30/07/2015

What’s on Your Radar Screen?

During the slow, sunny days of summer, it may seem impertinent to ask: “What’s on your radar screen?” We assume that most people are worried about making sure they have enough sun tan lotion, at exactly what time their plane is leaving, what time is high tide, whether or not they have taken the right route up the mountain, how to get the children to their camp, how to ignore the emergency message from the office, what kind of bait to use to catch fish, how to dress for the barbecue, and so on.

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24/07/2015

Do You Believe in Justice?

The trial of the former president of Chad (1982 to 1990) brings to court someone pursued by the international justice system for years. His crimes have been well documented, yet he has been able to avoid prosecution while traveling abroad to various countries or while living comfortably in Senegal. A new government in Dakar has changed all of this, and Hissène Habré has been brought to trial before a special tribunal in Senegal on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.

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16/07/2015

What’s So Special About Negotiating?

For those of you not lolling on the beach or disconnected from current events - in which case you are probably not reading blogs as well - the past week’s news has focused on Greece and Iran. In Brussels, frantic meetings between finance ministers and heads of state tried to stave off a Greek financial collapse and exit from the Eurozone. In Vienna, diplomats patiently tried and succeeded to finalize a deal to oversee Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions. Both situations involved high level officials – no members of civil society were present and journalists were kept far from the actual discussions – but both involved a basic human activity, negotiation.

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09/07/2015

Reflections on the Greek Crisis and Solidarity

Most attention on the Greek crisis has focused on economics. What are the consequences of the Greek default on their debt? Why should Germans pay for the Greeks? Will Greece leave the Eurozone? What will happen to Greece if the drachma is re-issued? Behind these questions is the obvious political question about Europe: What will be the consequences for the European Union if Greece leaves?

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02/07/2015

The Best and Worst of Chronopolitics

The study of politics has been fixated on place. Geopolitics focuses on the importance of routes, sea-lanes and movements of armies. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, for example, can simply be explained by its need for access to warm-water ports. With the acceleration of time through enhanced technology, more attention has turned to chronopolitics, the relation of time-perspectives to political decision-making. And last week demonstrated some of the best and the worst of the implications of political time.

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26/06/2015

Acts of Judgment: Forgiveness and Condemnation

As Dylann Roof appeared in court last week to be charged with the murder of nine people during a Bible study class at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in South Carolina, the daughter of one of the victims said: “I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.” Several other members of the families of the victims expressed similar sentiments. The sister of one described the church’s teaching: “Emanuel does not harbor hate in her heart. That’s not the God we serve. It’s important for us to know that the young man is a mother’s son, a father’s son. If he can earnestly repent, God will hear him.”

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22/06/2015

Charleston Shooting: Why does nothing happen?

As President Obama stepped forward to address the country last week to speak once again to the nation about the senseless loss of lives from gun violence, The New York Times described him as “tired from his multiple mournful treks to his podium speaking of gun deaths.” Obama said; “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It is in our power to do something about it.”

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12/06/2015

FC Servette, Greece and the Game of Chicken

FC Servette has been saved, at least from bankruptcy. The local Geneva football club has found sponsors to pay CHF 5 million to erase its debt and avoid an ignominious relegation. As the talks on Greece’s debt also come down to the last moment – certainly more important on the world stage but less actual for Geneva fans – similarities between the two situations are evident: Who will blink first?

 

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05/06/2015

Popular Political Culture and the Carouge Revue

Generations around the world have been entertained by musical classics such as Oklahoma! and West Side Story as well as more recently The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! The combination of story-telling with catchy tunes is a universal crowd-pleaser. What is less popular and less well-known is a tradition of political, musical satire, the mixture of popular tunes with specific lyrics designed to poke fun at local politicians. Parts of Switzerland have this tradition.

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02/06/2015

John Kerry and Politician/Athletes

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday broke his leg while cycling just outside of Geneva in France. In between negotiations with his Iranian counterparts on a deal to limit their nuclear capabilities, the former senator and presidential candidate had an accident during an ascent on the Col de la Colombière, a difficult mountain pass that often is on the route of the Tour de France. He was rushed to a hospital in Geneva and then on Monday flown to the United States for treatment. While his broken right femur is not deemed serious, the accident will cut short his European diplomatic tour.

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28/05/2015

Should We Be Afraid of ISIS?

Whereas Al Qaida posed a threat by trying to disrupt Western culture and ideals, ISIS claims to want only to establish its own territory in order to govern by its own rules. If we strictly follow the principles of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years War – with the concept of cuius region, eius religio, each region could have its religion - then we should not interfere. We can surely condemn their violence and blatant disregard for human rights, but how do they threaten us?

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22/05/2015

Jean Claude Gandur and a Clash of Civilizations

Imagine that a very wealthy businessman offers his unique art collection to a city as well as offering to pay a considerable amount for the construction of the necessary structure to house the collection. One’s first impression would be that the city would graciously thank the businessman for his offer of the collection and helping to pay for the structure. But no, the Geneva authorities have been deeply divided about whether or not to accept the offer. What’s the problem?

