Archives For politic

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) led political initiative known as the Durchsetzungsinitiative to be decided on February 28, 2016 will have drastic consequences for Switzerland should it pass and set the country on a dangerous path that it does not want to go down. If passed political flexibility, a strong point of Swiss democracy, will be limited and a two-tiered justice system, which is in opposition to the founding principles of the constitutional democracy the country is, will be breached.

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Sad news

I woke up this morning, had breakfast and checked my Facebook page, which is the typical way I begin my day. I saw that my sister had written me a message. Where a week ago she congratulated me on my new personal best at the Zurich Marathon and encouraged me to qualify for the Boston Marathon, she just wrote that she was glad that I wasn’t there. I knew this could not be good, so I googled “Boston Marathon” and read about the events in Der Spiegel. It’s always refreshing to read about American events in European papers because the news is usually better portrayed with less emotion, more analysis, and greater distance. I was shocked.

I’m a runner

Running around 10 marathons a year, mostly in Switzerland, but I’ve also run in Berlin (one of the Big 5) and Ireland with a hope of one day running New York, Boston, or Chicago, I know the masses of people that gather for these events. Marathons are like mini Olympic events, they bring together people passionate for the sport of both sexes and from all ages, races, and nationalities. When I’m out there at an event, I always get the feeling that humans are good. We have something in common and we share it here. As we strive towards the finish we pass on encouragement to each other. Some people pace their friends and others to help them reach new personal bests. The achievement is wonderful.

We’ve seen this before

Violence BostonWhat happened in Boston yesterday, April 15, 2013, is similar to what happened at the Munich Olympics between September 5-6, 1972 and the numerous school shootings that have occurred in recent years. Violence and destruction have no place where humanity is at its best. Such attacks for which ever reason, be they a hate of taxation, a hate of a government, another political statement or the sheer wish to be heard, have never advanced the cause supported by the perpetrator. They do just the opposite, they strengthen the resolve of those affected that they will not be the victim of unprovoked violence. The Munich Olympics continued, school children go back to learning, and Boston as well as the other marathons will take place again.

The other victims

I write these words with a sad sorrow, because I know these events will also affect a sport that is very important to me personally. Yet, I believe that these challenges will be overcome. My heart goes out to those who have been personally afflicted by this event, the dead, the injured, their family and friends. However, I also think about the tragedies that occur around us on a daily basis. The victims of violence around the world, who are victims just because of where they live. People who live in perpetual fear because their state has no system of justice, or where two or more groups of people believe in their individual causes so much that they can justify the killing of citizens, who merely wish to live in a clean environment and with the freedom and ability to realize their own potential.

Violence is never an answer

Violence has never and will never be an answer for getting one’s message across. Sporting events bring out the best in humanity, they connect us with what we have in common — the human body and a determined will. Education, seeks to open the mind to new possibilities — those of a better common future. The greatest form of justice that can come from this event is the acknowledgement of the many injustices in the world and a resolution to better the lives of the masses. In the documentary film Ethos, actor and environmental activist Woody Harrelson said:

The common man or woman, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian, Protestant or Catholic or Iraqi or American, the common person just wants to live in peace and justice in a clean environment. When we look around the world and we see that that is not the case, we know the will of the majority is not being listened to, that’s the first sign that our system is broken.

Our challenge as a humanity is to address the injustices of the world and eliminate the misgiven reasons for the use of violence.

Immer wieder lesen wir über das Problem der Expat-Integration. Einheimische meinen, dass die Expats (generell Englischsprechende) sich bei der Integration hier in der Schweiz keine Mühe geben. Sie haben den Ruf arrogante Vielverdiener zu sein, die es nicht für nötig halten, sich in die Sitten des neuen Wahllandes einzuleben. Man findet sie meistens in den englischen und irischen Pubs der Stadt oder zuhause in ihren Villen am Zürichsee oder in den steuergünstigen Kantonen Zug und Schwyz. Spricht man den normalen Schweizer auf Expats an, sagt er wahrscheinlich, dass sie unter sich bleiben. Ihrerseits sagen die Expats aber auch, dass es sehr schwierig sei, sich hier in der Schweiz als Teil der lokalen Gesellschaft zu fühlen. Integration scheint also doch nicht so einfach zu sein. Um das zu bekämpfen investiert der Kanton viel Geld in Integrationsintiativen wie zum Beispiel Informations- und Begrüssungsabende, die auf English gehalten werden. Dazu bekommen auch verschiedene Expat Organisationen Geld und Unterstützung, um die Arbeit des Integrationsamts zu erleichtern. Nichtsdestotrotz bleibt der Erfolg aus. Und hier liegt mein Problem.

