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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The world’s attention is focused on Libya, which is now in a state of civil war with the winner far from clear. While crucial for the Libyan people and of some significance to the world’s oil markets, in our view, Libya is not the most important event in the Arab world at the moment. The demonstrations in Bahrain are, in my view, far more significant in their implications for the region and potentially for the world. To understand this, we must place it in a strategic context. As STRATFOR has been saying for quite a while, a decisive moment is approaching, with the United States currently slated to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year. Indeed, we are already at a point where the composition of the 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq has shifted from combat troops to training and support personnel. As it stands now, even these will all be gone by Dec. 31, 2011 ... The decision to withdraw creates a vacuum in Iraq, and the question of the wisdom of the original invasion is at this point moot. The Iranians previously have made clear that they intend to fill this vacuum with their own influence; doing so makes perfect sense from their point of view. Iran and Iraq fought a long and brutal war in the 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran is now secure on all fronts save the western. Tehran’s primary national security imperative now is to prevent a strong government from emerging in Baghdad, and more important, a significant military force from emerging there. Iran never wants to fight another war with Iraq, making keeping Iraq permanently weak and fragmented in Tehran’s interest. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq sets the stage for Iran to pursue this goal, profoundly changing the regional dynamic ... For Tehran, this is both reasonable and attainable. Iran has the largest and most ideologically committed military of any state in the Persian Gulf region." (STRATFOR)


(image via NYSD)

"Among the most blaring headlines in London this morning were about poor Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York, former wife of HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who either directly or indirectly accepted 15,000 pounds (or approximately $25,000) as a gift or a loan from Jeffrey Epstein, the very rich American businessman who was recently served a jail sentence on pedophilia and sexual abuse charges. Had Mr. Epstein not had the criminal mark on his page, this matter would have been ordinary. Many friends who are rich often 'help out' friends in financial distress. Many do not also, incidentally. I say this from personal experience in both cases. The duchess’ problem is she doesn’t seem to know how to budget her money. Know anybody else like that? One might call her flaky when it comes to the dough, if you’ll pardon the pun, but there is nothing unusual among us humanoids about that lack of financial discipline or flakiness. Or being broke. Many people reading these words know exactly what it’s like because they’ve been there, or are there, or are going there. If you look at the US economy today and the way it is managed by the financial geniuses in government and the titans of Wall Street, you will see many others who bear these same flaky (to put it politely) characteristics and practice their shortcomings and dumbdowns in public and on the public. If that sounds like I’m defending Sarah the Duchess of York, I am. It’s evidently time that Sarah get her act together and start living within her means, however mean or unmean they might be, for her own peace of mind. But otherwise, it’s a bummer being in debt." (NYSocialDiary)


"The Saudi kingdom, as big as the U.S. east of the Mississippi River, is ringed by revolts in Bahrain, Yemen, and Oman. It is undemocratic, inegalitarian, and economically sluggish. It has high youth unemployment (30 percent in 2009) and a disgruntled Shiite population in its oil-rich Eastern Province. Investors are getting nervous. On Mar. 2, the benchmark Tadawul All Share Index went down for the 13th day, falling nearly 4 percent, to its lowest close since April 2009. King Abdullah, a gradualist reformer who has pushed back against the Wahhabi enforcers, may not be to blame for this state of affairs, but it's his to deal with as long as he sits on the throne. He has enlisted Saudi Aramco to help. The king is trying to diversify the economy with projects such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, at which women can study with men and don't have to wear veils. Saudi Aramco built the campus for him. Entrepreneurship isn't exactly blooming on the peninsula, so the king is also placating the populace the old-fashioned way, with money. On his Feb. 23 return to the kingdom, he ladled out some $35 billion in Saudi-style stimulus, including pay raises for government workers and freedom for some imprisoned debtors. Indirectly the funding will come from the government's single biggest revenue source: royalties and dividends from Saudi Aramco." (BusinessWeek)


