Pierre Maudet, Unimpeachable Behavior and the End of Innocence

Geneva politics have been riveted by charges of unethical and potentially illegal behavior by Conseiller d’Etat Pierre Maudet. Should he leave office? Can the local branch of his political party, the PLR, force him to resign? After all, the head of the national party has already expressed her wish that he step down.

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Gilets Jaunes, Modern Junk Politics and Robespierre

During the recent holidays, I had the opportunity to listen to my French friends extol the virtues of the gilets jaunes movement. “We have had enough of the elitist rule that has left most of the French working class economically desperate,” Pierre said. “People have gone into the streets out of dire frustration.” Jean added; “This is not just a complaint about taxes, rather it is an uprising against the oligarchy that has destroyed democracy.”

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Je peux français comprendre, but I prefer to write in English

The recent kerfuffle surrounding the new Swiss minister of the economy Guy Parmelin’s command of English has generated numerous commentaries on the role of English in a country that has four national languages, but not English. Parmelin’s declaration; “I can English understand but je préfère répondre en français pour être plus précis” was even the subject of an article on page 2 of the New York Times. Is it necessary for important Swiss politicians to be fluent in English?

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Direct Democracy vs. Gilets Jaunes

The recent protests by the gilets jaunes in France would seem to have all the elements of direct democracy. For several Saturdays, thousands of citizens protested in the streets throughout France against the government, initially against an increase in the tax on diesel fuel. And they were successful. French President Emmanuel Macron suspended the gas tax increase as well as acceding to several other demands of the protesters. 

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1968: The Year That Will Not Go Away

Few days remain in 2018 to celebrate and recall all the events on the 50th anniversary of 1968. Comparisons with the “gilets jaunes” in France have evoked some of the memories, but for those who lived through 1968 as students there are events permanently etched in our psyches that will not go away. For Millennials and the X Generation, 1968 is pre-history, ancient dinosaur time. For those who experienced 1968, it was a year of rupture and transformation.

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The Valais – of all places – Shows a New Politics

The reputation of the Canton of Valais has never been one of a hotbed of radicalism. Long dominated by the Christian Democratic Party, it is known for its conservatism and Catholicism. (Crucifixes are still hung in many Valais classrooms in public schools and the Church-run school in St. Maurice has long been an educational cantonal leader.) One doesn’t learn about Karl Marx or Antonio Gramsci on the slopes of Crans Montana or Verbier nor at the Foire du Valais in Martigny.

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Trump Supporters and Wrestling Mania

Taking a break from the usual television news broadcasts on CNN and BBC, I happened upon an emission of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) called WrestleMania. While the modern-day gladiators were performing in the ring, I started following the crowd, which was thoroughly energized. Hooting and yelling for one of their heroes or vilifying the obvious villains, they held up signs of love and hate. It was a binary moment of raw emotions.

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Does Switzerland Punch Below Its Weight?

Switzerland has always prided itself on being able to establish a place among larger countries because of its successful economy, historical neutrality and moral positions, including Geneva’s being host to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The comparative advantage of Switzerland, particularly international Geneva, as a unique platform for discussions such as the Reagan-Gorbachev summit during the Cold War or the Syrian peace talks have enhanced the Swiss image in human rights/humanitarian issues as a country that punches above its weight


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Is NATO Protecting My Granddaughter in Norway?

Like all grandparents, I worry about my offspring. As President Trump and John Bolton continually remind us, it’s dangerous out there. But these nights I am sleeping better. My granddaughter, age nine and living in Norway, is being particularly well looked after. 

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Are You Afraid?

Fear and security are headline items. In Geneva, attacks against the elderly are front page. In the United States, hordes of illegal immigrants are profiled approaching the southern border while primitive pipe bombs are sent to politicians and a killer attacks worshippers during a Sabbath synagogue service. In a suburb of Paris, a student holds a gun to the head of a teacher.

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Davos in the Desert: To attend or not, that is not the question

The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul amid published reports that he was murdered and dismembered by representatives of the Saudi government has caused a dilemma for many announced participants at a glittery investor’s conference. Is it the right thing to do to attend a meeting in Riyadh when doubts exist about Khashoggi’s assassination by orders of the royal family? How would it look for a leading businessman to be seen next to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when investigators are examining his personal role in Khashoggi’s disappearance?  

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Do You Drink With a Plastic Straw?

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is alarming, to say the least. It maintains that the Earth has heated up 0.7 C in the last 120 years. That unprecedented rise in temperature, it found, is due to human activities associated with burning fossil fuels causing increased Co2 in the atmosphere. In addition to merely higher temperatures, the report maintains that the environmental consequences of food shortages, wildfires, violent storms, rising water levels causing the displacement of millions of people, the loss of most of the world’s coral reefs, etc. profoundly affect our daily lives. And the situation will only get critically worse as early as 2040 if we don’t reverse the trend.

