Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

from The Great Debate:

America, Iran and a terrorist label

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 19, 2010 16:52 UTC

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

Who says that the United States and Iran can't agree on anything? The Great Satan, as Iran's theocratic rulers call the United States, and the Islamic Republic see eye-to-eye on at least one thing, that the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) are terrorists.

America and Iran arrived at the terrorist designation for the MEK at different times and from different angles but the convergence is bizarre, even by the complicated standards of Middle Eastern politics. The United States designated the MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, when the Clinton administration hoped the move would help open a dialogue with Iran. Thirteen years later, there is still no dialogue.

But the group is still on the list, despite years of legal wrangling over the designation through the U.S. legal system. Britain and the European Union took the group off their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively after court rulings that found no evidence of terrorist actions after the MEK renounced violence in 2001.

On July 16, a federal appeals court in Washington instructed the Department of State to review the terrorist designation, in language that suggested that it should be revoked. But Hillary Clinton’s review mills appear to be grinding very slowly.

A group of lawmakers from both parties reminded Clinton of the court ruling this week and drew attention to a House resolution in June -- it has more than 100 co-sponsors and the list is growing -- that called for the MEK to be taken off the terrorist list. Doing so would not only be the right thing, the six leading sponsors said in a letter, it would also send the right message to Tehran. Translation: using the terrorist label as a carrot does not work, so it's time to be tough.

Nuclear bombs and the Israeli elephant

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 15, 2010 14:40 UTC

-The views expressed are the author’s own-

For the past four decades, there has been an elephant in the room whenever experts and government officials met to discuss nuclear weapons. The elephant is Israel’s sizeable nuclear arsenal, undeclared under a U.S.-blessed policy of “nuclear opacity.”

It means neither confirming nor denying the existence of nuclear weapons. “Deterrence by uncertainty,” as Israeli President Shimon Peres has called it. The United States became a silent partner in Israeli opacity with a one-on-one meeting between President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on Sept. 26, 1969.

That policy made strategic and political sense 40 years ago but it has outlived its usefulness, conflicts with Israel’s democratic values, is counter-productive and should be abandoned. So argues Avner Cohen, one of the world’s leading experts on Israel’s bomb, in a new book “The Worst-Kept Secret”, which delves deeply into the history and strategic and political implications of the policy.

Postscript to California’s marijuana vote

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 5, 2010 13:39 UTC

From America’s mid-term elections, two noteworthy comparative results. A modestly funded ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California drew 300,000 more votes than a billionaire businesswoman who spent well over $140 million of her own money to try to become the state’s governor. Both lost.

The hotly debated marijuana ballot measure attracted 3.4 million yes votes. Meg Whitman drew 3.1 million voters. It’s not clear whether she will run again but proponents of the marijuana measure, Proposition 19, are already planning to make another attempt in 2012. They think the California vote shows legalization is a matter of when, not if, never mind that this time they fell more than half a million votes short of success.

Proposition 19 would have allowed Californians over 21 to grow up to 25 square feet (2.3 sq metres) of marijuana and possess up to an ounce for personal consumption. It would have turned California, America’s most populous state, into the world’s first jurisdiction to formally legalize marijuana. (Not even the Netherlands, which has a system best described as schizophrenic pragmatism, has gone that far).

U.S., China and eating soup with a fork

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 29, 2010 14:35 UTC

-The opinions expressed are the author’s own-

Are economists the world over using an outdated tool to measure economic progress?

The question, long debated, is worth pondering again at a time when two economic giants, the United States and China, are sparring over trade, currency exchange rates and their roles in the global economy.

In the run-up to U.S. mid-term elections on November 2, politicians from both parties, for different reasons, blamed trade with China for American job losses. China responded with irritation and hit back by accusing the U.S. of “out of control” printing of dollars tantamount to an attack on China with imported inflation.

Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 25, 2010 13:58 UTC

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

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

California vote and Mexican drug cartels

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 15, 2010 13:48 UTC

What would legalizing marijuana in California, America’s most populous state, mean to the drug cartels whose fight for access to American markets have turned parts of Mexico into war zones? Shrinking profits? Certainly. Less violence? Maybe.

These topics are being raised as the U.S. heads towards Nov. 2 mid-term elections which in California include a ballot initiative, Proposition 19, providing for marijuana to be treated like alcohol and tobacco for Californians over 21. A vote in favour would end 73 years of prohibition and have enormous political impact not only on the rest of America but also on the long-running global war on drugs.

Experts on the issue have been working overtime and the latest of a string of academic studies, out this week, came from the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank. The voluminous paper is entitled: Reducing Drug Trafficking and Violence in Mexico – Would Legalizing Marijuana in California Help? The study’s four authors, all prominent authorities on the illegal drug business, hedged their answer.

The economic case for legal marijuana

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 8, 2010 13:43 UTC

CALIFORNIA-MARIJUANA/

On June 2, 2005, more than 500 economists, including three Nobel prize winners, issued an open letter that called attention to a report on the economic benefits of treating marijuana like alcohol and tobacco – billions and billions in budgetary savings and gains in new tax revenue.

The report, by Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron, an expert on the budgetary implications of enforcing the prohibition of illicit drugs, provided fodder for a long-running debate on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana but did little to impress the people to which it was addressed – President George W. Bush, Congress, governors and state legislatures. One reason: the economy was humming along nicely in the first half of 2005.

That’s no longer the case and Miron has just published a follow-up report for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, that revisits the economic case for ending prohibition at a time when state and federal governments stagger under enormous deficits and America’s national debt is at its highest since World War Two. Legalizing all drugs, Miron says, would yield $41.3 billion a year in savings on government spending on law enforcement and $46.7 billion in tax revenue.

America, world’s top military forever?

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 1, 2010 14:21 UTC

America’s defense establishment, from the Pentagon to think tanks, is trying to work out ways to cut military spending at a time of economic trouble. Proposals range from $100 billion to $1 trillion. None touches the underlying philosophy that led the United States to spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined.

Of the many explanations of that philosophy American leaders have offered over the past few decades, one of the most succinct came from Madeleine Albright, when she was Secretary of State in the Clinton administration: “It is the threat of the use of force…if we have to use force, it is because we are America, we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other nations into the future…”

Since Albright made that remark, in 1998, the U.S. defense budget has grown every year, in real terms, and is now higher than at any time since the end of World War Two, according to the liberal Center for American Progress, one of the Washington think tanks to make savings suggestions. Even if the United States were to cut its spending in half, that would still be more than its current and potential adversaries.

Obama and the American dream in reverse

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 24, 2010 13:40 UTC

“It’s like the American dream in reverse.” That’s how President Barack Obama, ten days after taking office last year, described the plight of Americans hit by the faltering economy. His catchy description fell short — the dream has turned into a nightmare for tens of millions.

So much so that an opinion poll this week showed that 43 percent of those surveyed thought that “the American Dream” is a thing of the past. It “once held true” but no longer does. Only half the country believes the dream “still exists,” according to the poll, commissioned by ABC News and Yahoo against a background of dismal statistics on growing poverty, inequality, unemployment, and Americans without health insurance.

Before turning to the gloomy numbers, a brief detour to the meaning of the phrase “the American Dream,” long a familiar part of the U.S. (and international) lexicon.  The survey defined it as “if you work hard, you get ahead.” That’s neat shorthand for the concept that the American social, economic and political system makes success possible for everyone.

Islamophobia and a German central banker

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 17, 2010 13:34 UTC

How do you reconcile the traditions of many Muslim immigrants with the freedoms and values of 21st century Western Europe?

It’s a question that has led to periodic outbursts of vigorous debate from France to Holland and Switzerland. In Germany, the discussion has been relatively subdued. Until now.

Why? A passage in a book considered so unsettling that its author, Thilo Sarrazin, was forced to resign from the board of Germany’s central bank this month, provides part of the answer.

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