Politics & Policy

In Davos, Part I

Okay, Davosers, time for your fourth Annual Meeting: your fourth excursion to the yearly jamboree of the World Economic Forum here in Davos, Switzerland. What I mean, of course, is that I’ve been writing Impromptus from Davos since 2003. I suppose I should provide a quick refresher.

The World Economic Forum is an organization that has grown mighty in its conferences and reach. The WEF has meetings all over the world, but the big one is here in Davos, during the last week of January. In casual use, the word “Davos” is synonymous with both the WEF and its Annual Meeting. Example: “Hey, you going to Davos this year?” That doesn’t mean for the family ski vacation.

(That would be a heck of a family ski vacation! Isn’t Vermont exotic enough?)

The town of Davos, I remind you, is a little jewel high up in the Alps. You remember Heidi, the girl who disrupted that football game so rudely, years ago? She lived in the valley below. And Davos, of course, is the setting of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. (If you can make it through that much-loved book, you’re a better man than me.)

(Note to grammar nuts: Yes, “better man than I” is correct–but sounds incredibly stiff, in my opinion.)

In the past, I have described the meeting here in Davos as the pages of the New York Times come to life. Or, if you prefer, CNN come to life. Anyone and everyone is here, all the world’s movers and shakers, or what seem like all of them. I will give you a taste of the roster.

Heads of state include Erdogan (Turkey), Kaczynski (Poland), Karzai (Afghanistan), Musharraf (Pakistan), Obasanjo (Nigeria), and Saakashvili (Georgia).

By the way, can I include Israel’s Olmert as a head of state? Also by the way: Kaczynski is a Lech. I mean, that’s his first name. Poland has done fairly well in Lechs.

Other figures milling about: Kofi Annan. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Mohamed ElBaradei, the nukes guy, and winner of the you-know-what last year. (The Nobel Peace Prize.) (Say, didn’t someone from National Review write an unfriendly piece about him?) One of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif. Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, and perfect representative of the Arab Old Guard. Speaking of the Arab Old Guard: Gamal H. Mubarak, son of you-know-who. Shimon Peres (Davos’s favorite Israeli). Foreign Minister Shalom (not Davos’s favorite Israeli).

And–get this–Paul Wolfowitz, now head of the World Bank. Wolfowitz is brave to come here. Actually, Wolfowitz is just plain brave. But he has come in his fairly “soft” capacity as poverty-alleviator–not in his “hard” capacity as war-wager. You know the truth, however: The right kind of war-waging is also poverty-alleviating.

I’d also like to note that a few Iraqis are here. It gives me extreme pleasure to say so. One is Hajim Alhasani, president of the National Assembly, and another is Ayad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord. Say what you will about them: They are symbols of a democratic Iraq. And that is decidedly non-Old Guard.

Care for some U.S. politicians? No, what I mean is: Care to hear who among them has come to Davos? You have Senators Biden, Chambliss, Smith, and Sununu. You can’t imagine Joe Biden wanting to participate in a talkfest, can you? Oh, I have left out a senator: John Kerry. He is Davos’s president manqué. And remember when Kerry told us, during the ‘04 campaign, that “the world” really wanted him to be president? He was right, in one sense (the Davosian world).

Among House reps: Frank, Kolbe, Markey, Shays.

Oh, and I forgot a senator–another senator: John McCain. He may be–just may be–Davos’s favorite Republican, seeing as Elliot Richardson is unavailable. (No, I did not say Elliott Abrams.)

Some stray other politicians: Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, and one of Davos’s “Young Global Leaders.” Bill Owens, the Republican governor of Colorado. And Mark Warner–the Democrat who just got through being governor of Virginia. I guess, if you’re going to run for president–as Warner apparently is–you have to come to Davos. Get a little “international” cred. This must be especially important for a governor.

The Bush administration has not neglected to send some officials (and not “traveling insults,” either). I note Elaine Chao, the secretary of labor; Michael Chertoff, head of homeland security; Alberto Gonzales, attorney general; Robert Kimmitt, deputy secretary of the treasury; Michael Leavitt, secretary of health and human services; and Rob Portman, who started attending Davos as a House rep (Ohio) and is still attending, as U.S. trade rep.

You want to hear about some big businessmen? Okay. Start with Bill Gates. Continue with Michael Dell. Then consider George Soros. (Should he really be under “Business”?) You also have Richard Branson–I mean, Sir Richard Branson–some Forbes brothers, and a million CEOs. I also must mention the splendid Phil Gramm–here not as a politico, but as an official of UBS Investment Bank. I wish he were talkin’ politics.

The presidents of Harvard and Yale are here: Richard Levin and Larry Summers. Also the president of Georgetown, John DeGioia.

