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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"You can't really blame U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. It was the end of a long visit to Moscow. For two days, he flitted from meetings to receptions to meetings; he had to see to the happiness of his wife and granddaughter Finnegan, whom he had brought along; and, on top of it all, he had a cold. He was tired. By the time he delivered a major policy speech at Moscow State University on March 10 laying out the Obama administration's vision of the reset's next phase, he seemed barely there ... The next phase is a two-pronged approach, using the trusted carrot and stick. 'The next frontier in our relationship,' Biden said, 'will be building stronger ties in trade and commerce that match the security accomplishments of the last two years." In other words, this means Russia's long-overdue accession to the World Trade Organization and the equally overdue repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 law built to punish the Soviet Union for not allowing Jews to emigrate but which now prevents Russia from having normal trade relations with the United States. In turn, that should mean a wave of American investment in Russia, like PepsiCo's recent purchase, for $4 billion, of Wimm-Bill-Dann, Russia's largest juice and dairy conglomerate. (In Biden's mind, though, this was more a fruit of Obama's political capital: 'Imagine, five years ago, the likelihood that an American company could buy the largest anything in Russia.') There have also been recent big-money deals involving ExxonMobil, Chevron, John Deere, Microsoft, and Alcoa. And on March 9, with Biden and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov watching, the Russian airline Aeroflot signed a deal buying $2 billion worth of Boeing planes, at a 20 percent discount. (Likewise, there have also been significant investments in the United States by Russian companies like Evraz, a steel company, and Lukoil.) But, as Biden pointed out, Russia was America's 37th-largest export market last year. 'We've got to do better,' he said. 'We've got to do better' ... Then came the stick. "But you in this room know as well as anyone that even if liberalizing our trade relationship, Russia's business and legal climate are frankly going to have to improve,' Biden said to an auditorium full of business people. 'Because right now, for many companies, it presents a fundamental obstacle.' Then he quoted President Dmitry Medvedev's description of Russia's problem of 'legal nihilism' and used a maneuver he often resorted to in the speech: 'Not my quote,' Biden said. 'His quote.'" (ForeignPolicy)


"It may seem ironic that some of New York's best parties are thrown by a man nicknamed Dr. Doom. But on a chilly New York night, hundreds of the city's most stylish creatures flocked to celebrity economist Nouriel Roubini's swish triplex penthouse to enjoy great drinks, music, and each other's company. Here we catch Nouriel off guard and in a fabulous mood, and take a quick tour of his spacious and stylish loft." (Parag Khanna)



"A&R scouts, the workers of the music industry entrusted with finding and developing new talent, have come in for much criticism over the past decade. Most people don't know what they do, and those that do, disagree with most of their decisions. Disgruntled, overlooked bands hate them for not signing them, and the record-buying public hate them for feeding them bland, intelligence-insulting music, or incomprehensible hipster nonsense which no-one living outside the E1 postcode will like. But is the A&R-bashing justified, and, if so, what can be done about it? A&R is a necessary evil. Radiohead have shown us the perils of working without a detached advisor's perspective (someone really needs to tell Thom that 'Lotus Flower' is all well and good, but we really wouldn't be against a new 'Fake Plastic Trees'), and, in a world flooded with music, listeners still need to be directed to the good stuff -- most people just don't have the time or inclination to wade through the acres of detritus to reach the gold. There's no doubt that the troubles of the music industry have had a profound effect on what acts A&Rs are looking to sign. The, frankly incredible, fact that record companies are still, ten years after Napster, taking the majority of the financial risk, and only reaping the rewards of a declining sector -- the sale of actual records -- mean that there is less money than ever coming in. Less money means fewer risks to be taken, more competition for the bands which look promising, and less patience with those who are signed; a toxic combination which has had a real impact on the music promoted to the public over the last five years or so." (Wired)


