The mantra in Washington these days is "jobs, jobs, jobs." Then, today, for a brief moment, the focus shifted -- to Jobs.
The reaction to the death of Steve Jobs has been remarkable for both what it says about the man and our times. But it is also resonant because of a message it has sent that has yet to be received, it seems.
It has already been observed that it is stunning to see such a seemingly heartfelt, widespread sense of loss and emotion for the death of an American CEO at a moment when Americans are finally and understandably taking to the streets to protest what is seen by demonstrators to be the hostile take-over of the U.S. economy by big business interests.
Somehow, Steve Jobs transcended his role as a business man in much the same way that for many the products his company produces have transcended being seen as mere devices, workaday slabs of technology. Some of that was due to great marketing, of course. But there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Marketing does not work if it doesn't ring true or if the promises made to consumers are not kept by manufacturers. And some of the Steve Jobs difference was due to a willingness to set aside knowledge of the company and its founder's missteps or hard-ball, sometimes, arrogant business tactics. But again, such facts are not easily set aside unless they are overshadowed by other factors.
In the case of Jobs, what set him apart was not just that he was a visionary or that he was successful. There are plenty of other tech titans who made billions who could drop dead tomorrow with nary a notice in the paper or a teardrop being shed outside their immediate families. In some cases, you might even hear the faint sound of cheering within their immediate vicinity.
It was not just that he was a good-looking, thoughtful, articulate spokesperson who combined just the right elements of geek and master of the universe, of everyman and of being the Willy Wonka of the digital era. Because good spokespeople for industries come and go, yet how many of even the very best would have prompted local television stations to pre-empt programming to run announcements of their demise as did my local station in DC, last night?
No, part of what set Steve Jobs apart was that he delivered on a promise that was bigger than any he or Apple or his industry could have made. He delivered on the promise of the future.
Among the most unsettling aspects for this particular observer of Jobs obituaries are the line that reads "1955-2011." Because 1955 doesn't seem that long ago to me. It is, in fact, the year I was born and I for one, am resolutely convinced that I am not old enough for an obituary. But that shared birth year also lets me understand a bit of where Jobs was coming from. It came from a childhood marked by grand promises associated not just with living in the richest and most powerful country in the world at the time of seemingly never-ending ascendancy but with serial technological breakthroughs. There were spaceflights and satellites and color televisions and 8-track tapes and polyester and TV dinners and Tang and oral polio vaccines and computers the size of your high school auditorium. And when there was a lull in innovation there was the Jetsons or "Time Tunnel" or "Star Trek" to double down on the promises.
And then we grew up and we waited for the flying cars to come.
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In the second half of my conversation with Daniel Yergin, author of the new and acclaimed best-seller The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World, we take a tour of the global horizon, discussing Yergin's views on the dramatically changing global energy landscape and some of its important implications for international economic development and security.
David Rothkopf: Shifting to the global impact of these changes, one of the things that's interesting in the context of the book is the rising power of the BRICs. You have Brazil, which was not an energy player, likely to become a major energy power; you have China, which was not an energy player, becoming the leading consumer and also the leading investor in new technology; you have Russia, as the world's leading net resource exporter; you have India, which is also a producer in some interesting ways. There has been a shift in the geopolitics of energy. What are your thoughts on this?
Daniel Yergin: One of the key features is the idea that I focus on -- the "globalization of energy demand." Energy demand used to be a business of the developed world, and now the growth is all in the emerging world. So, for instance, the Middle East will increasingly look east for its growth markets. That raises interesting geopolitical questions about responsibility for security in the Gulf.
As for China, there is a lot of discussion about its ambitions in terms of a blue-water navy. The U.S. Navy has been the guardian of the global sea lanes. But will China try to have a responsibility -- or feel the need -- to help protect those sea lanes? This raises questions about what the role of the Chinese navy will be in the future, as well as the security of the Gulf region and the sea lanes.
