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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres







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"As the film industry battled record breaking losses during the summer of 2013, one of the world’s largest film studios faced a particularly pernicious challenge: shareholder activism. During the first half of the year, Daniel Loeb’s Third Point Management had bought nearly 7% of Sony Corporation and begun to publicly demand change in the company’s entertainment division. The business unit, which generated roughly 10% of consolidated revenues and 20% of operating income in FY 2013, had certainly seen better days. Though it took home an industry-leading 17% of the English-language box office in 2012, it was tracking for 5th place among the six 'majors' and coming off box office bombs White House Down and After Earth. The two films had cost more than $450M to produce and market, but returned less than half that sum after theatre fees. This failure prompted a scathing response from Loeb in Third Point’s Q2 Investor letter: 'We find it perplexing that [Sony CEO] Mr. Hirai does not worry about [the entertainment division]… instead giving free passes to Sony Pictures Entertainment[‘s] Co-CEO… Under Mr. Lynton and Ms. Pascal’s leadership,, Entertainment’s culture is characterized by a complete lack of accountability and poor financial controls. To us, these latest blunders are prima facie evidence of our thesis…' In addition, Loeb characterized the studio’s upcoming slate as 'bleak, despite overspending on numerous projects.'" (IveyConnect)























"I have been waiting 20 minutes before Prince Turki al-Faisal arrives, looking flustered. 'My driver had to drop me off five blocks away,' he says apologetically. 'All the streets are cordoned off.' I tell him the brouhaha is for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who is in Washington, DC, for the week. The former head of Saudi intelligence laughs and says: 'That’s just another inconvenience that Netanyahu is causing.' We have arranged to have lunch at the Occidental Grill & Seafood, a smart restaurant very near the White House. In addition to the roadblocks, there is a lot of snow outside. Turki, 69, is dressed in several layers and is wearing a dark trilby hat, which he entrusts to the coat check staff ... Having been head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID) for 24 years – stepping down in 2001 just 10 days before the 9/11 attacks – Turki is probably the most experienced spy on the planet. Since then he has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK and Ireland and then to the United States. Now he runs a think-tank in Riyadh, the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, and travels the world giving lectures and meeting friends. It sounds like a nice life, I say. 'For me it’s heaven on earth,' he replies. A scion of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, the House of Saud, Turki is the youngest son of King Faisal, who was assassinated in 1975. Turki’s brother, Saud al-Faisal, is foreign minister, and cousins and brothers dominate the upper echelons of the government. Turki is in town for several weeks to lecture at Georgetown University, which he attended as an undergraduate (leaving in 1968). Before that he was at Lawrenceville, a boarding school near Princeton. Washington must feel like a second home to him, I observe. 'Yes but I have plenty of second homes,' he says. 'There is London, Paris. I travel a lot. I meet people. I say what I want to say. I am having the time of my life – Alhamdulillah [praise be to Allah].' ... I am curious to hear his assessment of America’s intelligence capabilities today. I ask him to rank the best in the world in terms of data gathering, interpretation of data, and operations. Turki relishes the question. 'In terms of raw data, definitely the Americans have it over everybody because of their technical and financial means,' he says. 'In terms of human resources, I would rate the British as having the most expert human capabilities on specific subjects – at that time [when he was head of Saudi intelligence], of course, it was the Soviet Union – the bane of everybody. To get a first-hand report from a British analyst always had that extra edge and knowledge that you felt comfortable in accepting as being authoritative. Probably in terms of operational capability and in terms of unleashing your capabilities, I would say the Israelis are the most professional, although they’ve committed lots of mistakes. But they do accomplish their missions.' No mention of the Chinese? 'That’s what has changed the most since 2001,' he says. 'I can only tell you that Chinese intelligence didn’t loom large in those days.'" (FT)













