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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"We vastly underestimated how quickly the nation’s economic elite would consolidate their power and undermine the economic lives of virtually everyone else. The United States is now controlled by the few—the wealthy and the powerful who have become this country’s ruling class. Twenty years ago, middle Americans still had options. If you were a homeowner who lost your job, you could move to find another one. No more, because it may take a year to sell the family home, if it can be sold at all. If money ran short, you could tap the equity in your house. No more, because that equity has vanished, courtesy of Wall Street. If you had savings, you could earn enough interest from bank CDs to create a nest egg. No more, because CDs don’t pay enough to cover a meal at McDonald’s. Today, all those safety nets are gone, dismantled by the 1 percent. What has happened to millions of working Americans is no accident. It’s the result of policies deliberately put in place by the few—policies that determine what taxes you must pay, whether your job will be shipped offshore, and whether you can collect the pension you were promised. This is why the middle class is shrinking, why people who once would have moved up the economic ladder now are heading down, and why fewer well-paying jobs are being created. We were accused of being alarmists 20 years ago, but we fear that the worst is yet to come. After the election, the ruling class will seek to implement policies that would siphon off yet more dollars from the middle class by cutting programs such as Social Security and Medicare to pay down part of the national debt—a debt largely run up by tax cuts engineered for the wealthy." (Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele/VanityFair)

"We have entered the endgame in Syria. That doesn't mean that we have reached the end by any means, but it does mean that the precondition has been met for the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. We have argued that so long as the military and security apparatus remain intact and effective, the regime could endure. Although they continue to function, neither appears intact any longer; their control of key areas such as Damascus and Aleppo is in doubt, and the reliability of their personnel, given defections, is no longer certain. We had thought that there was a reasonable chance of the al Assad regime surviving completely. That is no longer the case. At a certain point -- in our view, after the defection of a Syrian pilot June 21 and then the defection of the Tlass clan -- key members of the regime began to recalculate the probability of survival and their interests. The regime has not unraveled, but it is unraveling. The geopolitical picture is somewhat clearer than the internal political picture. Whatever else happens, it is unlikely that al Assad will be able to return to unchallenged rule. The United States, France and other European countries have opposed his regime. Russia, China and Iran have supported it, each for different reasons. The Russians opposed the West's calls to intervene, which were grounded on human rights concerns, fearing that the proposed intervention was simply a subterfuge to extend Western power and that it would be used against them. The Chinese also supported the Syrians, in part for these same reasons. Both Moscow and Beijing hoped to avoid legitimizing Western pressure based on human rights considerations -- something they had each faced at one time or another. In addition, Russia and China wanted the United States in particular focused on the Middle East rather than on them. They would not have minded a military intervention that would have bogged down the United States, but the United States declined to give that to them. But the Russian and Chinese game was subtler than that. It focused on Iran. As we have argued, if the al Assad regime were to survive and were to be isolated from the West, it would be primarily dependent on Iran, its main patron. Iran had supplied trainers, special operations troops, supplies and money to sustain the regime. For Iran, the events in Syria represented a tremendous opportunity. Iran already held a powerful position in Iraq, not quite dominating it but heavily influencing it. If the al Assad regime survived and had Iranian support to thank for its survival, Syria would become even more dependent on Iran than was Iraq. " (STRATFOR)



"I’m not going to sleep with Darren. I’m not going to sleep with him. I’m not. I am in professional mode, despite the fact that for all intents and purposes I am on a 'date' with a paid escort. Darren, sporting a straw fedora and very tight shirt, met me at a Brooklyn restaurant known for its trendy southern comfort food and politely pulled out my chair. I knew what I was getting, having perused photos of Darren and his colleagues on the website where he peddles himself to female clients. In the pictures, his muscular chest and abs glistened like sweaty chocolate. There were rows of other male models and former athletes to choose from, all shirtless and squinting at the camera. One can rent them for $550 for two hours, $1,000 for four, or $2,000 to stay the night. The owner of Darren’s agency, ‘Cowboys 4 Angels’ interviews clients before a date to find a good match. He fixed me up with Darren knowing that I was a journalist—one without an expense account—but making me promise I’d treat the meeting less as an interview than an … experience. A freebie. A gift.  At the table, Cowboy Darren’s knees graze mine. I begin to I tease him a little. 'Most of you guys can’t actually make money doing this, right?' He leans back in his chair. 'I can tell you what I make a month,' he tells me with fixed eye-contact. 'About $3,000, from only a few dates.' Escorting isn’t Darren’s only gig, he has a steady job working for the city—this is 'fun money,' he explains. Most of his fellow cowboys work in the service industry or as massage therapists. Cowboys 4 Angels is also the escort agency featured on Showtime’s reality series Gigolo. That program, HBO’s drama Hung and the recent film Magic Mike, seem to have accelerated a growth in the M4W escort industry, as have online clearinghouses like Backpage.com and Concierge Du Monde, an online forum where female johns (janes?) can interact with each other and rate various services. But what really seems to be driving the trend is 50 Shades of Grey." (Observer


"Sure, things look bad. The crisis, well into its third year, has forced Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and now Cyprus into various forms of international financial rescue programs, and it shows no signs of abating. After two years of denial and half-measures, market participants have little faith in the ability of Europe's policymakers to reach a solution. Spanish bond yields are frighteningly wide and those of Italy, the continent's most prolific borrower, are following closely behind. This summer's announcement a fuzzy-at-best plan to recapitalize Spanish banks and create new mechanisms to channel pan-European resources to Europe's stricken financial sector relieved market pressure for all of a few hours. Perhaps most alarmingly, no one seems to have a plan, with British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that the eurozone must either 'make up or break up' -- with the implicit threat that the latter is increasingly likely. But before writing the euro's obituary, let's remember: The driving force behind a European currency union was never purely or even principally financial. It was political -- and these binding forces remain strong. After centuries of bloodshed on the continent culminating in the last century's two world wars, the European Union (EU) and ultimately the euro arose from a deep-seated desire to abolish the risk of state-to-state conflict. A slide back to nationalism is a constant fear in the minds of European political leaders and peoples. And so, in spite of growing concerns about the benefits of sharing a single currency across 17 countries, member states and their publics remain highly supportive of the European project and the euro. While the crisis has caused this support to decline a bit, studies consistently show that Germans, French, and Spaniards favor remaining in the euro. Even upwards of 70 percent of Greeks, who are in their fifth year of recession and looking forward to a decade of grinding austerity, claim that they want to stay in the currency union. They may not get their wish (boundless hope can overcome an awful lot, but not the cold mathematics of Greece's debt burden) but their robust support illustrates the basic fact that the political will to maintain the euro remains strong. It's true that Europe doesn't yet have a comprehensive plan to balance sensitive and increasingly difficult issues of national sovereignty, financial resources, and disparate economic models and strength among eurozone members." (ForeignPolicy)


"The Frick Collection held its annual Garden Party on July 11th with cocktails and jazz (by a quartet, the Flail) in the elevated Fifth Avenue Garden next to the newly opened Portico Gallery. Guests also had access to the permanent collection galleries as well as the museum’s special exhibition Gold, Jasper, and Cornelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court. Co-chairs for the evening were Ayesha Bulchandani-Mathrani, Emily Frick, Alexandra Porter, Tess Porter, Deborah Royce, Wesley Royce, Lisa Volling, and Jennifer Wright. More than 400 attended. The evening was sponsored by Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects. Refreshments were donated by Beluga Vodka and wine donated by Schneider Selections." (NYSocialDiary)

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