You want royalty? I offer Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Prince Philippe of Belgium, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, and Queen Rania of Jordan. (In my “Davos” Impromptus from Jordan last spring, I referred to the queen as a “smokin’ hottie,” which brought in a lot of mail–all in agreement.)

I note three religious figures, too. One is Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Turkey. And the other two are from the United States: Jim Wallis, the Sojourners guy. You’d expect that. But also Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention. Good for Davos (and good for Land as well).

Here’s a quasi-religious figure: Rick Warren, the purpose-driven-life fellow. And another one: Elie Wiesel, the writer and Nobelist.

Mediacrats include James Murdoch (one of Rupert’s sons), the ubiquitous Thomas L. Friedman, Charlie Rose, and Mort Zuckerman.

And how about some culturecrats? I give you Marin Alsop, the conductor. And Christo, the artist. (Don’t forget his wife and partner Jeanne-Claude!) And Michael Douglas, the actor. And Peter Gabriel, the rocker (is he? I’m bad at these musical categories). And Gilberto Gil, who is not only a musician but culture minister of Brazil. And Angelina Jolie. And Peter Sellars, the director.

And how about Muhammad Ali? He’s a category unto himself.

And how about Jane Goodall? She’s a category unto herself, too–one of the great scientist-celebrities of modern times.

Last, I want to mention some interesting names–I mean, names that are interesting as names. As I’ve pointed out in these Davos Impromptus before, I love the name of Giuseppe Buongiorno, the Italian journalist. “Buongiorno” means hello, or good day. There’s another journalist–Luciano Ferrari. He has nothing on Sarah Maserati, a former editor at NR. (She is now Sarah Bramwell.) I feel I must bring to your attention Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India.

Moving on to . . . Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS. I think that’d be an especially good name for an anchorman: Goodnight. And there’s a Hugh Grant here: not the actor, but the president and CEO of Monsanto. I wonder if Otto Honegger, head of documentaries for Swiss television, is related to the (Swiss) composer Arthur Honegger. If I see him, I will ask him. There’s a guy here named John L. Hopkins, of the Fluor Corporation. Very close to the name of that university. And I’ve always liked the name of David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post. (A very smart, very articulate British-born fellow.) So close to our–you know what I mean by our–David Horowitz (the irreplaceable)!

Finally, a guy whose name appears right after John McCain’s, in the directory: John H. McCall MacBain, president and CEO of Trader Classified Media, here in Switzerland. “McCall MacBain,” an “Mc” and an “Mac.” Eye-catching name.

‐All right, guys, a few quick non-Davos notes. Did you see that, upon being sworn in, Evo Morales, the new Bolivian leader, described himself as “America’s worst nightmare”? If I could speak to him, I would say, “Oh, Señor Morales: Don’t flatter yourself. We have many worse nightmares than you. You, by comparison, are a silly-Left pipsqueak.”

‐You may have seen, in the New York Times, that President Bush has been reading that big new book about Mao: Mao: The Unknown Story, by the husband-and-wife team of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. (Actually, I should have written “wife-and-husband team”–sorry about that.) Did you catch what the Times’s writer, Elisabeth Bumiller, had to say about this? (Her story is here.) Very interesting.

First, she said that “it is not so surprising” that President Bush should be reading this book, “given that [it] has been embraced by the right as a searing indictment of Communism.”

Embraced by the Right? I have no doubt this is true, but why wouldn’t liberals embrace a searing indictment of Communism? I mean, they don’t have any truck with Communism–do they? To suggest otherwise is to embrace McCarthyism.

Then, in the process of throwing cold water on the Mao book, Bumiller noted that some reviewers had “accused the authors of a moralistic, good-and-evil version of history.” Yes, can’t be moralistic about one of the greatest genocidal monsters in history. Well, actually, you can be, if you’re talking about Hitler and his Reich. In that case, a “good-and-evil version” of history is permissible. Why it should be less so when we get to Mao and the Communists is . . .

Well, then I launch into a long, long rant.

‐As readers of this column know, President Bush has been very strong in Havana–and he has been strong in his representatives there. The latest is Michael Parmly, who appears to be doing a bang-up job. Last weekend, he arranged for Lech Walesa to speak to dissidents by video hookup. The event took place at the U.S. Interests Section. Walesa told the Cubans that “the system will fall because nobody believes in Communism. You are close to your goal.” He also told them to be prepared for a democratic transition–a most difficult task.

Castro, of course, was furious. And we saw, once again, a clear truth: The U.S. Interests Section in Havana–certainly in the time of George W. Bush–is also the interests section of the Cuban people.

‐Some music pieces, from the New York Sun, and then out. For a review of Osvaldo Golijov’s opera Ainadamar, please go here. For a review of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer, with piano soloist Richard Goode; and for a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur, with piano soloist Louis Lortie, please go here. And for a review of pianist-conductor Leif Ove Andsnes with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, please go here.

And I’ll see you later, Davosers.

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