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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The global elite, dining on Norwegian lobster and reindeer at the end of the World Economic Forum on Saturday, felt pretty chipper despite growing concerns about the inequality of the economic recovery. While they believe the global financial and euro zone debt crises are abating, the real world intruded with a different and much more acute crisis in Egypt that made their debates about inequality and food security less theoretical than anticipated. This year's four-day talkfest in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos was a fragmented affair. The issue expected to dominate discussion, the euro zone debt crisis, turned out to be a relatively damp squib, with a growing consensus among bankers and policymakers that a resolution of the issue may be near. If there was one common strand in Davos this year it was growing divisions -- whether between fast-growing emerging markets and sluggish developed world economies, or between rich and poor within countries. As residents in Cairo and Alexandria counted the cost of a further night of clashes between protesters and police on Saturday, politicians and business leaders urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to start a dialogue with his people. Egypt has, after all, been one of the darlings of African and Middle Eastern investors, and the world is stepping into unknown territory with the rapid spread of unrest from country to country, propelled by the Internet and mobile technology. 'The lesson from Egypt is clear: people will no longer accept oppression, particularly when oppression is married with rising food prices, a lack of employment and the destruction of hope for a young generation,' Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told Reuters. Yet the mood among 2,500 business leaders and policy-makers in Davos was still predominantly positive, albeit tempered with caution after the worst economic slump in 75 years." (Reuters)


"HELP WANTED: Exclusive Pennsylvania Avenue residence seeks highly motivated professional to fill job of social secretary. Qualified candidates must have a genuine commitment to hospitality, a passion for food and wine, an appetite for 22-hour workdays, and a willingness to stand outside in all temperatures with a clipboard. No prima donnas. Please do not inquire about other positions like press secretary (filled) or secretary of defense (he’s not gone yet). *Willing to consider male candidates. Well, why not? Maybe it’s time for the White House to tap a man for the job. Ever since the first White House social secretary, Isabella Hagner James, helped Edith Roosevelt arrange diplomatic receptions a century ago, the keeper of the guest list of the most important address in the country has been a woman. But now, Julianna Smoot, the Democratic fund-raiser who successfully navigated two relatively conflict-free state dinners and countless other holiday parties, diplomatic receptions and even an Easter Egg Roll, is leaving, after just 10 months on the job. Ms. Smoot, readers may recall, replaced the Chicago businesswoman Desirée Rogers, who was run out of Washington last year after a string of Beltway offenses that included letting reality TV wannabes into a state dinner, posing for Vogue and wearing haute couture with $100,000 earrings. (She wore a Comme des Garçons gown at the now-infamous Indian state dinner where she sat at a table like a guest instead of standing at the gate with a clipboard.)" (NYTimes)


"If there’s one thing the chief executive officers of beverage makers PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. can agree on, it is the enduring appeal of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. That is a common sentiment among business leaders in the corridors of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, which Clinton addressed yesterday just as he first did in office 11 years ago and on several occasions since departing office in 2001. 'When you sit down at the feet of Bill Clinton, he’s the one stop on all the issues,' Indra Nooyi CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest soft-drinks maker, told Bloomberg Television in Davos today. Coca-Cola counterpart, Muhtar Kent, last night praised the former president’s record on green energy and aiding Africa as he introduced him to guests at a private cocktail reception. The 2,500 participants at Davos may not be alone in being inspired by Clinton, 64. More than 4,000 miles away in Washington, President Barack Obama has responded to the Democrats’ recent loss of the House of Representatives by hiring or promoting former Clinton aides and making calls for bipartisanship just as Clinton did after a similar defeat in 1994." (Bloomberg)



"The first sign I get that Charlie Rose has entered the room is when the suave maître d’ of Michael’s restaurant, a haunt of New York’s powerbrokers, rushes across to my table and declares, with a thrilled tone: 'He’s here!' I glance over, and see a tall figure by the door, wearing an understated, tweedy overcoat. Slowly, he makes his way towards me. It takes a very long time: as he passes each table, he reaches out, shakes hands, graciously receives compliments and exchanges pleasantries, as if on a royal progress ... Eventually, after navigating the packed room, Rose arrives at my table and casually chucks his coat on a chair with a supremely confident, easy air. 'It’s fine there,' he tells an overly solicitious waiter. Then he greets me with great bonhomie and southern charm; we have met each other a couple of times before, most recently when I appeared as a guest on his show two nights before, in a debate about America’s fiscal woes ... A waiter hovers and I ask for sparkling water. Rose breezily specifies that 'tap water is fine', and then glances vaguely at the menu. It is a couple of years since he suffered a heart scare but his face and physique could belong to a man of 50. Cheerfully, Rose explains to me that he makes it a priority to eat sensibly and exercise each day." (FT)