DR: The Chinese are also involved in the Horn of Africa and West Africa. It poses a real conundrum for the United State: We'd like to have them share the burden, but we don't want them to actually have the capability to share the burden.
DY: You put it very succinctly. This is a question that will become clearer in the next few years as China's demand goes up and as the flow of oil increases from the Persian Gulf to East Asia and through the Strait of Malacca. But dealing with the growing piracy is really kind of a joint venture now. The major consuming countries are trying to manage that threat, and that threat has become more and more expansive.
Back to China, though. It is interesting that China hardly played a role in The Prize [Yergin's prior major book on energy and winner of the Pulitzer Prize]; but in The Quest, China is the only country that gets two chapters. There's a reason for that: it's really important to understand the Chinese energy system and what their objectives are and what they're trying to do -- and where they came from. Where they differ from the Japanese, among other things, is that they already had a strong domestic industry on the back of which to go out into the world, and strong capabilities because China still gets half of its energy from its domestic production. And, in fact, until the early 1990s, China was an exporter, which is how it financed the first phases of economic reform. China is now the world's second-largest oil importer and consumer of oil. If other countries were in China's shoes they'd be doing the same thing, saying that they want to be global players. It's important to keep it in perspective. If you take all the production of all the Chinese companies overseas it's less than that of one of the major international oil companies.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Daniel Yergin's latest book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World would have been essential reading for energy industry insiders simply as a consequence of Yergin's status as one of the field's foremost commentators and analysts. He is, after all, the author of one award-winning volume on the subject, The Prize, not just a great history of energy but one of the best history books of any sort of the past quarter century or so. And he has built an important energy consultancy that every year convenes many of the industry's most important leaders for a week of must-attend discussions.
But this new book is such an exceptional achievement, a work of scholarship that is full of compelling story-telling, an exploration of some of the most vital issues of our time that frames them in a sound history and penetrating analysis, that its publication has much greater resonance. Appearing at number four on the New York Times best-seller list in its first week on the market, showered with well-deserved critical acclaim, the book is essential reading for policymakers, business leaders, and anyone in the public who wants to understand forces that are transforming global politics, driving the rise of some nations and conflicts among others.
As someone who in his spare time runs a consultancy with a considerable energy practice, I was drawn to the book for professional reasons but I have to be clear, I'm going to recommend it to many people I know in Washington because not only does it address issues that link politics, economics, business, today and tomorrow -- but it does so with unusual objectivity and wisdom. It's rather long, but not only is it a read that offers plenty of rewards but it is likely to be a book to which readers will return over and over. (Which is why, if you want my unsolicited opinion, you should buy a hard copy. Easier to dip in and out of.)
I particularly was struck with its core theme -- that while headlines blare of an energy revolution and great paradigm shifts, real change in this field happens gradually. The search for breakthrough technologies is not only not unique to our time; virtually everything that is buzzworthy and "new" today has roots that stretch back a century or so if not longer. That said, although a realist about the pace of change, Yergin is keenly aware of the profound shifts that are taking place as well as those that make take decades more to unfold. He proves the adage that the best guides to the future are those who understand the past well.
To get a better understanding of Yergin's views as they pertain to the issues of greatest important to the readers of Foreign Policy -- and because I always welcome the chance to discuss these issues with Dan -- I sat down with Yergin for a conversation about the book, its key conclusions, and his views on the state of energy politics and economics at the moment. We covered a great deal of ground, highlights of which will be covered in two parts. Today, the discussion focuses on some of the core ideas in Yergin's book, those pertaining to the search for new ways to provide the energy the planet needs. In Part II, the discussion turns to the geopolitics of energy in the century ahead.
David Rothkopf: Early in the Obama administration there was a sense that a new energy paradigm was going to be central to American growth, and the president himself was framing new approaches to energy as a primary driver of the next phase of U.S. growth. Yet more recently, expectations have been dramatically reset. What do you think is behind that change?
