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Political Tensions Dominate Davos

Bears were nowhere to be found at Davos, but dark international clouds were swirling, reports Dan Gross.

DAVOS, Switzerland—The World Economic Forum is a trendy place. The agenda, the discussion, and the general feeling all function as barometers of what’s hot and what’s not in the larger world. Judging by the recently concluded confab, economic tension is out and political tension is in.

Davos

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a session at Davos. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty)

On Friday night, Sean Parker, the Facebook investor immortalized by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, and Mark Benioff, the chief executive officer of Salesforce.com, spent healthy chunks of their massive fortunes on a raucous, raging party in a hotel bar space on Promenade, the main drag of Davos. After a private performance by John Legend, who wowed the rapt crowd with a slow, soulful version of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, DJ Mark Ronson set the room throbbing. The décor included several pieces of taxidermy, including a massive stuffed black bear on the stage.

It was the only bear I saw in Davos all week.

Change of Heart

Israel Shelves Plans to Attack Iran

Israel Shelves Plans to Attack Iran JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

According to interview with defense minister.

Israel may be ruling out the idea of a unilateral strike on Iran. At least that’s what The New York Times is reading into comments made by the country’s departing defense minister, Ehud Barak, in an interview with The Daily Beast. Barak said that the Pentagon has prepared detailed, sophisticated plans for an operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program, should the U.S. decide to attack, and hinted that, because of this, Israel would not go to war with Iran without the assistance of the United States. “I think there is a realization in Israel that it would be extremely difficult for Israel to operate alone,” analyst Herbert Krosney tells the Times, adding that Barak’s comments insinuate that the U.S. and Israel are working closely on a plan to deter Iran.

Read it at The Daily Beast

World Economic Forum

Japan Responds to Critics at Davos

Japan Responds to Critics at Davos JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

Says central bank was not compromised.

Fighting back against critics who accused its central bank’s independence of being compromised, Japan’s economic minister Akira Amari defended Tokyo’s new economic policies Saturday at Davos. Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Amari said the Bank of Japan’s decision to introduce a new inflation target—part of a bid to boost the country’s economy—was made voluntarily, without the influence of the government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among the critics concerned with Japan’s actions.

Read it at Agence France-Presse

RIOT

Topless Women Protest Davos

Angry about sexism in world economy.

Three women from the Ukrainian activist group Femen, angry about women's oppression in the world economy, tried to crash one of the conference's events on Saturday by climbing a fence and setting off pink flares. Just prior, they had torn off their shirts, revealing the words "SOS Davos" printed on their chests. It didn't end well. They were escorted away by police, kicking and screaming the whole time.

Read it at Associated Press

Davos Crystal Ball

World Leaders Make 2013 Predictions

World Leaders Make 2013 Predictions AFP

On global economy, internet, and more.

With most of the festivities at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, coming to a close Saturday, many of the world leaders in attendance are concluding the week by making predictions for the upcoming year. Among the more doomsday forecasts, billionaire investor George Soros said the world is about to enter a period of “evil,” with “riots on the streets” and a “brutal clampdown” on civil liberties. Economist Nouriel Roubini, who is fittingly nicknamed “Dr. Doom,” predicted that politics in Europe “could worsen.” More upbeat was European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who forecast an end to the euro zone crisis, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who spoke about an internet that will continue to become more personal.

Read it at USA Today

President Aquino: ‘We’ve received universal praise’ Philippine Pres. Aquino in Davos on Friday. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty)

Philippines fosters new relationship with WEF.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino finished up his debut performance at Davos this year with a near-standing ovation. Mr. Aquino said he was honored to be a part of the global event. “We can participate in the world stage and not feel—how should I put it—like a second-class citizen.” The Philippines is now ready and willing to “boost its participation in global events.” Aquino took a break from meetings at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday to announce that his country had agreed to host next year’s WEF East Asia Summit, a smaller regional summit in the forum’s network.

Read it at Inquirer Business

Davos

Davos Takes Guess at the Future

Davos Takes Guess at the Future Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Driverless cars, catastrophic climates and more.

The 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland—“a gathering a the world’s elite”— showcased some of the most exciting new research and trends worldwide this year, from climate change to technology.  Taking a break from the interminable economic debate about government debt, participants offered jaw-dropping predictions for the world to come. Oxford University physicist Tim Palmer said that the Earth could warm by 6 degrees within a century, leading to “catastrophic consequences.” Sebastian Thrun, leader of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, said driverless cars will be on the road within five years.  Paul Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm, said the famous “Moore’s Law” may lead to infinite computing power. Long story short: stay tuned, world.

Read it at NPR

GLOVES OFF

London Mayor Gets Feisty on Growth

London Mayor Gets Feisty on Growth London Mayor Johnson on Jan. 16 (Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Tells George Osbourne to “junk the rhetoric stuff.”

