11 // The Google Guys
Sergey Brin & Larry Page, Cofounders
AGES: BOTH 33
LAST YEAR’S RANK: 3

“This may be blasphemous, but right now Google is God,” says Rick Munarriz, an analyst with the financial site Motley Fool. “I have seen it walk on water.” Never mind the fact it guides our every move online. The company, which is valued at $113 billion, trades at more than $370 a share and blew past estimates to post $2.46 billion in revenue for the quarter ending in June. Do a search on “ungodly wealth” and the names of Google’s cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page pop right up, as they’re worth $16 billion apiece. “Yet they still have people rooting for them,” Munarriz says. “Normally when you become as big as them, people turn on you, but they’re an endearing company.” Such goodwill is born from Brin and Page’s preternatural ability to supplement their search engine with simple, efficient technologies, like Google Maps (the best—true dat, double true), easy blogging and messaging applications, and now YouTube-style video-sharing. You don’t walk on water by standing still.

12 // Stephen Colbert, Host
The Colbert Report
AGE: 42

Last October, The Colbert Report seemed like a sucker’s bet for Comedy Central. Stephen Colbert’s parody of talk-show gasbag Bill O’Reilly, down to the fatuously cocked eyebrows, could have become an instantly worn-out punch line. Instead, his inventive, on-point satire got him profiled on 60 Minutes (and thrown off Wikipedia, after he embellished his own profile in an on-air prank). The key was his discovery that the vanity of elected officials is eclipsed only by their eagerness to be disgraced on his program. “It’s a risky proposition,” says Jason Ralston, a partner in political consulting firm Greer Margolis. “It’s a comedy show. If you’re dull and all self-important, and you go on expecting to talk about the news, you’re making a big mistake. I would be ecstatic if our opponent went on it.” Witness the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April, when Colbert was invited to roast a clearly unamused President Bush. (On Bush’s approval rating: “Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty—because 32 percent means it’s two-thirds empty.”) In Washington’s center ring, speaking “truthiness” to power may be a polarizing act, but it never gets old.

13 // Tiger Woods
Golfer
AGE: 30
LAST YEAR’S RANK: 9

He’s already the most recognized athlete on the planet. And he stands to be for some time—a golfer has decades more playing (and earning) potential than, say, a Chicago Bulls shooting guard. But now that Woods is 30, he’s become what he never could as a golf upstart: a blue-chip brand. Suddenly he’s a deeply credible spokesperson who’s received an estimated $87 million from myriad companies: Accenture, American Express, Buick, Electronic Arts, Golf Digest, NetJets, Nike, TAG Heuer, Target, TLC Laser Eye Centers, and Upper Deck. “He conducts himself in an extremely professional, disciplined way, and companies strive for that association,” says Philip Button, an exec at William Morris. “And the unfortunate news of his father’s death brought some authenticity to him, and made him more human to people.” In August, Woods became the youngest golfer to win his 50th PGA Tour event, so it’s a good bet he’ll be putting and driving—not to mention pitching—for years to come.

14 // “THE SPERM”
Daddy Maker
AGE: Minus Nine Months

Yeah, hi. Sperm here. Right—a sperm cell. Just thought I’d, you know, inject myself into this cute little “power list” bonanza you’re putting together. Think you know something about power? Uh-huh. Think I look harmless, with my squiggly tail and all—nothing more than a microscopic tadpole? Yeah, fuck you. First off, there’s a lot of me. As in: up to 300 million just that last time you got your rocks off. (But really, can we upgrade to Kiehl’s next time?) Angelina, Gwyneth, Katie, Britney—these chicks want me, all right? Me. (I don’t care what those nitwit scientists say, they still can’t make a baby without me, and once you got a curtain crawler, pal, I’m screwing with your life in strange and irrevocable ways.) Man, I’ve got American culture obsessed. One little song-and-dance with Brad and Angelina—boom, here’s Shiloh, and People magazine’s paying $4 million for a snapshot of my work. Oh, Britney’s got a “bump”? Yeah, guess what, folks—I made that bump. I am the bump! And how about Suri Cruise? Need I say more? Face it, people pay more attention to what I do than to what Dick Cheney does. I am . . . fascinating. I rule. And look, I don’t care if you’re gay or straight, when I get that itch to travel, you are always going to do my bidding. Let’s be honest, amigo: You are my bitch. You are my slave. That’s power.

15 // Salim Ahmed Hamdan
Guantanamo Bay Detainee
AGE: 36

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, you had a Yemeni driver-for-hire (and his Navy lawyer and a Georgetown law professor) staring down the accumulated might of the Bush administration. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old detainee who had once worked at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan, challenged the constitutionality of the White House–mandated military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices ruled 5 to 3 in his favor. Hamdan’s case was ostensibly about the separation of powers, but anyone who heard the administration’s backtracking after the decision knows it fundamentally altered the rules of the war on terror. “It was a powerful rebuke,” says Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Legal Department. “It restored the law to its proper place, and the president to his.”