"I wait in his garden, relishing the cool air after an afternoon rainstorm. In a continent where political power all too often leads to Croesan wealth, Tsvangirai’s home in Strathaven, one of Harare’s northern suburbs, has a modest feel – though I later learn he is having a big new house renovated in another part of the city ... I have come to see Tsvangirai over 'sundowners,' that ritual of the African safari: the serving of drinks at the close of the day. My ambition of dinner at Meikles, the gloomy old colonial hotel in the centre of town, or maybe the Harare Club, has had to die ... It is a sign of the times that you no longer need your calculators to go for lunch in Harare. Just over two years ago, shortly before the coalition government was sworn into office as part of a regional deal to end months of impasse, the Zimbabwe dollar was abolished in favour of the greenback. To the delight of business, the world’s second-worst recorded hyperinflation in a century is over. (The worst, according to Steve Hanke at the Cato Institute, was Hungary in July 1946, not Weimar Germany.) After a decade of freefall, the economy is at last growing. And yet Zimbabwe is far from out of the abyss. As I settle back in Tsvangirai’s office, my eye is caught by an old 2008 election poster leaning against the wall. It shows him smiling, relaxed, exuding vigour and fire. We begin by reminiscing about a barnstorming trip together to a Zanu-PF heartland when we met a rapturous welcome in a hitherto no-go zone for the MDC. He relaxes into his seat. On the table in front of him are an iPad and a copy of Tony Blair’s recent memoir A Journey. We share our experiences as Apple newcomers and trade impressions on the lessons of the former British prime minister. 'Politics is the same the world over,' Tsvangirai chuckles. Blair’s relationship with Gordon Brown, his chancellor of the exchequer and successor as premier, was indeed poisonous. But they were as blood brothers when compared to Zimbabwe’s president and PM. He has spent most of the day at the Tuesday cabinet meeting. There he has to sit alongside Mugabe, whose supporters have spent a decade trying to crush the MDC. It must have been difficult, I say." (FT)


"ABOUT 30 yards from a machine-gun-toting policeman guarding the American embassy in London stands a smart town house. The nameplate by its door says Dalia Advisory Limited. The window blinds on all six storeys are drawn and no one answers the bell. But there are signs of life. A fresh cigarette butt rests on the basement fire escape. If you peek through the letter box, past the picture of a desert dune, down a corridor decorated in bland hedge-fund style, the lights are on, although no one will answer your shouts. It could be just another firm’s office in London’s plushest district. Except for the banner hanging outside, which reads, 'Stop the bloodbath in Libya. Stop the war crime.' It is not clear who hung it there. Dalia Advisory Limited has predictably banal origins—its ancestor entity was registered in July 2009 on behalf of Instant Companies Limited of Bristol. Yet its directors are prominent Libyans and its stated purpose is to advise the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s sovereign-wealth fund, which is tasked with investing Libya’s savings abroad. The LIA is thought to have some $50 billion-70 billion of assets under management and owns several stakes in big European firms including 3% of UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank, and 3% of Pearson, a media group that is a part-owner of The Economist. What will happen to all those billions, which amount to some $10,000 for every Libyan? With stories still fresh of Tunisia’s former first lady stocking up on bullion from the central bank before fleeing the country (reports denied by the bank), the European Union is set to impose a freeze on Libya’s foreign assets." (TheEconomist)


"On Mar. 8, one of the biggest insider trading cases in U.S. history went to trial in a federal district courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Sri Lankan billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, 53, faces 14 separate counts of securities fraud and conspiracy. The co-founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund, Rajaratnam is alleged to have masterminded an insider trading ring that netted his firm $45 million. As the Galleon case ripples outward—some three dozen former traders, executives, and lawyers have been charged, two dozen of whom have pleaded guilty—it is rocking the secretive world of U.S. hedge funds and the expert networks that supply information.  Related cases have been opened against the so-called Goffer ring, a network including several former Galleon employees allegedly led by Zvi Goffer, aka 'the Octopussy,' and against consultants linked to the expert networking firm Primary Global Research. The prosecution's case relies on FBI wiretaps and confidential informants; prosecutors say they may play more than 170 phone conversations that show Rajaratnam trading illegally on more than 35 stocks, including Intel (INTC), Hilton, IBM (IBM), and eBay (EBAY). " (Businessweek)

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