In the wake of alarming GDP figures—which left the world wondering if Britain was headed for a triple-dip recession, London Mayor Boris Johnson is man on fire. At the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Johnson laid a heavy hit on Britain’s Treasury Chief George Osbourne, exclaiming that he needs to “junk the rhetoric stuff” and start investing in growth-boosting opportunities. “The hair shirt stuff, the Stafford Cripps agenda,” Johnson quipped, “that is not the way to get Britain motoring again.” According to the Guardian, the mayor will soon be announcing a “seven-point plan” to bring London back to life.

Read it at The Times of London

Speaking at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, King Abdullah warned of al Qaeda’s presence in Syria and said that it could take years for peace to return to the war-torn country.

Jordan's King Abdullah warned today that those who think the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad will fall in weeks don't know the situation on the ground. He expects Assad will hold on for at least the first half of 2013. And he cautioned that even if that government falls and is replaced by a strong and effective new administration (which is doubtful) it could take years to clean out the jihadists that have established themselves inside Syria's war-torn territory. Al Qaeda has established itself there, he said, and added, "The new Taliban we are going to have to deal with are in Syria."

Jordan King Abdullah

Jordan's King Abdullah is reflected in a teleprompter as he attends a session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013 on Jan. 25. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty)

Abdullah was speaking to the World Economic Forum annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, where he and his wife, Queen Rania, are familiar faces. And the tone of his remarks resembled a frank, sometimes almost brutally frank, exchange with friends. But where Syria was concerned, it also reflected a growing consensus on the ground and among that country's neighbors that the civil war, which began almost two years ago, is not going to end any time soon.

Indeed, although nobody quite wants to say it out loud and on the record, there are many signs that governments in the region and the international community are adjusting to the idea that civil war in Syria is a sort of “new normal.”

Davos Beard

Lloyd Blankfein Goes Hipster

Is the Goldman Sachs chief headed for a lifestyle change? He’s been striding around the World Economic Forum with visible facial hair. Daniel Gross on that rare bird, the Wall Street beard.

Thus far, the World Economic Forum in Davos has been relatively free of controversy. Unless you count Lloyd Blankfein’s beard.

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Group, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Jan. 25. (Pascal Lauener/Reuters, via Landov)

Yes, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, the much admired/feared/loathed Wall Street firm, is sporting a tight, whitish-gray thatch of facial hair. It’s not quite a beard, but it’s getting there.

Now, facial hair isn’t very big in finance. Most of the bearded Davos figures are academics. Think Paul Krugman of Princeton and The New York Times (salt and pepper), Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia (gray and white), Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (dark before the financial crisis, considerably lighter after the financial crisis), or Barry Eichengreen of the University of California (white).

‘Surgical Operation’

Barak: U.S. Could Strike Iran

If sanctions fail to halt Tehran’s nuclear-weapons development, the Pentagon has plans for a “surgical operation” to end the threat, the Israeli defense minister told The Daily Beast in a wide-ranging interview at Davos.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is confident, he says, that the United States has plans for surgical strikes against Iran as a last-ditch measure if Tehran refuses to stop its development of a nuclear-weapons capability.

Barak and Panetta

Barak (left) arrived for a four-day visit to Washington, D.C., for talks with senior officials on security issues. (Alex Wong/Getty)

In a televised interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Christopher Dickey of Newsweek and The Daily Beast noted the American administration’s reluctance to involve itself in another Muslim world war and asked if there were any way Israel could go to war with Iran that did not drag in the United States.

“I don’t see it as a binary kind of situation: either they [the Iranians] turn nuclear or we have a fully fledged war the size of the Iraqi war or even the war in Afghanistan,” said Barak. “What we basically say is that if worse comes to worst, there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won’t work because the world is determined to block them.”

Davos

Soros’s Euro Warning

The legendary trader has some strict words about the European bailout—and he cautioned there are “turbulent” times ahead for the continent. Daniel Gross reports from Davos.

George Soros, slightly frail, at 82, is no longer active in the money-management business. But the legendary hedge-fund manager still has pointed views on the global economy, the markets, and politics. On Thursday night, at the Hotel Seehof in Davos, he held a group of financial journalists rapt for nearly two hours as they dined on mango salad and beef. At the heart of Europe, as the European financial establishment celebrated its success at beating back the crisis, Soros issued a stark warning. The agreement by the European Central Bank to intervene in government bond markets, supporting the sovereign debt of Italy and Spain with purchases, has worked, to a degree. “The euro is now here to stay, and the markets are reassured the immediate crisis is over,” he said. But in saving the euro, the continent’s financial powers have damaged the economy of the euro zone and created dangerous new political imbalances. As a result, “we have quite a turbulent time ahead for 2013.”

