Camerons Brilliant Blazing Saddles Strategy

Clumsy Cameron holding a gun to Britain’s head

  • From:The Australian 
  • January 25, 2013 12:00AM

I AM guessing British Prime Minister David Cameron has seen Mel Brooks’s 1974 cult comedy classic Blazing Saddles.

It’s a politically incorrect spoof-Western that features Cleavon Little as a young black Sheriff Bart who is sent to the whites-only town of Rock Ridge.

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, the sheriff finds himself surrounded by the racist townsfolk, their six-guns drawn, ready to shoot him dead.

In a wonderful piece of lateral thinking, the Sheriff pulls his own gun and points it at his head.

“Hold it! Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!”

The dim-witted townsfolk take him seriously: “Hold it, men. He’s not bluffing. Listen to him, men. He’s just crazy enough to do it!”

The townspeople drop their guns and Bart, pushing the gun into his own neck, drags himself out of group.

Once he is safe inside his own office he congratulates himself:

“Ooh, baby, you are so talented!” and then he looks into the camera and says “and they are so dumb!”

This scene is all I could think of as I listened today to Cameron’s “England and Europe” speech.

I am sitting at a folding desk in the media room of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos listening to a webcast. To my left are a team of Chinese video journalists, young, fast-moving women with nice cameras. Behind me is the team from one of the most conservative British newspapers.

They know what they are doing, type quickly, talk faster, and are producing column inches quicker than I can get up to get another cup of coffee.

I’ve been pondering the issue of how worldly this forum really is. At times I feel as if the W of WEF stands for White or at least West. The organisers will hate me for making that simplistic joke, but I wonder how the Chinese think about Cameron’s big European speech today.

The world is burning, we’re facing a lifetime of financial turmoil and the leader of the seventh-biggest economy has just ensured that the personal relationship between England and Europe will remain a focus for the next five years.

Wouldn’t China just sort this thing out? And wouldn’t a democratic leader just make a decision, and stand by it? If they want to vote him out, they’ll have a chance to do that once, possibly twice, in the next five years.

The tweet from Cameron was shorter than the Prime Minister’s talk, so to save you 5700 words of pure populist circularity this is what he wrote on the micro-blogging site:

“5 principles for a new #EU: competitiveness, flexibility, power flowing back to member states, democratic accountability, fairness #EUspeech”

Whoever advised it to be called the “eu-speech” was spot on.

Cameron wants a better, more dynamic, less bureaucratic Europe. He’s not alone: so do 300 million Europeans.

Europe didn’t come together and try to be bureaucratic and slow-moving. It is just the nature of the damp squib of regulations that they dropped on the continent because the previous years of brave, inspirational leaders hadn’t worked out so peacefully.

Cameron and others complain that the Brussellian bureaucrats are unelected, which is certainly true. They would love an elected mandate, but no one wanted to create another tier of government, so Europe agreed on another layer of bureaucracy.

Leaders lead — or they are supposed to, David — and bureaucrats bureau (French for making office).

It is at times like this that the World Economic Forum feels like a place where white people from old economies have heated conversations about old people’s problems. The economics of where’s-the-closest-bathroom, the politics of will-my-knees-handle-this-hill.

I raised my concerns with the organisers, and they sent me plenty of information to confirm there are actually a large number of representatives from Asia (700 at least), and plenty of sessions covering Asian issues. The WEF has a Chinese Annual Meeting too.

There’s also over 1000 of the next generation, Young Global Shapers and Young Global Leaders, many here but hundreds more spread around the planet who are doing great things. They are 50 per cent women, and 100 per cent driven. The WEF gives their projects a platform, and connects them to each other and the big end of town.

OK. I sit here soundly corrected.

But I can’t help feeling that what we are doing is very Western.

We are here to use multi-lateralism — which is not the Asian way of operating — to solve a problem — which we’ve defined as them!

Europe has a problem, Cameron says, because its share of global GDP is falling. He’s not saying that Europe’s GDP is falling (yet) but that its relative share of world wealth is falling. That’s essentially like saying that because your friend’s about to get rich, your life is about to suck.

