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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"But John Boehner and Harry Reid are constitutional officers of the United States—the Republican speaker of the House and the Democratic Senate majority leader, respectively—so their sulphurous, X-rated squabble last Friday, in the midst of fiscal-cliff negotiations at the White House, had no consequence beyond the further coarsening of political dialogue and a decreased likelihood of bipartisan cooperation in the nation’s capital. 'Go fuck yourself,' Boehner advised Reid as they crossed paths just outside the Oval Office. 'What are you talking about?' Reid asked in surprise.'Go fuck yourself,' Boehner explained. In the annals of Washington dysfunction, the nasty back and forth was memorable, though certainly not unprecedented. Who can forget South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s shout, 'You lie!'—in the middle of President Obama’s September 2009 health-care speech to Congress? Indeed, Boehner’s outburst was a near-verbatim replay of Vice President Dick Cheney’s notorious recommendation to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) eight years ago on the Senate floor. (Cheney was irate about Leahy’s attacks on his former company, Halliburton.)'To put things in perspective, this is not one lawmaker punching another, or caning him half to death, so I don’t want to hype its impact,' said American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein, co-author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. 'But the fact that Boehner dropped a couple of f-bombs on his Senate counterpart, and in the White House at that, reflects the tribal nature of our politics these days, and the less-than-cordial relationships that exist among and between the congressional leaders. Having said that, we can all thank Dick Cheney for his pioneering role.'" (TheDailyBeast)


"It has been more than four years since the crisis of 2008 and about two years since the problems spawned by 2008 generated a sovereign debt crisis and a banking crisis in Europe. Since that time, the crisis has turned from a financial to an economic crisis, with Europe moving into recession and unemployment across the Continent rising above 10 percent. More important, it has been a period in which the decision-making apparatus created at the founding of the European Union has been unable to create policy solutions that were both widely acceptable and able to be implemented. EU countries have faced each other less as members of a single political entity than as individual nation-states pursuing their own national interests in what has become something of a zero-sum game, where the success of one has to come at the expense of another. This can be seen in two ways. The first dimension has centered on which countries should bear the financial burden of stabilizing the eurozone. The financially healthier countries wanted the weaker countries to bear the burden through austerity. The weaker countries wanted the stronger countries to bear the burden through continued lending despite the rising risk that the loans will not be fully repaid. The result has been constant attempts to compromise that have never quite worked out. The second dimension has been class. Should the burden be borne by the middle and lower classes by reducing government expenditures that benefit them? Or by the elites through increased taxation and regulation? When you speak with Europeans who support the idea that Europe is in the process of solving its problems, the question becomes: What problem are they solving? Is it the problem of the banks? The problem of unemployment? Or the problem of countries' inability to find common solutions? More to the point, European officials have been working on this problem for years now, and they are among the best and brightest in the world. Their inability to craft a solution is not rooted in a lack of good ideas or the need to think about the problem more. It is rooted in the fact that there is no political agreement on who will pay the price geographically and socially. The national tensions and the class tensions have prevented the crafting of a solution that can be both agreed upon and honored. If the Europeans do not generate that sort of solution in 2013, it is time to seriously doubt whether a solution is possible and therefore to think about the future of Europe without the European Union or with a very weakened one." (STRATFOR)


"Our revival this past Monday of the In Memoriam piece I wrote about John Galliher ten years ago, and this holiday time of year reminded us of another great friend to many in New York, Judy Green -- who died two years before John on September 14, 2001, in her Park Avenue apartment, three days after 9/11. It’s been more than a decade and I very often think of her. When walking up Park Avenue past 62nd Street, I always look up at her windows, imagining that she is still there and getting ready for her evening – because she always had something going on, something to do, people to see. I’d met her several years before, and we briefly had a time when she got the idea in her head that I should be her husband. She would often introduce me to people as her husband. It was ironic, and funny, and not something either one of us would have been suited for, but she liked the idea at the time. We were, in some ways, kindred spirits. She was also one of those personalities that once she’d befriended you, you became part of her life. And she liked having fun, a good time, an interesting time. There are many people who knew her, who were friendly with her even since childhood, who still think of that energy, that laughter’, and especially at this time of year, those parties she gave so gladly. She was big on Christmas. Although she was Jewish by birth, she tended to openly turn away from her Jewish-ness. It was a mindset that admired the WASP-ish sensibilities, even when she thought them tiresome or dull. The Christmas season was her cup of tea. In the early '80s, after her husband died, having sold her property in Westchester, she moved into town fulltime in the big apartment on Park Avenue. It was ideal for her gatherings. At Christmastime, Robert Isabell, then the sensational party designer, did the place up in Ultimate Christmasland." (NYSocialDiary)


