The watch list as 2011 begins: Who will be Obama's air traffic controllers and other stories

While President Obama may have ignored my personnel advice, he may have made excellent decisions anyway. If, as the rumor mill has it, Bill Daley, the former Commerce Secretary is to be the new chief of staff at the White House and Gene Sperling is to replace Larry Summers at the National Economic Council, Obama will have picked two pros who can both provide needed continuity and needed change. Daley knows how to get things done and is well-liked by business people. Sperling has done the job, is exceptionally smart and will run a much more open, inclusive shop than Summers … and empowering the economic cabinet is a key must-do for the Obama team.

David Brooks's op-ed in the New York Times on the uselessness of the pro and con debate about "big government" is half right and half wrong. He's right it does not matter how big or small government is but whether it works effectively and in support of a nation with the will and resources to succeed. But it is half wrong in that within the debate is a question about the appropriate role of government. Here Republicans argue that government should stay out of people's affairs and market's business wherever possible and Democrats are willing to accept a more expansive role. The reality, of course, is that no country can tackle the problems we face as a country without a major role for government. Whether the issue is infrastructure, energy policy, education, fixing what is broken fiscally, ensuring honest and fair markets, protecting the environment or preserving the peace, America's biggest challenges require the government be there and be effective. Right now though the debate sounds like two dating services that are suggesting the choice in the dating market is between Mother Theresa and Snooki. It is not even the right discussion to be having.

While it may not have been very politic for a U.S. battlefield commander in Afghanistan to liken the situation on the ground to a Tom and Jerry cartoon, it offers yet another insight into the futility of the conflict there. Richard Cohen in the Washington Post gets it exactly right when he calls this an unnecessary war and likens our tolerance of it and the public's lack of urgent interest in it to factors which could fuel our national decline, akin to what happened during the fall of the Roman and British empires. He is not overstating it. We're going bankrupt and wasting lives trying to do the impossible for a cause that's un-winnable. Every day we continue to fight in Afghanistan U.S. leaders are abusing the public's trust, killing our young and stealing from their orphaned children to pay for it.

Speaking of bankruptcy, I have a sense that Obama's "air traffic controller moment" will come when a big public pension fund goes belly up and the federal government is asked to step in to bail it out… with a long-line of similar cases on deck. He will face a dangerously slippery slope and public opinion will be heavily for giving the public workers a haircut on their benefits. Obama will face huge pressure from SEIU, one of the most important unions backing him. And he will define whether he is serious or not about pulling the United States out of this mess and getting us back on our feet by whether or not he gives in to that pressure. The right answer is to start negotiating deals downward now, walk the crisis back before it happens, reduce the benefits packages and give the states and municipalities the breathing room they need… or huge lay-offs and deteriorating public conditions are certain to result. Not to mention a big financial crisis.

I have all the respect in the world for Zbigniew Brzezinski. But his op-ed in the Times, in which he calls Chinese Premiere Hu's visit one of the most important in 30 years, while thoughtfully argued, is misleading on that core point. No doubt, the visit is more important than the last because China is more important than the last time the leaders met. However, by the same logic, the next visit will probably be more important. Further, with a leadership change in the offing, the first meetings with the next generation of leaders are almost certain to be more important still. The key issues for the two countries to resolve are longer term in nature and go to the core question of shaping a successful working relationship between two strategic rivals that are also vital partners. Right now, too much of the power in the relationship seems to have swung to the Chinese. The United States must -- through a better understanding of its own national interests and competitive advantages, through marshalling diplomatic support worldwide for its initiatives, and through regaining economic momentum and avoiding international distractions --resume a stronger stance in the relationship. It must resist the temptation to mesmerized by China hype and it must build an international coalition to counterbalance Chinese influence and ensure that before China assumes a greater role on the international stage, it is clear the country is willing to play a constructive role helping to address global challenges from combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to maintaining stable financial markets to fighting global warming.

The most important story in the world as 2011 begins: the continuing political unrest in Pakistan, marked by the weakening of the government's coalition over the weekend and the assassination of the prominent governor of Punjab, a Zardari supporter. A political meltdown in Pakistan is the one event that will have great powers worldwide holding their breaths (although further economic meltdown in the Eurozone and in U.S. states and localities is a close second on this watch list.)

