Guns and Nuclear Weapons: The More the Merrier?

The recent shooting of thirteen students at a community college in Oregon has raised again the question of gun control in the United States. In speaking to the American people after this latest incident, a frustrated President Obama pointed out how little progress has been made to curb these shootings and how repetitive the situation has become: “We’ve become numb to this. We talked about this after Columbine, and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun,” he said.

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“What the Hell Were You Thinking?”

The Volkswagen scandal is perplexing. For a rather small benefit per car, the company took enormous risks if caught. Penalties are said to be in the neighborhood of $18 billion without the cost of recall and repairs. The CEO resigned; sales and the stock have plummeted; the reputation has been tarnished; the image of Germany as efficient and non-corrupt has been damaged. (If a similar incident had happened to an auto maker in France or Italy, would there be such reverberations?)

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A Tale of Two Visits: Ethics and Politics and Ethical Politics

Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the United States last week. The Pope’s visit was his first to the U.S., and while he obviously tried to energize Catholics, the largest denomination in the U.S., his message was surprisingly political. For the Chinese leader, on his first state visit as president, his trip included meetings with business leaders in Seattle, a reception in Washington with a 21-gun salute on the White House lawn, and multilateral events in New York. While the Pope used the opportunity to emphasize a moral dimension in political affairs, Xi Jinping dealt with such earthly matters as cyber-espionage, climate change, the South China Sea, and China’s relationship with the U.S. as a great power.

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Racism in America, The Story That Won’t Go Away

Racism is not simple to define. From South African apartheid’s formal segregation to racial profiling, there are many different hues. “Black Lives Matter” has become a United States movement in reaction to violence, often by police, against blacks. But violence can take on many forms. When African-American celebrities are involved in an incident, not a shooting or violent crime, the publicity can become front page news. 

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European Union’s Refugee Policy: Missed Obligations and the German Example

From the outset, the European project has been under considerable pressure to prove that it is not just an economic union. The recent Greek crisis, which is far from over, raised the fragility of a deeper sense of a Eurozone beyond a common currency. We watch in stupefaction and dismay as refugees continue to pour into Europe only to be met with barbed wire barriers and hostile police. The reaction to the current mass influx is an example of the lack of commonality among EU members.

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Feel the Bern vs. Get Clean for Gene

The 2016 United States presidential election has drawn international attention. Who is Donald Trump? Does he have a chance to be elected? Will Hillary Clinton be the first woman President? Will Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush be part of continuing dynasties? Will Vice-President Joseph Biden enter the race? These questions appear in headlines around the world, and justifiably so. But there are less spectacular questions as well.

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Trying to Understand Collective Heroism and Responsibility

“Let’s go, go!” Alek Skarlatos shouted to his two American friends vacationing in Europe as they went after the heavily-armed gunman on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris. The three Americans are being hailed as heroes, receiving congratulations from the presidents of France and the United States, among many others, for subduing the gunman.

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The Skiing Country Shines on the Courts

René Stambach could not have dreamed of a better Monday. The president of Swiss Tennis awoke on August 17 to see that two Swiss men were in the top five – Roger Federer at no. three and Stan Wawrinka no. five – and that two Swiss women had moved into the top 15 – Belinda Bencic at no. 12 and Timea Bacsinszky at no. 14. Not only is Switzerland the reigning Davis Cup champion, but with the two women in the top 15 and the world’s second-ranked women’s doubles player, Martina Hingis, the Swiss are realistic challengers for the Fed Cup, the World Cup of women’s tennis.

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Sports Insults and Rules of the Game

The tennis world is in shock, according to an article in the Tribune de Genève, because of insulting language used by the Australian Nick Kyrgios during a match against Stan Wawrinka Wednesday evening in Montreal. The insult, referring to Wawrinka’s current girlfriend and another Australian player, resulted in a $10,000 fine for the volatile Australian who later apologized for what he had said in “the heat of the moment.”

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Let Me Entertain You: The US Presidential Election and Politics as Theater

The top ten contenders for the 20016 Republican presidential nomination squared off in a televised debate-like scenario hosted by Fox News last week. The debate was eagerly anticipated, especially as to how the billionaire businessman, reality show host and front-runner Donald Trump would perform. Fifteen million people tuned in. Soon after the debate, blow-by-blow descriptions appeared in the press, with winners and losers announced in a combination of boxing and theater metaphors.

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Cecil and Animal Politics

The recent killing of a lion in Zimbabwe has caused a global outcry. Front page stories recount how guides for an American dentist and hunter, Dr. Walter Palmer, supposedly lured the animal out of its protected habitat, allowing Palmer to shoot him with a bow and arrow, and later to behead him - the stuffed head being the hunter’s trophy for which he paid $50,000 in fees. Considering the number of people dying in wars throughout the world, the number of undernourished as well as the homeless, it may seem bizarre that so much attention at this time has been given to a specific animal.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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