Letzten Samstag war ich zum wiederholten Mal auf einem solchen Expat-Anlass und wieder enttäuscht. Als Auslandsschweizer habe ich grosses Verständnis für Expats. Dazu arbeite ich auch tagtäglich mit Expats, indem ich ihnen die deutsche Sprache beibringe, um sie dadurch zu integrieren. Wie bei den anderen Events wurde ich wieder von einem der Organisatoren eingeladen mit der Behauptung, dass ich und einige andere für unsere Arbeit bezüglich Integration geehrt werden würden und nebenbei würde ich viele potenzielle neue Kursteilnehmer treffen. Und da beginnen schon die Probleme: Diese Veranstaltungen für Expats sind schlecht organisierte Networkingpartys. Hauptsache es gibt einiges umsonst und verschiedene Gruppen und Firmen, die ihr Angebot an Kursen, Programmen und Produkten präsentieren können. Schweizer und sogar Deutschsprachige sind hier eher selten — ich schätze ihr Anteil liegt bei ca. 10%. Die behauptete Integration im Sinner beider Gruppen bleibt hier aus. Die Leute, die sich an solchen Anlässen treffen bleiben zu größtem Teil Ausländer mit guten Englischkenntnissen, die anderen Menschen in der gleichen Lage, kennen lernen wollen und dabei ein paar Bier oder Prosecco trinken wollen. Dabei sind einige Schweizer, die mal im Ausland gearbeitet haben, und auch hier in der Schweiz in einem multikulturellen Umfeld leben wollen. Integriert sind sie zwar, jedoch nur untereinander. Die sogenannte Expat-Community ist sehr offen, auch Schweizern gegenüber.

still1Von Seiten des Integrationsamts, vieler Schweizer und anderer Expats kann man aber von keiner Integration sprechen. Es wird erwartet, dass man sich als ein Teil der Gesellschaft, der Nachbarschaft, der Gemeinde fühlt. Dies ist vielen Expats aber noch nicht gelungen. Warum? Sind sie in ihrer Expat-Blase gefangen? Oder sind die Schweizer zu hart und kalt─ ein Volk, das sich nicht knacken lässt? Nein, die grösste Hemmung ist das moderne Leben. Man muss sich eigentlich fragen, wie gut man als Schweizer selber in seiner Gemeinde integriert ist. Zürich lockt Menschen aus der ganzen Welt und natürlich auch aus der ganzen Schweiz. Sie ist eine wirtschaftliche Hochburg des kapitalistischen Erfolgs; wer möchte denn nicht gerne hier leben? Ich bin davon überzeugt, dass es den meisten Zugezogenen ähnlich wie den Ausländern geht. Es sind nämlich genau die aus anderen Teilen der Schweiz Zugezogenen, die sich mit den Expats vermischen.

Warum ist Integration mittlerweile so schwierig geworden? Die Antwort hängt mit der Entwicklung des Egoismus zusammen. Wir haben das Gefühl einander nicht mehr so viel zu brauchen. Wie viele Vereine gibt es heute noch im Vergleich zu früher? Wie viele Gemeinde-Ferienhäuser wurden verkauft, weil heute jeder seine eigene Zweitwohnung in den Bergen haben will, oder gar keine Ferien in der Schweiz verbringen möchte? Die, die integriert sind, also die, die im selben Ort aufgewachsen sind, haben bereits ihre kleine Gemeinschaft und haben meistens wenig Interesse neue Freundschaften zu schliessen. Und die zugezogenen Schweizer können am Wochenende einfach wieder “nach Hause” fahren, um ihrerseits bestehende Freundschaften zu pflegen. Sogar viele Expats aus Großbritannien und Irland können sich das leisten. Also ist Integration überhaupt wichtig? Ich würde diese Frage immer noch mit Ja beantworten. Aber wir müssen uns bewusst werden, was wir von Integration eigentlich erwarten.

Grundsätzlich gibt es ein fundamentales Missverständnis zwischen Schweizern und Expats, nämlich darüber, wie man sich als neu Hinzugezogener in einem anderen Land zu verhalten hat. Englischsprechende (Engländer, Amerikaner, Iren, Kanadier usw.) sind es gewöhnt, dass man die Neuankömmlinge begrüsst, sich vorstellt und sie einlädt an gesellschaftlichen Anlässen teilzunehmen oder zum Beispiel in Vereinen mitzumachen. Der Schweizer hingegen erwartet, dass der Neue sich selbst vorstellt und anbietet. Hinzu kommt, dass Englischsprechende Fremden viel schneller vertrauen als die Schweizer. Im Resultat dauert es länger, sich hier in der Schweiz einzuleben.