"One bottle of Astroglide. Four bottles of baby oil. One Nikon 35-mm. camera, one Sony camcorder, one Samsung camcorder, one Sony Handycam, one Pentax camera, one JVC camcorder, a black Fuji camera, two Canon Rebel cameras. Lots of laptops, DVDs, external hard drives, and condoms. A 'Domination Fetish' sheet. A white envelope stuffed with $1,000 in cash. Surveillance glasses and black night-vision glasses. Eight Express Mail labels addressed to Strong Investigations. A notebook and a black leather appointment book, both filled with names. Excel spreadsheets containing e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Ledgers of sexual acts, with a monetary value given to each one, and hours of video recordings of many of them. A CD labeled 'Yeah.'  These are just some of the items that were taken from the homes, offices, and cars of 30-year-old Alexis Wright, who made part of her living teaching a popular Latin-inspired fitness class called Zumba, and 57-year-old Mark Strong Sr., an insurance salesman. They’re the two figures at the center of a prostitution scandal that has captured the attention of the world. In court documents, the police allege not only that Wright was a prostitute but that she shared her professional encounters with Strong, either by sending him digital tapes of them or live video via Skype. Wright was sexually involved with Strong, who was also a licensed private investigator. Allegedly, she asked him to run her clients’ license‑plate numbers through the state motor-vehicle database, presumably to get their real identities. In the affidavit for Strong’s arrest warrant, the police say that 'the numerous sex acts were video recorded unbeknownst to the males she was having sex with.' Both Wright and Strong, who were indicted in October on a combined 165 charges consisting mainly of engaging in prostitution (her), promotion of prostitution (both), violation of privacy (both), and in her case benefits and tax fraud, have pleaded not guilty. In a press release, Strong called the charges 'untrue,' and said, 'I have made some bad choices but have broken no laws.' (Neither Wright nor Strong would be interviewed for this article.) Wright’s choice of a locale in which to conduct her affairs was either inspired or twisted or both, depending on your point of view: the lovely, quaint seaside town of Kennebunk, Maine, population 10,798, home of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, the heart of the land originally settled by the Puritans, just a hop, skip, and jump from Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has its Walker’s Point summer compound.'Prostitution is not what Kennebunk wants to be known for,' a local morning drive-time radio host and divorce attorney named Ken Altshuler told TV-and-radio personality and addiction specialist Dr. Drew as the scandal was first breaking. 'We’re a beautiful town, [a] tourist town.'" (VanityFair)


"The deal reached in Washington on New Year’s day prevented the US economy from falling off the so-called fiscal cliff. However, given the dysfunctional nature of the American political system, it won’t be long before there is another crisis. Two months, in fact. If no action is taken by March 1, $110bn of spending cuts will commence. At about the same time, the US will hit its statutory debt limit, known colloquially as the debt ceiling. That is only the beginning. Later in 2013, and not before time, a bigger debate on medium-term fiscal consolidation will begin. This will lead to another dispute between Republicans, who want to shrink the size of the federal government, and Democrats, who want to maintain it but are unsure how to pay for it. So expect a big fight about entitlements, and a series of little fights over tax reform: should the US introduce a value added tax? A flat tax? Higher (or lower) income taxes? A carbon tax? Should we close corporate tax loopholes to raise more revenue? It’ll soon get messy. President Barack Obama and his allies will argue that the deal concluded on Tuesday raises only $600bn of revenues over 10 years rather than their initial target of $1.4tn – and therefore there is further room for tax rises, at least for the wealthy. Republicans will argue that spending should now be radically cut, since this week’s deal did not address that side of the national balance sheet. (Even the 2011 debt ceiling deal reduced prospective spending by $1tn).
In the meantime, the likely fiscal adjustment in 2013 will be about 1.4 per cent of gross domestic product. (Spread between the expiry of the payroll tax cut, the increase in the tax rates of the rich, and some eventual cuts to spending.) This translates into a 1.2 per cent of GDP drag on the economy during the year. If the economy was happily growing above trend – at say 3.5 per cent – that would not be such a big deal, as growth would still be above 2 per cent. In the past few quarters growth already averaged about 2 per cent. So the US could quite easily come perilously close to stall speed this year – or worse, if the eurozone crisis worsens." (Nouriel Roubini/FT)


