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Breeding and privilege:
The charity circuit, once a bastion of breeding and privilege, has transformed
itself, in the days since 9/11, into a kind of reality show. Running from
September through May (and ending with the Met's Costume Institute Benefit Gala,
which took place last week), the parties raise funds but also provide an
extended publicity campaign for young women who seek to become famous. They
compete in a gossip free-for-all played out in the popular press and on the
internet. In this mediated world, public image cuts dangerously close to private
reality, and it is considered an honour to have one's photo rudely dissected on
a website. The business of rising from social girl to professional celebrity was put into
overdrive five years ago.

Bloodshed rises in Iraq: As US demands victory as the strategy of systematically crushing the Sunni insurgency is not working. It will be a long war. The rumble of artillery, broken by the clatter of helicopters passing overhead, resounded across Baghdad late last week asUS forces fought insurgents in their stronghold in the sprawling district of Dohra, in the south of the capital. Early yesterday, five US soldiers were killed and three are missing after an explosion in Mahmoudiyah, near Baghdad. The three-month-old US plan to regain control of Baghdad is slow to show results, despite the arrival of four more US brigades. Security in the heart of the city may be a little better, but the US and the Iraqi government are nowhere near to dealing a knockout blow to the Sunni insurgency or Shia militias.The Sunni guerrillas trying to isolate Baghdad from the rest of the country exploded truck bombs on three important bridges last week, killing 26 people. One blew up in a queue of cars on the old Diyala bridge, just south of Baghdad. Two minutes later a truck exploded on a newer bridge over the same river. North of Baghdad, at Taji, long a centre for insurgents, a third vehicle bomb made impassable a bridge linking Baghdad with northern Iraq.This is the situation as Tony Blair, with President George Bush the chief architect and defender of the Iraq war, prepares to leave office. But as the fierce fighting continued, far to the south Mr Bush's Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was proclaiming defiance to Iran. "With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike," he told sailors assembled on one of the carriers. "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region."The US administration is not backing away from its confrontation with Iran, despite being nudged by the Iraqi government towards talks. Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, says that whether the Americans and the Iranians like it or not, they are both players in Iraq. In an interview in Baghdad, he laughed as he pointed out that Iran and the US both genuinely support the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki. The Iranian stance contrasts with that of Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah refuses to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister."Ironically," said Mr Zebari, "the Iranian statement on majority rule in Iraq at the conference on Iraq at Sharm el-Sheikh 10 days ago] agrees entirely with what we and the Americans say."The US may be more interested in cultivating Syria than Iran, but it is Syria that has the greater desire to see the Maliki government overthrown. When it comes to Syria, "we are assuming goodwill but we are not so dumb that we do not know what is going on", said Mr Zebari. For the Iranians, Mr Cheney's message probably will make the most impression. "The American people will not support a policy of defeat," he said. "We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honour."His words are a recipe for a long conflict. As soon as the US and Britain overthrew Saddam Hussein, the detested enemy of Iran, in 2003, Iranian influence in Iraq and her power in the Gulf increased. When the Shia religious parties won the parliamentary elections in Iraq in 2005, Iranian influence grew again.Iran has longstanding links with the Shia parties in Iraq, the powerful Shia religious hierarchy and the Kurdish leaders it supported during their wars with Saddam. Tehran also has more covert links to the Sunni insurgents. The Iranians are supporting anybody who is against the Americans, says Dr Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish politician and member of parliament.In Iraq, even supposed allies don't trust each other. Dr Othman, speaking before
a truck bomb killed 16 people outside the Interior Ministry in the Kurdish capital, Arbil, last week, said Kurdish security had discovered an Ansar al-Sunna cell in the city of Sulaimaniyah, dedicated to planting bombs, whose members admitted to being trained in Iran. The Americans also wonder what deals with Iran their Kurdish and Shia allies have. Dr Othman suspects the failed US raid to capture senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to Kurdistan on 11 January was motivated by suspicions of the Kurdish leaders."The attack showed the dissatisfaction of the Americans with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani," said Dr Othman. "The Americans think that Talabani and Barzani are hiding things from them. It was a message to both."The political and military position in Iraq is one of stalemate. The 28,000 US reinforcements, most of whom have already arrived, are having an impact in Baghdad, but not enough for the "surge" to be regarded as a success. A sign of this is that the two million Iraqis who fled the country are not coming home,
and Baghdad remains divided into Shia and Sunni bastions.Some Iraqi and Western officials buoy themselves up with hopes that the
followers of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are divided, and that the Sunni tribes in Anbar province are turning against al-Qa'ida in Iraq.
Underestimating the Sadrist movement has been a repeated US and British mistake in Iraq since 2003. Another frequent error has been to believe that the Shia alliance, so powerful because the Shia are 60 per cent of the population, is always on the verge of collapse. Peace, when it finally comes to Iraq, will inevitably be the result of a package deal of which a timetable for a US withdrawal is likely to be a central part.The Sunni insurgency is not going out of business, or even showing signs of being seriously weakened, and the economy is in ruins. President Bush's strategy of confronting Iran and seeking to pacify Baghdad by sending US troop reinforcements is not working.