Eine Rolle spielt aber auch die Sprache. Auch wenn die neu Zugezogenen schon im Ausland Deutsch (sprich: Hochdeutsch) gelernt haben, können sie zumeist wenig mit Schweizerdeutsch anfangen. Herr und Frau Schweizer helfen hier aber meistens gar nicht. Statt mit den Neuankömmlingen Hochdeutsch zu sprechen, wechseln sie direkt ins Englische. Hier könnte man stattdessen langsam und deutlich mit Expats Deutsch sprechen und ihnen nebenbei helfen Schweizerdeutsch zu verstehen. Schon kleine Hinweise — es heisst “Stange” nicht “kleines Bier” — können der Integration zuträglich sein.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 23.00.14Des Weiteren sollten auch Unternehmen, die Mitarbeiter aus dem Ausland rekrutieren, größeres Augenmerk darauf legen, neuen Expats die Sitten und kulturellen Eigenheiten der Schweiz von Anfang an näher zu bringen. Hier kann das Integrationsamt helfen und es reicht oft schon ein halber Tag. Ausserdem könnten Unternehmen eine Art Mentorensystem einrichten: Schweizer Mitarbeiter, die ihre ausländischen Kollegen in lokale Gebräuche einführen und sie animieren, an gesellschaftlichen Anlässen teilzunehmen. Auch ortsansässige Vereine könnten ermutigt werden, mehr ausländische neue Mitglieder aufzunehmen. Viele meiner Kursteilnehmer spielen z.B. in Bands zusammen mit Schweizern oder sind im Alpinisten Club. Diese Expats haben in aller Regel mehr Schweizer Freunde und sprechen schneller besseres Deutsch.

Mit diesem Artikel will ich betonen, dass der Kanton, die Stadt, und Frau und Herr Schweizer das Integrationsproblem neu überdenken sollten. Zurzeit funktioniert es nicht und viele Steuergelder werden schlicht verschwendet. Expatklubs müssen keine finanzielle Förderung bekommen, weil sowohl Schweizer als auch Expats wollen, dass Schweizer und Expat zusammenkommen und nicht, dass eine parallele Expat-Gesellschaft geschaffen wird. Dafür bedarf es aber Zeit, Geduld und Offenheit auf beiden Seiten.

Two Swiss groups are up in arms and it’s not about banks or immigrants. This week the ETH released a study that was commissioned by Economiesuisse into the possible effects of Switzerland pursuing it’s current energy policy to eliminate nuclear and gas energy by 2050 in favour of renewable sources. The study’s result state that the Swiss economy stands to lose 25% of its GDP by following this plan if action, something that Economiesuisse is and has been opposed to. For this lobby group, the evidence is clear and having come from an internationally recognized research institution says all there is to say.

ETH Zurich

Knowledge is an country’s best asset

However, other ETH researches and environmentalists are harsh to criticize the latest study. They say that the finding are based on early 2000s technology, which has become more efficient and cheaper and continues to develop. For these reasons they claim that the study’s findings over estimates the costs and fails to take the advantages into account.

Not taking the advantages of moving towards renewable and safe energy sources is a grave mistake for an institute (Economiesuisse), which claims to have the nation at the heart of its interest. The costs of ignoring this issue are much higher than addressing it.

As this informations came to light so did another potentially tragic news story. The Finnish firm Wärtsilä is rumored to be contemplating selling it’s Swiss subsidiary. For Winterthur, the repercussions could be drastic.  At present Wärtsilä produces ship power solutions and the reason for its economic uncertainty according to the news report is that there are too many ships and not enough demand. So what does this have to do with Switzerland’s energy debate?

Wärtsilä has also been researching and working in the field of renewable energy. The best and smartest companies are investing money and energy in this field because they recognize that there is a huge market to be had by countries and regions wishing to become energy independent. Countries where there is a clear interest for developing this type of technology are good places to do business. For this reason many solar and wind firms have left the US for Germany where they find more political support and a market.

economist

Even Switzerland can learn from the Nordics.

In this week’s Economist there is a special series on the Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In many ways these countries are being praised by the editors of the Economist, but there are some reservations. What is mentioned as a strength though is the willingness of the Nordics to look for new and innovative answers to economic problems and to embrace new technologies. That is what Switzerland must di as well.

