Monthly Archives: January 2002

Blogger News Item


There were a number of firsts at the cultural evening tonight. Bono,
introducing the evening, thanked the sponsor, Vivendi Universal’s CEO,
Jean-Marie Messier, for being “a corporate motherf***er”. He honestly meant
it in the nicest way (I guess I’d translate it as: he’s a mensch). What
followed was a remarkable panoply of world music, choreographed by Quincy

The highlight for me was a tiny singer from Benin (I didn’t catch the
name, which displays my reporting inadequacies), who was joined by a chorus
from South Africa and saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Her song, Af-Africa,
was a distillation of energy and joy. Other memorable moments included the
84-year old Henri Sabador from France, singing Mademoiselle, and Ravi
Shankar introducing his daughter on the sitar.

Unless I’m very mistaken, it was the kind of event that could only
happen in a metropolis. There are a lot of things I love about Davos, but
an alphorn trio pales in comparison.

At last

At last

I’m glad that I have to revise my dim views about Davos on the Hudson. With the opening plenary this evening, some of the spirit of Davos was achieved — and more important, a truly moving, wonderful plenary resulted.

Plenaries, in general, are the low points of Davos. But this was the best opening plenary I can remember.

It was introduced by comments from Klaus Schwab, president of the Forum, governor Pataki, president Villiger of Switzerland, and mayor Bloomberg. None overstayed their welcome, but more important, there was some funny interchange and some emotional moments.

After president Villiger said Switzerland looked forward to welcoming the Forum back next year, first Pataki and then Bloomberg made their pitch for New York. “We should do our skiing in Switzerland, but this is the place for the Forum,” said mayor Mike.

More meaningfully, he ran through a litany of the countries, faiths and talents present at the Forum. Then the clincher: “It’s just a normal day in New York City.”

But the local politicians were followed by a panel entitled “For hope”. Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, queen Rania of Jordan, president Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, Bono and foreign minister Abdullah of Afghanistan were questioned by Charlie Rose, a US television presenter.

Tutu had the most optimistic view. “All of us need to be told that the evil, they are the aberration.” Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, noted, “We admire the good people, but the bad people admire the bad people. And there are so many of them.” But even he said hope was fundamental to human nature: “It is possible to cling to hope precisely when hope seems so fragile.”

But when Rose asked what should result from the Forum, the discussion moved to a different plane. I was sceptical about Bono, leader of the rock group, U2. I know he has been a strong campaigner on debt relief and Aids, but he also showed that he has a deep understanding of the issues.

“We have to prove that the developed world really cares about the developing world by deed. If this is just a talking shop, then it’s a bit too close to Marie Antoinette. There’s a window of opportunity here. In a globalised world, we have global responsibilities.”

Blogger News Item

Compaq chaos

There’s a nifty new iPaq from Compaq for all participants. We’ll be able
to receive and send messages (like last year), but also sign up for
sessions, read the news and even see clips of sessions to judge whether we
want to go.

But after weathering the crush this morning to get my iPaq, the poor
folk at Compaq suffered database problems. A few hundred of us have been
asked to return in an hour. I shrug at these events, but there are plenty
of people here who aren’t used to it. One, who was standing beside me, was
the governor of a major swathe of Saudi Arabia. I don’t think he’s used to
being told, “Come back in an hour.”

Big pubs

Big pubs

Whatever else Davos in NY might achieve, it seems clear that a heck of a lot of Americans will be far more conscious of the Forum than they ever were before. Some will be irritated by it. Apparently, commuters can’t leave the north side of Grand Central Station because of the security. Others will just be able to do a namecheck.

Befitting its leadership in this city, The New York Times is going to town on its coverage of the event. I liked their report from Davos, Switzerland. “Maybe after being in New York, the wife they have had for the past 30 years will end up looking a lot better than before,” says Felix Hubli (who runs the best restaurant in the Davos area, incidentally).

Going up

Going up

It is already crystal clear that the story of Davos on the Hudson is going to be the crowds waiting for the lifts (elevators for Americans). A briefing this morning for moderators and discussion leaders emphasised that we should head for the lifts early if you’re leading a lunch or dinner.

There are apparently some 3,000 participants (that’s 50% up on Davos), and at lunchtime in particular, most of them will need to cram into the rather small Waldorf lifts to get to the 18th floor. As one long-time Forum staffer told me, “It will make people eager to get back to Davos.”

