Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin listen to their countries national anthems prior to St. Petersburg Dialogue forum in Wiesbaden, in this October 15, 2007 file photo.  REUTERS-Kai Pfaffenbach-Files

"Ahead of a summit of G20 leaders in Australia, Merkel resolved to confront Vladimir Putin alone, without the usual pack of interpreters and aides. Instead of challenging him on what she saw as a string of broken promises, she would ask the Russian president to spell out exactly what he wanted in Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites the Kremlin had started bombarding with propaganda. On Nov. 15 at 10 p.m., a world away from the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, the two met on the eighth floor of the Brisbane Hilton. The meeting did not go as hoped.
For nearly four hours, Merkel -- joined around midnight by new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker -- tried to get the former KGB agent, a fluent German speaker, to let down his guard and clearly state his intentions. But all the chancellor got from Putin, officials briefed on the conversation told Reuters, were the same denials and dodges she had been hearing for months 'He radiated coldness,' one official said of the encounter. 'Putin has dug himself in and he can't get out.' The meeting in Brisbane, and a separate one in Milan one month before -- where Putin made promises about Russian behavior in eastern Ukraine that German officials say were broken within days -- pushed frustration levels in Berlin to new heights. Merkel had hit a diplomatic dead-end with Putin. Since February, when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, fled Kiev amid violent protests on the Maidan square, Germany has taken the lead in trying to convince Putin to engage with the West. Merkel has spoken to him by phone three dozen times. Her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), traditionally a Russia-friendly party, has invested hundreds of hours trying to secure a negotiated solution to the conflict. Now, German officials say, they have run out of ideas about how they might sway the Russian leader. The channels of communication with Putin will remain open, but Berlin is girding for a long standoff, akin to a second Cold War." (Reuters)

Pope Francis arrives to deliver a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, November 25, 2014. Pope Francis told Europe's leaders on Tuesday to do more to help thousands of migrants risking their lives trying to get into the continent, saying they had to stop the Mediterranean becoming "a vast cemetery". REUTERS/Patrick Hertzog/Pool (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)©Reuters

"Pope Francis likened Europe to a barren grandmother, calling the continent 'elderly and haggard' during an address to members of the European parliament that had supposedly been meant to raise the spirits of a region mired in economic stagnation. The 77-year-old Argentine pontiff made the remarks during a visit to Strasbourg that was the first address to the parliament by the head of the Catholic church since John Paul II spoke there 26 years ago. Pope Francis told MEPs he wanted to convey a message of 'hope and encouragement' to a continent brought low by sluggish growth and high unemployment.  Yet he was particularly vivid in depicting its sense of decline. 'We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is now a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant,' the Pope said. 'The great ideals which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions,' he added. The Pope exhorted the lawmakers, who were elected in May, to build Europe 'not around the economy, but around the sacred nature of the human person'. In terms of specific issues, the Pope emphasised immigration. He urged MEPs to do more to prevent the watery deaths of thousands of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea. 'We cannot allow the Mediterranean Sea to become a vast cemetery,' said the Pope, who last year visited the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a landing zone for migrants that has become a focal point of Europe’s immigration debate." (FT)

The Duchess of Alba dancing with her third hus

"The Duchess of Alba, a flamboyant Spanish aristocrat known for her lifestyle, her vast wealth, her art collection and her unmatched list of titles, died on Thursday in her palace in Seville. She was 88. Her death was announced by the mayor of Seville, Juan Ignacio Zoido.The duchess — her full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva — had more than 40 titles, largely inherited through ancestors’ marriages. She was recognized by Guinness World Records as the noble with the most official titles in the world. Certain privileges came with her status as head of the five-century-old House of Alba. She did not have to kneel before the pope, for example, and she had the right to ride on horseback into Seville Cathedral. But more than her titles and her royal relations, it was her romantic life and her outspokenness that fascinated the Spanis1926, in the family’s Liria Palace in Madrid, where Francisco Goya had painted one of her ancestors. But she spent some of her formative years in London, where her father was posted as ambassador during World War II.She returned to Spain to marry Pedro Luis Martínez de Irujo y Artàzcoz, the son of the Duke of Sotomayor, in a lavish ceremony in Seville Cathedral that The New York Times called “the most expensive wedding in the world.” After her husband’s death in 1972, the duchess made a highly unconventional choice by marrying her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest, Jesús Aguirre y Ortiz de Zárate, who was 11 years her junior. He died in 2001 ... The Alba family fortune has been estimated at $4.4 billion, although much of that wealth has not been officially valued ... Besides their estates, the Alba family owns one of the finest and largest art collections in private Spanish hands, reaching back five centuries to the origins of the family. " (NYT)

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