Going back to the report for Economiesuisse and the belief of a 25% decrease in Switzerland’s GDP, a more encompassing study that took the results of 13 studies (including the above mentioned study) into Switzerland’s plans for green energy by 2050 found that the Swiss economy would suffer at most from a 0.5% drop in GDP, but more likely a 2% increase thanks to new jobs and technical know-how that would come from this development.

Like so often in humanity’s history we find ourselves at the cusp of needing to make some major decisions. When the car was introduced the blacksmiths and carriage makers protested that it would mean the end of their work, and it did, but it created a major new field of business and increased mobility and urbanization. The same is happening with energy. Betting on tradition is the worst wager a politician can make. The only thing that is certain is change. A good politician and policy maker will always bet on knowledge and the growth of knowledge.

Many countries are hesitant invest in game-changing technology or initiate policies that will force change, because they still look to the USA to lead the way and set the course. However, in recent years the US has done a poor job on setting new goals for where they see the world going. During the Cold War it was clear: spread democracy and show all the benefits of capitalism. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been no great plans, but rather let’s keep doing what we’re doing and without investing anymore try to suck out more advantages (profit and work) from what exists.

Small countries, like Switzerland, have an enormous advantage to become world leaders. Open their borders to the smartest people, help them start companies and develop the technology we need to ensure we stop destroying the environment and start fixing the problems we’ve caused. Labour is easy to export. Anyone can lower their taxes. Knowledge and innovation are much less likely to leave a place where they flourish.

Swiss politicians owe it to their constituents and the Swiss people owe it to future generations to pursue one of the most ambitious renewable energy policies in the world.

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

It’s Olympic season again and that means that people around the globe will be glued to their television sets watching their country’s best give it their all in their quest to bring home gold and honor. As you sit their staring at your screen, you’re sure to also be bombarded with commercials from the Games’ official sponsors: McDonalds, CocaCola, Nike and Co.

One commercial that you might come across is the latest from Nike. The running shoe company has been on a tour de force lately with out-of-the-box commercials with their #makeitcount campaign and now their “Find Your Greatness” series. The commercial that has caught my attention and no doubt that of many others is entitled “The Jogger”. It features an overweight 12-year-old boy named Nathan running towards the camera, while we are told that greatness is for anyone to have. now I don’t want to say this is a great commercial, or that it’s terrible, but it should have us think.

For me seeing this commercial is very bitter-sweet. Looking at this boy running, I see myself when I was younger. I was the fat kid, not chubby, but fat. At the age of 13 I was 250 pounds and size XL/XXL. Every time I see an overweight child my heart goes out to them. More often than not their weight is the result of irresponsible parenting, corporate malfeasance, and government failure and they are not happy. They may experience happy moments, but these children are not happy.

Poor Parenting:

Until children are 16-years-old or older they still need the guidance of their parents. As a teacher, I feel 100% confident saying that children under the age of 14 are anything but fully rational beings and require supervision. They cannot be entrusted to make important decisions regarding their wellbeing on their own. Parents that allow their children to pick their meals on their own are being simply irresponsible. When parents see their children gaining weight beyond what looks healthy they need to intervene quickly and investigate the reasons.

Weight gain and loss is in general a very simple mathematical principle. Eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight; eat less calories than you burn and lose weight. I say in general, because there are medical problems that can hinder this. As a parent then, you need to prepare your children fresh, quality food and ensure that their calorie intake matches their calorie usage. In the case of noticeable weight gain either the child needs to be more active or decrease their calorie intake.

Corporate Malfeasance:

One of the ironic things regarding the Olympics is that McDonalds and CocaCola are official sponsors. A grown adult generally needs 2000 calories a day, children need less, teenagers from age 14 can usually eat a little more. The average Big Mac Meal has 1350 calories, or more than half of one’s daily calorie allowance.

Food and chemical companies have created food that is packed with calories and leave people unsatiated. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can be found in almost all processed foods available in North America. HFCS has been linked to medical problems including obesity. However, in an attempt by big corporations to make more profits playing on people’s fears of fat, low-fat usually means high HFCS and other chemicals.

For further reading and watching on this topic, read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, watch Food Inc., and King Corn. The below TED talk by Jamie Oliver is also very good.

Big corporations, like big banks, are not capable of policing themselves and unfortunately due to shareholder profits they due not have society and consumers as their first priority. Independent government regulation, free of all influence by the industry is needed here more than ever.

