23/04/2012

Kissinger Speaks on the Arab Spring

In the April 2 edition of the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times, Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed piece entitled "Defining a U.S. role in the Arab Spring". (Disclaimers: Henry Kissinger was raised in the Washington Heights section of the Bronx; I was raised in the Van Cortlandt Park section, further to the North. We both have PhDs in international relations.) For a host of reasons, nothing Dr. Kissinger writes is without interest, and an examination of one or two of his assumptions is quite revealing. When Henry speaks, those in power listen, while those out of power merely deconstruct.

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15:12 Publié dans Arab World, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (1) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

19/04/2012

The American Election: Where is the Passion?

I have recently been to the United States twice in the last three weeks. There was passion for the finals of the college basketball season. There is passion for the finals of the professional hockey season, professional basketball season and the beginning of the baseball season. People were glued to their televisions to watch the Masters Golf Tournament to see if Tiger Woods would win again. What I didn't see was passion for the November presidential election. Why?

The obvious answer is that the election will take place in November; seven months is an eternity in politics. While there was some excitement during the Republican primaries with a series of candidates - Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum- challenging Mitt Romney, there was no real passion behind the candidates. Mostly the rhetoric was either Anyone but Romney or Anybody but Obama.

On the Democratic side, President Obama has not been able to maintain the excitement of 2008. He has certainly had some accomplishments, but the soaring speeches of his campaign, the narrative of the first African-American as President have not been translated into a genuine transformation. This is not to say that all the blame should be placed on the President's shoulders, but merely to note that his 50% popularity ratings should be higher at this point for a sitting President.

Just as the Republicans have accepted Romney with considerable reservations, the Democrats are set to rally behind Obama, but the thrill is gone. The young who left school to ring doorbells for candidate Obama are and will be less present in 2012.

The Presidential election in the United States traditionally has been a global story. After all, historically, it has been the choosing of the leader of the free world. Perhaps another reason for the lack of passion is a realization that whoever wins will have a limited role in world affairs as well as limited options domestically. The unipolar world seems well past and perhaps with it the importance of the U.S. President.

 

11:21 Publié dans Democracy, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

28/03/2012

Orlando and Toulouse: All is not what it seems

Two recent tragic events highlight the error in jumping to conclusions until all the facts are well known. The shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida appeared to be a simple case where a white vigilante shot and killed a black youth prowling an upscale neighborhood. Even President Obama declared that if he had had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. In the second case, Mohammad Merah, dubbed an Al Qaeda fanatic, murdered seven people including 4 Jews in Toulouse and was finally gunned down after a 32 hour siege with hundreds of police. President Sarkozy condemned the killer promising to pass stricter laws against terrorists and religious fanatics. Both President Obama and President Sarkozy, it should be noted, are in the midst of election campaigns.

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10:36 Publié dans France, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (4) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

15/03/2012

Culture Wars: Swiss Secondary Homes and Rick Santorum

The recent Swiss vote on secondary homes was an excellent example of people voting for regional interests. The city cantons voted to limit "cold beds," the mountain, tourist regions voted overwhelmingly not to impose quotas. The maps showing the results were clearly divided. In a federal system, it is often difficult to balance specific geographic or linguistic interests with the national interest; the tensions are inherent. The losers in Valais are screaming against imposition from Bern, just as the states' rights people in the United States are adamant about any impositions from Washington.

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09:40 Publié dans USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

04/03/2012

The Season of Electoral Fever

Russians elect a president; French presidential campaign in full swing; Republican primaries peak on Super Tuesday March 6. Even Geneva is getting into the act replacing Conseil d'Etat Mark Muller. We are in the season of electoral fever.

What is so exciting about campaigns and elections? There is something dramatic, even athletic about the whole process. Pierre Maudet throws his hat in the ring! Mitt Romney tries to score a knockout on Super Tuesday! The vocabulary of a boxing match is often used to describe the ebb and flow of campaigns. Interviews are brutal, the participants battered. We watch the candidates' feints and jabs. Polling technology can measure crowd reactions to debates second by second much the way judges score boxing matches blow by blow.

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17/02/2012

Linsanity to Warm the Cockles of Your Heart

nyt lin jeremy.jpgAmid the harsh days of winter chills while waiting for the warmth of spring to finally arrive, amid the slow-starting election campaigns in France and the United States that have so far failed to ignite any flames of enthusiasm, a sports story has erupted in the U.S that has warmed hearts around the globe. Jeremy Lin has created a sensation. The New York Times had 11 articles about him in five days; Linsanity is front page news.

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15:45 Publié dans Sports, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

25/01/2012

Still Sister Republics ?