"Prince William and Kate are doing it old school. Save-the-date faxes have been sent out to the senior members of the royal family invited to the royal wedding. The guest list has yet to be finalized but King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece are said to have received the save-the-dates, and Prince Alexander and Princess Katherine of Serbia have RSVPed." (Maria Carraciola)



"The big news this weekend isn't just seeing whether domestic grosses are depressed on the post-blizzard East Coast, but also which movies receive Oscar bumps given that the Academy Award nominations were announced this past Tuesday. The King's Speech, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine (because of Michelle Williams' Best Actress nom), Rabbit Hole (due to Nicole Kidman's), and Winter's Bone, all expanded their runs as a result. True Grit, Black Swan, The Fighter, are still in the thick of their releases and held very well Friday, with only Golden Globe Best Drama winner The Social Network in limited release for a return engagement to improve on its $96M domestic cume. By mid-week, Fandango's top daily ticketseller was Producers Guild Awards winner The King's Speech even though The Weinstein Co released the film 9 weeks ago. The pic saw a healthy 76% increase in online ticket sales. (But attendance could really soar if The Weinstein Co succeeds in creating a PG-13 version to respond to exhibitors and educators who want the R-rated movie available to a bigger audience.) As for this weekend, studios expect that the East Coast's record snowfall will have "a substantial effect" on some markets to depress grosses. But after house-bound blizzard victims dig out, the majors expect a great football-less Sunday at the box office." (Deadline)


"The other slick, fun, and surprisingly sexy documentary on show at Sundance was Andrew Rossi’s inside look at The New York Times, which is playing in the U.S. doc competition. Rossi examines the Times media desk as it endures tectonic shifts in the news industry and deals with everyone’s favorite info anarchist/hacker pixie, Julian Assange. Adding an Entourage-like, Ari 'Fuck You' Gold feel to the mix is footage of David Carr, the Times’s cantankerously charming media reporter (and ex-addict, which Rossi doesn’t let you forget), who appears as a human symbol of the paper’s fight to stay alive in an online world. The most intriguing part of the documentary is watching the Page One meetings, where editors jockey for story position while Bill Keller chews it all over, furrowing his friendly, news-making Muppet eyebrows." (VanityFair)


"The notorious tea party-backing, climate change-denying Koch brothers are hosting their semiannual secret meeting of 200 rich and powerful people this year in Palm Springs. There they will plot global domination and compare yachts. And no tweeting allowed! Some liberal groups like are painting this summit at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Palm Springs in such a sinister light: 'An exclusive gathering of corporate billionaires who are meeting to plot strategy on how to dominate the 2012 elections,' says Common Cause. Yeah, it is a little suspicious that the meetings are being kept under wraps, with no media or public allowed—and the words 'secret,' 'billionaire' and 'meeting' always produce a certain chill when combined." (Gawker)



"Charlie Sheen's decision this afternoon to enter an undisclosed rehab facility has for now put an end to the troubled star's latest scandal, but it also raises questions about how long it took for anyone to accept responsibility for Sheen's actions, which have in the past put both his life and others' lives at risk. No stranger to generating headlines, Sheen's latest escapade involved a trip to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai following intense abdominal pain, what one woman who was there alleged was a suitcase full of cocaine, and a bevy of porn stars, all of which had the television industry awaiting the latest twist in this sordid story. For now, this story will end, as it often does, with an act of contrition, as Sheen enters a rehab facility. It is his second stint in the past year. 'Rehab is Hollywood's version of Catholic confession,' said one executive producer, speaking to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. 'Do whatever you want and the slate is wiped clean with rehab.'" (TheDailyBeast)