Government Failure:

As I’ve just stated, governments have failed to implement sufficient regulations in the food industry and are allowing corporations to poison and kill people. The unfortunate results are high costs for national healthcare programs and early death.

However, in a constant attempt for governments, in North America especially, to cut the cost of education sports programs have been cut and children are not getting the exercise they need to burn the calories they are being fed at home and in schools. Governments on all levels need to reverse this trend. A healthy and educated population are keys to the economic wellbeing of a nation.

The Result:

The result of all of these failures and schemes is that obesity is a major problem in the western world, while billions starve each day in the developing world. Equally bad is the fact that because of poorly engineered foods hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death lacking the correct amounts of necessary vitamins, minerals and other nutrients their bodies need, while also suffering from obesity. The chart below shows the daily calorie intake per capita in many countries, North America (Canada and USA) are the clearest offenders of going well beyond what is considered healthy.

via chartsbin.com

Returning to Nathan and Nike, I would like to end on this note. Greatness is indeed not genetic, nor inherent in one’s nature, it is the result of vision, risk, and hard work. I hope for Nathan’s sake he is able to achieve his goals. Running is a great start, I know it’s one of the activities that has most shaped my life and there is no sport I love more. I’ll close with this: We live in a sad world in which we challenge an ever growing number of children not with expanding fields of knowledge or set new records in human achievement, but to correct the mistakes of those, who should have been taking care of them.

john stewart, the newsroom, the daily show

I don’t own a television. To be honest, I haven’t for years and I don’t miss it. It might be because I’m a bit of an early adopter when it comes to technology, but the “TV” that I watch I do so online and with iTunes with my computer. In this way I have to actively seek out shows to watch. This might mean that I miss most of the programs that others are watching, but it saves me time, which I use for work, running, and writing.

However, this past week a friend posted a clip from a new show “The Newsroom” on his Facebook profile and I was very impressed. The clip is entitled “Why America is not the best country in the world” and it’s brilliantly put together. This clip had me look up the program and watch what the show’s producer Aaron Sorkin has put together.

From the first two episodes I believe the show will track real life news stories starting with the sinking of the Deep SeaHorizon oil platform in March of 2010. The fictitious news channel AON has America’s most liked newsperson, Will McAvoy, and the station’s owner has brought back an idealist producer, MacKenzie McHale, who wants to present Americans with important information for making democratic decisions. In short, this fictitious news program is what John Stewart has been calling for on his satirical evening news program, “The Daily Show,” for years.

Kudos to the writers of “The Newsroom” for their detailed research in order to providing a balanced view on past events. This program is a calling to America and other countries, that the news and the press have a duty to present well founded and balanced stories and arguments. Today though sensationalism and entertainment seem to be more of the agenda for news stations that providing the critical information required for a functioning democracy.

The question remains though, whether entertainment (drama / art) can indeed spur on a change in people’s involvement with real life political debate founded on more than ideology and opinion, but rather on logical and factual argumentation aimed at longterm prosperity. While this program should force the issue onto the table, and hopefully inspire a news agency to take on the challenge of delivering the news the way it ought to be, I believe many viewers hoping for this change will be disappointed and others will mistake the news in the show for reality and forget about what is actually happening.

The caveat here is that, just like with “The Daily Show,” even if the information presented is based in reality and researched, it is not the duty of these shows to present the news. They are supposed to call citizens to action to demand reliable, fair, balanced news to help people to be active, informed citizens in their respective democracies.

The news needs to come from respectable sources, who achieve a special and honorable status with a proven track record of providing the public with the informed, balanced, and important information that does not dictate how people should think, but gives them the information required for them to logically evaluate situations and make decisions. In other words, the news needs to present the WHO, WHERE, WHY, WHAT, WHEN, and HOW of every story. The more detail the WHY gets via founded and transparent facts and figures, the more reliable that news source will become.

For my part, I’m looking forward to future episodes of “The Newsroom,” but more importantly I hope it does what Paul Krugman in his latest book, End this Depression Now, hopes for: to inspire people to become politically active and demand change.

The Newsroom airs Sunday evenings on HBO and stars: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, and Dev Patel

In Zurich people would rather buy cherries than pick them from a tree in front of their house.

There are many things that keep me up at night. Some of them are things I can change and others I can’t. The things I can change, I start working on, the things I can’t keep the cogs in my head rotating until the early hours of the morning. One of those things is food. Those who know me, know that I love to cook and eat good food and drink great wines. But it’s not the thought of “what’s the next exciting culinary adventure that I’ll go on next” that keeps me up, rather it’s the question of “why is food so undervalued.”