FABIOLA BERACASA Age: 30
Who's the daddy? Daughter of Venezuelan banking magnate Alfredo Beracasa and
Veronica Hearst, stepdaughter of publishing heir William Randolph Hearst.
Where's the money? Cash comes courtesy of her mother's Hearst inheritance.
Interesting fabulousness: Known for her impeccable style - it's claimed she has
14 wardrobes stuffed with designer togs.
Key look: Labels, labels, labels.
TINSLEY MORTIMER Age: 31
Who's the Daddy? Her father, George Mercer Junior, is a rug salesman from
Virginia.
Where's the money? Tinsley's husband Robert Livingston Mortimer - known as
Topper - is the great-grandson of Henry Morgan Tilford, a president of Standard
Oil of California. Topper is a vice-president at the Guggenheim Group investment
bank.
Interesting fabulousness: Billed as the number one socialite of 2006. Has her
own handbag line.
Key look: All-American good looks teamed with blonde curls and short skirts.
BYRDIE BELL Age: 22
Who's the daddy? Byrdie's mother took her daughter and the ill-fated Olivia
Palermo to an auction at Sotheby's, where they were spotted by party
photographer Patrick McMullan. The rest is history.
Where's the money? Like all the best socialites, Byrdie's wealth is inherited.
Interesting fabulousness: The eccentrically monikered Byrdie is dating one Bingo
Gubelmann.
Key look: Gap-toothed yet immaculate socialite/actress.
OLIVIA PALERMO Age: 21
Who's the daddy? Olivia's mother is an interior decorator and her father is a
real-estate developer.
Where's the money? Family money meant that Olivia was a shoo-in to the mercenary
world of Manhattan society.
Interesting fabulousness: Short-lived reign as New York's new It-girl, now gets
the sympathy vote for having been the subject of so much bitching.
Key look: Italian-American princess.
PARIS HILTON Age: 26
Who's the Daddy? Hilton's paternal great-grandparents were Hilton Hotels founder
Conrad Hilton and his first wife, Mary Barron. She has three siblings, of whom
her sister Nicky is also on the socialite circuit.
Where's the money? As well as being heiress to a tranche of the Hilton fortune,
Paris will inherit part of her father Richard's real-estate riches. She has also
earnt an estimated $1m in her own right.
Interesting fabulousness: Catapulted to fame by her un-fabulous sex tape, Paris
has conquered reality television and the music business, appeared in movies and
launched her own range of fragrances.
Key look: Huge sunglasses, tiny dogs, even tinier frocks. Could soon be sporting
convict's stripes.
OLGA REI AND VALENTINE REI Age: Both 23
Who's the daddy? Valentine's father married Olga's mother.
Where's the money? Family wealth on both sides means that the Rei step-siblings
want for little, although after being exposed as the writers behind Socialite
Rank, many society New Yorkers have blacklisted them.
Interesting fabulousness: Both are former child stars. When covering a Y-3
fashion show for Fashion Week Daily, Valentine fell off a catwalk and broke his
elbow - that's dedication.
Key look: He's a white-haired, Slavic giant, she's a tiny, almond-eyed Eastern
blonde.
LYDIA HEARST-SHAW Age: 22
Who's the daddy? The great-granddaughter of the media tycoon William Randolph
Hearst and daughter of Patty Hearst.
Where's the money? She is one of the heirs to William Randolph Hearst's media
empire, a $5bn (2.5bn) a year business.
Interesting fabulousness: A model, her first cover shoot was for Vogue. Has
worked with more fashionistas than you could shake a stick at. Famously "
refused" to give Britney one of her limited edition handbags for Puma.
Key look: Cross between Lily Cole and Heather Graham.
ARDEN WOHL Age: 24
Who's the daddy? Wohl belongs to a well-heeled New York family. Her father,
Larry Wohl, is a real-estate mogul, and the art collection of her grandparents,
Ronne and Joseph S Wohl - featuring Matisse, Monet, Braque and Modigliani - sold
for a hefty sum at Sotheby's.
Where's the money? With grandparents who collect Monet, need you ask?
Interesting fabulousness: The aspiring film-maker is being called the earthy
antidote to the beau monde's bevy of blond ambition.
Key look: Hippy-dippy headbands.
ZANI GUGELMANN Age: 30
Who's the daddy? Unlike her stable mates, Zani has managed to keep her family
tree under wraps. Suffice to say, they're not on the breadline.
Where's the money? Apart from family cash, Zani is a successful jewellery designer.
Interesting fabulousness: Accidently revealed a breast this spring during a
gathering at the Indian Consulate. After being told she was baring all, replied:
"Well, they really are fantastic." Key look: Willowy brunette wearing her wares.

UK debt crisis deepens as insolvencies hit record high
The true extent of Britain's consumer debt crisis came into focus as statistics revealed a near 50 per cent rise in the number of people taking out Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) in the first quarter, after finding themselves unable to keep up repayments on their loans.


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