Bernd Debusmann

America’s Wild West gun laws

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 23, 2012 16:59 UTC

The killing of a black teenager by a self-appointed vigilante in Florida has trained a spotlight on gun laws reminiscent of the Wild West in 24 U.S. states. Despite widespread outrage over the Florida case, gun-friendly senators in Washington want to make it easier to extend those laws to most of the country.

That would set the United States, where there are more firearms in private hands than in any other country, even farther apart from the rest of the industrialized world as far as guns are concerned. And it would mark yet another success for the National Rifle Association (NRA) in its long campaign against gun controls.

Before getting into the details of the planned legislation, a brief recapitulation of what happened in the Orlandosuburb of Sanford on February 26: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, walked to a family member’s home at night when George Zimmerman, a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” spotted him, deemed the teenager suspicious, pursued him and shot him dead with a 9 mm pistol after what he told police was an altercation that made him fear for his life.

Police questioned Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, accepted his account of the incident, and let him go, following the letter or a 2005 Florida state law that allows citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they face harm. Unlike previous such cases, the teenager’s killing caught national attention, largely because social media served as a vehicle to carry charges of racism and unequal justice to a huge audience.

On March 8, Martin’s parents posted a “petition to prosecute the killer of our son” on the website change.org.

Obama and the American fringe

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 16, 2012 19:06 UTC

The prospect of President Barack Obama winning another four-year term in November is swelling the ranks of anti-Muslim activists and groups on the extremist fringe of American society. Their growth has accelerated every year since Obama took office in 2009.

So says a new report by a civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, that has tracked extremist groups for the past three decades and found that last year alone, the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled, from 10 to 30.

Between 2008 and the end of 2011, according to the center, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of militias and “patriot” groups whose members inhabit a parallel universe where the federal government wants to rob them of their guns and their freedom.

Relax, America! Not everything is as dire as you think

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 9, 2012 17:16 UTC

The world is becoming ever more dangerous. Threats to the United States are multiple and complex. Just think of terrorists, rogue states, dangers arising from Middle East revolutions, cyber attacks, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the rising power of China. The list goes on.

It makes for a world “more unpredictable, more volatile and more dangerous,” as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has put it. According to polls, most of America’s foreign policy elite thinks the world is as dangerous, or more dangerous than it was during the Cold War.

This belief, write the foreign policy analysts Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen, shapes debates on U.S. foreign policy and frames the public’s understanding of international affairs.

The UN Security Council shows its weakness (again)

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 2, 2012 16:02 UTC

For decade after decade, diplomats at the United Nations have had on-again, off-again talks on how to reform the Security Council, the supreme decision-making panel on international security. The crisis in Syria shows that progress has been minimal and that power politics often trump human rights.

At issue is the composition of a body “frozen in amber since the end of World War II,” in the words of Stewart Patrick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based foreign policy think tank. The biggest difficulty in unfreezing it is the veto power wielded by the five permanent members of the 15-nation council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

A veto by one permanent member is enough to sink a resolution. On February 4, two veto-wielders, Russia and China, banded together to vote against a resolution that provided for Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to step aside, halt a ruthless crackdown on dissidents, and begin a transition to democracy. Assad saw the veto as a green light to crack down even harder. A week before the vetoes, the U.N. estimated the death toll at 5,400.