"MIKHLIF AL-SHAMMARI has been jailed repeatedly, declared an infidel, ruined financially and shot four times — by his own son — all for this: He believes his fellow Sunni Muslims should treat Shiites as equals. In a Middle East torn by deepening sectarian hatred, that is a very unusual conviction. He has made it a kind of crusade for eight years now, visiting and praying with prominent Shiites and defending them in print, at enormous personal cost. The government of this deeply conservative kingdom continues to file new accusations against him, under charges like 'annoying other people' and 'consorting with dissidents.' But Mr. Shammari, a gaunt 58-year-old with an aquiline nose and a jaunty smile, is not easily discouraged. 'I’m not against my government or my religion, but things must be corrected,' he said in a furtive interview in a hotel lobby (he has been banned from talking with the news media). 'We must all encourage human rights and stop the violence between Sunni and Shia.' Mr. Shammari is not Saudi Arabia’s best-known human rights activist, and others have put in more time and suffered much longer prison terms. But he has a rare distinction: No other member of the kingdom’s Sunni Muslim majority has made it a mission to demand equal rights for the Shiite Muslim minority. Even the most educated and cosmopolitan Saudis often look down on Shiites, who make up about 10 percent of the Saudi population, as closet Iranians or undesirables. Some of the religious conservatives who wield great influence here go much further, saying Shiites are worse than Jews because, unlike genuine infidels, they have been exposed to the truth of Islam and nevertheless choose to pervert it. Shiites have long complained of discrimination of various kinds, as well as the vitriolic abuse hurled at them by government-employed clerics.Mr. Shammari believes this is not just ancient religious prejudice, but a deliberate strategy by the Saudi monarchy to keep its subjects divided and therefore less likely to demand a voice in their government. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the sectarian divide helps to tamp down dissent in the kingdom. In 2011, for instance, even liberal and democratic-leaning Saudis were frightened off by protests in the kingdom’s eastern province and in neighboring Bahrain because they were carried out mostly by Shiites, the majority population there. Street protests are illegal in Saudi Arabia." (Times)



















"It has become increasingly clear in the past few years that Russia has no intention to relax its grip over the former Soviet bloc. Ukraine has recently become a good case in point. Although Moscow is clearly preoccupied with keeping its western borders and geopolitical interests safe, it has not forgotten about the East. Russian President Vladimir Putin's political project to pull former Soviet republics of Central Asia into the Kremlin's orbit via the Customs Union, is part of a larger plan to bring Russia back to manage one fifth of the world's largest landmass. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has sought, through various economic treaties, to re-establish its control over the Central Asian republics. The first one, and most well-known, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) included 12 of the newly independent republics and was formed in late 1991. Russia then proposed the idea of an Economic Union in 1993 and after two years in January 1995, Russia signed a treaty on the formation of the Eurasian Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which were later joined by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. When Putin came to power, he wanted to strengthen reintegration of the former Soviet space and the union was transformed into the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), with the signing of a treaty by the five countries in October 2000. Eventually the idea of dropping customs barriers emerged and in 2007, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a treaty to establish the Customs UnionSince then the idea of the union has been developed and since 2013 there has been talks of establishing the Eurasian Economic Union, which could open its doors to countries beyond the borders of Central Asia. The Kremlin's economic offensive is aimed at reining in increasingly independent Central Asian leaders. Russia's influence has been growing in Central Asia's poorest countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, while diminishing among its richest (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). Its geopolitical project in Central Asia is facing increasing difficulties, as contenders from the East (China) and the South (Turkey) have emerged to challenge its power in the region." (AJ)




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"In Part I, I sought to dispel the belief that the Summer Blockbuster 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster. Instead, it was a not only a predictable outcome but also consistent with the strategy the Big Six studios have been pursuing for years. In Part II, I showed that this behavior was not only rational, but highly lucrative. The primary goal of the theatrical channel is not profit maximization – or even profit, per se – but the creation of comprehensive multimedia platforms. We can see the implementation of this strategy clearly" (IveyBusinessreview)







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