Saturday, July 18, 2009

Czar, Tsar, Csar.

President Obama gave his so-called "czars" responsibilities that might have been divided among different Cabinet secretaries in past administrations.

But by some accounts, Obama has nearly three dozen czars in his administration, managing everything from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to ending the genocide in Darfur.

Obama has pledged his full support to all of them. But when you add his 15 Cabinet secretaries to his policy and political advisors and his chief of staff and throw in his military advisors and a couple dozen selected other officials, that equals a lot of officials who have Oval Office walk-in rights.

"I think the number probably is getting closer to a 100," said James Bailey, a leadership professor at George Washington University, who noted that's not the norm at most Fortune 500 companies.

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Like many lofty titles, e.g. Mogul, Tsar or Czar has been used as a metaphor for positions of high authority, in English since 1866 (referring to U.S. President Andrew Johnson), with a connotation of dictatorial powers and style, fitting since "Autocrat" was an official title of the Russian Emperor (informally referred to as 'the Tsar'). Similarly, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed was called "Czar Reed" for his dictatorial control of the House of Representatives in the 1880s and 1890s.

In the United States the title "czar" is an informal term for certain high-level officials, such as the "drug czar" for the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "terrorism czar" for a Presidential advisor on terrorism policy, "cybersecurity czar" for the highest-ranking Department of Homeland Security official on computer security and information security policy, and "war czar" to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On June 5th 2009, British multimillionaire businessman Sir Alan Sugar was made "enterprise tsar" of the Labour Party.

One of the earliest known usages was in "baseball czar", applied to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was named Commissioner of Baseball, with broad powers to clean up the sport after it had been dirtied by the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Although other Commissioners have been described as "czars", the term is less used than it once was, due to the Commissioner's power being made inferior to that of the owners.

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