Every year food is getting cheaper. Cheaper you may ask, how can that be? Everything is getting more expensive. But you’re wrong. In comparison to what you earn, food is getting cheaper. “In 1974-2005 food prices on world markets fell by three-quarters in real terms” (The Economist). And according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, prices on major commodities have again dropped.

Then of course there are the disturbing facts coming from investigative books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and recent article in the Guardian about how modern food is making us fat and leaving us unsatisfied. Read about it here: “Why our food is making us fat”.

Of course there is also the fact that in a world where politicians and others are worried that we can’t feed the world’s population, we could almost feed it twice, but would rather throw away food than give it to the poor (see this Spiegel program (In German)).

The social problem surrounding food was made extremely clear to me today in Zurich. In the garden of the building beside my building stands a cherry tree. Switzerland is great for cherries. I have never seen a tree carry so many cherries before. This evening I harvested an entire 3 liter pot with cherries. Many cherries are now rotting on the tree. I have yet to see any person pick any cherries from this tree and of the 24 flats in the building I am convinced that at least four have purchased baskets of cherries at Coop or Migros for 5 or more francs for a 500g basket. The problem is that we have too much money and not enough time to treat food with the respect it deserves.

All of this said there is only one answer to the modern food crisis. We need to re-educate people about what real food is and start producing as much food as possible ourselves and/or where it will be consumed. Economic trade theory has not taken the externality costs of our food industry into account. In Switzerland the team behind Urban Farmers are on the right path to addressing one of these issues, and the Slow Food movement is working on the education element, but more needs to be done.

The last thought that came to mind today was this: It is amazing how much people will fight to keep what they have, rather than for things they do not, especially when that which they don’t would be much better. For this reason people will protest and complain for cheaper food prices, even if higher prices would mean more people are fed with more nutritious food and those producing it would get a humane and fair price.

We as a society need to stop this insanity.

If you’re wondering why knowing how to cook is important, here’s a simple answer. It will save you money. Save your health and save taxpayers money too.

Lastly watch this documentary about our food production and waste: We Feed the World

Recently there has been a great deal of material written about expats in Switzerland. By expats, the specific call is against Highly skilled English speaking individuals and to a degree Germans residing in Switzerland and working at some of the world’s most successful firms.

The German-speaking Swiss are up in arms about the what they deem to be the development of parallel communities that are not integrating into Swiss culture. Of course the biggest issue is language. Many politicians and voters want to impose and have already imposed mandatory language skills when applying for different residency permits (You need a A2 level in German for a C Permit).

What is clearly not understood though is that the expectations of the people I’ll call “integrators” are built on old ideals that no longer apply to modern Switzerland.

Switzerland’s advantages for business are the following:
1. Taxation (companies can save millions)
2. Legal (companies as well as individuals can trust that the laws of the land are not arbitrary and that they will be treated fairly)
3. Location (Switzerland lies in the middle of Europe and is well connected to the world, a brilliant place to run an international company from)
4. Infrastructure (Swiss infrastructure is world class. The tax money is used wisely to ensure that people have more and better services than in other countries)

All of that said today’s expats are rarely coming to Switzerland to stay for a long time. Switzerland likes this. It’s great for maintaining low unemployment and ensuring minimal obligations to people who have worked here.

Because of the modern world we live in, many expats (UK residents and Germans alike) can easily travel back to their home countries at the weekends. When one works from 9-5 Monday – Friday, weekends would be integration time, but today it means time back home. Switzerland is essentially like the city, weekends are spent in the country.

Regarding language, this is not taken seriously by the state, companies, nor by most Swiss. The state as a whole has no unified requirements. When it comes to subsidizing, each canton does it differently. Zurich for instance has given the Migros Klubschule and ECAP a monopoly on German instruction. Businesses are more than willing to throw money at the problem, allowing for generous budgets to fund language instruction, but do not give their employees the time or incentive they need to learn German. As a language teacher, I sympathize with my students working over 45 hours a week, have a family, and are trying hard to learn German. Then of course there are the Swiss themselves: when an English speaking person tries to use their High German to order coffee, ask directions, make an appointment, or even just start a conversation the Swiss person will more often than not respond in English. This is demotivating to German learners and shows that the Swiss are not willing to help with linguistic integration.

Another interesting and very overlooked issue regarding integration is how many Swiss are equally not integrated in their communities. Even the city president of Dubendorf has stated that this is an issue. In a recent interview, he said that he does not want growth at any cost and doesn’t just want people moving to Dubendorf, but working in Zurich proper, essentially only using Dubendorf for affordable housing, rather, he would like to see engaged people who will enrich the community.

«Wir wollen nicht um jeden Preis wachsen», sagt Lothar Ziörjen. Das «Dorf» – wie er es nennt – brauche vor allem Leute, die sich integrieren und am Gemeindeleben teilnehmen. [Full article]

However, as the demands of work are constantly growing, people find it more difficult to allocate time for more social and civil activities. They are just trying to pay the rent. It should also not be over looked that other Swiss who move to different areas of Switzerland for work reasons act like their expat counterparts and return to their home regions at the weekend.

What is the solution to this issue? Is Switzerland being flooded by high-payed Anglophones that are taking away what it means to be Swiss? are they harming the economy or Swiss culture? The opposite is actually true. Switzerland is profiting from its expat community. The key thing to understand is that they are highly skilled workers, adding to Switzerland’s economic output. If the country is worried that we need too many foreigners they, would be smarter to invest in education instead of the fighter jets and help ensure that the native Swiss population is trained and skilled to fill the jobs of the future.

The reality of the issue being debated is that despite social media we are less less community oriented today than we have ever been. There is a current triumph of the ego, whereby everyone is busy taking care of themselves and not interacting with their neighbours let alone their bigger community. It is perhaps the awareness of how this will have long term negative consequences that makes some people insist on harping on expats. After all their language and financial success make them stick out. Then of course there is also a degree of jealousy, as Julia Morais from the Integration Office in Zurich told the Tages-Anzeiger.

If communes, cantons, and the state really want expats to integrate faster and better, then they will have to eliminate some of the exclusion practices that are essential to waking people’s interests in integration. If you can’t vote or express civil and political desires in the community and country in which you live, there is little incentive to integrate. The current practices of the integration offices of organizing special events that only attract expats will not help them build communities with other Swiss people.

Neuenschwander with pacers

The weather conditions, despite the forecast, in the early morning hours of April 23, 2012 looked promising. Perhaps the sun would shine, or at least the rain hold off. It was marathon day in Zurich. I was hoping for a new personal best and so was the Maja Neuenschwander from Bern. Only Neuenschwander’s time would give her more than just the feeling of elation one gets when one beats a personal best, it would give her a ticket to represent Switzerland at the 2012 London Olympics this summer.

Hardly five minutes after the starting shot was fired the skies opened and started dumping their contents on the runners from some 40 nations. This was no summer rain, but rather a bitter early spring rain. The participants pushed on hoping that a quick dump would get it over and done with early in the race.

About 1.5 hours in to the race the sun decided to show up, but the wind picked up and everyone running back towards Zurich from Meilen am Zürichsee faced a strong headwind.

Despite these conditions Neuenschwander persevered and achieved a new personal best of 2:31:56. That was 1:04 minutes faster than the qualifying time set by Swiss Olympic. Jubilation for Neuenschwander, she’d be going to the Olympics, or so she thought.

This past week allegations were made that Neuenschwander cheated by having pace runners in the Team-Run event running the distances: 9.7, 10.8, 4.0 und 17.7 kilometers. According to official IAAF rules athletes are not allowed to have pacers running different distances. These rules are clear.

Swiss papers like the boulevard paper Blick called out “Bschiss beim Züri-Marathon!” and then went on to defend Neuenschwander. Even the NZZ’s reporting on the event suggests that Neuenschwander should be allowed to go to the Olympics. And a poll of Blick readers suggests that some 41.1% of people believe that Neuenschwander should represent Switzerland in London.

I’m a runner and while I have great sympathy for anyone who runs long distances at at that  speed in those conditions, I believe that Neuenschwander should not be sent to London. Her victory in Zurich is tarnished and even if it is accepted, should she do well in London, it will give the press material for calling her eligibility into question.

Yes, she ran the 42.195 km on her own, but pacers help one run more controlled and calculated without having to totally listen to one’s own body. It is an advantage and having your pacers run different distances is even more of an advantage as there can be more calculations made.

This event is a great analogy though for the current Swiss political and financial attitude. We read the rules to our advantage and find loopholes that help us and when we’re accused of not following the spirit of the rules or to not do that anymore, we throw a temper-tantrum and say that we are being unfairly persecuted by other countries.

Even if our banks officially say that they do not accept untaxed money from customers, the fact that they didn’t verify that means that they were working in a grey zone. The same applies to recent laws that limit people’s freedoms and other initiatives. While they are decided by the people in a democracy, Switzerland ergo the people did sign onto international treaties guaranteeing all people exactly those rights that we are now trying to revoke (reference to Minaret initiative).