The revelation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a Swiss bank account has once again raised the specter of Switzerland's U.S. image as a place for rich Americans to hide their money.

The former Governor of Massachusetts' posting of his tax forms not only indicated great wealth, suddenly a sin in a country where rags to riches has always been part of the American dream, but, even, worse, the manner in which he placed his money further tarnishes his image. First, he was accused of working for Bain Capital and firing people instead of creating jobs.

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12/01/2012

The Thrill is Gone: The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election

My friends in the financial sector keep reminding me that history is the last 15 seconds on the Reuters screen. And I am aware that we are living in accelerated time. However, a short reflection on the presidential campaign of 2008 compared to where we are today is not without interest.

On the Democratic Party side, the primaries between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were riveting. A most qualified woman, former First Lady and New York Senator was battling a dynamic, articulate African-American. History was being challenged. If either got the nomination, if either won the presidency, history would be made and a new era would begin in the United States. A sense of excitement was palpable; a transformation was taking place; the young and many of the disenfranchised were energized.

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20/12/2011

What Do Elections Tell Us About Switzerland and the U.S.?

The Swiss Parliament has just chosen the country's seven Federal Councilors. The United States' Grand Electors will be voting for the President of the United States in the autumn. (The similarities in the two processes show how the Constitution of Switzerland mirrors the U.S. Constitution and how both countries shy away from having the citizens directly choose their leaders.) Beside the technical, electoral process, what is also fascinating is how fundamentally conservative are both electors. The center-right almost always wins national elections.

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09:00 Publié dans Switzerland, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

09/12/2011

Secretary Clinton’s Geneva Drop By

clinton Hillary coiffé.pngUnited States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Geneva for a short visit this week. The presence of the U.S. Secretary of State anywhere in the world is a major event. Those who complained about security measures at the United Nations Office and inconveniences in its neighborhood should be reminded of the power and importance of such events. Like it or not, Mrs. Clinton represents the world's major power - whatever that means - and is an important actor in her own right. Imagine the level of excitement if President Obama came to Geneva!

Mrs. Clinton "dropped by" Geneva in the midst of a whirlwind European tour, graphically described in the December 7 Tribune de Genève.

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11:50 Publié dans Geneva, UNO, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

02/12/2011

Plus ca Change: US-Russia

The Cold War is supposed to be over. Unlike formal wars, the Cold War was not ended by a peace treaty, but there has been general agreement that with the end of the Soviet Union, the tensions between Russia and the United States are not what they were for over 40 years. No more Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), no more sirens in New York City with terrified school children trembling under their desks, no more pounding shoes on the table at the United Nations, no more massive buildup of troops in Central Europe. Welcome to détente, welcome to looking in Putin's eyes to see a man we can do business with, welcome to resetting the button between the two countries.

All of this comes to mind with three recent events. The death of Svetlana Stalina, the only daughter and last surviving child of Josef Stalin, brought back headlines about the cruel dictator still revered by certain people. Indeed, his statute remained in the town square of his birthplace Gori in Georgia until June 2010, over 50 years after his death in 1953. (There were confrontations about its removal. I am still waiting for the removal of Lenin's tomb from the Kremlin.)

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06/11/2011

California Dreamin’

Dreams are an important part of our lives. One does not have to study Freud to understand the role dreams play, especially in terms of aspirations. Hope is a fundamental element for all humans. We dream, we hope for something better in the future. My particular dream is to win Wimbledon; every year I wait for my invitation, every year I prepare my victory speech. I even have two photos doctored of me with the Wimbledon trophy. I was teary eyed when I received them as a present. I hope, I dream.

California has been the setting for millions of dreams, such as the Donner Party’s heroic effort to go over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846. Sun and surf, oil and agriculture, something for everyone who couldn’t make it somewhere else. A new start, a new Eldorado. From the discovery of gold on the property of Swiss pioneer John Sutter to Levi Strauss’ selling tent material from Nimes as jeans (deNimes became denim) to Silicon Valley and all those who began start ups in garages to become millionaires, California has come to symbolize dreams and their realization. As the Mamas & the Papas sang in the euphoria of the 1960’s, “California dreamin’ is becoming a reality”.

A recent trip to Northern California confirmed California in all its glory. Gorgeous sunshine, not the cold, bleak haze of Geneva during the winter; eating fresh fish at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey by the docks, eyeing the luxury yachts, looking at whales and otters frolicking in the pristine water. What a life!