Daniel Yergin: We have gone through periods of great optimism about how quickly a transition to a different kind of energy system can come about. But our $65 trillion global economy rests on a very big and complex energy foundation. And it's governed by two laws. One is the law of long lead-times. Because of the scale and nature of energy, it doesn't change overnight. And the second is the law of scale. To be significant, it has to be large. And the renewable sector, the alternative sector, is still developing within those constraints. It's certainly a lot farther ahead than it was a decade ago, and indeed it has become a big business and a global business in its own right. But, when you look out 15 or 20 years based on what we know, our energy mix won't change too dramatically. It's really around 2030 that we could see the really significant changes.
DR: Is that because 20 years from now we're going to have great breakthroughs; 20 years from now we will have scaled up to the point that the breakthroughs are possible; or because 20 years from now, we'll all be dead or retired?
Read the rest of the interview here.
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While America sleeps, I awake early this morning on the banks of the Isis River, here in Oxford, England. Outside my window are the dreaming spires of the university has been here for the last 12 centuries or so dominated, from where I sit, by the weatherworn dome of the Radcliffe Camera. The Rad Cam, as it is known, is a massive, round library built by John Radcliffe, physician to William & Mary, and a man known as much for his fondness for good drink as he was for his medical accomplishments.
Another thing for which old Radcliffe was known was his apparent allergy to reading which led him to actually keep an alarmingly small library for a doctor thus creating some considerable amusement among his friends and colleagues when he endowed the library that ultimately became the russet-colored landmark I can see outside my window at the moment.
This phenomenon of making a bold gesture in the opposite direction of your fundamental impulses is known in the psychological line as reaction formation. It is what causes people who hate to fly to get their pilot's licenses and people with a fear of big cats to become lion tamers. It may also be to the old "there's no zealot like a convert" phenomenon or the fact that many people who were once fat become the most intolerant sort of fattists.
I can check at least two of those boxes and, although I haven't piloted a plane for years, I still have more than the usual intolerance for fatsos. This is due to the fact that up until two years ago I weighed 75 pounds more than I do today and if I didn't allow myself the privilege of being critical of those who are unable to push away from the table at the proper moment, than I fear I will be sucked back into the gravitational pull of my old midsection -- which, as it happens, bore a remarkable resemblance to Radcliffe's monument to himself over there in the shadows of the Bodleian. (In terms of roundness and prominence ... not orangeness.)
As a consequence of this particular one of my many defects ... and six years spent on the advisory board of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health ... I am acutely aware of the threat posed to America's health, finances, and general appearance by the obesity epidemic that has swept the country. Today the obesity rate in the United States is ten times that what it is in say, Japan. Fully a third of Americans are obesity and the costs to the country of caring for these self-indulgent loads is breaking us as surely as would giving them all piggy-back rides. In fact, that's what we are doing ... because they will require more doctor's care, medication, time in hospital, treatment for diabetes, for heart disease, cancer and countless other maladies brought on by over-eating ... we're all going forced to carry them on our fiscal backs for the next few decades.
For this reason, it was with great admiration and delight that I read of Europe's latest innovation that America should immediately and unhesitatingly adopt. As usual, it comes from the smarter half of Europe (the cooler, northern portions) which, while not necessarily the half where I would prefer to spend my summer vacations, does regularly come up with good ideas that are worth adopting (the Magna Carta, the location of the ignition on the Saab, many kinds of herring, that kind of thing). In this case, it is the Danes who have made the latest breakthrough. It is described in an article in the Guardian entitled "Body blow for butter-loving Danes as fat tax kicks in."
As of today, "Danes who go shopping today will pay an extra 25p on a pack of butter and 8 p on a packet of crisps, as the new tax on foods which contain more than 2.3% saturated fats comes into effect. Everything from milk to oils, meats and pre-cooked foods such as pizzas will be targeted. The additional revenue raised will fund obesity fighting measures." Apparently ... and without a hint of irony ... the country that led the way on this was Hungary, land of my grandmother's matzoh balls, which "recently imposed a tax on all foods with unhealthy levels of sugar, salt and carbohydrates, as well as goods with high levels of caffeine."
