Bernd Debusmann

Time to end America’s two-party system?

Bernd Debusmann
Aug 5, 2011 19:00 UTC

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

Confidence in the U.S. Congress is at a historic low, more than half of Americans think that the Republican and Democratic parties are doing such a bad job that a third party is needed, and the word “dysfunction” has been common currency in the drawn-out debate over the national debt.

Does this mean the bells are tolling for the Republican-Democratic duopoly which has dominated American political life for more than 150 years?

The answer is yes for a budding political force that aims to get the millions of voters who are disaffected by the present system to bypass the traditional selection of presidential candidates through primary elections.

Instead, the new organization, Americans Elect, says it wants voters “to decide the issues that matter, find candidates to match your views and nominate the President and Vice President directly.”

It’s a novel and extremely ambitious idea, backed by a 50-strong board of advisors that includes business executives, seasoned political operatives and senior former government officials, including ex-FBI director William Webster and former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills. Also on the board: Doug Schoen, a pollster who worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Debt, dogma, and dents in US image

Bernd Debusmann
Jul 29, 2011 14:37 UTC

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

No matter how the wrangling over America’s national debt is resolved, it will leave lasting dents in the international image of a country that prides itself on its can-do spirit and its competence. “The entire whole world is watching,” as President Barack Obama put it, and parts of it are dismayed by a monumental display of dysfunction.

Not to speak of an equally impressive display of rigid dogmatic thinking by anti-tax zealots more befitting Afghanistan’s Taliban than legislators of the Republican Party, a mainstay of America’s democracy for more than 150 years. An outspoken British cabinet minister, Vince Cable, described Tea Party-backed Republicans as “right-wing nutters” posing a threat to the world financial system.

Elsewhere in Europe, less sharp-tongued commentators saw the deadlock in Washington over raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default as a sign of America’s decline.

Desmond Tutu, Israel and U.S. pensions

Bernd Debusmann
Jul 22, 2011 16:28 UTC

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

What’s the connection between a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Israel, and one of America’s biggest pension funds? An international campaign for economic, cultural and academic boycotts of Israel and Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The South African in question is retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose role in the fight against apartheid in the 1980s gained him the Peace Prize and world-wide fame. The pension fund is the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund, better known as TIAA-CREF. The connecting link is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, BDS for short, launched by Palestinians in 2005.

In an op-ed article in the Charlotte Observer, timed to coincide with TIAA-CREF’s annual shareholders meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 19, the archbishop rebuked the pension fund for having refused to allow a vote on a resolution questioning its holdings in companies that profit from operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In U.S., time to end the death penalty?

Bernd Debusmann
Jul 15, 2011 16:02 UTC

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

America’s system of meting out death sentences is unfair and arbitrary. Race, money and politics play major roles. Since society’s ultimate punishment cannot be applied fairly, it should not be applied at all.

So says a report timed to coincide with the re-instatement of capital punishment in the United States 35 years ago this July, after a four-year suspension prompted by a Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty was being administered so arbitrarily and capriciously that it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, many states rewrote their laws and when the Supreme Court returned to the issue in 1976, it said the new statutes had taken the randomness out of the system. Did they?

Not according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based non-profit organization which has been keeping track of capital punishment for more than two decades. Its report concludes that the death penalty, post-1976, “has proven to be a failed experiment. The theory that with proper guidance to juries the death penalty could be administered fairly has not worked in practice. Thirty-five years of experience have taught the futility of trying to fix this system.”

America’s problematic remote control wars

Bernd Debusmann
Jul 8, 2011 16:19 UTC

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

The United States is deploying missile-laden remotely piloted aircraft to kill enemies in six countries, scientists are working on ever more sophisticated military robots, and there are a host of unanswered questions on the future of warfare. Some of the more intriguing ones are asked abroad.