"Prada SpA, the fashion house known for its Miu Miu bags and Church’s shoes, is planning the largest initial public offering of a family-owned Italian company since 2006. Investors in Prada’s hometown of Milan will have to reach about 5,800 miles away to buy the stock. Prada is shunning the Italian exchange for a $2 billion IPO on the Hong Kong exchange because it’s closer to the retailer’s fastest-growing region ... Italy’s gross domestic product grew at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent from 1999 to 2007, compared with 2.2 percent for the European Union. Italy contracted 5.4 percent in 2009.  The economy and weak stock market have deterred Italian companies, especially small ones, from going public, said Gioacchino Attanzio, chief executive officer of Milan-based Aidaf, a group that represents family-owned companies. 'We’re in a paralysis,' he said. 'Entrepreneurs are more worried than ever about losing control because their businesses are weak.'" (Bloomberg)


"The rumor around Paris is that Riccardo Tisci is in the running to head up Dior. But at last night's after-show fête at L'Arc, it was all about Givenchy. Well, almost. 'I think Riccardo deserves the [Dior] position,' said a Balmain-clad Anna Dello Russo. 'He's becoming a very mature artist. For me, Givenchy was the best show of the season so far.' Judging by the celebratory dancing in the roped-off VIP section—some of which occurred atop couches—other partygoers, like Karen Elson, Kate Moss, and Florence Welch, shared Dello Russo's sentiments. 'It was amazing. The hats were genius!' gushed Nicole Richie, who, clad in a Givenchy black leather zip-trim dress, had to call it an early night due to an a.m. return flight to New York, where she'll work on her new range of Fall handbags. But other guests, like Kanye West, Giovanna Battaglia, and Gareth Pugh, continued to toast Tisci until the very wee hours." (Style)


"It was another grueling day on the set of ballet thriller Black Swan. The film's star, Natalie Portman, was locked in conversation with choreographer Benjamin Millepied. As cast members looked on in irritation, the two sat side by side, so close that many suspected a romance was blooming. There had been many signs. An on-set source says Millepied was so obsessed with Portman, 29, that he often left other dancers to figure out the steps on their own, forcing them to improvise as the cameras began rolling. 'They would go to do their shots and wouldn't know any of the choreography because he was so involved with helping Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, all the time,' the Black Swan insider says. Occasionally cast members spotted Millepied, who was dating ballerina Isabella Boylston at the time, giving Portman a kiss ... Although some insiders say they are excited that Aronofsky opened a keyhole into their life, many are seriously skittish about themes the film sheds light on: crushing self-doubt, body-image struggles, vicious rivalry and drug use. Of all the scandals exposed on-screen, however, none is as gripping as the real-life romance that flowered between the lead actress and Millepied, who played Prince Siegfried, Portman's dance partner in Swan Lake. In January 2010, news broke that Millepied—once described in The New York Observer as boasting 'a soccer player's lean, compact body, a finely chiseled jaw and large blue eyes' and 'a faint resemblance to Jude Law'—had left Boylston, his girlfriend of three years, for Portman. Despite photos of the new pair kissing outside the Joyce Theater in Chelsea and shopping together in Los Angeles, both have been low-key about their affair. They stood separately in photo ops at the film's Venice premiere in September—although they sat beside each other once safely inside the theater. Portman was also a familiar presence at rehearsals for Plainspoken, one of Millepied's dances that debuted in New York this fall." (PageSix)