This resonates here in Britain, which is the tubbiest country in Europe with, according to estimates cited in the article, 70 percent of the country destined to be obese or overweight by mid-century, which does not bode well in the looks department for a country that is already known for bad teeth and fly-away hair. And it should resonate in America, land of the Fat Burger and KFC's double down sandwich consisting of two pieces of fried chicken on either side of a bacon cheeseburger.
We love you Chris Christie. We feel your pain. And we have to help you. The United States needs new taxes like it needs about an hour a day in the gym. This is a place to start. It is good public health policy. It is good fiscal policy. And it resonates with the words of one of England's great thinkers, worth recalling as I look out over dawn at the world's greatest university. It was Kate Moss, I believe who said, "nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."
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In his heyday, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama had that magic trait that sets great politicians apart and assures their success. He was the rare leader upon whom people could project their hopes. Different audiences would look at him and see in him the promise of the often very different futures to which they aspired.
Today, he is suffering from a shortcoming that mirrors his earlier strength. Today, diverse audiences look at him and see in him the source of their frustrations. He is becoming a magnet for blame.
Part of this is due to the natural transition that occurs as one progresses from being a little known rising star who has not yet held executive offices to being the guy in charge, the one who assumes and is assigned responsibility for all manner of events -- including many imposed by him by circumstances beyond his control.
Part of this however, is something he and those close to him have brought upon themselves. During the past several weeks, in conversation after conversation with former avid supporters who are now alienated or doubting, I have heard the same thing. Almost always the word I hear is "disappointment." Many of Obama's original and most natural backers feel let down and some feel betrayed. They feel that they were set up by his rhetoric and then let down by his inability or unwillingness or lack of concern with following through on it.
To them, to the world, Barack Obama is a P.T. -- he's a policy-tease. In situation after situation, he raised expectations with great speeches or big promises and then in each he and those around him did not follow up actively, negotiated away the heart of what was promised, went beyond compromise and straight to capitulation. Or, in some instances, they simply dithered and failed to lead. But in each case, the impact on supporters was acute -- they felt drawn in, they started to hope again, their blood was flowing, they were ready for that transformational moment.
He seduced and then he did not come through.
It happened on health care. It happened on jobs. It happened with the Cairo Speech promising a transformed and active U.S. role in the Middle East. It happened with the Prague speech promising an active effort to zero out nuclear weapons. It happened with the Simpson-Bowles Commission. It happened with the promise of green jobs and a commitment to a new energy policy.
Is some of it due to Republican obstructionism? The vagaries of the Middle East? The trickiness of arms issues? Certainly. But when the pattern is so clear, so often repeated, when it so regularly involves passivity or leaving the initiative to others or the White House negotiating big ideas away with itself before even encountered an opponent, at some point one has to say it is something more. It can hardly be called a character of leadership but to many of those who worked on his campaign, who rooted for him most enthusiastically, who donated money in 2008 but who won't do it again this time around, it certainly does seem to reveal the president's character as a leader.
Might this change? Might he someday be seen as having struggled to a slow start due to the extraordinary array of economic, social and security challenges with which he was confronted? Perhaps. But the problem with being a tease is that you often permanently alienate those most drawn to you in the first place. And that reality is going to create a fundamental and not fully recognized challenge for the president in the campaign ahead.
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This should have been a good week for John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Few events have better illustrated their well-known assertions about the coordinated power of an Israel lobby in the United States than the effective pressure exerted on President Barack Obama that resulted in his opposition to Palestine's statehood bid in the United Nations.
Unfortunately, as in almost all matters that have to do with the Middle East, all the players -- even academic commentators chattering away at the margins -- end up being undermined by their prejudices, affiliations, old habits and darker impulses.