George Soros

George Soros spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 23. (Bloomberg, via Getty)

Soros, of course, has a complicated relationship with Europe. Born in Hungary, he survived the Nazi occupation, and later made his name betting against the British pound and the Bank of England in the 1980s. Now retired from active money management, Soros said that he is “spending my time developing my philosophy of ‘imperfect understanding’ and reorganizing my foundation so that it can actually survive me.”

At the World Economic Forum, you can sit in on dozens of panel discussions and hear different varieties of the same economic conventional wisdom, rendered in generally bland rhetoric. But Soros has a few contrary views, and a willingness to air them forthrightly.

Companies are learning that when they support women—as customers, employees, leaders, future investors, and partners—both their businesses and communities win.

Here in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, much of the discussion is about economic growth. The International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde inspired those attending to focus on the power of what she termed “inclusive growth”: “the evidence is clear, as is the message: when women do better, economies do better.” Today, visionary companies that initially embraced this notion through corporate philanthropy are now making investments in women a pillar of their business strategies.

Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, speaks Wednesday at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. (Laurent Gillieron/EPA, via Landov)

In recent years, investing in women has become more than inspiring rhetoric or good PR for a company. It’s now becoming a core business strategy yielding quantifiable returns. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2011, to “achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come.” By “increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity,” the secretary said, “we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies.”

These dividends come in part as a result of the growing economic influence wielded by women. In the United States, women control or influence more than 80 percent of purchasing decisions. Globally they are responsible for $20 trillion in spending, a figure expected to rise to $28 trillion by 2014. Goldman Sachs has found that it is women who are redefining markets and creating growth by focusing their spending power on purchases such as food, health care, education, clothing, consumer durables, and financial services. And, according to a Deloitte study, women’s earning power is growing faster than men’s in the developing world, where their earned incomes have increased by 8.1 percent compared with men’s 5.8 percent. As Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, recently stated, “The truth is that women are already the most dynamic and fastest-growing economic force in the world today.”

Average

Wake Up, Europe!

Just because nations aren’t threatening to leave the Euro, doesn’t mean that financial leaders should get complacent. Daniel Gross reports from Davos.

This is the first World Economic Forum in at least six years that hasn’t been gripped by a financial crisis. The giant banks are shrinking their footprints and workforces, but they’re not falling. To those without a Bloomberg or Reuters terminal, government bond markets have become boring again, as interest rates on Italian, Spanish, and Irish bonds have fallen to acceptable levels. The hedge-fund managers are schmoozing, back slapping, and scheming about deals, not fingering blackberries and iPhones like worry beads. “There’s no doubt the tone is generally more positive,” said the guy in the parka strolling down Promenade, the main drag of Davos. It was Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.

David Cameron and Mario Monti

From left, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. (AP (2))

Europe’s financial system is still battered. But the bailouts of Portugal, Ireland and Spain, the agony of Greece, the prospects of economic shrinkage in Germany and the U.K. don’t seem to be high on the agenda. To a large degree, the bailouts—the funds provided to Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal by the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, and the ECB’s promises to purchase Italian bonds—seem to have stopped the panic. The expectation now, as IMF Managing Director Christian Lagarde said at a Newsweek and The Daily Beast event on Wednesday, is that “the policy decisions that stabilized the financial markets are going to translate into the real economy.”

“Just because there is no talk of the euro failing and countries leaving the Euro doesn’t mean there should be complacency,” said Enda Kenny, the taoiseach of Ireland, at a panel on Thursday.

TABLE TALK

An Eclectic Group of Superstars

At a Davos dinner hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast in partnership with Credit Suisse, a diverse group of global movers and shakers take on the world’s problems.

Charlize Theron was quietly resplendent; George Soros, affably authoritative; George Osborne (seated across from the man who once broke the Bank of England), graciously defensive. Theaster Gates, master of the art of urban resurrection; and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, the state where you've got a right to be stoned: only the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, could bring together such an eclectic group of superstars from Hollywood, finance, government, and galleries. And they were just a few of the guests at the reception and dinner Wednesday night given by Newsweek and The Daily Beast in partnership with Credit Suisse.

It’s not just networking and name-dropping that make a great event at Davos, it’s the ideas that are offered and explored. The guests quaffed champagne as Credit Suisse chairman of the board Urs Rohner and Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor Tina Brown welcomed them, and the intellectual stage was set by the cohosts: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, and Pamela Thomas-Graham, chief talent, branding, and communications officer at Credit Suisse.

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Actress Charlize Theron at Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Davos dinner in partnership with Credit Suisse on Wednesday. (David Biedert for Newsweek & The Daily Beast)

Over their salads and filet mignon, they listened to Brown interview an extraordinarily frank and forthcoming Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Lagarde was critical of the brinksmanship in American politics that keeps the world wondering from month to month about the next self-imposed fiscal crisis.

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See the Complete Program

From Christine Lagarde to Jamie Dimon to Henry Kissinger, check out the full line-up of speakers and events at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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