Davos, Switzerland (CNN) - The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos is “the great transformation: shaping new models”. But this morning, at a WPP-organized breakfast about the world’s political outlook, it is the absence of a great transformation that is most clouding the world’s political outlook in 2012.
The breakfast, hosted with characteristic wit by WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, featured the political predictions of the American pollster Mark Penn and the British Labour Party impresario Peter Mandelson. But, in spite of the profound challenges to the global system, neither Penn nor Mandelson were able to conjure any great transformation in a world desperate for radical political reinvention.
The biggest party in America is “the no party,” Penn explained. The American electorate, he went on, is “fed up,” “angry” and “deeply pessimistic” about the future of the country. And yet, in spite of all this dissatisfaction, Penn sees the Republican primary race as a “circus,” is not optimistic about a third party candidate (unless Newt Gingrich unexpectedly wins the nomination,) sees little hope for a solution to the American budget crisis and expects Obama to be reelected in 2012.
Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) – Under the fiery orange of a setting Hawaiian sun, with bright green palm fronds framing his television shot, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed for one last time the message he’s pushed all weekend during this year’s APEC summit: the U.S. sees its future in Asia and is here to stay.
“No region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asia-Pacific.”
As the world’s fastest growing region accounting for more than half of the world’s total GDP, Mr. Obama further stressed Asia is key to his administration goal of doubling U.S. exports. And in a clear pivot for his domestic constituents, he added that more trade means more jobs for Americans.
They bicker. They point fingers. They reluctantly agree to do something they really don’t want to do.
This is not a primary school classroom. This is the United States Congress.
A recent CNN poll shows that more than 75% of Americans feel their lawmakers have acted like “spoiled children.”
Like the royal wedding that preceded it, the visit of President Barack Obama to Britain has been orchestrated well. Beyond discussions of the essential relationship, the U.S. president went out of his way both in his speech before both chambers of the British parliament and in his news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron to support what he calls the emerging democracies of the Middle East.
At the front of the queue are the two countries that sparked the uprisings, one of the least populated, Tunisia, and the most populated in the region, Egypt. There has been criticism from many camps that the U.S. president has been dragging his feet in supporting the North African states who overthrew Zine El Abedine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.
LONDON, England - Have you seen the cover of this week's Economist with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel having to pay the "dinner" bill to rescue Eastern Europe? If you did you would have seen the artwork of Kevin Kallaugher - or Kal as he signs his work.
An example of Kal's witty and perceptive cartoon talent.
American-born Kal has contributed more than 100 Economist covers during the past 30 years. He's also been published in my hometown paper; the Baltimore Sun. Kal was discovered during the recession of the late 1970s drawing caricatures on the streets of London and Brighton.
He has benefited from Reaganomics, Thatcherism, Bill Clinton (fish in a barrel all of them) but is now tasked with describing the "credit crunch" with pen and ink.
Some commentators speculate that the end of the Bush era might mean the end of cartoon satire to reflect today's news. Not Kal.
"Certainly it (the Bush presidency) was the golden era to a certain degree," he told me during an interview at the Political Cartoon Gallery in Central London last month.
"I mean also what we're seeing in Obama's case - although the satire may not be immediately directed at him as an individual - is that we're going through such historic changes, politically, economically, around the world, it's going to supply a lot of material."
The challenge for Kal and his contemporaries is to describe the credit crunch in one drawing. Kal hopes his craft actually helps people make sense of the global recession. "You not always just react to the news. I like to think that we're in the business of kind of clarifying the news," he said.
He is very busy these days trying to "draw" the recession and also the new president. "It's this early phase, where we as the cartoonists are helping to establish in the public's mind what these people look like, this is an interesting time for us."
Kal has drawn many a character during his career. He often has to hear their voice to capture their essence. If you want to hear his imitation of one famous voice (he says it drives his wife crazy as he talks to himself in character as he draws some people) and see his efforts to capture the character of a certain CNN employee, watch Quest Means Business on Thursday night or check out cnn.com/international on Friday.
HONG KONG, China – This week, I met with a businessman who ships goods from Hong Kong's port all over the world. All he could talk about was the lack of orders especially from the United States.
Freight movement out of Asia is slowing as orders dry up.
"It's all about the orders!" he lamented. "There are no orders."
No orders is a bit of an exaggeration. He later calmed down and told me that American retailers were placing orders - but not a lot by his estimation and only to bigger manufacturers they felt confident would be around at least for the next several months.
This lack of confidence is disconcerting for business people in Asia and for the governments who, for decades, relied on the sales of competitively priced goods to countries such as the United States to enrich their impoverished economies.
For the vast majority of exporters out here, the U.S. market is crucial to their survival. In addition, others that support these manufacturers - like the businessman I was speaking to - can't imagine further growth in the region without America's confident spenders.
Already, Japan has posted a record trade deficit. Taiwan's exports are down by over 40 percent from a year ago. Hong Kong's recession is deepening. South Korea is facing a debt crisis as its companies' sales wither.
The businessman I met with isn't normally interested in U.S. politics, but he is this year.
His hope? That President Barack Obama and his aggressive economic agenda will inspire the American people to buy again - and keep the orders coming to Asia.
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