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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that its navy had evacuated 86 Arab and Western diplomats from the port city of Aden in southern Yemen, as a Saudi-led coalition conducted a third day of airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement. Separately, Saudi Arabia confirmed that an American helicopter had rescued two Saudi pilots who ejected from an F-15 fighter over waters south of Yemen. The official Saudi Press Agency said the pilots had ejected because of a 'technical fault' and were 'in good health.' The evacuation of the diplomats from Aden reflected the spreading chaos in Yemen as the Houthi-allied forces continued to advance, even under the pressure of the Saudi bombing. The breakdown of order has potentially grave consequences for the United States, because Yemen had been a central theater of the war with Al Qaeda, but the factional fighting has now forced the United States to withdraw its forces as well. Aden is Yemen’s second largest city and had been the provisional headquarters of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-backed Yemeni leader, since the Houthi forces overran the capital, Sana, in January. Mr. Hadi fled last month to Aden to make a last stand among his supporters in the south, but he, too, has now left Yemen, attending a meeting of Arab leaders on Saturday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.The Houthi movement, based in northwestern Yemen, follows a form of Shiite Islam and has received financial support from Iran, the region’s Shiite power and the chief rival to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi surge has alarmed the Saudis about the possibility of an Iranian-backed group digging in on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. But the Houthis have also struck an alliance with Yemen’s former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who retained significant support among the Yemeni military and security forces even after he was forced from power in 2012. Those forces have now fractured, and major factions have sided with Mr. Saleh and the Houthis against Mr. Hadi and his Saudi backers." (NYT)


Merkel and Tsipras at a news conference in Berlin, March 2015. (Hannibal Hanschke / Courtesy Reuters)

"The Coalition of Radical Left, a Greek political party known by the acronym Syriza, took power in January 2015 with a simple, if ambitious idea: it would put an end to austerity in Greece. For years, Greece had cut back its spending in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in bailout loans from the so-called troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Now it would play a high-stakes game of chicken by launching new negotiations, betting that its largest creditor, Germany, would grant generous concessions to avoid the risk of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone. The negotiations turned out rather differently than Syriza expected: Germany refused to budge. And when Athens doubled down, Berlin clung to its position even more tightly. In February, Greece backed down on most of its demands and accepted a four-month extension of the bailout, something Syriza had said it would never do, in exchange for some more discretion in deciding which austerity reforms to implement. Meanwhile, Greece is set to face a new crisis this summer, when it is scheduled to repay its creditors some $7 billion—and it may run out of money well before then. Next week, the country plans to present its eurozone lenders with a list of proposed reforms, with the hope of unlocking more bailout funds. How did Syriza end up here? By focusing narrowly on Germany, Greece forgot about the interests of the other players involved. Simply put, Athens behaved in ways those actors found deeply threatening, which effectively united Europe against it. To repair the damage, Syriza has little choice but to change course, altering its message and adjusting its demands." (ForeignAffairs)



"Were he alive today to witness the ongoing struggles within France’s major political parties over not just their natures but also their names, Roland Barthes might ask us to think about our laundry. In a 1955 essay from his celebrated collection Mythologies, the French semiotician dwelled on the advertising campaigns of the powdered detergent Persil and the liquid Omo. One was portrayed as soft and gentle, the other as sharp and brutal, but both promised the same result: whiteness. Not at all surprising, Barthes concluded, since they were ultimately the same product, even made by the same corporation. There is certainly a Barthesian dash of Persil or Omo—take your pick—to France’s local elections, taking place in the country’s 96 départements, or administrative units, this weekend. Amid a surge of xenophobic sentiment not just in France but the rest of Europe, the French far-right and center-right parties have tried to soften their images—and names. But whether France, and the rest of the world, should be reassured by these efforts is less certain. The extreme right-wing National Front (FN) has again claimed the media spotlight, and it may well be that as goes a department, so goes the entire store. After the first round of voting last Sunday, France appeared to face a transformed political landscape. The FN, led by Marine Le Pen, built on the startling advances it had made in last year’s municipal and European Parliament elections. Her party tallied more than 25 percent of the vote—double the percentage it won in the last local elections, in 2011, and nearly 5 percentage points ahead of French President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS), which was eliminated from the vast majority of contests taking place this coming Sunday in the second round of voting. While she could not claim, as she had hoped, that the FN was “le premier parti de France”—the polls had forecasted the party winning as high as 30 percent of the vote—Le Pen was no doubt sincere when she declared that she was “very, very happy” with the results." (Politico)





"Treasured memories. The Lauren Bacall Collection goes under the auction hammer next Tuesday, March 31st at Bonham’s, the auction gallery at 580 Madison Avenue between 56th and 57th Street. The exhibition opens today, March 27th for viewing, and runs through Monday March 30. I haven’t seen it although I have seen the catalogue which features photographs of the rooms of her famous apartment in the Dakota where she lived for the past half century. I never knew Ms. Bacall, who was known as Betty to her devoted friends and colleagues. I’d seen her quite a few times around and about including at Zabar's on Saturdays and at benefits and screenings. I had a very brief experience with her when I was a kid and had a part time job working at the door at Sardi’s with Jimmy the maître’d. She had a nettlesome side that was democratic (anyone in her presence at the right moment could see it – or experience it). But that’s not really what I remember about her. I remember probably what you and everyone else remembers: that voice, that attitude, that personal stature and at times when she was younger, that chic. She was sheer talent." (NYSD)

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