Such as: “Is the Reaper operator walking the streets of his home town after a shift a legitimate target as a combatant? Would an attack (on him) by a Taliban sympathizer be an act of war under international law or murder under the statutes of the home state? Does the person who has the right to kill as a combatant while in the control station cease to be a combatant on his way home?”

This comes from a study by Britain’s Ministry of Defence and refers to the air war waged by U.S. pilots who operate, from bases in the United States, heavily-armed drones flying over Afghanistan or Pakistan 7,500 miles away. The Reaper is the workhorse of the drone fleet, which has grown from around 50 a decade ago to more than 7,000 today. It is increasing at a fast clip, unaffected by defense spending cuts in other areas.

The U.S. drug war and racial disparities

Bernd Debusmann
Jul 1, 2011 15:31 UTC

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

The numbers tell the story of a criminal justice system blighted by racial disparities in drug law enforcement: African-Americans make up around 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for 33.6 percent of drug arrests and 37 percent of state prison inmates serving time for drug offenses.

The figures come from Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog which complains in its 2011 report about “overwhelming racial disparities” in drug incarcerations despite the fact that blacks and whites engage in drug offenses at equivalent rates. The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group which has tracked disparities in the criminal justice system for the past 25 years, says the black-white gap cannot be explained by disproportionate criminal behavior.

While African-Americans are the minority most affected by racial disparities, they are not the only one, according to Human Rights Watch: “Black non-Hispanic males are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white non-Hispanic males and 2.6 times that of Hispanic males. One in 10 black males aged 25-29 were in prison or jail in 2009; for Hispanic males the figure was 1 in 25; for white males only 1 in 64.”

America’s nuclear energy future

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 17, 2011 13:36 UTC

In his inaugural address on January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama promised that “we’ll restore science to its rightful place.” Mark that down as a broken promise, as far as a key element of America’s nuclear energy future is concerned.

Obama’s remark on science was a swipe at his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose administration was frequently criticized, often with good reason, for allowing ideology to trump science on subjects as varied as stem cell research, the morning-after birth control pill and the environment.

In contrast, Obama’s most prominent move to shelve a major scientific project — The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository — has been driven not by ideology but by a toxic combination of Nimbyism (from “not in my backyard”), electoral politics and high-handed leadership of America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That combination led to the closure of a project that, over its long gestation period, involved more than 2,500 scientists and has so far cost $15 billion.

U.S. nation-building in the wrong place?

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 10, 2011 16:47 UTC

America’s costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. “If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States.”

That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: “When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here.”

Webb spoke at the confirmation hearing of the veteran diplomat President Barack Obama nominated to be his next ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who faced questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that left no doubt over the growing impatience of U.S. lawmakers with a military and financial commitment that is producing limited progress.

The war on drugs and a milestone critique

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 3, 2011 14:08 UTC

The war on drugs is a waste of time, money and lives. It cannot be won. The world’s drug warriors are out of ideas.

Fresh thinking is of the essence. Governments should consider legalizing drugs to take profits out of the criminal trade.

Filling prisons with drug users does nothing to curb the billion-dollar illicit business, one of the world’s richest. Drug use is a public health problem, not a crime. Arresting small-time dealers does little but create a market opportunity for other small fry. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one opens up.

Power, sex and conventional wisdom

Bernd Debusmann
May 20, 2011 14:41 UTC

Would there be fewer sex scandals if the world were run by women?

The question comes to mind in the wake of scandals that involve two powerful men, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and came to light almost simultaneously. Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund four days after being arrested in New York for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid. Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, admitted having fathered a child with a woman on his household staff.

The two cases are in a different league – Strauss-Kahn is accused of a violent crime, while Schwarzenegger betrayed his wife, Maria Shriver, who stood by him when he campaigned for the governorship under a cloud of accusations that he had groped women during his rise to action movie superstardom.

One of the first public comments on the Schwarzenegger affair came from a prominent woman, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who suggested it showed that the United States needed more female politicians. “Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped,” she tweeted.