The U.N., Trump and Cassandra

Under the radar in Geneva, but an ominous foreboding of things to come, a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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Trump/Obama and Being Critical

Donald Trump lives in the impulsive world of Twitter. While tweets do put him in closer contact with the general population, the Twitter world he favors is an uncritical sphere inhabited by those who have no critical capacity for levels of analysis. Watching him during his recent press conference was to watch someone with few powers of reflection. He does not weigh his words; he has instant reactions. He is not critical.


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Trying to Unravel the Russian Hacking Scandal

Influencing elections in foreign countries is part of power politics. While the recent Russian scandal involves hacking and modern devices, it does not change the basic idea of countries helping those they prefer get to power. In the most recent example of this tradition, the American intelligence community issued a declassified report on Russian intervention in the November U.S. presidential election. After leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency testified before Congress, the agencies released a report which said that “Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

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Roger’s Back

Trying to be positive in the cold, dark haze of snowless Geneva, anxiously anticipating the January 20th inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States and all that will follow, continuing to be overwhelmed by pictures of the carnage in Syria and the unfolding denial of hospitality towards those fleeing violence, shocked at random attacks against innocent people in the name of a religion that purports to be humane, one searches for momentary relief and reasons to smile as 2017 begins.

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The Commodification of Politics

The object of capitalism is the accumulation of capital. That’s obvious. What is not obvious is the relationship between an economic system and a political one. While capitalism may drive how countries organize their economies, political systems are supposed to be separate. Democracy and capitalism are not the same.

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Who’s at the Table?

With the Christmas season and New Year’s Eve upon us, you may feel particularly sensitive about invitations. Why was I not invited to this party? Why was so-and-so invited? In fact, although this is the season to be generous and altruistic, distinctions between insiders and outsiders cannot be ignored. Sending cards and inviting for festivities involve making choices. It is often intriguing to note who was not invited.

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“We Won.” Is it that Simple?

The dizzying unfolding of the post-November 8 election results in the United States continues. As the buildup to the Electoral College vote on December 19 approaches, there is uncertainty about how to react to the results. Grass-root protests, boycotts of the Inauguration and planned marches are in the works. Recounts in several states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, allegations of Russian hacking, condemnations of the C.I.A. by the President-elect, Clinton’s substantial popular vote majority, and Trump’s ethical conflicts of interest all contribute to this uncertainty not seen in presidential elections since George Bush v Al Gore in 2000.

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Can We Have Escalade More Often?

The Escalade race is said to represent “the best of the Spirit of Geneva…,” “Geneva at its highest,” according to Pierre Ruetschi in the Tribune of December 4. He wrote that 40,000 people running in numerous categories and a thousand volunteers all contributed to “a remarkable collective effort.”

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The Communication Gap

The recent votes for Brexit and Donald Trump as well as populist movements in Europe reflect an anti-globalization backlash. There is no question that rising unemployment and the technological revolution have caused insecurity. People are afraid for their jobs; millions are worried about the future. Many in democratic countries fear increasing instability.  

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November 8 Shocks and Aftershocks

The unexpected result of the November 8 election in the United States continues to have aftershocks. And they will continue for a long time. Just as the implosion of the Soviet Union, September 11, 2001 attacks and the Arab Spring changed world politics, the election of Donald Trump represents a transformative event.

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We Blew It

I admit it; I blew it. I was convinced that Hillary Clinton would win. The election of Donald Trump is the culmination of a series of mistakes by experts, media, pollsters, politicians and diplomats. In other words, the intellectual class got it all wrong. But not only did it get it wrong on this election, it also got it wrong in predicting the end of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring. 0 for 3; in baseball terms three strikes means you’re out.

This demands serious reflection.

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Trying to Find Perspective on Aleppo and Mosul

As the bombing of Aleppo continues and the fighting around Mosul intensifies, Western leaders and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have denounced blatant violations of international humanitarian law. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner, recently condemned the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in eastern Aleppo as possible war crimes. While no official figures are available, the United Nations has said that nearly 200 civilians have been killed by the Islamic State outside Mosul. A photographer for The New York Times wrote almost a full-page story in the October 27 edition about being wounded while accompanying Iraqi counter terrorism forces pushing towards Mosul. The horrors of the wars in Iraq and Syria are being more than documented.

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The Local vs the Majority

The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill is credited with saying “All politics is local.” But how local can you get? The recent vote in Wallonia, Belgium, against the European Union (EU) - Canada trade deal has led to Belgium’s withdrawing support and the potential collapse of the deal. The local parliament voted against the agreement, and since all 28 EU member countries must sign a trade agreement, Belgium has effectively vetoed the deal. The 27 other members of the EU were on board.

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Should We Thank Donald Trump?

