How Democratic is Swiss Democracy?

The surprising announcement by Swiss Federal Councilor and foreign minister Didier Burkhalter that he will leave the government on October 31 has set off speculation within Switzerland about who will succeed him. A less surprising comment during a television interview by another Councilor, Doris Leuthard, that she will also be leaving the government at the end of the current legislature has added to political posturing and intrigue in a country that prides itself on its democratic tradition.

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Back to School, Back to Work: Normalcy and Change

There is something reassuring about the end of vacation. Returning to school, returning to work are normal parts of life. Like the changing of the seasons, the end of one period and the beginning of another has both the nostalgia for what was and the excitement of what is to be.


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Charlottesville, Trump and Pandering to the Right

A riot broke out Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, between neo-Nazis with alt-right supporters and counterdemonstrators. The ostensible issue was the removal from the town of a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One person was killed when a car driven by a white nationalist rammed into a crowd of counter protestors

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Is Donald Trump the End of History?

Vacation breaks allow us to pause and reflect. Summertime is the right time to take a long perspective. The feel of warm sand under the toes, sublime vistas from mountain trails, all encourage different types of reflection.

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Do We Really Want to Know?

“I can’t look and won’t look,” the renowned historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is reported to have said when photographic evidence was presented to him contradicting the accepted belief that President Kennedy had been shot by a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. As recounted by Schlesinger’s son in a disturbing history of the infamous CIA Director Allen Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot, “the historian simply didn’t have the ‘emotional resources’ to confront the sordid facts surrounding the assassination.”

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Being Donald Trump: Failed Philosopher

We know that Donald Trump is not an avid reader. We know that he spends most of his free time watching television or playing golf. We know that he has little background in literature or culture in general and that his oral pronouncements and written statements via Twitter are primitive if not often vulgar. We assume that he has little interest in anything intellectual that is not directly related to business.

But Donald Trump the philosopher?

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Switzerland’s Golden Age of Sports

Switzerland is going through a golden age of sports. But, like so many things in the small Alpine country, you would be hard pressed to know the details. No one yells from the top of the Matterhorn; “We are the greatest.” And yet, in three major sports, the eight million population has turned out some remarkable athletes. Countries with similar populations – Tajikistan or Papua New Guinea for example – are not in the same class. Even fellow Alpine Austria lags far behind, except in skiing.

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Emmanuel Macron’s Victories: “Throw the Bums Out”

As the summer heat stifles and plans for vacation are more important than the latest tweet from Donald Trump, the continuing success of French President Emmanuel Macron gives cause for reflection. How could a 39-year-old create a new political party in one year and then go on to defeat the traditional French parties in the May 7 presidential election? And he continues to succeed. In the recent legislative election, Mr. Macron’s party won 350 seats in the 577 National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.

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Trump’s War on Universal Rights

“Human rights are central to the mission of the United Nations. Not only are they the right thing to do, they’re the smart thing to do,” United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared in a recent speech in Geneva. The ambassador made a traditional distinction between “the right thing to do” and “the smart thing to do” in outlining the U.S. position as well as castigating the Human Rights Council for its inclusive approach to her perceived human rights violators such as Venezuela, Cuba and the Russian Federation.

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Trump Shoves Europe Off the Stage

Donald Trump made his first trip outside the United States as president. While much has been made of the performance of Melania Trump as an elegant counterweight to her husband’s boorish behavior - pushing aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro to be in front for a group photo an excellent example - the overall results of the trip can be simply describe in a perceptive cartoon by Patrick Chappatte in The New York Times International Edition of May 31.

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The End of Liberal Internationalism: U.S. and China Heading in Opposite Directions

At a recent social gathering near Geneva attended by academics and international civil servants, a visiting American scholar chortled: “This may be the last bastion of liberal internationalism.” The United States was the dominating force behind the creation of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. After 1944, the U.S. tried to establish a liberal international order that focused on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and multilateral organizations.

Is that order coming to a close?

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“You’re Fired!” President Trump Dismisses F.B.I. Director James Comey

We have now passed the 100 day mark in Donald Trump’s presidency. If there has been one outstanding feature of this period, it has been the inconsistencies of the 45th United States president. One day Taiwan is important, soon after he announces no change in the United States’ One China Policy. For a while, Russian President Putin was a potential ally; soon after President Trump appointed advisors who are strongly anti-Russian. Trump has also retreated from his position on NATO. In January he said that NATO was “obsolete.” A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a NATO summit in May. Campaign Trump threatened import duties on China and on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen.