"About an hour later, I spoke with (Vikram) Pandit in a sparsely furnished hotel room. Citi’s leaders—from Walter Wriston, in the nineteen-seventies, to John Reed, in the nineteen-eighties, and Sanford Weill, in the late nineteen-nineties—have tended to be formidable and forbidding. Pandit affects a down-to-earth demeanor. He offered me a cup of coffee and insisted that I sit on a comfortable upholstered chair while he perched on a cheap plastic one. I asked him if he saw any irony in Citi being commended for asset building. His eyes widened slightly. 'Well,' he said, 'the award we are receiving is for fifteen years of work. It was work that was pioneered by Citi to get more financial inclusion. And it’s part of a broader reform effort we are involved in under the heading of responsible banking.' Since Pandit took over, this effort has involved selling or closing down some of Citi’s riskier trading businesses, including the hedge fund that he used to run; splitting off the company’s most foul-smelling assets into a separate entity, Citi Holdings; and cutting the pay of some senior executives. For 2009 and 2010, Pandit took an annual salary of one dollar and no bonus. (He didn’t, however, give back any of the money from the sale of his hedge fund.) 'This is an apprenticeship industry,' he said to me. 'People learn from the people above them, and they copy the actions of the people above them. If you start from the top by acting responsibly, people will see and learn.' Barely two years after Wall Street’s recklessness brought the global economy to the brink of collapse, the sight of a senior Wall Street figure talking about responsible finance may well strike you as suspicious." (TheNewYorker)


"The freeze is over! At least for buyers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. During a week in which last year’s crop (including Winter’s Bone, Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, and nearly all the nominated documentaries) earned a total of fourteen Oscar nominations, at least 21 films have sold at this year’s festival—the best record in years. The sluggish buying of 2010 turned into daily deals, with two of the biggest courtesy of the Weinsteins, who paid upward of $6 million for My Idiot Brother (with Paul Rudd) and $8 million for the dark comedy The Details (starring Tobey Maguire). The festival is known for breaking stars, and this year was no exception, with many appearing in more than one film: There were the requisite ingenues (particularly Elizabeth Olsen, younger sibling of those twins), and so many green feature filmmakers (thanks to festival founder Robert Redford’s insistence on new talent) that Fox Searchlight bought films by three—Mike Cahill, T. Sean Durkin, and Gavin Wiesen. Favored veterans returned, like writer-director Miranda July." (NYMag)


"This year is my 10th trudge up the 'Magic Mountain' to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. I'm not Dmitry Medvedev, Bill Gates, or Jamie Dimon -- all of whom were visible in the Congress Center corridors today -- but like them, if it wasn't worthwhile to be here, I wouldn't be. The critics who dismiss Davos as a waste of time are often those who were either not invited or not interested in making a contribution to anything beyond their own bottom line. But with the G-20 far less than the sum of its parts and the U.S.-China G-2 more a boxing match than lovers' embrace, Davos represents a fluid yet far more inclusive and flexible forum for global actors to meet and cooperate. This year at the WEF, there has been very little back-patting -- even by the Wall Street bankers whose profits are soaring again. Instead, the mood is cautious, yet not quite gloomy. In fact, Wall Street has little to do with the underlying story that Davos really captures today: the globalization of globalization. At a breakfast session on the future of the global economy on Thursday morning in the stately Belvédère Hotel that overlooks the village, there wasn't a single North American accent on the stage, but no one seemed to notice. Gao Xiqing, president of the China Investment Corporation; Juan Carlos Echeverry, Colombia's finance minister; and other figures from what used to be called the 'global south' were all busy pointing to the ways in which trade across emerging markets -- between Latin America and the Middle East, Africa and India, China and Latin America -- is growing at double-digit rates. Commodities, consumer products, and construction services are all crossing the oceans at record rates, just a couple of years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression." (PARAG KHANNA)


"That vision of Israel was in evidence at a dinner (New Republic editor Marty) Peretz held later that evening at a posh kosher restaurant. There was a filmmaker, a writer, the wife of a bureau chief and a philosopher. Peretz sat in the place of honor. When table talk splintered, he shouted, 'One conversation!' The banter was lively and civil except when someone pointed out that Lady Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, was dining nearby with Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister. 'She’s a fool,' said Peretz, who derided her efforts to persuade Israel to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. He arched his unruly white eyebrows. 'I once wrote that she was ugly. Some thought that was sexist.' The table spoke up. 'Marty, that is sexist.' Peretz grinned like a juvenile delinquent." (NYTimes)

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