The US presidential campaign continues to sink lower and lower. Personal insults – “Lock her up” – and revelations about sexual misconduct – both about Donald Trump and references to Bill Clinton – have hampered any serious discussion about major issues. What to do in Syria? How to overcome income inequality and racial tensions? While neither candidate has stayed completely on the high road, there is no question that Donald Trump has been in the forefront of the personal attacks.

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Can There Be Too Much Democracy?

Besides cuckoo clocks, chocolate and watches, Switzerland is world renowned for direct democracy within its political system. At the federal level, citizens can propose changes to the constitution through initiatives or ask for a referendum on any law passed by the parliament. Swiss citizens are more powerful than citizens in representative democracies such as the United States. This rule by the people is greatly admired, and certainly more democratic than the American system by which nine judges on the Supreme Court can eventually rule a law unconstitutional.

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Who Did It?

Who shot down a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago? Was Russia involved? Was Saudi Arabia involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States? Can the families of the victims sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot?  

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The Trump Phenomenon

As the US presidential campaign draws to its close in early November and the race seems to be tightening, there is more and more interest in Donald Trump and the real possibility of his becoming the next president of the United States. While he was considered to be an exotic candidate during the primaries, there is no denying his staying power and growing popularity as the official Republican candidate.

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Are You Proud of Stan?

The Swiss player Stan Wawrinka won the 2016 US Open Tennis Championships, defeating top-seeded Novak Djokovic in four sets. It was Wawrinka’s third major title and another milestone for Swiss tennis, to go along with Roger Federer’s 17 and Martina Hingis’ 5 major singles titles. Why should we include Wawrinka with Federer and Hingis? The answer is that for a country such as Switzerland to have players who have won 25 major singles titles in the modern era is quite an accomplishment, certainly exceptional for a small Alpine country where skiing and curling are predominant sports. Yet the Swiss are resoundingly proud of Stan, Roger and Martina.

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Is Switzerland Hospitable to Expatriates?

Switzerland was ranked 31st out of 67 countries in a recent study of hospitality for expatriates by the German group Internations. The survey included facts about demography and moving but also about expats’ happiness with the quality of life in their new country, such as work-life balance, raising children and making friends. The study, Expat Insider, classed Switzerland fourth in 2014 and 14th in 2015. In the 2016 study, Switzerland fell 17 places.

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The Ought/Is Schism: What Good Are International Norms?

Earlier this month, a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported hospital in Yemen was bombed, killing 19 people. This is not the first time a MSF hospital has been attacked. In October 2016, a United States airstrike killed 42 civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Bombing a hospital or bombing other civilian targets such as schools are breaches of international humanitarian law and can be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity.

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When Is The Past Only The Past?

Nothing is fixed in our memories. We remember and forget. But what we remember or forget changes over time. At a given moment, perceptions evolve of an event that took place. At the recent Locarno Film Festival, two movies touched on dramatic events in contemporary Swiss history. “Un Juif pour l’exemple” and “Il Nido” are films about the past, the memory of which are ongoing, including the films themselves. The movies are part of the process of memorialization.

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The Super Bowls of Politics

The parties’ parties are over. The Republican and Democratic Party conventions have concluded. Beyond the brouhaha over Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech and the leaked emails of the head of the Democratic National Committee, the designation of the candidates for president and vice-president of the U.S. of the two major political parties have become official. Whereas the selection has sometimes taken place during the convention, the presumptive nominees for president and vice president had been done before the conventions, leaving little room for surprise.

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Russia Again Under the Radar Screen

“Summertime, and the livin is easy.” Contrary to the famous words by the Gershwins in the musical Porgy and Bess, this summer has not been easy. Racial violence in the United States, coup attempt in Turkey, terrorist attacks in France and Germany, doping scandal involving Russian athletes and Brexit have all dominated the headlines, not to mention the American presidential campaign, continued migration chaos and the civil war in Syria.

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Do You Know How to Stand in Line?

Last week at Wimbledon I was given a formal, printed card about how to queue. Most people spend some part of their lives standing in line. Whether in a store, at the post office, at the bank or waiting to enter a train or plane, we must wait. For each situation, there are informal rules about who goes first; there are norms about how to queue. Not everyone follows the rules. But to get a formal card, printed in color on heavy paper about how to stand in line was a truly unique experience.

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Economists Fail Economics 101

Economics 101 was a great challenge during my studies. When I took the introductory required course I had no economics background or particular mathematical skill. The first day the professor put on blackboard a supply and demand curve. He explained that all economic theory was based on a simple formula: As demand rose, supply diminished. As supply rose, demand diminished. There was something elegant but puzzling here. Could all human activity be reduced to this simple formula? Could all our behavior be shown in mathematical equations and linear charts?

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