I never understood why it is acceptable for American media to call political appointees “czars” as if it was a great example to others to be a czar.

Here´s a mention to Podesta being a possible energy czar.

Another observer said John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff and now co-chair of Obama’s transition team, may also be in consideration for energy secretary or climate “czar,” a White House position being created by Obama to spearhead climate change policy.

Or a drug czar

On paper, Jim Ramstad — who is rumored to be Obama’s choice for drug czar — looks like the ideal man for the job.

A czar, or tsar, is basically a Russian emperor who hardly ruled in a manner that would be compatible with anything that we would call democratic in the States today. One of the most famous czars is Ivan the Terrible. Here´s an excerpt of his biography:

Other events of this period include the introduction of the first laws restricting the mobility of the peasants, which would eventually lead to serfdom, and change in Ivan’s personality, traditionally linked to his near-fatal illness in 1553 and the death of his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna in 1560. Ivan suspected boyars of poisoning his wife and of plotting to replace him on the throne with his cousin, Vladimir of Staritsa. In addition, during that illness Ivan had asked the boyars to swear an oath of allegiance to his eldest son, an infant at the time. Many boyars refused, deeming the tsar’s health too hopeless to survive. This angered Ivan and added to his distrust of the boyars. There followed brutal reprisals and assassinations, including those of Metropolitan Philip and Prince Alexander Gorbatyi-Shuisky.

So if czar is in fashion how about some other possibilities. The Energy Fuhrer. The Drug Tyrant. The Tech Despot. The Intelligence Dictator. Or maybe, these last days as we witness the collapse of the car industry we could name an Auto Autocrat to lead the way to recovery.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Antoin O Lachtnain on December 6, 2008  · 

It has to do with people’s frustration with bureaucracy. There are important jobs of work to be done, for the good of everyone. These jobs of work seem feasible enough in themselves, but they never seem to happen, because the system makes it hard to achieve things. It seems as if nobody is really in charge. So the idea is that you are going to appoint someone who will actually have the power to cut through all these problems and do the thing, without getting distracted by extraneous matters.

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Jack on December 6, 2008  · 

The fact that a president is elected democraticaly does not ensure that he or those people who work for him will act democraticaly.

Although it may not be entirely conscious, it may be that American media somehow recognizes this.

Your compatriot, Jorge Luis Borges, once said “Democracy is an abuse of statistics.” He may have had situations like this in mind.

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Byron on December 6, 2008  · 

And Latin American press follows this trend too.

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LetFelipeBack on December 7, 2008  · 

I’m sorry but ‘car-czar’ looks better than ‘auto-autocrat’. And it has already been used:


Anyway, nice article and I completely agree with you. They are all ridiculous and misleading denominations.

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Martin Varsavsky on December 8, 2008  · 

@ LetFelipeBack:

auto autocrat was meant to ridicule the repetitive use of “czar” in the American media with respect to government jobs

LetFelipeBack on December 8, 2008  · 

I get your point Martín. I only was saying that maybe the case or ‘car’ was the best to use ‘czar’, being of course as ridiculous as anyother.

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Gabriel on December 9, 2008  · 

Dear Martin, you’re right, but there are other
terms with similar use.
We are used to
talk about leaders and notorious people as
‘popes’ (Borgias?), also ‘Lord’, or ‘english lord’
(Richard III ?, Lord Macbeth? ;))
is used as
an adjective highlighting style and class. Even
people like you, successful and whealty entrepreneurs, are
referred as ‘Moguls’… blood thirsty mongolian
conquerors !!!

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