This journal is sponsored by the International Bank of Azerbaijan

Day I: A Snowy Mood

The official theme for the World Economic Forum meeting, which began its three-day run Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland, is the gallant call to “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild" the world. But the arriving leading lights of business, government, academe, and NGOs were too gloomily fixated on the current financial crisis to be enthralled by the three R’s.

For example, a larger than usual posse of American bankers is making an appearance not so much to chart a brave new regulatory future but rather to round up European allies against the constraints on banking practices being proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

But the bankers’ cause has not been aided by the initial positive response to Obama from the French and British central bankers. Nor was it helped by a survey released on Day One of this year’s meeting that showed CEOs to be the least trusted leadership group by the general public.

George Soros, at his usual Davos luncheon, dismissed the American bankers as "tone deaf." He also decried the political pressures that are pushing Obama toward higher taxes and spending cuts before the financial recovery is completed.

Although there are more bankers at the conference than in the past, there are fewer black limousines and helicopters to ferry them to and from the Zurich airport. This year, there were many more “suits” riding the bus shuttle up to the Davos ski resort. And the lords of finance have practiced limited luxury in the cocktail receptions and dinners for their clients. It is all in keeping with the mood of the day, which is definitely not celebratory.

The gloom persisted in a session of top economists, who, for the most part, saw ugly politics generated by a painfully slow recovery of economic growth and a possible second recession dip.

The discussions may lighten up, but it looks as if the weather will stay in sync with the current outlook -- a major blizzard is expected for the next three days.

Day II: Year of the Tiger

China's presence at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, began a number of years back with a small, quiet delegation that stuck closely to itself. But as China's economic power has grown, so has its annual representation at Davos, with larger and larger Chinese delegations -- their Western suits replacing Mao jackets -- participating with ever more confidence.

This year's Chinese contingent is the largest ever. To further increase its profile, China's delegation replaced a long-standing Western corporation in a huge house across the street from the congress hall. A large banner announced that the villa would be "China House" for the duration of the annual meeting.

For the most part, veteran Western participants have marveled at China's phenomenal growth and doted over its expanding presence at Davos. This year, however, a note of skepticism has tempered the enthusiasm of past years. A bit like waking from a dream, Europeans are more conscious of how big, influential, and assertive China has become since weathering the Great Recession so much better than everyone else.

Questions are now being openly raised about the validity of China's phenomenal growth statistics, and some observers are airing charges that China manipulated its currency in order to maintain a favorable exchange rate. Many discussions have been peppered by the broader complaint that China is shirking its international responsibilities.

Li Keqiang, a standing member of the Chinese Polituro, appeared unfazed in jovially defending all of China's economic practices, while declining comment about the recent cyber attack on Google. Pridefully, he reminded his fellow Davos sojourners that this is the Year of the Tiger, a time of vigor, vitality, and dynamism. He seemed to be saying, "Wait till next year -- you ain't seen nothing yet."

Day III: The New Politics

At its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum grappled with a new form of politics that is profoundly shaping the next generation. On the program were several sessions exploring social networking, a radically different way to tackle social and political problems.

Around the world, social networking is being embraced by young people in great numbers. Its empowering capability is erasing the sense of political helplessness felt by previous generations of youth. It is also rattling traditional leadership, particularly in authoritarian societies.

The tools of social networking are mobile phones, simple digital cameras, and Internet services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Acting through loose networks, young activists can quickly marshal huge numbers of supporters behind causes in record short time. The results may be mass political petitions or mass demonstrations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, even millions.

The rapid growth of social networking is occurring at the same time that the watchdog group Freedom House has documented a fourth year of decline in liberty, human rights, and openness around the globe. Authoritarian regimes are not only more numerous they are also more confident and influential. And the very tools that empower the democratically minded youth can also be used to identify and round them up.

Social networking, therefore, is a double-edged sword, unleashing new forces that will bring change  -- but not without confrontation. In the long run, social networking's ability to mobilize tremendous forces will most likely prevail. So the young Davos delegates are warning the current holders of the keys to get ready. The new politics is coming on fast.

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