It happens all the time. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undercut what should have been his most notable hour with comments to supporters that revealed his deep opposition to granting Israel the same rights and recognition he seeks for his own people. Prime Minister Netanyahu scored a diplomatic victory but at a moment that called for magnanimity he offered condescension and then a promise of new settlements.
Meanwhile, on the periphery of this enduring issue, there are those like Mearsheimer and Walt who perhaps with good, sound academic intentions seek to parse the politics of U.S. foreign policy but who regularly undercut their authority with their methods, tenor and alliances. Their book, "The Israel Lobby" is now a landmark, though arguably less one of scholarship than of opportunism. They seized a moment and capitalized on the existence of an audience that they must have known did not share their self-proclaimed objective, unbiased academic interest in the issue. I have written elsewhere about my views on the book and need not go into again here.
Now, during this week when some of the core ideas of their book were at least brought to life by events, they find themselves fending off a new wave of attacks that are linked to the less savory underbelly of their intellectual enterprise. The genesis of the problem has to do with a comment Mearsheimer provided for the cover a jacket of a book called "The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics."
The problem with the blurb was not its contents, but rather with the book and the author Mearsheimer was endorsing. It turns out that author, Gilad Atzmon, is according to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, "a Hitler Apologist and a Holocaust Revisionist." Goldberg makes the assertions based on both the contents of the book that Atzmon wrote and that Mearsheimer alleges he read and on other writings by Atzmon. He has detailed these assertions in a series of his posts which themselves quote from other web commentators who substantiate his position including Walter Russell Mead, Jon Chait, Adam Holland, and a site called Harry's Place.
You can easily go to the links and see for yourself the facts. It's not a pretty picture. Atzmon has suggested that the Jews were collectively responsible for everything from the death of Jesus to the Holocaust and that today they again need to be saved from themselves by gentiles. He refers to Jews as a "sinister ideological collective." He offers up fictional Jews like Fagin and Shylock as part of an "endless hellish continuum" of Jewish abuse of other members of society. He blames recent financial crises on the Jews. In short, he is nothing more than an old school bigot.
And not only does Mearsheimer endorse his book, link himself to this author and thus give credence to all the critiques of "The Israel Lobby" that suggest that while some of its facts may be right, its authors' biases debase the enterprise and call into question its objectivity or value as anything more than a piece of propaganda. Like most propaganda there's truth in there somewhere-there is after all a pro-Israel lobby-but also like most propaganda it is twisted (other lobbies are downplayed, the influence of this lobby is overplayed, the Jewishness of the lobbying is misrepresented, etc.).
It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007's next assignment will take him.
Of course, Putin's decision to once again become Russia's president after four years in the less powerful role of prime minister should hardly come as a shock to anyone. That he is likely to swap jobs with current President Dmitry Medvedev only confirms suspicions experts have harbored about Medvedev since he assumed office -- that he was less a genuine political leader and more like one of those inflatable dummies people buy to ride next to them in their cars so they can drive in HOV lanes.
That may be a disappointment given Medvedev's occasional displays of independence that gave rise to the hope that perhaps he might be a counterweight to the oversize influence of Putin in Russian politics. It certainly seemed to be to Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who boldly did what has become an anachronism in Moscow politics and took a dissenting stand by saying he would not serve in the new government, which is slated to take office after "elections" in March. But it seems unlikely that many other notable voices will join those of Mr. Kudrin in protesting Putin's decision to hammer a stake through the hearts of those who still felt democracy had a chance in Russia.
For the United States and the West, the situation presents a problem. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously offered up that reset button in the early days of Barack Obama's administration, she certainly did not expect that when hitting it Putin would reset the relationship back to its Cold War depths. And while we are nowhere near there yet, trashing any remaining illusions of political reform certainly does not improve matters. In fact, given Russia's adventurism with its near neighbors, its regular embrace of international stances in opposition to those of the U.S., and its saber-rattling and strengthening of its military capabilities, it doesn't take someone with the acuity of M to recognize that this is potentially going to be a much more problematic relationship for the United States going forward.