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11/05/2015

Bill Clinton and Grandfather Politics

Former President Bill Clinton is back in the news. The greatest politician of his generation is once again making headlines. Although his Clinton Foundation has been able to raise billions of dollars “to strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence," according to its mission statement, it is as the husband of declared Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that he has once again become a focus of attention.

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04/05/2015

Justice as Fairness

During a recent teaching experience in a newly-independent country of the former Soviet Union, a question about fairness sparked a revealing debate. The standard discourse about transformation from a communist/totalitarian system to a democratic/liberal one prioritizes the rule of law. Writing new laws by involving civil society is universally recognized as part of the process. But deeper values are involved that cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen.

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26/04/2015

The Greatest Show on Earth

Every four years the United States puts on the greatest show on earth. No, I am not referring to a quadrennial revival of the 1952 American film in brilliant technicolor of that name produced by Cecil B. DeMille that won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Story. Nor I am referring to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visit every four years to your hometown that was at the center of the movie.

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17/04/2015

Thabo Sefalosha Goes One-on-One Against New York’s Finest

Thabo Sefalosha is the first Swiss to play basketball in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States. Although not a star like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, he is hard working and best known for his defensive prowess. Originally drafted and signed by the Oklahoma Thunder, he currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks who have a chance to win the title in the world’s most prestigious league. Imagine, after Federer and Wawrinka winning the Davis Cup, Switzerland has the chance to have a Swiss win the NBA title

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13/04/2015

How do you choose who to vote for?

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s announcement that she is indeed running for president and with local municipal elections in Geneva reaching their climax the election season is in full swing. The obvious question is: For whom will you vote? Behind that question, the pre-question is how to choose a candidate.

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06/04/2015

The Iran Nuclear Roadmap

Following over thirty years of Iran’s diplomatic isolation and eighteen months of negotiations, a roadmap for concluding an agreement was reached on April 2 between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The major sticking points of guaranteeing that Iran’s nuclear program was to be used only for peaceful means and the lifting of economic sanctions by the UN, European Union and the United States were tentatively worked out in Lausanne before a final deadline at the end of June.

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02/04/2015

UnAmerican Sniper

The latest Clint Eastwood movie is a tribute to Chris Kyle, an American soldier who became a legend for killing 160 people who threatened U.S. troops during his several tours of duty in Iraq. He was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The movie traces his career from extraordinary sharpshooter to defender of his colleagues in battle to his ironic death at the hands of a deranged veteran during shooting practice after his return to his family in Texas. The finale is a flag-waving memorial ceremony in the huge stadium of the Dallas Cowboys football team.

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27/03/2015

The Sounds of Silence

The words of Paul Simon’s 1964 song have always intrigued me. How can silence have sounds? How does one warmly welcome what one cannot see as he begins “Hello darkness my old friend”? I understood what he meant by “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/ And tenement halls;” I quoted that as an epigraph in my undergraduate thesis in religion. But I am most intrigued when Simon writes:
“People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening”.

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19/03/2015

Give War a Chance

During the demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1970’s, a favorite rallying moment for the marchers was to sing the Beatles’ John Lennon’s ballad, “Give Peace a Chance”. The song summarized protest against the war and the ethos of the times. Peace and love were in the air

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12/03/2015

What does it mean to be secure?

The recent Geneva popular vote to overhaul the local police organization has drawn enormous attention. The vote was emotional, politically dividing and extremely close. Were the police a state within a state? Did the police union have too much power? Would the person responsible for the police, Conseil d’Etat Pierre Maudet who initiated the reform, lose influence if he lost the vote? Many questions were raised.  But perhaps the most fundamental ones were not raised: What does it mean to be secure today? Who is responsible for our security?

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06/03/2015

Edward Snowden’s “Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other”

On April 18, 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms to defend his posting of the 95 theses criticizing the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences as a guarantee of going to Heaven. He refused to recant, risking excommunication. In his final declaration, in the face of the powers of the Church and the Holy Roman Empire, Luther is supposed to have said, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I can do no other".

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02/03/2015

Are Human Rights Outdated?

The 13th Edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights has opened in Geneva. “A Film, A Subject, A Debate” is the heading of a most ambitious program that includes 40 documentaries, 11 feature films, 37 public debates, 160 international speakers, 8 workshops and 76 partners. Quite an achievement for the new director, Isabelle Gattiker, who is following in the large footsteps of the dynamic, innovative creator of the festival, Leo Kaneman.

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23/02/2015

The Real Power of Mother Nature

Numerous lists try to establish who has power. Is Angela Merkel the most powerful person in the world? Is Barack Obama? What about multinational corporations? Apple? Microsoft? Terrorists like Al Qaida? The Islamic State? Emerging powers like China or India? On a recent trip to the United States to attend an academic conference in New Orleans, I followed panels which were about the above, but discussions in the corridors were all about another kind of power.

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