David Rothkopf

Nano, nano is no longer just a greeting on Ork…

It’s only Wednesday and it has been a fraught week. In fact, I am totally ready for the weekend. In just the past three days, we have watched as: Obama conducted an entire televised press conference without once accepting a question from a reporter from a major newspaper. Personally I think this reveals more about ...

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MUMBAI, INDIA - MARCH 23: on March 23, 2009 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images)

It’s only Wednesday and it has been a fraught week. In fact, I am totally ready for the weekend. In just the past three days, we have watched as:

Obama conducted an entire televised press conference without once accepting a question from a reporter from a major newspaper. Personally I think this reveals more about Obama’s weaknesses than those associated with the newspaper industry. (Meanwhile, based on his performance Tuesday night, our President simultaneously started a rumor that there are actually two Obamas, one an inspirational leader who Michelle sometimes takes out for big public occasions, and the other who is a tax accountant with the charisma of a tube sock.) Meanwhile, Obama’s economic crash test dummy Tim Geithner testified on the Hill winning kudos from the market but gradually grimmer and grimmer assessments from economists and thoughtful writers like the FT’s Martin Wolf

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to Mexico even as Obama framed that country’s drug violence as a top concern of the U.S. and hearings on the subject were a highlight on Capitol Hill.  Personally I am worried about Secretary Clinton and it’s not all that Mexican violence that I feel puts her at risk.  Rather, if history is any indicator, the real danger she faces is associated with the fact that she currently has a higher approval rating than the President. (If she doubts me on this, she should call Colin Powell and see how that worked out for him.)

Housing starts were up, markets were up and yet somehow it did nothing to tame the throbbing headache and sinking sensation in the pit of the stomach that has been reported by well, everyone everywhere. It’s gotten to the point that I’m comforted by those  reports of a killer asteroid hurtling toward the planet because it looks the giant Advil we all need. (Just kidding. There is no asteroid. You are still going to have to figure out how to survive during retirement on the $11.26 left in your 401-K.)

In other developments in astro-physics, black hole of charisma Gordon Brown went to the European Parliament and was gutted and filleted like a trout by a British MEP named Daniel Hannan (which you can view yourself thanks to the wonders of YouTube). And speaking of YouTube, the Chinese government once again made the world’s most populous country seem very small indeed by blocking the site after a video the Chinese assert was a fake seemed to show a Chinese policeman beating a Tibetan demonstrator to death. Finally on the foreign policy front, the seductive Bibi Netanyahu managed to get Ehud Barak (who once infiltrated Syria in a drag…draw your own conclusions) and the Labor Party to clamber aboard his coalition’s bandwagon, thus giving it more diversity and political credibility. (It has been hinted that should Barak ever again appear in a dress he could face prosecution and perhaps physical danger from UN High Commissioner for Crimes Against Fashion Tim Gunn.)

Yet for all these things, or perhaps in spite of them, we may well look back on this week and determine that the most important thing that happened was that Ratan Tata, Indian mega-mogul, fulfilled what many thought was an impossible personal ambition when he launched his new $2,200 Nano microcar. It is, as far as an “everyman’s car” precisely what the Ford Model T hoped to be, but of course, for most of the planet, was not. It truly opens the door to car ownership for hundreds of millions of people. If it is as successful as predicted, and cars, being produced at a rate of 1,000,000 per year according to Tata, are back-ordered into 2010, it will undoubtedly signal a boom in an entirely new category of vehicles. Chevrolet plans to launch a micro car next year…if there is a Chevrolet next year. And while the prospect of the proliferation of cars like the Nano creates new challenges regarding pollution (although Tata says it has lower emissions than a motorcycle), because of their light weight and the limited speed or horsepower seen as necessary for such vehicles, the category could become an area in which alternative energy options are particularly effective. Even without this though, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Yvo de Boer said, “I am not concerned about it (the Tata Nano) because people in India have the same aspirational rights to own cars as people elsewhere in the world.” 

The world being what it is, of course, today, two days after the Nano launch, Standard and Poors downgraded Tata Motors due to the fact that they didn’t feel even high demand for the vehicle could offset the company’s other problems. This is a good news bad news story. Because if the global economy continues to circle the drain, there may be increased demand for the Nano in many formerly developed countries. Like ours. In fact, Tata plans a U.S. launch of the vehicle in three years. Tata is clearly a visionary. I wonder what he knows that we don’t know.

Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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