Until, just a brief moment with the Mayor of Salinas, a medium size city next to Monterey. Salinas is an agricultural center which produces 80% of lettuce grown in the US, the town of John Steinbeck and the cult movie East of Eden with James Dean. Amid all the sunshine and dreamin’, I couldn’t resist asking the mayor what was his major problem. He launched into a monologue about the role of gangs in the area; gangs who not only deal in drugs and human trafficking, but gangs which have become omnipresent in all aspects of the community’s life, even recruiting young members in primary schools. Many of the gangs come from Latin America and are tied into drug lords in Mexico, he explained. We talked about his efforts at prevention, but it was obvious that he was overwhelmed by the size of the problem. The California dream was not only for those who had become millionaires in Silicon Valley. Gang lords had also seen California as a land of opportunity.

16:16 Publié dans USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

10/10/2011

Protests Begin in the United States, Enfin

The Arab Spring brought hope to the Middle East and North Africa. People took to the street to protest autocratic if not dictatorial rule, many using social networks with a prominent role for the young. In Athens, Madrid and London, people took to the street to protest chronic unemployment, many using social networks as well with a prominent role for the young. Where has the United States been in all of this given its similar situation of millions unemployed? The jobless rate for high school graduates now stands at over 20%.

While the protests of the late 1960's focused on the Vietnam War and civil rights, the recent populist Occupy Wall Street movement is focusing on the distribution of wealth. With official unemployment figures continuing to hover at 9%, people are protesting against the concentration of wealth associated with Wall Street's financial center. The Government bailed out large firms and banks too big to fail, but the tax money spent on them has not yet trickled down to the middle or lower classes. The TARP program has not led to increased lending or job creation while financers continue to receive huge salaries and bonuses.

What began as a small protest movement in New York three weeks ago has spread to Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston and looks to be catching in other major cities as well as outside the U.S. Little formal organization is involved, with social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google playing a major role. No political party is in the lead, although some labor leaders seem to be joining the movement.

It is fascinating to compare this movement with those of the 1960's. There is no clear leadership now, no Tom Hayden, Mark Rudd or Mario Savio. There is no clear organization like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) or ideological statements like the Port Huron document. There are no clear objectives either such as end the war in Vietnam or desegregation. There is anger at the radical inequality in the distribution of wealth; there is anger at the failure of the government to create jobs; and there is anger at the Wall Street firms for their inability to deal with the realities of Middle America.

For the moment, neither the Republicans nor Democrats have reacted. No candidate has come forward within the two established parties like Eugene McCarthy with the Democrats; no third party movement has started. With the election of 2012 on the horizon, it is not yet clear how this grass roots movement will play into traditional two party politics. The Tea Party has become a major player moving the Republican Party to the right. Barack Obama's Democratic Party is long past being inclusive of populism. It is fascinating to see how a populist movement is developing in the United States after the Arab Spring and European demonstrations. In 1968, it was the other way around.

 

October 10, 2011

 

16/08/2011

Let Them Eat Cake

As the streets of cities in England were ablaze, and groups of unemployed youths marched in the streets of Spain and Greece, I wondered where were the protests in the United States. If you responded that the situation in the US is better, then I respectfully differ, and there is no point in continuing a discussion. If you responded that the young in the United States still believe that their future will be better, then you will have to explain why this is so. In any event, as someone who marched in the streets in the 1960s, I am deeply puzzled by the apathy across the Atlantic.

It was certainly not always this way. Students of my generation rioted in the United States over the military draft, the Vietnam War, and civil rights. These were three specific issues that touched us. Most of my senior year in college from 1967 through 1968 was taken up with the pros and cons of military service. Actually, we protested against other issues as well, but it is slightly embarrassing to remember how agitated we were about visiting rights of women in our dormitories. More seriously, riots at Columbia University were set off by a confrontation over access to a new gymnasium for local residents of Harlem.

My point is that we were engaged, and that we felt that our actions could have an effect on policy. Oh my how we celebrated Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not run for re-election and that he was winding down the war in Southeast Asia! From the streets of Selma and Birmingham to Chicago and Miami, even to the village greens in small New England towns, we were present. We believed we could make a difference. We followed Mario Savio at Berkeley, we read the Port Huron statement of Students for a Democratic Society and listened to Tom Hayden tell us about the situation of poor workers in Detroit. Some even flirted with the Black Panthers. We read Angela Davis and Herbert Marcuse; we levitated the Pentagon.

The question is not where we are today. The question is where is the next generation. For all the buzz about social networking and its role in the Arab Spring, it has had little political impact in the United States. Yes students are worried about jobs, but what are they doing about the unemployment situation in general? Where is the solidarity with those losing their homes?

Someone once said that if you are not an idealist in your twenties, there is a serious problem. Students in the United States unite; you have nothing to lose but your headphones!

 

August 15, 2011

 

08:40 Publié dans USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (1) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |