Private-Public Partnerships and Universities

The recent nomination of Patrick Aebischer, President of the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL), to be president of the Novartis Venture Fund (NVF) has caused quite a stir. Critics are claiming he has a flagrant conflict of interest. Beyond that criticism is the deeper question of the private-public relationship between universities and academia.

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Some Thoughts on Ferguson: Plus ca change

It would be enjoyable to write about the victorious Swiss Davis Cup team or a fascinating recent visit to Armenia, but the riots in Missouri dominate the news and once again the world is reminded that racial equality remains problematic in the United States. For someone who worked in the African-American enclave of Harlem in New York City from 1968-1972 there is only dismay that after the many victories of the civil rights movement and the election of the first African-American president, deep-seated animosities remain.

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Impressions from Kiev: A Post-Sovereign Debates Pre-Sovereign

Membership in the European Union is sometimes referred to as a “géométrie variable,” member countries have different obligations; the United Kingdom is a full member but retains its own currency, the Pound and not the Euro. On a recent visit to Kiev, I was impressed by how my comments on the need for international cooperation in the context of today’s global, complex interdependence were met with emphatic calls for sovereign autonomy in a language of emotional nationalism.

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Politicians’ Defiance: Hubris or Necessary Confidence?

President Barack Obama was defiant at his news conference after the recent midterm elections. Rather than admitting to a “shellacking,” as he did following the Democrats poor showing in November 2010 (“A pensive and introspective President Obama said Wednesday the election was a ‘shellacking’ and took responsibility for his party’s disastrous showing,” the press reported at the time), this time the President expressed no remorse. He laid out his plans for the next two years, even threatening to issue an executive order on immigration if the Congress did not pass a bill to his liking. Although the Democrats lost control of the Senate and the Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives and several governorships, Obama was far from contrite.

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Mid-Term Elections, Barack Obama and the American Dream

After Nov. 4, we should know if the Republican Party will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the next two years. As President Obama will be entering the last two years of his second mandate beginning in 2015, the lameness of the lame duck President will be intensified if the Republicans control both houses of Congress.

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Federer’s Victory and the Era of Identity Politics

When I visit Kiev, I often ask my hosts: “What is Ukraine? What does it mean to be Ukrainian?” Watching Roger Federer play in Bâle this weekend, it was not difficult to understand what it meant to be Swiss; there were flags waving all over St. Jacques Arena as well as cow bells ringing. People had the Swiss cross painted on their cheeks. To be Swiss was to be behind Federer: to be behind Federer was to be Swiss. There was no doubt that Roger personified Swiss identity to the roaring crowd.

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The Ebola Epidemic and Incompetence

Why do we have governments? Libertarians tell us that the best governments are those which govern least. But in times of crisis, such as a natural disasters or wars, citizens depend on their governments to protect them. That is why we pay taxes. In the recent Ebola outbreak, both in the countries of origin in Africa and the countries where those infected have been treated, there has been clear incompetence by public authorities.

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The Complexities of the Battle for Kobani

The media is telling us that the battle for Kobani is crucial in the war against the Islamic State. Upon reflection, there are many, many questions about the battle. We know that there is fighting taking place around and within the Syrian city on the border with Turkey. While the media’s job is to keep the public informed about major events around the world, the many questions raised indicate a worrying pattern of sensationalism and lack of in-depth reporting in addition to the complexities of the larger geopolitical maneuvering.

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Reflections on Autumn and Indian Summer

As mornings turn darker and darker, leaves start changing colors and the summer heat becomes the nip of autumn, many bemoan the end of summer. I don’t. Yes, vacation time is over; outdoor pools are closed and tennis goes indoors. We are all back to the routines of the regular year. But the riotous colors of the flora and the invigoration of the cool weather make it all worthwhile.

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A Geneva Odyssey

On September 27, the citizens of Geneva rejected an initiative for the construction of a short tunnel to join the two banks of Lac Leman. While several explanations have been given for the resounding defeat of the proposal – too expensive during a period of economic belt tightening or more enthusiasm for an ambitious, larger construction away from the center of town – no one with a fleeting knowledge of Geneva history should have been surprised at the result. Since the construction of the Mont Blanc bridge in 1862, there have been numerous attempts to build another crossing, but all have failed.

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Perpetual war poses a risk to U.S. power: An update

The following are parts of an article written by me which appeared on the Op-ed page in the International Herald Tribune on June 28, 2002. In parentheses and italics are updates that I have added after President Obama’s September 10, 2014, speech on the Islamic State (ISIL). The direct quotations are from his words.

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How Should We Celebrate With Roger?

After his triumph in the reverse singles on Sunday that clinched Switzerland’s place in the Davis Cup finals, Roger Federer was carried around the court on the shoulders of teammate Stan Wawrinka and Captain Severin Luthi. “To see his face after the match point, he looked like a 17-year-old junior who had just won his first ATP points,” said TV commentator and former Swiss Davis Cup Captain Marc Rosset.