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Macron, Sanders and Trump: Is the Party Over?

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election. Not only is he the youngest French president ever elected, but he was able to create his own political party – La République En Marche! – to defeat the traditional left and right French power structures. Similar to the success in the U.S. presidential primaries of the independent Bernie Sanders and to some extent Donald Trump in the general election, Macron’s win is further evidence of the decline of historical party organizations.

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How Free Is Our Speech?

Richard Falk and Ann Coulter have had their speeches cancelled at major universities. The freedom to speak our minds is one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies. But that freedom has its limits. We know we cannot shout fire in a crowded movie theatre. We know we cannot incite people to violence. We know we cannot purposely tell lies about someone or print racist invectives. What we can and cannot say has been circumscribed by the law.

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“Vive La France, Vive La République” “God Bless America”

The French presidential race is now down to two candidates. On the evening of the final selection, the winners and losers addressed their supporters and the television audience. Almost all of them concluded their remarks by saying: “Vive La France, Vive La République.”

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Negotiating With a an Enemy

My friend Verlon taught me many lessons. One of the most interesting was how he and his wife negotiated. Each Sunday evening they would sit down to divide up the household chores such as shopping, cleaning and cooking for the coming week. Each chore had a coefficient. Each week they would negotiate who would do what on the basis of time and availability. Each week they would come up with a satisfactory list of how the household chores would be done with similar totals for each.


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The Uber President

Donald Trump’s first 100 days as the 45th president of the United States are fast approaching. He continues to fascinate, startle and amaze. He orders the bombing of Syrian aircraft, dines with the president of China and welcomes a new Supreme Court justice all in 24 hours. A whirlwind of activity by a true multitasker.

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Roger the Liberated

Roger Federer is a phenomenon. He has won more Grand Slam tournaments than any male tennis player in history. He has won the Davis Cup; he has an Olympic gold medal. And at 35, he won the last Grand Slam in January in Australia after a six month layoff and the two major non-Grand Slam tournaments this year. He has 91 tournament victories after Sunday’s win in Miami. All this is phenomenal. He also appears a devoted husband and father. He is a true role model in addition to his tennis prowess.

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Expertise and Its Discontent

When my friends refer to me as “Doctor Warner,” I know I am in trouble. They are mocking my Ph.D. Indeed, democracies are based on the equality of citizens. Each qualified person has the same vote whether or not they have degrees in political science, listen to the news or read several newspapers a day. My friends are gently reminding me that “one man, one vote” means just that. We are all equal.

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The Passing of Jimmy Breslin

Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin died last week. Berry, an icon of rock ‘n roll, was globally known for hits like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven” He was the first true rock ’n’ roll superstar. Breslin was a superstar to New Yorkers, especially to those who looked forward to reading his byline to find out what was behind the news. He was also idolized by fellow writers.

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Are Human Rights Universal?

Do women’s rights mean the same thing in New York and Jeddah? Are individual rights a Western concept opposed by collective rights in Africa? Is advocating for human rights a form of hegemony by the United States and its allies? Why are economic, social and cultural rights prioritized by certain countries while civil and political rights are prioritized by others in spite of the fact that they are supposed to be interdependent?

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The Tweet Too Far?

Donald Trump likes to tweet. Donald Trump likes to attack. Like many New Yorkers, he believes that the best defense is to be offensive. He has attacked the media as “enemies of the people;” he has attacked the intelligence services. He has now attacked a former president, Barack Obama. And he did this in an early morning tweet.

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We Live in Interesting Times

A Chinese curse says “May he live in interesting times.” In a 1966 speech, Senator Robert F. Kennedy said: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” Are we living out the Chinese curse or are we living in “the most creative of any time in the history of mankind”?

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In Praise of Chaos Theory

The first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been exciting, to say the least. Veteran Senator John McCain described the White House as being a place where “nobody knows who’s in charge and nobody knows who’s setting policy.” The head of the military’s Special Operations Command said publicly: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out because we’re a nation at war.”

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People Do Remember

Roger Federer gave us a brief respite from the Trump news, but the thrill of his victory will only last so long. Other memories will remain etched much longer because people do remember where and how people stood at certain moments. In spite of the fact that we live in a world of tweets, where history has been reduced to the last 15 seconds on a Reuters screen, there is a collective memory, at least for some. In special moments, what elected officials do can leave a lasting impression, even if it does not change the course of history.  

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