Johnny Be Good

The death of Johnny Hallyday has caused an outpouring of emotions in Geneva newspapers and across France. Pages have been dedicated to reliving his turbulent life. Beyond obvious comparisons to Elvis Presley, it is intriguing to observe such attachment to one person.

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A Global Thanksgiving

At a recent Thanksgiving celebration in Geneva, where almost all the participations were expats, we were asked to tell what we were thankful for. Traditionally, people express their thanks for something or some things during the dinner feast. Tradition also has it that people say thanks for their family, friends and good health. All of that is as much a part of Thanksgiving as are the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, and pumpkin pie.

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Russia and Rethinking Everything

“Rethink everything,” advertises the venerable Swiss bank Lombard Odier. Amidst the western diabolization of the Russian Federation, from undermining electoral campaigns to supporting the war criminal Bashar al-Assad, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Moscow of the political elite. It was an opportunity to witness how Russia is perceiving its situation instead of the daily western diatribes against the autocratic Putin and his crushing of liberalism. It was a welcome chance to get away from Trump, Weinstein, Moore and Franken to hear a different narrative about serious politics.

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The Sex Scandals and Responsibility

The recent revelations about sexual abuse in politics and the arts are more complex than most tabloid headlines would lead us to believe. We certainly want to know who did what and when. But we should be cautious about all the revelations. It is inevitable that certain allegations will prove to be false. False news can be personal as well as political. Rumors can circulate about individuals in all walks of life, but without proof, they can remain mere speculation.

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Tennis Nostalgia

Two recent films puzzle me. Each revisits a specific event that I witnessed but have no nostalgia for. The first is advertised as: “Borg McEnroe, also known as Borg vs McEnroe, is a 2017 internationally co-produced multi-language biographical sports drama film focusing on the famous rivalry between famous tennis players Björn Borg and John McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, culminating in their encounter in the men's singles final.”

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International Geneva: A Tale of Two Visits

Two visits to Geneva say a great deal about world affairs. Chinese President Xi Jinping made a state visit to Switzerland from January 15-18, 2017. During that time, Xi met with Swiss President Doris Leuthard, had discussions with representatives from international organizations in Geneva and Lausanne, and opened the 47th annual World Economic Forum in Davos. At each venue, he praised multilateralism and China’s willingness to cooperate.

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Are Presidents and Generals Always Right?

The outcry over Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and the #metoo and #balancetonporc condemnations have dominated the news. It is puzzling that the condemnations of Weinstein and his behavior have not affected Donald Trump, who was accused by many of groping or worse. The outcry over Weinstein has not affected Trump’s ardent supporters.

Why not?   

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Reverse History: The Young Shall Rule

Sebastian Kurz led his party to victory in the recent Austrian election. Already foreign minister, he is about to become the world’s youngest leader at 31. Emmanuel Macron became president of France at 39. At 37, he was appointed as the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. Guillaume Barazzone was elected to the Administrative Council for the City of Geneva in 2012 and has been a member of the Swiss National Council since 2013. Barazzone was Mayor of Geneva at 34.

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Corker Condemns Trump: Revisiting Profiles in Courage

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning,” Tweeted Senator Bob Corker, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in response to a negative Tweet from President Donald Trump. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker followed up his criticism in an interview.

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The Fragile Nation-State

The recent vote for Kurdish independence and the attempted vote for separation in Catalonia reflect a desire to establish homogeneous nation-states. We are witnessing a backlash against globalization towards more local types of representation. Kurds want to be ruled by Kurds – even beyond their own regional parliament – and the Catalans want to be ruled by Catalans. Beyond autonomy, there is a calling for political independence.

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Trump Takes on U.S. Athletes: A Rant and Tweet Too Far?

Not satisfied with taking on the Rocket Man of North Korea, and at the same time trying to repeal and replace Obamacare if not the nuclear deal with Iran and NAFTA, President Trump has taken on a most sacred place in America’s heart, its professional athletes. At a political rally in Alabama last Friday, he asked: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of those N.F.L. owners when someone disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired.’”

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Donald Trump: The Apprentice World Leader

Donald Trump’s speech before the UN General Assembly was typical Trump and all that we had feared. At the headquarters of an institution designed to “develop friendly relations among nations” and “to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations,” Trump’s 42 minute diatribe mentioned “sovereign” or “sovereignty” 21 times. America First obviously t(T)rumped any form of cooperation. As the Swiss President Doris Leuthard reminded the world’s leaders, “No country alone can confront future challenges. Nationalism and patriotism alone cannot contribute to that goal.”

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Is Nature Winning?

Unprecedented hurricanes thrash islands in the Caribbean and devastate much of Texas and Florida. Unusual monsoons kill thousands in India while droughts plague other parts of the region. Wildfires cause havoc in parched areas of southern Europe and California. Are these events results of climate change or are they merely something we are more aware of because of better information? Even earthquakes and volcanoes can be caused by climate change, according to Bill McGuire, a professor of geophysical and climate hazards in London.

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Dual Citizenship: Are you with us or against us?

“Bi-national and loyal: Is it possible?” asked a headline in a local Swiss newspaper. Of the three major candidates running for a seat on the federal council in Switzerland, one of the candidates turned in his Italian passport saying: “I am the only one of the three candidates who is truly Swiss in the large sense of the term,” and a second said he would renounce his French citizenship if elected.

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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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