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

David Rothkopf

An FP Exclusive: Santa’s List for Christmas 2010

It's Christmas and according the editors at FP, that means it's time for a Naughty and Nice list. The problem is: I'm not sure what naughty or nice means any more. (Could be a result of living in the morally compromised world of Washington.) Besides, the whole idea that Santa only has two lists suggests a kind of Manichean justice that I don't think reflects well on the whole North Pole enterprise. What's needed is more nuance. And so that's just what you'll get here. A list of the the best gifts of 2010 for some of the best -- and worst -- people of 2010.

Julian Assange: You want to play spy? You have a hankering for Nordic women? The Russians love you? We read your OK Cupid profile. So how about for you, a marriage made in heaven: a January wedding in beautiful Novosibirsk with Anna Chapman? She will certainly get more secrets out of you than she did the party boys she hung with in New York. What's more, the two of you will instantly replace Naomi Watts and Sean Penn -- er, I mean, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame -- as our two favorite celebrity spies. Which in turn will give us the pleasure of naming you our oxymorons of the year.

Glenn Beck: You were everywhere this year, making our skin creep with your ubiquity. So, there's only one very 2010 gift for you: a lifetime supply of bedbugs.

Silvio Berlusconi: So you -- like all those young women breezing through your bunga-bunga parties -- know what it's like to be confronted with the ugly remnants of fading manhood, a complete set of emailed pictures of Brett Favre's junk

David Cameron: You -- and your political cousins like New Jersey governor Chris Christie -- are showing great courage by understanding that the only path back up into the light is hard work and real sacrifice down in the darkness. So for your inspiration and listening pleasure, the musical stylings of formerly trapped Chilean miner Edison Pena showing what it's like to truly be happy with life.

Rahm Emanuel: You're a shoe-in to become the next mayor of Chicago. Which means that even though you mastered being a Washington tough guy, you're going to have to bring your game up a notch. So, for this holiday season, your special gift will be a full set of the Mel Gibson audio tapes. Take a listen -- and look, if it doesn't work out, maybe you too can move on to a movie about a talking beaver.

The French national soccer team: You'll all participate in a production of Jean Paul Sartre's "No Exit" -- an irony given your early departure from the World Cup -- in which you are trapped with an orchestra of your favorite ex-hookers, strippers, and angry wives and girlfriends all playing the Marseilles on vuvuzelas -- for eternity.

Kim Jong-un: What do you give a guy whose father has already bequeathed him a country? Well, if the country is North Korea, you need a soundtrack. We think the most appropriate choice for a regime whose time is running out is "Tik Tok" -- and frankly, if this leads to Ke$ha ending up in Pygonyang, it's another win-win for civilization.

Hamid Karzai: Have we got a show for you! It's called Lost. Take that anyway you want.

Larry King: This was the year you said good-bye. Finally. The only more painful exits to watch have been the ones that are hospitalizing the cast of Broadway's "Spiderman." But Larry, you were so good at blowing smoke up the sensitive receptacles of your various guests, we will honor you with a trip to the only smoke-blower that did it better than you this year: Iceland's own Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

Kate Middleton: Marrying into that family, the most appropriate gift we can give you is our sympathy. But just in case, we'll throw in the escape slide that Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater used to escape his lousy job. (And if it's any consolation, if things keep going the way they have been you might also get the distinction of being the wife of the last King of England.)

Bibi Netanyahu: If settlements mean that much to you, how about a nice little apartment for two that you can share with say, Helen Thomas. That'll hopefully get you out of the house and back to the serious work of the peace table in 2011.

Barack Obama: A toast to a year that has actually turned out rather well for you, with the perfect drink: one that'll give you the energy you need and the alcohol you will want, with a name that will constantly remind you of the Hill majority and minority leadership who will continue to make your life miserable. To you...the last few cases of Four Loko. Savor them.

Christine O'Donnell: For you, a lesson in how witchcraft is done right from a 20-year-old who read more studying for finals last weekend than you apparently have in your entire life. Christine, step aside and let Emma Watson show you how it's done while she and the rest of us wait for the end of the Harry Potter saga to come to theaters near us in just a few months.

Tea Partiers: May you conduct your next tea party on a Carnival cruise.

Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and John Edwards: You three gentlemen need something for those overworked libidos, a way to scratch that itch without getting you into so much hot water. So, for all of you, for the foyers in your bachelor pads: state of the art airport scanners. They will live very little to your very active imaginations.