This week I’ll be attending the Clinton Global Initiative, the fourth-annual gathering of everyone’s favorite world leaders and global trendy people like Tony Blair, Ban Ki-Moon, Bono and Bob Geldof, that’s gives them the chance to discusses the great problems of our time — global warming, global poverty, global health, the tint of Bono’s sunglasses — before retiring for some crazy banter with the president of Portugal. Tickets are somewhere around the $10,000 mark, which doesn’t do much to include the little people that actually need help, but definitely makes folks like me, who get in with a press pass, feel important.
It will be a big event, and I’m looking forward to sucking up all of the big ideas being tossed around.
This evening I had the opportunity to sit down with about 15 other bloggers for a pre-CGI meeting with the big idea man himself, Bill Clinton. Apparently Clinton wanted to get to know the bloggers — this new traveling pack of journalists-cum-activists — who will be attending, and I think we all gladly obliged. Regardless of our opinions of the man, who could say no to such an intimate meeting on the 45th floor of the Sheraton?
When we arrived Clinton was in a meeting with the new president of Paraguay, the ex-bishop and left-leaning Fernando Lugo. He was in good spirits when he greeted us, and quickly made a few friendly references to Lugo and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia and one of the growing number of Bush Administration bogeymen. I immediately thought, Remember back when our president didn’t view every leader as a potential threat?
It turns out Morales is interested in getting computers to rural Indians, and since Clinton’s good friend John Chambers happens to be the CEO of Cisco… you can probably see where that was going.
As expected, Clinton waxed thoughtful and verbose about a variety of topics, sometimes related to the questions at hand and sometimes not. But the ongoing financial crisis, it was clear, was weighing very heavily on his mind.
In brief: He blamed an action of Alan Greenspan’s (but not Greenspan himself) for some of the current financial miseries we’re facing. Back in 2001, Greenspan injected a bunch of cash into the market, but, Clinton said, all that money got invested in the housing and credit markets and nowhere else. Had he been president (a repeating refrain), Clinton would have made sure that those investments were diversified, focusing on new forms of renewable energy along with traditional investments. But instead, a narrow investment mindset created the housing bubble and led to the sub-prime loan mess. “The absence of a sensible economic policy meant that all of this sloshing around of money got misspent,” he told us.
Plus, said Clinton, “President Bush goes to war with Iraq and at the same time gives people a tax cut, something that’s never been done in the history of the Republic.”
He’s not opposed to the current bailout plan being floated by Paulson and Bernanke, but he’s worried that working Americans won’t see any benefit. “The legislation that Paulson and Chairman Bernanke is necessary but not sufficient because it doesn’t deal with a whole range of Main St. issues.” Essentially, he wants the government to bail out these companies but rather than do so by issuing high-interest loans, as is being proposed, he thinks we should require that, once these companies start making money again, a certain amount of the profits should go to taxpayers.
Sound progressive? Bill used the word a few times, which makes me think that either he’s jumping onto the bandwagon of a nationwide movement, or he’s feeling feisty in an election year. Probably a mixture of both.
There was a bit more talk about global warming, but most of us didn’t get a chance to ask questions — Bill was holding court, which was acceptable and expected. Alas, my question, about what the U.S. can do to help China and India continue to grow but without polluting the whole planet, never left my lips.
On Wednesday I’ll be back at the Sheraton, watching folks like Queen Rania of Jordan, Al Gore, and, yes, Bono, hold their own courts. Stay tuned.
Oh yeah: here’s the requisite pic of me and Bill.