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Justices Go to Cocktail Parties and Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination

The emotional outrage over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court raised numerous questions about who determines what is right or wrong. Kavanaugh’s defense – superbly satired by Matt Damon on Saturday Night Live – was an equally emotional counter-attack to defend his reputation. After Kavanaugh had passed examination of his legal qualifications, allegations of improper behaviour called into question his personality. Who is Brett Kavanaugh? Should he be a judge on the Supreme Court?

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Remembering Kofi Annan While Trying to Forget Donald Trump

“He was always trying to bring out the best in us,” said a young, Libyan woman in a moving testimonial to the former Secretary-General at an emotional memorial service at the United Nations in Geneva. She, like many of the speakers, paid tribute to Annan’s ability to connect optimistically with people across geographic, generational and status lines. “He really listened to us and always encouraged us to help others,” she said as a representative of the Youth Leadership Movement of the Kofi Annan Foundation.

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Confidence and Confidence-Building Measures: Trump, Maudet and the Confidence Bank

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible,” Trump boasted at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, during the 2016 presidential campaign. No matter what he did, Trump claimed, his followers would be loyal to him.

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Hubris On and Off the Court

The ancient Greeks used hubris to describe a personality of exaggerated pride or overconfidence. Often the hubristic person went so far as to challenge the gods, which inevitably led to that person’s downfall. The recent performance of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open and the exaggerated narrative of America’s greatness at John McCain’s funeral ceremony demonstrate how little we have learned from the past.

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Branding International Geneva

How many novels and movies have the villain stashing money in a secret Swiss account? How many references to dodgy bank transfers appear in James Bond movies? As Bond tells banker Lachaise in The World is Not Enough; “if you can’t trust a Swiss banker, what’s the world come to?” Although Ian Fleming began writing just after World War II, his portrayal of Switzerland as a haven for illegal funds continues to haunt Switzerland’s image.

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John McCain, the Unrepentant Warrior

The hero-worship of John McCain’s militarism misses the point that the Vietnam War was not World War II, and that individual heroism in the wrong cause cannot overcome the catastrophic errors of believing that might makes right. Physical bravery should not overshadow moral weakness. McCain’s military exploits deserve recognition only in so far as we do not forget the larger moral and political errors in which they took place.   

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Kofi Annan and Switzerland’s Decision on Nuclear Weapons: Moral Authority and Punching Above One’s Weight

Kofi Annan’s passing away Saturday touched many people. More than almost all his predecessors as secretary general of the United Nations, Annan was able to “radiate an aura of probity and authority,” according to the obituary in The New York Times International Edition. His moral authority stood despite scandals involving his son as well as his role as head of United Nations peacekeeping operations during catastrophes in Somalia, Rwanda and Srebrenica.  


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Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment

Fydor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment raises the complex problem of guilt. The hero, Rodion Raskolnikov, commits what seems to be the perfect crime but is torn by moral dilemmas. A poor student, he murders a pawnbroker for her money, a crime for which he could potentially justify his action. Luckily for him, the objective facts of his guilt are beyond verification; it is his internal feelings of guilt that finally led him to confess.  

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Locarno Film Festival and Extended Time

Accelerated time leaves little room for reflection. SMS and WhatApp keep us tuned in 24/7.  We are never behind or ahead; we are in the precise moment. Even international time zones have lost their meaning

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“All the News That’s Fit to Print” and an Idea to Save the Media

How many print newspapers do you read each day? Do you watch the evening news on television? On which station? These questions are more and more pertinent with the disappearance of local dailies and votes on how much citizens should pay for access to subsidized state radio and television.

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Battling Summertime Overload

So you think summertime is the season for rest and relaxation. What about last weekend? In no particular order: Finals of the World Cup? Wimbledon Championships finals? Tour de France? Trump’s summit with President Putin? In competition with the televising of these events, there was beautiful weather to lull on the beach, splash in the pool or walk in the mountains. (Notice no mention of following my beloved Yankees’ pursuit of the Red Sox or my forlorn Knicks outstanding performances in the NBA summer league. I’m trying to be proportional.)  How many people did all of the above last weekend?

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Multilateralism and its Discontents

Somewhere in a safely guarded desk in the White House or locked in a vault in a conservative think tank in Washington there is a list. The list has two columns. Paris climate change agreement: Check. Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): Check. Nuclear treaty with Iran: Check. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Check. North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): Check. United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): Check. Breast-feeding World Health Organization (WHO): Check.

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Is Roger Federer Being Unfaithful?

No, we don’t mean to question whether he is being unfaithful to Mirka or their four children. We have enough of those rumors with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and some of his predecessors. What we are questioning is Roger Federer’s sartorial choices. For those who haven’t noticed – being too busy watching the World Cup and basking in Swiss football’s moments of glory - Roger Federer is no longer being outfitted by Nike. 

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