Die Another Day

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Lost in Translation

There is much heartache these days in our charming little city parliament fraction. We are now eight from this very Swiss party, the liberals, who in January took our seats at the Rathaus for the legislation period 2012-2015. That is two less than four years ago.

I did not join this party because of some ideology which I thought they represented, and that I could identify with, or at least subscribe to. That may be the whole appeal of this party, at least from my perspective. We disagree often, but on major issues, we disagree less. I can only speak for myself, but somehow I like this. The trouble is that the folk out there have one hell of time knowing what we are about, and what we do.

Actually, we in the city parliament who belong to this fraction of the liberals, we are there for all in this city. We fight to keep the small business in town in business, and we fight to make sure that city employees pension funds are well managed. We fight to keep the budget under control, and we actually succeed on that one for years on end. It isn’t as though we did nothing. Unfortunately we have the media sex appeal of a dead gnat. The media loves to ignore us.

There is nothing less newsworthy than a group of politicians who actually serve the public interest and are not on some sort of ego trip. Most of us are intellectuals, lawyers, jurists, and have a full-time job on side, family, but our biggest blunder is that we argue much too subtly. We are not against this or that, we are not even against the Reitschule, but we do criticize it. We are not against increasing the offer of living space in the city, but we want this done with the right mix of regulation and market forces. You see, we have a problem. Do we? I really do not think so.

What I think is that there is much too little understanding of what drives a liberal. A liberal is not a capitalist. A liberal is not a neoliberal that can not distinguish capitalism from free-market. And a liberal may be radical in that she advocates political and social reform. A liberal is neither a libertarian willy-nilly, nor libertine à la Strauss-Kahn. It is perhaps not fair to mention DSK, but somehow I cannot resist mentioning such a conflicted character. That said, it does not mean that among the liberals there are no individuals as conflicted as DSK. If faut de tout pour faire un monde.

Actually I joined this party exactly because they did not have an ideology to which I was to subscribe to until death do us part. In the vagaries of political affairs one needs to be able to think straight and unencumbered by ideology; politics is about finding solutions. It is also about finding solutions that are sustainable, equitable, and anchored in the social norms of what we aspire to be. I read Marx, and I like reading Marx. I read Hayek, and I like reading Hayek, but I also read Feyerabend and Amartya Sen. When it all gets too much for me, I escape into Agatha Christie. Occasionally I read newspapers.

Perhaps I should engage with our newspapers a bit more. Actually I have already started. It is not all bad what the media publishes, but it is just a very small slice of reality that finds its way to the (mainstream) media.

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Politics & Politics

Yesterday for a while I thought that that had been my last session in the Rathaus. Elections are on the 25th, and the next session of Bern’s city parliament (Stadtrat) is on the 29th. Needless to say that I have never been any good at reading tea leaves or at predicting the outcome of elections. Still, I contend that Obama’s reelection was possibly won thanks – an odd word in this context – to anthropogenic emissions and their effects on climate. By the way, in case that there was any doubt about where I stand on the issue of climate change and environmental protection, I think that we as a society are failing on most accounts. Those trying to bring in governance and management of the situation in some form just do not have an easy task ahead. The so-called Greens are also not helping much, the Conservationists of all shades are also an impediment, and as a recent editorial in the local fish-wrapper said, Bern has no vision for the future. I wish that there were more fish in Bern, then said paper would be slightly more useful. 

All I wanted to say is that I do not count with being elected into the Stadtrat on the 25th, but contrary to my feelings a few months ago when I was more than swamped by other concerns, now I feel a renewed interest in the politics of this city.

It is also no secret that I prefer to act behind the scenes rather than on the speaker’ stand at the Rathaus. It was indeed an exception that I took to the stand yesterday and said a few words about the infamous and world famous Reitschule. I only had two points that I wanted to get across that in my frustration with the German language (it just does not come to me as easy as English does) may not have come across as clearly as I wanted.

First, the Reitschule could use a bit more autonomy from the city and the existing subsidies in the form of the rent for the premises, is a nice gesture but it is not much of a contribution to the cultural activities of this city. This is different for the subsidies that finance the utilities for the premises as here there is money that flows from one coffer to another for the payment of services. In my view the rent is another issue. To make a long story short, the building was derelict when it was renovated and rehabilitated by the group and associations of what is called the Reitschule. The location and the state of the building is such that right now there is no other commercial use for the building. Another alternative for the real estate is  to develop the site in as proposed by a colleague in my party. I like that idea too. You see, I may, after all, have a vision for Bern. However the cultural institution and heritage of the Reitschule could be developed in other premises. I support the idea and function of the Reitschule, I am not convinced that the present contractual solution is good; certainly it is not working. At the very least, the present arrangement is past its expiry date and there is much social microbial debris fermenting discontent among all. Really, think about it, but what is basically a rental agreement is not a good instrument to insure constructive collaboration with the Police in matters of security and prevention of violence or organized crime. To recapitulate, after the many divergences, the first point is about increased autonomy for the Reitschule and their operators. The second point is to hightlight the fact that the Wellness-Team at the Reitschule is already doing a very good job in security matters, however there are situations when they can not take care of it all, and then situations get out of hand, and violence shows its ugly face. We would like to see this problem solved, and that is why I think it is time for going back to the negotiation table and restructure the whole deal. Who would you invite to the negotiation table?

By the way, as the press is reporting, the contracts with the Reitschule have passed with a majority (47-31). We will return to this in a few years, and I may or may not be at the Rathaus or in the Committee giving my two bits to the debate.

Those who have voted and will vote for me, many thanks. I think of you, and I am glad that some of you have faces that I see everyday.