The Boston Bombers: Unpacking the Terrorist Threat

The recent bombings in Boston have unleashed a torrent of commentaries. While investigations are ongoing concerning the backgrounds of the suspects with no definitive answers yet about motivations and affiliations, the fact that the brothers were from Chechnya and Muslim has opened a Pandora’s Box of speculation. One simple point can be made at this point beyond the specifics of this case: There has been a fundamental shift in the nature of deadly attacks, often attributed to “terror.”

Following September 11, the United States declared a “war” on terror. Without a clear definition of terror, the focus of the war narrowed down to one organization, Al Qaeda. The organization and its leaders, we were told, were based in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. There was an enemy; there was a location for its headquarters (Bin Laden’s cave). As in all traditional wars, the opponents were identified, their location fixed. The battle lines were drawn, and the soldiers sent to eliminate the foe.

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Favoring Politicians’ Strip-Tease: What are they hiding from us?

Thirty-seven French Ministers have officially published their individual worth following a directive from President Francois Holland. The discovery that some were wealthy was not surprising; Laurent Fabius headed the list with 6 million Euros. What was surprising was the reaction here in Geneva.

According to the Tribune de Genève of April 16, a cross-section of local elected officials rejected or voiced skepticism regarding greater transparency. The reactions varied from doubts about the real value of certain declarations to a robust rejection of making public what in Switzerland has always been considered the private sphere. The head of the Radical group in Parliament is quoted as saying, “What will have to become public after the net worth? A health report or sexual orientation?” The Mayor of Geneva, Rémy Pagani is quoted as bluntly saying that the demand for greater transparency from public officials is “a radical intrusion into the private sphere. For me, political considerations stop at the entrance to my door.”

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Offshore Leaks, Geneva and the Legal/Moral Split

                On top of the continuing assault on Switzerland’s bankers and its banking secrecy tradition, outcries are now being raised against lawyers, many in Geneva, who have helped clients place their assets offshore to avoid paying taxes. Because of the financial crisis, officials in various countries are trying to find ways to recover money sitting in virtual companies in tax havens around the world.

                The lawyers defend themselves by saying that they have done nothing illegal; the movement of money to properly registered companies does not break the law in either the sending country or the receiving one. Their spokesmen, often quite eloquently, make the simple case that there is a distinction between something that is illegal and something that is immoral. “I have done nothing outside the rules,” they plead, “and morality is highly relative. You can change the laws in the future, but for the moment we have done nothing wrong.”

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Double March Madness

For an American, as well as basketball fanatics around the world, March Madness refers to the final tournaments to determine the national collegiate champions. (Full disclosure: I am definitely biased and particularly enthusiastic this year since my alma mater, Amherst College, just won the Division III title.) The main focus of attention is the men’s Division I competition. It is not only that roughly 50 million people watched the final game, but that office pools have complex betting schemes on who will get into the draw, and various winners. This is a craze that sweeps America every spring.

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