"Jessica Simpson, as you know, is pregnant with her second child, only a couple of months after delivering her first. This happy news has seemingly enraged those in the cyberworld who are apparently obsessed with her weight. (Jessica famously lost many post pregnancy pounds on Weight Watchers. Now, naturally, she’ll be gaining again.) What’s the deal here? She is a young woman, age 32, in the prime of her childbearing years. She wants a family. She has plenty of money to support her children. She looks radiant. Let her be, for heaven’s sake. But aside from Miss Simpson’s obvious fertility, she is also eager to make music again. She did start out as a singer, though she has made her fortune in retail clothing and accessories. Jessica is reportedly in talks with great producer Quincy Jones. She wants to reinvent her sound, from country-ish to R&B and soul singer. Jessica doesn’t want to abandon her country roots, but she knows she’s overdue for a musical makeover. One of Jessica’s meetings with Quincy happened at her favorite Sherman Oaks eatery, The Valley Inn. (This is the spot where she once huddled, not inconspicuously with Warren Beatty. They discussed politics.) What or who does Jessica want to sound like? She’s talking '80’s-style Madonna with horns, great songs, great hooks." (Liz Smith/NYSD)


"It is tempting, in view of Barack Obama’s re-election, to look back on his first term as a rousing success, but it was not. Obama got his initial stimulus and his healthcare bill, but he made political errors in the first two years that helped Republicans retake the House and a majority of governorships in a crucial redistricting year. And in 2011, he made back-room concessions on the budget that seriously imperiled the economic recovery. So I still don’t share Jon Chait’s halcyon view of the Obama presidency. But Obama learned from the difficulties of his first term. The debt-ceiling fiasco of Summer 2011 was clearly a turning point. In the election, Obama framed the campaign in classic Democratic terms as a contest of the party of the common man against the party of the rich, while carefully targeting the new Democratic demography. And in the two months since his reelection, he carried through on the promise of the campaign by centering the fiscal cliff negotiations on ending tax cuts for the wealthy. The bill, the American Tax Payer Relief Act, raises tax rates back to 39.6 percent for those making over $400,000; limits deductions and credits for those making over $250,000; extends unemployment insurance; expands the earned income tax credit; and gives Congress another two months to prevent sequestration. Some of my colleagues argue that he could have gotten more, but I don’t think so. The final result, approved by the House of Representatives, saves the country from another fiscal train wreck. It also positions Obama and the Democrats very well in future fights with a Republican Party that is becoming an embattled outpost for addled billionaires and white Southern revanchists. It may not happen during Obama’s second term, but the GOP may be on the way to marginalizing itself as a political party. Going into the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, Obama had two objectives. First, he had to prevent tax increases and further cuts to government spending that would imperil the recovery ... Secondly, Obama scored a major political triumph by getting Republicans to agree to raise back tax rates on the wealthy. Since 1978, Republicans have focused their popular appeal on the premise that cutting taxes on the wealthy – and secondarily everyone else -- will encourage growth. By putting Republicans in a position where, in order to protect tax cuts for the wealthy, they had to risk increasing taxes for everyone by letting the country go over the cliff, Obama and the Democrats robbed them of what has been their defining issue." (TNR)



"Wealthy residents of the exclusive Swiss Alps ski resort town of Gstaad got their mink fur coats all ruffled when design icon Valentino Garavani continued playing loud Madonna music late into the night at his New Year’s Eve bash at his chalet. A source tells us, 'They were playing dance music all night, and a lot of Madonna songs. A number of residents complained to the police as it was echoing around the mountain, and one officer went to speak to someone at the gate of Valentino’s chalet. But it didn’t seem to make much difference, and the music just carried on.' The bash at Garavani’s and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti’s chalet drew Madonna herself, her daughter, Lourdes, and her boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat. We’re told the three 'danced all night.' Also there were 'Les Misérables' star Anne Hathaway (who was recently married in a Valentino gown) and her new husband, Adam Shulman, who have been hitting the slopes with the perma-tanned designer. " (PageSix)



"Eddie Murphy held court at a party on Sean 'Diddy' Combs’ yacht Oasis moored in St. Barts’ Gustavia Harbor. The actor — without his new blond girlfriend Paige Butcher — was surrounded by admirers as he cracked jokes at Diddy’s bash, which started in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Other guests on Combs’ Lürssen 60-meter super-yacht for his Ciroc-sponsored party included music mogul Rick Rubin, Guy Oseary, Andre Harrell, rapper Ne-Yo, director Brett Ratner, model Lily Cole and celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who observers said “looked like he got a fresh dye job of platinum blond spikes for the holidays.' We’re told guests danced well into the early morning to St. Maarten’s DJ Flip and a “late late morning” spin session from DJ Magnum. Earlier in the night, many of the same guests had taken in a performance by the Kings of Leon at the holiday celebration on Gouverneurs Beach thrown by Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova. Sources said the Kings “rarely do private concerts” but were paid in the high six figures." (PageSix)

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