Given Russia's nuclear arsenal, 11 time-zone dimensions, and enormous natural resources (that have resulted in increasing European dependence on Russian energy), it is not a stretch to see Putin solidifying his role as the first really big-league bad guy of the new century, a corrupt, scheming, megalomaniacal, major-power leader to force the demented heads of rogue states and terrorists living in Pakistani suburbs into the background of our geopolitical imaginations. That Putin's eccentricities -- his fondness for going shirtless, ideally while killing large animals with his bare hands -- are so colorful will only serve to make it easier for screenwriters and Tom Clancy to turn him into a full blown on-screen baddy.
In fact, there is only one really major problem that Putin poses for those who see his becoming the Goldfinger of the 21st century as the natural next step for him after coming out of the closet this weekend as Russia's near-dictator. And that is that by far the best actor to play him on-screen is … Daniel Craig.
Then again, there's a twist neither Ian Fleming nor Cubby Broccoli could have imagined. Just the shot of life the old franchise needs. The best Bond ever vs. his greatest adversary, both played by the same guy. Sounds pretty compelling … though it is unlikely to be sufficient to distract us from the really dark doings at the Kremlin and their ominous real life implications.
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New York at U.N. General Assembly meeting time operates with the kind of fevered intensity of a B movie with just about as much artificial drama. Layers upon layers of security guards and police and blockades and magnetometers stir up congestion and resentment and tension even before you enter the rooms full of government officials and the coteries of aides who follow them around like the cloud of dust at Pigpen's feet.
This year, of course, the central drama centered on the Palestinian bid for statehood and how, if at all, it could be managed so it was not a huge setback to Israel and a huge embarrassment to the United States. In the hotel in which I am staying, some of the principals in this drama were camped out buzzing about the latest rumors and fretting that events were spinning out of their control.
Thus far the drama is unresolved. President Obama gave a speech that managed to thread the needle offering a string of formulations designed to resonate well in Israeli ears, Palestinian ears, and, most importantly, in the ears of those (comparatively few) American voters who really cared enough to be following this particular episode of the Real Diplomats of New York City. The Palestinians appeared unmoved. The Israelis seemed pleased. Obama went on to his next event, at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Yet for all the familiarity of the arguments that both separate and bind together the Israelis and the Palestinians, there was something different about the feel of this particular minuet.
The Palestinians had clearly taken the initiative and set the statehood vote drama in motion. The Israelis, knocked back on their heels at first by the Palestinian move, regrouped and launched a political offensive in the United States (as well as around the world) to seek support. As the New York Times reported yesterday in its on target story "Netanyahu's Ties to G.O.P. Grow Stronger", the Israelis deftly reached out to key U.S. Republicans to win support and succeeded in generating enough that the President felt the pressure. If he did not line up with Israel in the clearest possible way, he might well lose a key part of his base in swing states like New York or Florida. At the same time, Europeans and major emerging powers all staked out their positions, most in direct or indirect opposition to the United States and the Israelis.
America, once the orchestrator of Middle East peace talks, always until now a prime driver behind the scenes, had assumed a new, much more reactive role. While the Obama team worked furiously behind the scenes, at every turn, it was responding to someone else's moves. It's own initiatives largely seemed to fall flat or come a little late.
The Obama Administration has been dramatically more engaged in the peace process than was the first term Bush Administration. So this may be part of a longer term trend. But in any event, America now seems to be a less influential actor than it has been for most of the modern history of the Arab-Israeli relationship.
That doesn't mean President Obama's remarks struck a wrong note or that U.S. diplomats don't have an important role to play in this process as it moves forward. It is just that amid the frenzy of this U.N. General Assembly week, one gets the impression that much of the most important work is getting done in rooms where the Americans are not present.
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.