Century Fox. I'm hearing that Cameron's choice is Louis Leterrier, whose last film, Clash of the Titans, grossed around $500 million worldwide for Warner Bros. Cameron and the studio have a strong Shane Salerno script, and Cameron's Avatar designers have done everything but build sets for a film that could be ready to shoot early in 2011. Of course, the studio is still figuring out the budget and logistics, as is the case with the other major 3D pic that Cameron is producing, the Guillermo del Toro-directed At the Mountains of Madness at Universal." (Deadline)


"It's been almost 40 years since Bryan Ferry first blazed across the pop cultural heavens as Roxy Music's glittering centerpiece, four decades that add up to a whole lot of scenes he's made, 'in' crowds he's been in with. All of them were represented—from fashion nabob Sir Philip Green to design legends Antony Price and Stephen Jones to a serious muso contingent led by David Gilmour—at Tuesday night's dinner at London's Dean Street Townhouse to celebrate Olympia, Ferry's latest album. The glamorous, glorious tradition of Roxy/Ferry cover icons is upheld on the new release by a Dior-clad Kate Moss. The supermodel spent the evening huddled with dinner companion Lucian Freud." (Style)


"'Tell them to stop leaning on the fence!' Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and the first woman ever elected head of state on the continent of Africa, ordered the leader of her security team. We were driving along one of the scarce paved avenues in her nation's capital, Monrovia. With her convoy rode United Nations gunmen, part of a peacekeeping force of 10,000 charged with preventing a conflagration in the aftermath of 14 years of horrific civil war. The fighting ended in 2003, but outside the windows of Sirleaf's S.U.V., the skeletons of abandoned buildings and the cries, at once thrilled and desperate, of the onlookers along the president's route were signs of the country's position near last on any list of how well the world's nations are functioning." (NYTimes)


"For a generation, Prince Bandar bin Sultan was Riyadh's man in Washington. As the Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, he was even dubbed 'Bandar Bush' for his close ties to that powerful American political dynasty. After leaving Washington, apparently burned out, he returned to Saudi Arabia to head the newly established Saudi National Security Council, the function of which was not, and still is not, clear. However, he continued to sneak back into the United States periodically because the king quickly decided he preferred Bandar over his successor, Prince Turki al-Faisal, as his channel to the White House -- a situation that eventually led Turki to resign in protest. And then, around 2008, Bandar vanished from the public eye. Exactly what caused Bandar to fall out of political favor remains unclear, but he had acquired no shortage of enemies, even within the royal family, over his long tenure as the principal contact between Saudi Arabia and its most important ally. Bandar's disappearance prompted a number of conspiracy theories. The Iranian media, for example, has rather creatively accused him of masterminding al Qaeda's activities in Iraq and funding al Qaeda-affiliated Sunni Islamist groups in Lebanon in an attempt to undermine Hezbollah. But now, Bandar is back. A brief Saudi Press Agency story last week reported: 'Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, Chief of Saudi Intelligence, welcomed Prince Bandar home at the airport.'" (ForeignPolicy)


"Lately, the rich have been boring—or at least that's how it would appear to anyone skimming through the popular media. Recent headlines about self-righteous hedge funders publically excoriating Obama, or -- even more topical -- wealthy politicos failing to accurately recite the minimum wage represent the best coverage of the upper crust that reporters have been able to offer. Interestingly, what seems to be happening is that the very richest Americans are concealing their extravagances for fear of inciting fanatical resentment among the general population. Ever since the economy collapsed and the government bailed out Wall Street, flagrant exhibitionism has been steadily losing its outward appeal. The wealthy no longer flaunt their out-sized fortunes and elevated social status with pride. Instead, they put on middle class airs and disingenuously espouse mainstream values, hoping to avoid the populist fury that has been spreading throughout the nation. Just to set the record straight, I've assembled a short list of recent incidents where fabulously wealthy individuals have accidentally let slip a true penchant for luxury. Here are three prime illustrations of conspicuous consumption from my recent, personal experience .." (Jamie Johnson/Vanity Fair)


"For people saddled with unsustainable mortgage payments, foreclosure proceedings come with a heavy emphasis on the "closure" part-since they mean eviction, devastated credit and near-permanent status as a financial pariah. But the purveyors of the fraudulent debt instruments behind the nation's present foreclosure tsunami play, as always, by a different set of rules. For even in managing the wind-down of home loans poisoned by their own special brand of recklessly securitized debt, American banks continue hewing to the same fee-seeking, asset-stripping mode of enterprise that originally jeopardized the U.S. housing market, and much of the broader economy along with it. Now, as then, they've distorted the housing market with howlingly unprofessional and dubiously legal conduct. And now, as then, they're pursuing short-term financial incentives that have nothing to do with the actual provisions in the contracts they're legally obligated to honor. As Ariana Eunjung Cha and Zachary A. Goldfarb explain in the Washington Post, the nation's financial institutions are processing the greatest volume of home foreclosures in our history-now numbering more than 2 million properties, with another 2.3 million seriously delinquent–'through a mass production system of foreclosures that was set up to prioritize one thing over everything else: speed.'" (Chris Lehmann/TheAwl)