What Neuenschwander and Switzerland need to understand is that they are not being unfairly punished. There are rules and those rules need to be respected. The spirit of any rule always favours the higher moral ground. Seeking out loopholes is the opposite of that. I didn’t achieve a new personal best on that day, but there are other runs. I think Neuenschwander is a talented runner and sincerely hope that she keeps trying for the Olympics, if not 2012 then 2016, but without pacers.

It’s funny how things seem to come together. At the weekend I was debating with friends about Switzerland’s bank secrecy and taxation laws with countries like the USA and Germany. The discussion got me thinking — thinking so much I literally lost sleep about it. My friend, an expat herself, completely believes that Switzerland needs to protect its banking secrecy above all else. Needless to say, I was and am of another opinion.

Last Tuesday evening I saw a program on Arte about the super rich in Europe and the USA. Philanthrope was the big discussion, and of the super rich like Warren Buffet, Baronin Ariane de Rothschild, and Nicolas Berggruen were all in favour of having socially responsible business. Social responsibility in terms of paying taxes, but also in supporting businesses that develop real products.

The message that really shone through though was that the present capitalist system is on the verge of collapse. Berggruen said that for the first time in modern history the West is being challenged by the East. As the quality of life in Asia continues to increase and those in Western countries continue to accumulate debt a major power shift is taking place. When Berggruen said this, I was somewhat relieved, as finally someone clearly declared what I believe is going on, and what many people in the West do not see.

We are not encountering a complete downfall of the world economy, but rather, I believe we are approaching major economic shifts. These shifts will not affect all countries equally. Some countries will heavily profit, while others will lose drastically. At present Western low and middle income people will lose the most.

Okay, what does this have to do with philanthrope and Swiss banking secrecy? Here it is. Many countries are starting to realize that the corporations they rely on to provide jobs to their citizens and to pay taxes have no loyalties to individual states, but only to profit. Maximizing profits and investor returns is optimal. When the state raises taxes these corporations leave. Private citizens acting on sheer egoism circumvent the state and bring their wealth off shore to wealth-friendlier countries. However, countries like the United States, Germany and Britain can no longer afford to have all those capable of paying jump ship, especially to other countries, which because of their geographic and demographic advantages, can profit from these high income individuals and corporations.

The bigger countries are now starting to push their might around and will force smaller countries they see as parasites to bow to their pressure. If Switzerland does not move quickly to find a solution to its current problems with the US and Germany it will really lose. In the words of Ólafur Ragnar:

“If you want your economy to excel in the 21st century […] a big banking sector, even a very successful banking sector, is bad news… You could even argue that the bigger the banking sector is, the worse the news is for your economy.”

What is the solution though? Switzerland needs to move away from finance especially a finance industry reliant on the inefficiencies of other financial and economic systems. Switzerland’s best bet is to use its geographic, demographic and infrastructural advantage to make the country a hub of technological development. Everything from green-tech, to computing and urban planning. The countries that can produce valuable knowledge reserves and developments that can be sold — especially to nations lacking that will win. Switzerland’s continued defense of its financial institutions and banking secrecy is much like the Detroit’s constant support of big cars. The potential for disaster rises the longer the unconditional support continues.

When a friend posted a Swiss take on the now famous British “Keep calm and carry on” reading “Keep calm and stay neutral”, I had to add “…and be very worried.” I couldn’t resist. The truth is the Swiss always worry. This is the curse of a country that is flying high. When a country has it good, it always fears the downturn. Unfortunately this is a mentality of a country that believes that it has achieved its highest glory and whose best days are behind it. It’s a terrible affliction of mentality that a predominantly older generation carries with it. This terrible mentality can effect the young and cause them not to strive for greatness. The good news in Switzerland is that I have seen a great many young people in the creative and design industry who also do not believe this and still great future potential for the country.

There are a great many political, environmental, nutritional, and economic problems that need to be solved and whether those solutions come from the East or the West or by way of collaboration, solutions will be found. However, the solutions may not come at the right time for all industries and people. Because of this reason, each country today needs to make it their utmost priority to solve these problems, or at least to create the regulations and atmosphere that will encourage private industry seeking to solve these issues to develop and grow in them.

Economic prosperity can only come through real wealth creation, that is real useable products and solutions that benefit society at large and not just the current shifting of wealth that our modern financial institutions have promoted in the past thirty years.