And while politicians use the fear of the growth of China to drum up support for their agendas, what the growth of China means in human terms is quite different: the average Chinese person will be poorer than the average Brit for at least the next 50 years, even under the more bullish estimates.

Exactly how long does the average Chinese person deserve to stay poorer than the average Brit? Fifty years, 100 years, or forever?

Cameron speaks of the rise of Asia in terms of “the challenges coming from the surging economies in the East and South” and that “we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is under way today. A race for the wealth and jobs of the future.”

A race? A yellow race by chance? Who suggested that word be used?

The problem, as defined by many Western leaders, is not that we spent money we didn’t have, not that we waste money on poorly planned wars or ridiculous drug policies, but that the Asian nations are “soaring”. The horror! Watch out, crouching tiger, flying economy!

People at the forum are still talking about China’s visit a few years ago, when they made it very clear that they would keep their currency at a level that helped their people.

The shock! Monetary policy to benefit your own peasants, not other people’s bankers?

It’s radical, and it makes you wonder what is the purpose of a currency after all.

Britain seems to want a United States of Europe, the way Canada wants the United States of America: a large uniform market that is very close but not such that they have to accept their neighbour’s whacky way of life.

If the goal is to fix Europe, what has giving English people an optional vote in five years got to do with that?

Oh that’s right, it’s the “gun to your own head strategy”.

“Agree to our demands or the British public gets it in the head!”

The problem with Cameron’s plan to put EU membership to a plebiscite is what happens if the Europeans are not as stupid as the rednecks of Rock Ridge. If the Europeans are smarter, they’ll call his bluff, and he has to pull the trigger.

Businessman Peter Holmes a Court is at the WEF in Davos.

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Big thinkers sprout big ideas at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Australian January 23, 2013 12:00AM

WHAT is unquestionably the world’s most influential gathering of business and political leaders, economists and non-skiers, takes place each January in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos-Kloster. There is only one winding road in and one road out, which the VVIPs wisely avoid by arriving in giant blue helicopters with snowshoes for landing gear.

Davos is the best-guarded civilian gathering on the planet owing to the announced arrival of more than 50 heads of state. In attendance will be the leaders of Germany, England, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. If you read the pre-event media, it appears that they each have equal billing.

The range of attendees is admirably broad and reflects the organisers’ desire to facilitate real multi-stakeholder conversations.

Every major non-government organisation is represented, from the International Monetary Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature, along with philanthropists, economists, large numbers of squillionaires and a small number of cause-promoting supermodels.

Davos 2013 promises to be more boring than the 2012 edition. Which is good news, as it increases the chances that more will get done.

Last January, tensions were at an all-time high. Greece was three days from defaulting and the drama grew until many believed that Greece was about to fall into the Aegean Sea and pull the eurozone in with it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was suggesting the rest of Europe needed to become “more German”. For historical reasons, there are sensitivities in Europe to words like that coming from a German chancellor.

This year the Greeks will be back, paying a third for their 10-year debt than they were 12 months ago, and the Chinese too. Last year, the dates of the forum clashed with Chinese New Year celebrations. The Chinese proved unwilling to modify their 2000-year-old calendar, so the forum was moved up a week.

The Americans, who were last year distracted by Republican primaries, will again be under-represented. This is a conference about “multis” — multilateralism, multi-stakeholder engagement, multiculturalism — and there are no sessions on the doctrine on American exceptionalism.

This year’s geopolitical disturbances include the intractable sideshow of Syria, and the rising violence in Algeria and Mali. For all the regrettable atrocities of those situations, they appear isolated and low-risk compared with the threats that came this time last year from the nuclear-aspiring Iran claiming it was about to wipe Israel from the map.

British Prime Minister David Cameron will be once again pounding his fist on the podium about Europe. He has promised it will be “almost tantric”. Boy, he must really enjoy his job to compare a speech on European integration to hot subcontinental pseudo-sacred sex.