"Here’s my curated list of recommended TED and TED U Talks from this year’s TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder www.ted.com. Most of these talks have not yet been posted, but will be in the next several weeks. Depending on your personal passions and interests, there may be several TED Talks that you will value, but that I’ve not included. Best to check out the full program at http://www.ted.com/ and be your own curator. Ted Talk by TED Prize winner JR, whose vision is to help us reveal our true selves to those who live around us. TED Talk by Sarah Kay, a 22-year old performing poet, whose Project VOICE is teaching poetry and self-expression at schools across the United States. WINNER: JACK MYERS BEST OVERALL TED TALK 2011. TED Talk by Salman Khan, a hedge fund analyst who began posting math tutorials on YouTube in 2004 and now has posted more than 2,000 tutorials that represent a framework for the future of education. BEST HOPE-FOR-HEDGE-FUND-ANALYSTS AWARD ... TED Talk by Deb Roy, whose studies on how children learn language are informing a major new intelligence resource for advertisers and TV content creators. WINNER: MOST RELEVANT TED TALK FOR MEDIA COMMUNITY" (Jack Meyers)


(Countess Mona von Bismarck via Conde Nast via BusinessofFashion)

"In the wake of the couture shows in Paris, I have been thinking about what is wrong with current couture and, indeed, fashion generally at the moment. To begin with, I want to tell you a true story told to me by Diana Vreeland, the doyenne of mid-twentieth century fashion, about the closing of Balenciaga’s fashion house in 1968. Coming without warning, it shocked the fashion world to its core. He did not even think it necessary to tell his devoted staff, many of whom had been with him for over twenty years. His only comment was, ‘It’s a dog’s life’. Vreeland was staying with Mona Bismarck, one of Balenciaga’s most devoted clients, at her villa on Capri when the news came through. Its effect on her hostess was electric. Mona disappeared to her bedroom where she locked herself away for three days, seeing nobody. When I asked Vreeland what she thought Mona was doing in that time Diana’s reply showed her surprise at such a question. ‘She was GRIEVING, of course’, she said with that instant hyperbole that was a Vreeland trademark." (BusinessofFashion)


"We’re all for transparency these days, and if anything is transparently clear about American politics, it is that Mitt Romney will do or say anything to become president. The best guess is that at heart he is an old-fashioned, business-oriented Republican. But there’s no knowing for sure. He may have no sincere beliefs at all. There was a piece about Romney on Page 1 of The New York Times on Sunday, and what amazes me is the deadpan frankness with which the article and the Romney aides and allies quoted in it accept the premise that, of course, he is a phony, that this reputation as a phony could be a bit of a problem if he runs in 2012. And then they go on to discuss what Romney might do to solve this problem. He was criticized last time for being a stiff, so this time he is not wearing a tie. Ever. Problem solved, as Romney sees it. 'I like President Obama,' Romney says patronizingly, 'but he doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created.' The last time he ran, Romney played down his experience as a businessman and played up his recently acquired views as a social conservative, because that’s what commentators and consultants were telling him to do back then.  One difficulty with Romney’s new emphasis on his expertise in job creation, and Obama’s lack of it, is that Romney doesn’t say what he would do to create jobs. He just repeats that 'I spent my career in the private sector. I know how jobs are created.' The nearest he comes to getting specific is to say that in the business world, 'the three rules of every successful turnaround' are 'focus, focus, focus.' This is Peter Pan advice ..." (Michael Kinsley)


"Skyrocketing oil prices are creating new political risks for President Obama, who is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to relieve drivers suffering at the pump. Republicans, sensing a winning issue, pounced Monday by announcing new hearings on gas prices and warning that tapping the reserves would provide only temporary help to consumers struggling with high gas prices. Policies backed by the administration and congressional Democrats 'have cost jobs, stunted economic growth and stuck American families with higher energy bills,' Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), the chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee, said in a statement Monday. 'The rise in gas prices is not merely the consequence of some temporary disruption and will therefore not be solved by some short-term fix,' he said. 'It is a problem that requires an all-of-the-above energy strategy and one that should begin immediately' ... The high gas and oil prices, which rose more last week than they have in two years, are resonating loudly within a White House that recognizes how quickly political fortunes can change when a gallon of gas nears $4. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline was $3.51 on Monday, according to AAA. A year ago, it was $2.75. The president is 'very cognizant of the fact that Americans are experiencing a sharp rise in prices at the gas pump, and that affects them and their family budgets,' White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday." (TheHill)

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