Bernd Debusmann

America world’s Number One? Think again

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 28, 2011 15:52 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The United States is the greatest country on earth, different from others and better than the rest in all respects. Or so the great majority of its citizens believe, in good times and bad. Two new reports might dent that self-image.

One is the World Bank’s annual ranking of how easy (or not) it is to do business in 183 countries. The other is from the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, and examines social justice in the 31 of the 34 countries of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD), often dubbed the rich-country club.

On the World Bank list, the United States came fourth behind Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. In the Bertelsmann study the United States ranked a dismal 27th.

It shows the United States as the country with the biggest rich-poor gap of those examined, except for Mexico and Chile. On providing health care, it ranks 23rd; on access to education 20th. Five Scandinavian countries – Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland – topped the list, prompting the conclusion that social justice and economic performance are not mutually exclusive.

(This is not a concept embraced by most of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Herman Cain, a front-runner, made headlines with a punchy comment on the growing anti-inequality Occupy Wall Street movement: “Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself.”)

The U.S. border and immigration reform

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 21, 2011 14:30 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Take your pick. Cities and towns on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico are among the safest in the country. Or: Mexican drug gangs have turned the longest stretch of the 2,000-mile border, the line between Texas and Mexico, into a war zone.

The first version is President Barack Obama’s. He has crime statistics on his side. The second comes from an alarmist 182-page report by two retired generals, including former drug czar Barry McCaffrey. Among their assertions: “Living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies as well as citizens are under attack around the clock.”

(True enough for large parts of Mexican territory south of the border, where more than 42,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug mafias five years ago.)

Obama and America’s culture of secrecy

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 14, 2011 14:38 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Old habits die hard. By the time you read to the bottom of this column, around 1,600 U.S. government documents and communications will have been classified in the name of national security.

If past habits serve as a guide, many if not most of the “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret” markings will fall under the label “overclassification,” a practice that stretches back to the 1940s and has been criticized in a long string of reports by high-powered congressional commissions and academic experts.

The latest comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. It says needless classification actually harms national security because it acts as a barrier to the exchange of information between government agencies and corrodes democracy. “Secret programs stifled public debate on the decisions that shaped our response to the September 11 attacks,” the report notes.

Occupy Wall Street and rose-tinted glasses

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 7, 2011 21:58 UTC

(Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Two weeks into the Occupy Wall Street protests, one of America’s most respected polling firms released an astonishing survey on economic divisions showing that a majority of Americans don’t think their society is divided between haves and have-nots.

That is in sharp contrast with the ideas of Occupy Wall Street, a growing movement whose slogans include “We are the 99 percent.” As opposed to the top 1 percent, whose share of the national income has more than doubled in the past two decades and now is bigger than at any time since just before the start of the Great Depression in 1929. The survey indicates a dose of denial about economic inequality.

According to the poll, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (http://tinyurl.com/3u83bvy) and the Washington Post, 52 percent of respondents said it was inaccurate to think of the United States as a country divided between haves and have-nots. Forty-five percent saw a rich-poor gap.