There's no shortage of items on the agenda here at the World Economic Forum: Haiti, the gender gap, cap and trade, rebuilding long-term economic growth.
And yet, talk in the hallways and cocktail parties here inevitably turns to the agenda in Washington. Chatter is focused on President Obama's State of the Union address and what he will do to create more jobs. And with the Senate considering a second term for the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke is the buzz on everyone's lips.
The Fed head is getting some support from big names here in the Alps. John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley , joined us on "Squawk Box" and made his case for Bernanke. Here is what he said:
"Ben got us through—along with a team of others—we got through a big crisis... And I'm sure there are people that would say if he was really doing his job that wouldn't have happened. You and I both know that's bogus. He has been in that role for a short period of time so I don't think we'd have panic but I do think it would hurt the markets -- we saw the markets sell off about 5% last week but I think the markets are feeling somewhat better because there is support and it looks like he will be voted in."
So, I'm Not A Photographer
There's a reason they don't pay me to take pictures, and here it is:
This is French President Nicolas Sarkozy making his way into address the Forum. Really. That's him in the lower left-hand corner.
And while this shot may not give you a good idea of what Sarkozy really looks like, it does give you a good idea what the World Economic Forum looks like.
It's crowds and photographers chasing after business leaders and heads of state. Welcome to the circus.
The Race Is On
My favorite part about Davos 2009: the pedometer race.
In case you weren't following along on this blog last year, let me catch you up to speed: Davos wants visitors to be green, and so it encourages us to walk everywhere instead of taking cars. Sounds easy, until you realize it's snowing, two degrees below zero and to get anywhere requires hiking up the Swiss Alps.
But the event organizers here figured they could trick us with childish games. They gave us each a pedometer, and promised that whoever took the most steps at last year's World Economic Forum would win a prize. I, for one, fell hook, line and sinker.
The pedometer became my obsession last year. I wore it everywhere, even to the shower. I even figured out how to game the system by jiggling around a lot while it was perched on my hip, to mimic extra steps.
And then...disaster struck. My pedometer blanked out halfway through the week. I lost over 20,000 steps.
But the pedometer is back! And I am on fire. After only an hour or two wearing it, I already have 1,218 steps. I am on track to win!!
At least, that's what I thought, until I read the fine print that comes with the pedometer and realize last year's winner logged 100,897 steps. Who is this freak? I have a lot of walking (and jiggling) to do.
Davos Is Hot
Davos is hot.
I mean figuratively, of course. Literally it's below zero here. But Davos isn't the hottest show around. At least, not anymore.
Those bragging rights belong to the Clinton Global Initiative, which, according to a new survey from Weber Shandwick, was the most popular summit for CEOs in 2009.
That's a quick rise to prominence for an upstart philanthropic summit. The CGI, which is held every September in New York, started just five years ago.
But former President Clinton lures CEOs with his gravitas, star power and close personal involvement in the CGI. Not to mention a reputation for getting concrete results with his charitable drives.
The World Economic Forum, which is pushing 40 years of age, tumbled from the No. 1 spot all the way to No. 4 on the list of most popular for C-Suite types last year.
Part of WEF's decline in stature is because of timing. Last year's conference took place in the midst of the global economic meltdown. It's tough for a CEO to look like he's minding shop when he photographed mingling in the Swiss Alps.
We'll see if WEF fares better this year in a post-crash environment.
Lost In Translation
With 2500 representatives from dozens of nations, the World Economic Forum is truly a global event.
That's good, because it makes all try to understand each other and our different perspectives. But inevitably, some things get lost in translation.
And this invitation I just received has to be one of them:
Davos: Invitation to a press breakfast with German Defence Minister Dr. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Dr. Juergen Grossmann, CEO of RWE AG
We have the pleasure of inviting you to a press breakfast with German Defence Minister Dr. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Dr. Juergen Grossmann, CEO of RWE AG, in Davos on Sunday, 31 January 2010, on the subject of Energy security in economies of the 21st century.
Please join us at 08.30 at the Restaurant Höhenweg in Davos. A cable car to the venue will leave the "Talstation Parsenn" at 08.15 a.m. Valid ski passes will be provided upon request. We will be meeting at the cable car station at 08.00 a.m. ((PLEASE BOLD THIS SENTENCE)) You are also cordially invited to join the RWE Ski Cup race immediately after our meeting. Please see the invitation attached."
Note the bold line above. If I'm reading this correct, they're inviting me to join a Ski Cup race in the Swiss Alps.
Like I said, this had to have gotten lost in translation. Either that, or they have no idea who they're dealing with! Clearly these people have never seen me hit the slopes.
Guess Who's Coming To Davos
Davos is starting to heat up. And aside from the topics of the day—like rethinking economic theory after the global meltdown and trying rebuild trust in governments and business—talk inevitably turns to who's here, and who's not.
The list of who's not this year includes Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. Dimon, a former chair of the World Economic Forum, says he pulled out for other commitments.
Finding out who is here is a little trickier, because until you actually see folks on the ground, you're taking a chance by assuming the itinerary is accurate.
But some of this year's headliners include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is giving the opening remarks, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is set to arrive Wednesday afternoon.
The spotting begins on the plane on the way here. Direct flights to Zurich are loaded with Davos pilgrims. Last year, I spotted billionaire investor George Soros on my plane. (Yes, he actually flies commercial sometimes!) This year, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of TheNew York Times, sat behind me.
Here's the best part; he's reading "War at the Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire".
Something Old, Something New
The Alps are still stunning. The snow is still piled high. And yes, it's still freezing here. But as the World Economic Forum convenes in Davos once again, the delegates recognize that the world is a very different place this time around.
The economic crisis wreaked havoc not only with the world's financial markets, but also with it's trust in business institutions, and faith in the capitalistic system.
Just how deep those chasms run is revealed in a World Economic Forum poll surveying 130,000 people from ten of the G20 economies. It found that over two-thirds of people believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of ethics and values.
The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world. Only one-quarter of respondents believe that large, multinational businesses apply a values-driven approach to their sectors, while over 40% believe that small and medium-sized businesses apply such an approach.
Almost two-thirds of respondents believe that people do not apply the same values in their professional lives as they do in their private lives.
One of the key themes at Davos this year is restoring and rebuilding confidence. With poll results like these, the business and political leaders have their work cut out for them this week.