16 // The Frat Packagers
Judd Apatow, Adam McKay & Todd Phillips
Writer-Director-Producers
AGES: 38, 38 & 36

What the Vegas stage did for the Rat Pack, Apatow, McKay, and Phillips are doing for Will Ferrell, the Wilson brothers, and the rest of the Frat Pack: creating hugely profitable zeitgeist-tapping vehicles for this clique of comedic actors. Apatow and McKay’s latest collaboration, Talladega Nights, yielded the second-biggest opening ever for an original comedy: $47 million. “They came in and said, ‘Will Ferrell. Nascar,’” says Matt Tolmach, copresident of production at Columbia Pictures. “Had they said ‘Will Ferrell. Some other thing,’ we’d have done it, too, because we have huge faith in them.” Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin grossed $109 million, which helps explain why he has three films due in 2007 alone. On Talladega, as on Anchorman, Apatow produced and let the now-in-demand McKay direct. The pair is planning to do yet another Ferrell flick, Step Brothers. Phillips directed Ferrell in the most literal Frat Pack flick, Old School, and is set to bring out a sequel next year. Meanwhile, he signed a first-look deal with Warner Bros. and has just released School for Scoundrels. “Actors love him,” says Bob Weinstein of the Weinstein Company, which produced Scoundrels. “Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell. These guys will come back and do cameos. They don’t for just anybody. They always do for him.” In this pack, that is the essence of fraternity.

17 // Patrick Arnold
Banned-Substance Chef
AGE: 40

Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, and a dozen U.S. Olympians have one man to thank for their fallen fortunes: Patrick Arnold. The father of prohormones cooked up tetrahydrogestrinone (or “the clear”), a highly potent anabolic steroid banned by the FDA but distributed by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (balco), undermining the achievements of those athletes—and casting doubt on others. “There will always be that thought that someone is using,” says New York sports radio host Joe Benigno. “[Arnold] was the first to bring these things to market,” says Steve Downs, chairman of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation. In August, Arnold was sentenced to three months in prison for conspiring to distribute steroids, barely a slap on the wrist for injecting sports fans everywhere with cynicism. Its effects are irreversible, and there is no known cure.

18 // Ken Mehlman
Chairman, Republican National Committee
AGE: 40
LAST YEAR’S RANK: 4

They’re down in the polls and in danger of being Overtaken by Events. So what? The Republicans still lord over the executive, judicial, and (at least for now) legislative branches—and that’s just at the federal level. At every level from the local on up, Ken Mehlman lords over the party faithful in the Republican National Committee. “Rove may still be Captain Kirk,” says Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman, “but Mehlman is a combination of Scotty and Mr. Spock.” He rallies the base, recruits fresh ideologues, and generates gobs of cash—raising $168 million since taking the job last year (versus the DNC’s $90 million kitty)—all for a party saddled with a president whose approval rating rides lower than Lindsay Lohan’s jeans. The secret to his tireless zeal, Mehlman says, is unwinding with “a regular workout, a well-stocked iPod, and a good read.” (Power brokers: They’re just like us!) The vagaries of Washingtoniana may find Mehlman looking for work come November, but only a fool would count him out just yet.

19 // The Rogue Soldiers
AGES: 19 to 23

How far have we come that American atrocities in Iraq shock but no longer surprise? The incidents in Haditha, where 24 unarmed men, women, and children were gunned down, and in Mahmoudiya, where five soldiers stalked a 14-year-old girl and then gang-raped her and killed her and her family, were greeted with outrage and quiet oh-no-not-again groans. In the war’s first three years, 16 American servicemen were charged with murder; that number is likely to double with these two incidents. And there are at least five other cases under investigation involving the killing of Iraqi civilians. The bad-apple clichés do little to protect the 134,000 soldiers on the ground from retribution; after news of the Mahmoudiya incident broke, two GIs were kidnapped and mutilated as payback. The recent alleged crimes have united Sunni and Shia in anger. And Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who told the New York Times the U.S. military’s unprovoked violence against civilians is “a regular occurrence,” has demanded that immunity for American troops be lifted. In that event, these U.S. soldiers would be judged under the same legal system as Saddam Hussein. The symbolism won’t be lost on Iraqis. As for us, we’re all too aware that American soldiers in Iraq are not immune.

20 // Shawn Carter, A.K.A. Jay-Z
President & CEO, Def Jam Recordings
AGE: 36
LAST YEAR’S RANK: 33

At this point, rapping represents about as big a part of Jay-Z’s portfolio as lightbulbs do of GE’s. In the three years since his last solo album, he has landed a corner office as the president and CEO of Def Jam, bought an ownership stake in the New Jersey Nets, and watched his clothing line grow from vanity project to major manufacturer, grossing $800 million in sales last year. So if this has been Hova’s fallow period, what does it portend that hip-hop’s most influential artist (with 33 million and counting albums sold) has his comeback disc due in November? Global reach isn’t too far-fetched. Jay-Z—who once referred to himself as the “UN of this rap game”—has teamed with the actual United Nations to raise awareness about the world’s water crisis. “When you look at how many people are affected and die because of the lack of clean water, the statistics are staggering,” he says. Yet the surest—if strangest—indicator of Jay-Z’s stature might be that what he chooses not to drink is news. It made headlines when Jay gave up Cristal and banned it from his 40/40 clubs after the beverage company’s managing director insinuated that rap crews weren’t worthy of his grand cru, and now the iconic toast of hip-hop may be toast in clubs.