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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres












"Last week, a coalition of predominantly Sunni Arab countries, primarily from the Arabian Peninsula and organized by Saudi Arabia, launched airstrikes in Yemen that have continued into this week. The airstrikes target Yemeni al-Houthis, a Shiite sect supported by Iran, and their Sunni partners, which include the majority of military forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. What made the strikes particularly interesting was what was lacking: U.S. aircraft. Although the United States provided intelligence and other support, it was a coalition of Arab states that launched the extended air campaign against the al-Houthis. Three things make this important. First, it shows the United States' new regional strategy in operation. Washington is moving away from the strategy it has followed since the early 2000s — of being the prime military force in regional conflicts — and is shifting the primary burden of fighting to regional powers while playing a secondary role. Second, after years of buying advanced weaponry, the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are capable of carrying out a fairly sophisticated campaign, at least in Yemen. The campaign began by suppressing enemy air defenses — the al-Houthis had acquired surface-to-air missiles from the Yemeni military — and moved on to attacking al-Houthi command-and-control systems. This means that while the regional powers have long been happy to shift the burden of combat to the United States, they are also able to assume the burden if the United States refuses to engage.Most important, the attacks on the al-Houthis shine the spotlight on a growing situation in the region: a war between the Sunnis and Shiites. In Iraq and Syria, a full-scale war is underway. A battle rages in Tikrit with the Sunni Islamic State and its allies on one side, and a complex combination of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, Shiite militias, Sunni Arab tribal groups and Sunni Kurdish forces on the other. In Syria, the battle is between the secular government of President Bashar al Assad — nevertheless dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect — and Sunni groups. However, Sunnis, Druze and Christians have sided with the regime as well. It is not reasonable to refer to the Syrian opposition as a coalition because there is significant internal hostility. Indeed, there is tension not only between the Shiites and Sunnis, but also within the Shiite and Sunni groups. In Yemen, a local power struggle among warring factions has been branded and elevated into a sectarian conflict for the benefit of the regional players. It is much more complex than simply a Shiite-Sunni war. At the same time, it cannot be understood without the Sunni-Shiite component." (STRATFOR)





"State-owned Russian gas firm Gazprom saw its net profits drop a hefty 70 percent last year, according to Russian Accounting Standards. As Bloomberg reports, that’s bad news for the company’s investors ... Gazprom bought shares in the now-defunct South Stream pipeline, and a large offshore gas project in the Barents Sea also went belly-up. All in all, 2014 was not a good year for the firm, and 2015 doesn’t look much better. A weak ruble isn’t helping Gazprom’s situation, either, and its investors are being treated to lower dividends as a result. So much is made about Europe’s dependence on Gazprom for natural gas, and that’s as true today as it was before these profit numbers were released. But what these data do show is that the Russian firm needs its European customers, and must be sweating bullets as Western policymakers work to find ways to diversify away from Gazprom. Moscow is making contingency plans with its huge new contracts with China, but it will take time to build the necessary pipelines to start eastward gas flows. And in the meantime, Gazprom looks set to continue to struggle." (TheAmericanInterest)


After the interview was done and the TV cameras were off, Adam lit up the joint. After a few puffs, he was asked to put it out and did.


"So, is the party on? Are we lighting up and liking it?  Well, not so fast Alice B. Toklas. Washington being Washington, it’s a little push-pull. The law doesn’t allow the sale or purchase of marijuana, only possession. Though if you have a medical marijuana card, you may buy buds, leaves, edibles and paraphernalia at the city’s dispensaries. The new measure is expected to reduce arrests, which historically have shown a stunning disparity between blacks and whites, with blacks many times more likely to be busted for possession. Still, according to available data, support for legalization was strongest in the wealthier neighborhoods and less enthusiastic in the poorer sections of the city. There’s no risk of the nation’s capital becoming Amsterdam or Aspen, because the residents like having it both ways: to vote liberal and appear cool but to live with a conservative, suburban “hush-hush.” Even though it's legal, it has a vibe of taboo. There has been one story after another in which residents are quoted as being private users, but for the record will not reveal any more than a first name and most likely a fake first name at that.The city wasn’t always this luddite. For better or worse, it followed most of the prevailing social trends of the last few decades. In the '70s, weed was out and about, a hostess might serve nicely rolled joints along with the cigarettes; in the '80s there were parties with silver trays or bowls of cocaine, mirrors lined with lines, while in the '90s the focus turned to condoms as everybody got safe and started to work out as the new drug of choice. Though a condom was never handed to me as a party favor, a condom boutique opened at the main commercial corner of Georgetown. Now that DC residents can legally own and grow marijuana will they go forward and embrace this freedom with some calm, even cool? The juncture was illustrated when DC marijuana activist Adam Eidinger appeared for an interview with me on The Q&A CafĂ©, which is taped at The George Town Club, once a hub of the ancients that is quietly but decidedly starting to hook up with younger, modern times. (Membership numbers are climbing). While we were on the air, Adam offered me a smoke, and a nicely rolled one at that. I turned him down because while it may be legal to possess weed it is not legal to smoke anything in a public place. And, also, I don’t smoke." (NYSD)

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