"Matthew Yglesias points to the massive spending cuts in the U.K. budget as a reason conservatives should support majority rule: I do hope that American conservatives will look at the UK and recognize that even though they may have enjoyed the filibuster in 2009-2010, the extremely cumbersome nature of the American political process will make it forever impossible to enact these kind of sweeping cuts in the United States. From where I sit, the system they have in the UK where you can simply sweep opposition objections aside is actually the right way to do bipartisanship. Call it bipartisanship by alternation. When Labour wins the election, Labour has the chance to implement a bold agenda creating and expanding programs in a way that they think will make Britain a better place to live. Then when the Tories come in, they’re able to be brutal in their efforts to pare back or eliminate things that they think aren’t working. Over the long term, you get a trajectory where programs survive if and only if they’re so widely regarded as successful that no mainstream party would dare abolish them. But is it really the case that the British Tory budget is something American conservatives want? Leave aside the fact that it preserves a system of true socialized medicine -- not just single-payer, which means government paying for private health care but actual doctors and hospitals working for the government." (Jonathan Chait)



"U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a petite woman with pale-blue eyes and perfectly coiffed blonde hair, is sitting at a long table in a huge barn on a farm in upstate New York. There are great sacks of onions piled up to the ceiling on pallets and a few pieces of hulking equipment used during the harvest. It’s a safe bet that this barn has been spiffed up for the senator’s visit, a very special occasion for the family that lives here. It is one of those intoxicating August afternoons—cool and dry with a gentle breeze and big puffy white clouds set against a brilliant blue sky so perfect it seems fake. This kind of event, when staged by a different sort of politician, one less finely attuned to small-town attitudes, could strike a casual observer as too perfect to be real. But Gillibrand is nothing if not genuine, and through sheer force of personality she bends the occasion to suit her style, which is essentially folksy and earnest. She radiates kindness. But she is also direct and no-nonsense. Despite the fact that she is a Democrat (and a fairly progressive one, at that) and worked for fifteen years as a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, she seems utterly at ease among this crowd of mostly Republican farmers, with their rough hands and weathered faces." (Vogue)


"A FEW days after Rajiv Shah was sworn in as the head of the United States Agency for International Development, he stopped by to see its rapid response center, a high-tech command post for disaster relief, which on that day stood empty and still. Twelve hours later, an earthquake devastated Haiti, and for the next two months the center became Dr. Shah’s round-the-clock home. A brainy, 37-year-old physician with little government experience, Dr. Shah suddenly found himself coordinating a desperate emergency relief effort under the gaze of President Obama.  The pace has barely let up since: catastrophic floods in Pakistan, the surge of aid workers into Afghanistan, a top-to-bottom review of American foreign assistance — all have heavily involved Dr. Shah, turning him into one of the administration’s most visible foreign policy players.  But for this politically astute son of Indian immigrants from Ann Arbor, Mich., who is now the highest-ranking Indian-American in the administration, it is his ambitious campaign to rebuild Usaid that will ultimately determine his success or failure in Washington. 'He’s inherited leadership of an agency that was nearly broken over the last two decades,' said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who has testified alongside him on Capitol Hill. While Mr. Holbrooke said Dr. Shah had a 'limitless future,' he added, 'He’s going to be tested like few others are in government.'" (NYTimes)

"How do you get to be the world’s most successful art dealer? The steely-eyed, silver-haired 65-year-old who steps discreetly into C London in Mayfair is not giving much away. 'I’m a kinda lowbrow guy,' Larry Gagosian says, acknowledging the greetings from tables full of international collectors in town for the Frieze art fair as he slips into a corner seat beside me. 'I couldn’t put it better than Woody Allen does, ‘Just give me a good game and a good beer.’ I’m just like the next guy.' In black trousers, open-necked shirt and checked jacket, he has certainly tried to look ordinary. Tanned and trim (when at home in New York, he works out in the pool at his Manhattan town house), Gagosian speaks softly, slowly, deliberately, as if to undercut his powerful image. But to say he is 'just like the next guy' is straining the truth. Gagosian is masterminding the careers of blue-chip names such as Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst. He owns nine (soon to be 10) galleries round the world." (FT)


"After consecutive elections marked by big gains in Republican territory, the Democratic Party of 2011 is poised to shrink back to its form before the GOP’s downward spiral: more coastal and urban and less Southern, Midwestern and rural. Based on the state of the political map two weeks out from the elections, the famed red vs. blue model that followed the 2004 presidential race appears to be returning to shape, with enough grave threats to Democratic officeholders to suggest that the party — as it is expressed in Congress, at least — could end up even narrower than that. Republicans are already well-positioned to capture scores of House, Senate and gubernatorial seats across the South and the heartland. And depending on the strength of the party’s performance on Nov. 2, the GOP is also close to penetrating citadels of Democratic strength in places like Washington, California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Even if Democrats are able to prevent a total wipeout, it’s likely that this year’s elections will mark a return to the familiar political universe that characterized the decade before 2006, when the GOP controlled swaths of politically conservative and moderate parts of the country." (Politico)


"In a testament to the GOP’s advantage in the midterm elections, CQ Politics has made 25 changes to its race ratings that for the most part show Republicans gaining steam as the Democrats attempt to maintain control of Congress on Nov. 2. The re-election races of five Democratic incumbents have been moved to the Likely Republican category. Three of the Democrats now in this category were elected in districts that supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but President George W. Bush in 2004: Reps. Debbie Halvorson in eastern Illinois, Steve Driehaus in southwestern Ohio and Mary Jo Kilroy in central Ohio." (CQPolitics)

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