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Roger’s Roar and Smile and their Lessons for Diplomats

Roger Federer is best known as a tennis player, perhaps the greatest of all time. His record of 17 Grand Slam titles is unmatched in the sport’s history. But besides his one-hand backhand, elegant dress and phenomenal court movement and presence under pressure, his recent performance at the U.S. Open bears witness to another quality that warrants attention and, hopefully, simulation.

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Iraq, Libya and Syria: Are they better off today than they were before?

At the end of the Cold War and the Arab Spring, the West enjoyed tremendous satisfaction that liberalism was on the rise. More than just the superficial end of history, there was a deeper sense that there was progress in the organization of human society. Various manifestations appeared of a universal acceptance of human rights and humanitarian law. The establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council was a fitting example. The term “international community” seemed to have some meaning.  

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Hostages: To pay or not to pay, that is the question

The grotesque assassination of the American journalist James Foley has publicly raised the complex question of whether or not governments, companies or individuals should pay a ransom to free hostages. There are supportable arguments on both sides of the issue and, not surprisingly, there are differences on to how to deal with the problem. There has been no coherent response in the West to demands for ransom.

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Swiss Struggles With Russian Sanctions and Neutrality

A Swiss law professor once bemoaned to me that he had spent 25 years of his career dealing with one word, “neutrality”. We all know that legally neutrality means that a country will not join armed alliances or fight in wars other than for self-defense. But, politically, for Switzerland neutrality can run the gamut from not allowing airplanes to fly over Swiss airspace on their way to attack another country to promoting human rights and the rule of law, what is called “positive neutrality”.

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The U.S. in Iraq: Here We Go Again?

Getting old has its positive and negative aspects. Positively, there is a growing sense of wisdom because of having been witness to many events over time. Negatively, in contradiction to the growing wisdom, there is the realization that certain things keep repeating themselves, such as the United States trying to save the world or trying to impose its vision in faraway places that may not be open to the same vision.

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Didier Burkhalter’s Way With Words

As President of the Swiss confederation, as Foreign Minister, as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter is required to give many speeches. He probably has at least one person helping him prepare the texts. Be that as it may, the introduction to his national day August 1 address, although little commented upon, bears particular attention. Much like his “Cher Collègue” greeting to President Putin during a May visit to Moscow (see my blog of May 9), Mr. Burkhalter said a great deal in very few words.

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The Revolution of the Saints Revisited From Geneva

In the West, there is tremendous fear of Islamic fundamentalism taking over the Arab world. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), often described as “extremist” and “militant,” continues its march towards Baghdad; in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood remains an important actor. Surprisingly, there should be a particular understanding of this phenomenon from a Geneva perspective.

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The End of Humanitarianism?

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013. Started in a small apartment in the Old Town of Geneva, the ICRC crystallized and codified the first international norms dealing with the laws of war. After watching on the news the bombings of hospitals and schools in Gaza with innocent women and children among the victims as well as the difficulty for outside forensic experts and family members of passengers to inspect the site of downed MH17 in eastern Ukraine, I ask: Is humanitarianism still pertinent today?

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MH17 and Gaza: Who Is Responsible?

Responsibility is central to moral philosophy and law. On the negative side, justice demands that we find out “Who did it?” “Who is to blame?” On the positive side, we want to know who should be praised, who should be rewarded. But beyond moral philosophers and lawyers, we often debate in the simplest conversations about who was responsible for a given act or situation. Even if we hold responsible a heavenly being or fate, we still want to know who is responsible.

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Reconciling Peace and War: In But Out

The sun shines in Geneva during glorious summer days. Swimming pools are crowded with excited children; some have left for their chalets in the mountains, others have left or are planning to leave on vacation to the beaches of southern Europe or Asia. “Summertime and the livin’ is easy” as George Gershwin wrote. But newspaper headlines scream otherwise: “Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza,” “Jet brought down by missile in Ukraine”. How to reconcile “the livin’ is easy” with the horrors of the headlines? And with other tragic events that don’t make the front pages.

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Reflections on Non-Violence at the World Cup

The World Cup has ended. An orgy of flag waving and anthem singing has concluded for at least another four years. Germany won, as could have been expected. What wasn’t expected was how the threats of street violence and protest within Brazil over the lavish preparation did not materialize.

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The Human Brain Project Controversy: Let the Taxpayer Beware

When asked if it was difficult to govern during a world war, the American President Woodrow Wilson famously replied; “Not at all. I have been chairman of a political science department and president of a university.” The quotation referred to notorious conflicts among academics, and in many ways reflects what is currently taking place surrounding the Human Brain Project (HBP).

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Can One Be Heroic In Defeat?

Roger Federer is being lavishly praised for his heroic battle with Novak Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final. The Swiss football team is being lavishly praised for its heroic battle with Argentina in this year’s World Cup round of 16. Federer and the national team were both close to victory but they both lost. Can one be heroic in defeat?

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