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Thursday, January 24, 2013

 
 
"The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite. Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from his group's core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for such an assault. A closer look at the operation also reveals Belmokhtar's true intentions. The objective of the attack was not to kill hostages but to kidnap foreign workers for ransom -- an objective in keeping with many of Belmokhtar's previous forays. But in the end, his operation was a failure. His group killed several hostages but did not destroy the facility or successfully transport hostages away from the site. He lost several men and weapons, and just as important, he appears to have also lost the millions of dollars he could have gained through ransoming his captives." (STRATFOR)
 
 
"After losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and seeing Barack Obama sweep to a surprisingly easy reelection victory in 2012, Republican leaders and strategists are understandably worried about their party’s prospects in future presidential contests. There is no doubt that the GOP faces major challenges as a result of the nation’s shifting demographics and a growing Democratic advantage in the Electoral College. Democratic presidential candidates have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 242 electoral votes in all four elections since 2000, and another three states with 15 electoral votes in three of those elections. In addition, three of the five states that have voted twice for each party since 2000 — Colorado, Nevada and Virginia, with a total of 28 electoral votes — clearly appear to be trending Democratic. That gives Democrats a base of 24 states plus the District of Columbia in which they have the advantage going into the next presidential election. Those states have 285 electoral votes — 15 votes more than needed to win the presidency. Of course there is no guarantee that Democrats will carry all of these states in 2016. That will depend on the condition of the U.S. economy and the mood of the country at that time as well as whom the parties nominate to succeed Barack Obama. But recent trends certainly look ominous for the GOP. As the electorate continues to become less white and more liberal in its outlook on social issues, Republicans have two choices about how to improve their party’s prospects in future presidential elections. One approach would be to adopt more moderate positions on issues such as immigration, abortion, gay rights and health care in order to make their party more appealing to young people, women and nonwhites. But that strategy would risk alienating a large portion of the GOP’s current base, especially those aligned with the Tea Party movement. So rather than adopting that risky strategy, some Republican leaders appear to be opting for a different approach — changing the electoral rules to make it easier for a Republican candidate to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote." (CenterforPolitics)
 

"Blame it on the altitude. As the 2013 Sundance Film Festival kicked into high gear, one common refrain could be heard: Sale prices are exceeding even the best expectations. Mouths were agape as the dust settled Jan. 21 on Relativity Media’s colossal deal ($4 million upfront and a $25 million prints-and-advertising commitment) for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s racy directorial debut, Don Jon’s Addiction. The sexually graphic film, which was co-repped by CAA and WME, was making a few buyers squeamish. Still, Relativity, which had never been a Park City player (the company’s sole previous Sundance pickup was the experimental Catfish in 2010), swooped in and struck the biggest domestic deal ever for a Sundance title, when counting P&A. Then on Jan. 22, Fox Searchlight bought the dramedy The Way, Way Back for $9.75 million. 'There is a certain hype taking over this year, where buyers are spending wildly for films,' says one buyer who was empty-handed as of Jan. 22 after being beaten by a distributor willing to plunk down low seven figures for a hot documentary. 'You’re seeing a feeling of panic setting in for buyers who think they have to have a film, and have it now.' In fact, low seven figures became the de rigueur price for documentaries, as at least four commanded $1 million-plus: Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer (HBO Films), The Summit (Sundance Selects), Twenty Feet From Stardom (The Weinstein Co.’s Radius label) and Blackfish (Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films). During last year’s festival, only one doc sold for $1 million or more." (THR)