The contingent from Australia is low in numbers, but we still punch well above our weight when it comes to the substance of our delegates.

American Tom Albanese, who was until last week the head of the world’s second-largest miner, Rio Tinto, will surely skip the forum. His replacement, Sam Walsh, who was until last week Perth-based, will need to bring plenty of business cards to introduce himself.

Australia will be officially represented by Trade Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who together will host a modest Australia Day soiree. Kevin Rudd will also attend.

Morrison’s card is embossed with a title that also says he is the “Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy”. They are brave words, which sound like code for “Australia might be a long way away, but we’re much closer to China than you are!”

The Americans rarely change their parochial worldview, effortlessly saluting the central place of the US in global affairs. Which makes it a good thing that Australia is sending a Foreign Minister who can defeat any American by boring them to death with his superior knowledge of American political history.

Sessions are simultaneously translated, and the highest chance the translators have of needing to translate throwback ocker will be at the sessions featuring Sharan Burrow. The former ACTU head is now general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Last year she forced a bemused Chinese intern to translate “fair dinkum” in a speech about labour market regulation.

For all her rough edges, Burrow is a great representative of Australia. She has risen to the role as the lead defender for the rights of the world’s unionised workers. At times she resembles the lone pugilist at a badminton convention.

At the other end of the spectrum, executive recruitment is today a highly selective, almost scientific, process that is more about psychological analysis than old-school ties.

At the top of the global recruitment tree is Swiss firm Egon Zehnder, which is led by Damien O’Brien, its Melbourne-born chief executive. Softly spoken, a brainiac with an EQ matching his IQ, O’Brien is one of the more understated Australians walking the halls of the forum.

Australians who work overseas don’t show up on official lists as Australian attendees. But we deserve credit for developing talent such as James Hogan, chief executive of Etihad Airlines, and Jim Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank.

Nations come here to position themselves as a good place to do business, to project an image of stability, made easier when seated in the Swiss Alps. Once, small nations would have hosted a boxing match in their jungles to get attention. These days they sponsor a plenary session and send subtle messages about resource security and rule of law.

The world’s big fund allocators, the investment banks and the hedge fund managers, are here to find investments, and to understand better the risks of the ones they have. Perhaps most importantly, to stay in the “club” that gets information first.

Corporations attend to lobby, to connect and to reward executives in a perk that does not appear in the calculation of total remuneration.

This year the attendees convene under the banner of “Resilient dynamism”, which sounds as bland as caffeine-free Diet Coke and as internally conflicted as competitive yoga.

While it is easy to make jokes at the organisers’ expense, I don’t underestimate the challenges of finding a moniker for a conference that is attempting to cover the entire geopolitical, environmental and economic state of the planet.

“Resilient dynamism” addresses the most challenging conundrum facing world leaders today: they need to change things to get the growth they seek, but desperately need stability.

How do we make meaningful change to avoid a repeat of our current situation when to do so threatens the fragile stability of the world?

The world’s economy has largely stabilised, compared to any of the past five years, but virtually none of the underlying problems have been addressed.

The best evidence for this can be found in the World Economic Forum’s own publication, “Global Risks Report for 2013″.

I read the 80-page, 200-graph report, which is a comprehensive study, extracted from interviews with more than 1000 experts.

It covers all the terrifying stuff in the world, from critical failures of governance to chronic fiscal imbalances, increasing global water shortages to antibiotic-resistant illnesses.

The report is in its eighth year, and all the top 50 risks have risen over the past year in either or both of their “likelihood” or “expected impact”.

Most concerning is the fact that all the big risks — income inequality, fiscal imbalances, impacts of global warming, water supply mismanagement, systemic financial system failure, and global governance failures — have all increased in both severity and likelihood. To make matters worse, these are the ones we have been concentrating on.

In truth the world is responding to the crash of 2008, not what caused the crisis. We are responding to a car accident. We can at least see now that it was caused by a drinking problem. But we don’t want to touch the emotional problems that led to the bad habits.

