Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled north from her current teaching job at Stanford University to speak to 1,000 utility executives in a packed hall in San Francisco.
The event was the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) annual convention which is the place to be if you're an exec at one of the nation's investor owned electric utilities.
Rice had a wide-ranging sit-down with Tom Kuhn, the president of EEI. She touched a bit on energy but spoke more on geopolitics and global trends and threats. (Having served as a Director at Chevron, it's not as if Rice is not conversant on energy issues.)
"The energy development of the North American platform is a gift," said Rice said about the recent shale gas and oil finds in the U.S. and Canada and new extraction techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling. She viewed these discoveries as having the potential to change our energy usage in ways "unimaginable a few years ago."
Rice also spoke of the potential of data analytics for the utility, a point of view likely assisted by her affiliation with Tom Siebel's C3.
She said that a secure and relatively inexpensive energy supply obtained in an environmentally sensitive way will allow nations to "get purchase on some of the biggest problems in international politics." She noted that with Mexico soon to change laws allowing foreign investment in oil and gas, Mexico is poised to be part of the North American platform of energy.
And she said that she had never seen anything "warp diplomacy" like oil.
Rice said that Vladimir Putin "sits atop" a Russian "oil and gas syndicate," with 85 percent of its budget staked on oil and "needing $117 per barrel to break even." She remarked that Russia had become "a 19th-century power." She described Russia's new role as "its veto power in the U.N.," "beating up old allies," and "holding on to leaders like Syria's Assad."
She said that Vladimir Putin "cannot ultimately last," and continued, "Russians travel and work in Western law firms," adding there is a whole generation that doesn't remember Stalin. She said that Russians are "completely alienated from the Kremlin" and that "sooner or later, that's going to break."
She recalled being told by a Russian diplomat that Russia had the greatest mathematicians and software engineers. Rice agreed but suggested that most of them were in Palo Alto.
She did not express a kind tone towards Fidel Castro's continued existence, Castro's brother, or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Rice called the Eurozone a "tremendous governance issue" in "economic crisis." If you have a single currency but no unified fiscal policy, you're stuck between the demands of the EU and the demands of the sovereign state, said Rice.
Education and Immigration
Rice called "comprehensive immigration reform one of our biggest governance challenges." She also said, "We don't want to be the kind of country where people are afraid to go to an emergency room."
She said that she was all for giving out a green card with every diploma.
She noted, "We've mobilized talent from across the world and across classes." But she said our failure as a democracy is our failure to give kids a way out in K-12. She saw poor kids trapped in bad schools, while people in the right ZIP codes send their children to private schools.
She noted that over 30 percent of the applicants taking the basic skills test in the military fail and warned of a future consisting of two societies, one capable and one not.