Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

In praise of Latin American immigrants

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 30, 2010 13:39 UTC

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

That translates into the biggest minority group of consumers. Their spending is expected to exceed $1 trillion by next year despite the recession. A point worth noting but rarely mentioned in the often overheated debate about immigration: illegal immigrants in effect subsidize social security payments to Americans over 62.

This is because people working with false papers have their social security taxes withheld from wages but are not entitled to receive benefits. The sums involved are substantial — the Social Security administration has an “earnings suspense file” of payments under names that do not match social security numbers. The file has been growing by around $7 billion a year which goes to pay benefits to legal workers.

Obama, American guns and Mexican mayhem

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 27, 2010 14:12 UTC

During a visit to Mexico a year ago, President Barack Obama promised he would urge the U.S. Senate to ratify an international treaty designed to curb  the flow of weapons to Latin American drug cartels. It remains just that – a promise. Prospects for ratification are virtually zero.

Top officials in the Obama administration have called the cartels, and the extreme violence tearing apart Mexican cities on the U.S. border, threats to U.S. national security. Joining 30 other countries in the Western Hemisphere in an anti-arms smuggling accord would therefore seem a perfectly sane and logical thing to do. But logic often ends where American gun ownership begins.

The treaty in question is called the Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials. Known as CIFTA for its Spanish acronym, it was adopted by the Organization of American States in 1997. All but four of its 35 members have ratified it. Bill Clinton signed the convention but did not get the Senate to bless it.

U.S. aid, Israel and wishful thinking

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 12, 2010 17:04 UTC

In June 1980, when an American president, Jimmy Carter, objected to Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories, the Israeli government responded by announcing plans for new settlements. At the time, settlers numbered fewer than 50,000.

In 2010, another American president, Barack Obama, is calling for an end to settlements he considers obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli authorities responded by announcing new ones, illegal under international law. Settlers now number close to half a million.

In the three decades between 1980 and 2010, there have been multiple U.S.-Israeli spats over the issue and they often fell into something of a pattern, spelt out in 1991 by James Baker, President George H W Bush’s secretary of state: “Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process … I have been met with an announcement of new settlement activities. It substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process.” That is as true now as it was then.

America’s season of rage and fear

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 1, 2010 15:21 UTC

Freedom in America will soon be a fading memory. American exceptionalism died on March 23, 2010. On that day, the United States started becoming just like any other country. Worse still, like a West European country. Socialism in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

In a nutshell, that’s how many conservatives see the health reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23, after a year of acrimonious debate. The language has been shrill and the superheated political temperature is reflected by worried headlines such as “The heat is on. We may get burned” (Wall Street Journal) or “Putting out the flames” (Washington Post).

Verbal venom is not restricted to radio talk shows or Internet rants that draw parallels between Obama and Hitler or Stalin. John Boehner, the leader of the Republican party in the House of Representatives, described the reform as Armageddon and a Republican congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, voiced fears on national television for her country’s future because of the president’s “anti-American views.”

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