Engineering impulses

Engineering impulses

There is a powerful strain within the Forum that loathes a vaccuum. So the idea of a gathering with no agenda fills them with horror. Such impulses overtook the welcome lunch, which traditionally is a nice, purely social event on the first day. It enables old-timers to catch up with Davos friends, and for newcomers it provides a gentle immersion into the Davos “club”.

This year, we were asked to discuss “Restoring global confidence: is it the message or the media?” I have to confess that at my table, by common consent, we had a free-ranging discussion that wasn’t really to the point. But we all made some new acquaintances.

Other tables were more disciplined. What was interesting to me, as tables reported back on their discussions, was how many began, “We thought the US media…” I suspect that if we were outside the US, the US media would have been part of the discussion, but not the focus.

That’s a danger for this Davos. With the world’s hyperpower on our doorstep, how can minds not turn to it on every occasion? Something to watch.

Strictly ballroom

Strictly ballroom

One of the aspects of Davos (the one in Switzerland, not here in NY), is that the Congress Centre is modern. Part of it is rather ’70s, with dark woods and lots of exposed concrete. The rest is ’90s, with light woods and white walls. I like it.

The Waldorf, by contrast, has rooms in the grand, hotel ballroom style. Lots of chandeliers, decorated wood panels, corinthian capitals. My heart sinks.

I’ll try to vow not to constantly invoke comparisons with old Davoses, but habits die hard.

Thick blue line

Thick blue line

The most striking thing about arriving at Davos on the Hudson, as a radio programme in my car from JFK called it, is the extraordinary security. New York’s finest are piling up overtime for the next decade on the basis of the Forum.

Even though I was in an official Forum car (thanks to one of my travelling companions, I hasten to add), our car was searched by a sniffer dog, the undercarriage was scanned and the hood was opened to have a look to see if the engine had been tampered with.

When we successfully negotiated that hurdle, more sniffer dogs and metal detectors awaited at the Waldorf-Astoria, the home for the meeting.

But these were as nothing compared with the police presence for pedestrians. I went to the Burda Media reception tonight, and on the walk back to the hotel, I counted 70 police on one streetcorner, augmented by a further 42 on the next corner.

What’s nice — and is not the case with the Polizei in Davos (and I don’t think it’s just a language issue) — is that the security is friendly and talkative. So, too, in the Waldorf, where the staff seem genuinely delighted to be overwhelmed by the crowds for the Forum.

I wonder, however, how this large, visible security presence will play on television and for the Forum’s opponents. Together with counting the police (and I have heard that there are several thousand mobilised for the event), I chalked up 37 television and radio broadcast vans along Park Avenue.


One of the talking points tonight has been a rather strange communication we received on check-in. It seems that on Saturday — likely to be the peak day of the Forum — the main lobby area of the Waldorf is off limits because of a wedding that is expected to run from the afternoon until 4am. I’m sure this was booked long before the Forum decided to show up, but it’s a bizarre intrusion into what is seeming a rather hermetic experience.

First session

First session

The first session in Davos is traditionally the economic update. Here, far too many people wanted to cram into the room, but those who made it were treated to a bit of a dust up between economists (if you have a taste for that sort of thing).

Morgan Stanley’s Stephen Roach, with the not too subtle encouragement of moderator Martin Wolf, raged against Gail Fosler from The Conference Board and Jacob Frenkel, from Merrill Lynch (but better known as the long-serving head of the Israeli central bank).

All agreed that the story of the world economy is the story of the US economy. There is no alternative engine. But Roach reckons the US is heading for a double-dip recession. Personal and corporate debt are too high, the current account deficit is at historic levels. Fosler and Frenkel, however, judge the “fundamentals” to be fine, and are optimistic about a US recovery this year.

I side with the Roach view, but Frenkel definitely tells the better story. Explaining why fundamentals are important, he told this story. A man is driving his car around the Arc de Triomphe, looking for a parking space. Although an atheist, he prays to God for a space, declaring he will believe and be observant if only he can find a space. As soon as he finishes his prayer, lo and behold, a space opens up. “God!” the man exclaims. “I’ve got one, don’t worry about it.” As Frenkel said, “He didn’t understand the model.”