"I went to Michael’s for lunch. It was Wednesday, after all. I was most interested because Michael launched a brand new menu yesterday. I’m not a gourmand and menus are basically only interesting to me when I’m looking at them. But this is a big deal. Michael is famous in the foodie world. He’s like a Jesuit priest of the restaurant business. Or maybe a cardinal in the kitchen. I’ve been lunching there for years as you may have read here before (and before that). He’d change his menus with the seasons. Eighteen or nineteen items and one soup per. Now there are 42 or 45 items. Smaller portions, but great variety. A little of this, a little of that. I had lunch with Pax Quigley. We both ordered the Korean Steak Tacos – three for $16. Pax ordered a side of brussels sprouts – $8. I ordered a Margherita pizza (8”) – $16 and the Iceberg Lettuce Salad with Bacon, Shaved Baby Vegetables and Blue Cheese Dressing – $12. Plus two iced teas (the Barbara Bush) and a bottle of plain water; plus two cappuccinos. Total $104 with tax. Did we eat less, or did we eat more. It might have been both because it was 'enough,' but a lot of it. All of it delicious.  Something new. Plus there was sharing, which I am told is the new serving style. Not the your-fork-on-everyone’s plate sharing. Smaller portions, lower price, and sharing. Some people say it’s not new. It is for me. So I’ve only tried three of the items, with a lot more to look forward to ... It was Wednesday so it was busy. Mayor Joe Armstrong was there with David Zinczenko, Herb Siegel was lunching with John Mack of Morgan Stanley; Manuela Hoelgterhoff of Bloomberg’s Muse was there with one of her colleagues, Dan Billy. Tony Hoyt was lunching with Paul Tsigrikes of the WSJ, and Arlyn and Ed Gardner, one of the smartest, most gracious and sophisticated couples in New York. Desiree Gruber with Anne Fulenwider, Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire; Kay Koplovitz; Fern Mallis with Micky Ateyeh. Right next door in the bay, Bonnie Fuller of Hollywood.com was hosting her weekly Wednesday get-together with her colleagues Penske Media’s Vice Chairman, Gerry Byrne and publisher Carlos Lamadrid, and a Real Housewife, Aviva Drescher, Patrick O’Keefe of Matrix, Serena Kodila of Sirius XM, Activate’s Michele Anderson, Island Def Jam’s Laura Swanson, Julian Brodsky of Comcast." (NYSocialDiary)


"The epicenter of LA's underground au courant is not, as might be expected, in some downtown warehouse or Echo Park enclave, but right on Hollywood Blvd, adjacent to the sidewalk star of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Hidden in plain sight since late 2011, behind the fogged up windows of a former department store, is Freak City, a five-story subcultural wonderland helmed by the duo of Justin Time and Vally Girl. They deem Freak City a 'fashion gallery' but that's an understatement. By day, it's a boutique selling a mix of Vally's original designs and a truckload of weird vintage finds, as well as a gallery space with revolving exhibits. The shop and the gallery occupy merely the ground floor; the rest of the space is a creative playground for homegrown art, music and video projects (veteran NY graffiti artist PHADE was busy at work on the second floor during our visit).Occasionally they also use the space for epic afterhours parties (in a MixMag interview, Diplo once famously crowned Freak City his favorite club), though currently they've put the parties on hold to focus on their artistic endeavors. They describe their aesthetic as 'NU ghetto,' essentially old-skool rap style viewed though the prism of the digital age. " (Papermag)



"Senate leaders agreed Thursday on a grand deal to reform filibusters that does little to end the practices that got the filibuster reform movement started in the first place: the ability of individual senators to block legislation or nominations and force the majority party to find 60 votes to get anything done. In true Senate fashion, the deal first and foremost averts a potential partisan showdown known by critics as the 'nuclear option' where Democrats were preparing to muscle through a series of changes on a party-line basis — something that could have had dramatic repercussions for the future of the Senate. Liberals led by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wanted Reid to implement the talking filibuster reform, which would force senators seeking to block legislation to actively hold the floor and debate. Once they stopped talking, the matter would proceed to a majority vote. That reform will not be included. Instead, Reid and McConnell have agreed to a series of modest changes designed to speed up the pace of business on the Senate floor but still allow disgruntled lawmakers to wage filibusters with ease. Their package would eliminate the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to new business. Under current rules, a senator can hold up a motion to even begin debating legislation. The majority leader would be able to bar a filibuster on a motion to proceed if he allows each side votes on two amendments, according to a Senate aide familiar with the package. Non-germane amendments would be subject to a 60-vote threshold, under this scenario. The tentative deal would expedite the process for sending legislation to conference negotiations with the House. But lawmakers would still be allowed to filibuster any effort to send legislation to a Senate-House negotiation." (TheHill)

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