Just as we are about to start talking about the underlying causes, someone is pushing the bottle across the table again. “Here,” they say, “have some more. Go ahead, raise the debt ceiling a bit, issue some more bonds, heck, quantitatively ease yourself, and then we’ll talk about your problems.”

Which brings us to why all these people are here. At its core, this conference is about idea exchange. Policymaking, legislation writing, investment decisions, are done elsewhere. This makes accountability hard. No one can draw charts that explain what caused the consensus to move in any one direction.

If change is just the actualisation of what started as ideas, then the forum seeks to create change by pushing forward the best ideas. The ingredients are lots of high-quality research, plenary sessions that start just after sunrise and extend long after sunset.

There’s an overwhelming supply of experts speaking, presenting, powerpointing.

Every room is filled with smart, hard-working folks who could be anywhere else in the world.

The location effectively locks them in a resort with only one road out, little oxygen, plenty of coffee during the day and drinkable wine at night. It is a recipe that works, which is why people keep turning up.

The overwhelming majority of people here believe in professional development, of learning about the current situation from multiple angles.

Talks are at a high level, nothing is dumbed down, even the side sessions are challenging. Most attendees stay through even the least animated sessions, and alert during the traditional nap-time for conference attendees (the two hours after lunch).

Suspicions will always be raised when a bunch of elites go into the mountains of Switzerland and meet behind closed doors. It’s easy to poke fun at this event when it talks in the gobbledygook of economics, and it’s just plain weird to see Angela Merkel and Mick Jagger at the same party.

But the reality will disappoint the conspiracy theorists. I have been inside the closed-door dinners, I’ve been granted the one-on-one interviews with political leaders, and I’ve coffee’d with the heads of Greenpeace and the WTO. I’ve attended the open functions and stayed late when the drinks were flowing, even if the dance moves weren’t.

What was spoken was exhaustively focused on the state of the world, relentlessly researched and data-based, earnest in a desire to communicate to their opponents that their solution is right.

Each year the forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, opens the conference with his personal reflections and his organisation’s goals for the gathering. Last year, he started with: “Capitalism as we know it has failed — we (the global business community) have sinned.”

This year, in a long preview piece for the Telegraph of London, Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever and an active World Economic Forum member, said essentially the same thing.

The leader of the world’s biggest consumer products company echoed Klaus, saying: “People in the West are realising that our model is not sustainable, it is time to change.”

That’s idea transfer. That’s what Davos is about.

Making the changes, however, is the responsibility of all of us.

Peter Holmes a Court is attending the World Economic Forum before finishing his first book, Riding with Giants, on the failings of economics, the changing nature of work since the industrial revolution, and fast bicycles

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Five Reasons the US will go off the Fiscal Cliff

1. Americans LOVE drama.  They know its one of the few things that they are truly world class in.  Drama distracts you from any other systemic weakness in your system and society. So expect plenty of people to prefer this than the harder issue of focussing on root causes.

2.Republicans are weak, and therefore unlikely to back down. If they take a backwards step now they have to admit to themselves they are really, really weak.  The one principle they have (the no tax increase pledge given to them by a guy whose name really is Grover) is at least a principle.  If they give that up, what can they say they really stand for?

3. Obama’s got some principles, and he is going to use them.  He showed in the election that people telling him to change his ways will not be listened to.  He won by being himself, and I can’t see him changing.

4. There is good business in it happening. TV ratings will go through the roof not to mention the very high level of business every trading bank will do before, during and after the cliff date.  Why won’t there be record market turn-over, plus endless legal work to re-issue, re-write, re-negotiate thousands of facilities.  Good work if you can get it.

and most importantly:

5. It has been called a FISCAL CLIFF, which sounds really really scary, and as every day passes and people get closer they will understand that it isn’t a cliff: you don’t die after it, each side like some of the consequences of falling off it.  Someone is going to call this bluff’s bluff.  It is the opposite of “the break up of the Euro” concept which sounds like an administrative action, but the closer we got to it the more people realised had it had deeply horrible consequences.

[photo credit: me, sunrise over Gastlosen, CH]


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