Davos Confab

I am suffering a bit of indigestion from an overdose of globaloney (as Claire Booth Luce, I think, once dubbed it, noting that no matter how thin you sliced it, its essence remained unaltered). I know that’s unfair–Main Street really is affected by what happens in Malaysia these days. But it’s rather a relief to breakfast with CNN/Time Warner’s Ted Turner. “I’m a little on the fringe sometimes,” he tells us, “but my psychiatrist assures me I’m not nuts.” That’s about got it. In an on/off-the-record session he jumps from Martin Luther King to Rupert Murdoch, Gandhi to God, from the state of his prostate to the state of electronic journalism (“Hey, we’re not perfect but we try”), and then back to Rupert Murdoch again.

Turner is followed by Russia’s Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. He looks as if he is sitting for a Politburo portrait. (I suppose he has had plenty of practice.) He senses, ominously, “a pause” in U.S.-Russian relations–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s “cordial” visit notwithstanding. He is “categorically opposed” to any use of force in Kosovo, such as the intervention NATO is now considering. He wonders why we keep picking on his friend Saddam Hussein. He wishes we would forgive some of Russia’s debt. Next on the menu is Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew exuding the wisdom of millenniums and gently chiding America for its “Wild West” ways. Commerce Secretary William Daley follows with worries that steel dumping and the banana wars will reignite the fires of protectionism. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich closes with the morning with a reprise of his Friday late evening performance.

This is all very well, but what this year’s conference lacks, we journalists agree, is a star. Last year, there was Hillary (and, in absentia, Monica Lewinsky). Neither Al Gore nor Robert Rubin has electrified the gathering as did Hillary Clinton. The year before, world leaders crowded around Bill Gates, seeking to touch the hem of his garment in the hope that his money magic would rub off on them. This year, Gates’ Sunday luncheon with media leaders is well attended, but there is no buzz (though I overhear some European journalists saying that he seemed “much nicer” than in earlier appearances). His most noted comment is that Internet stocks seem awfully high–but that mightn’t keep Microsoft from making a few acquisitions.

When Yasser Arafat first came to Davos a few years ago–and clenched hands with Israel’s Shimon Peres–security forces blocked the roads in and out of Davos and guarded his every movement. Now the Palestinian leader is available for a Sunday “nightcap” with whoever signs up first (although there are still sharpshooters on the roof of his hotel).

After an editorialists’ dinner with Kofi Annan–he seems dubious about the threat of a NATO force in Kosovo–outside it is 40 degrees below zero Celsius (which, if my arithmetic is correct, happens to equate to 40 below on the Fahrenheit scale as well). The breath freezes in your nostrils. My hotel is at the opposite end of town, and I’m glad I missed out on getting a seat at the Arafat soiree.

It strikes me that one carefully chosen investment that the world’s financial moguls make is in feminine pulchritude. International arm candy is generally much classier than the American brands. The long-stemmed beauties on the arm of many a gray-haired gentleman are mostly young, though there are also handsome older women being handed out of chauffeured Mercedes. I comfort myself with the thought that they probably don’t know much about the euro. But then, neither really do I.