Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

U.S. Congress, Communists and God

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 29, 2011 17:38 UTC

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

After the high-profile failure of a Congressional “supercommittee” to trim America‘s budget deficit, one could be forgiven to conclude that there’s nothing the divided House of Representatives can agree on. But that would be wrong.

Among the few topics on which Democrats and Republicans in the Republican-dominated House see eye-to-eye: the official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust”. That has been the case since 1956 but as the supercommittee wrangled with the thorny deficit problem, lawmakers found time to vote on a resolution reaffirming the motto. Why that reaffirmation was deemed necessary speaks volumes about congressional priorities and Washington‘s peculiar political climate.

According to two polls taken before the supercommittee failed to find a compromise, the American public’s faith in Congress stands at historic lows – a 9-percent approval rating according to a CBS/New York Times poll and 13 percent according to Gallup. In October, Gallup forecast that disenchantment with the people’s representatives would further deepen in the absence of agreement.

Not to harp on the negative, let’s revisit the resolution on America‘s motto, passed 396 to 9 on November 1, with two legislators voting “present” and 26 not voting. Randy Forbes, the Republican who sponsored the measure explained it had been necessary because “a number of public officials … forget what the national motto is.” He named President Barack Obama as one of the forgetful officials, referring to a speech in which he cited E Pluribus Unum as America‘s motto. (Latin for “out of many, one”, those words are emblazoned on the official seal of the United States and engraved, along with “In God We Trust”, on 25-cent coins. E pluribus unum served as the country’s de facto motto until 1956, when Congress passed a law making In God We Trust the official motto).

In the floor debate on the matter, one legislator, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, portrayed failure to reaffirm the motto in apocalyptic terms. “If … man is God, then an atheist state is as brutal as the thesis it rests upon and there is no reason for us to gather here in this place,” he told his fellow members. “We should just let anarchy prevail because after all we are just worm food.”

America, Iran and mowing nuclear grass

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 15, 2011 18:33 UTC

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

In the long-running Western debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, fresh language has been as rare as fresh ideas. But here’s a novel phrase worth noting: “Striking Iranian nuclear sites is like mowing the grass.” How so?

The man who coined the simile, Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller, argues that no strike, or series of strikes, could permanently cripple the Iranian capacity to produce and weaponize fissile material. Absent complete success in wiping out Iran’s hardened and widely dispersed nuclear sites, “the grass would only grow back again.” The Iranians would “reseed” the grass “with the kind of legitimacy that can only come from having been attacked by an outside power.”

The presidential hopefuls of America‘s Republican Party could do worse than take note of that assessment. In the first foreign policy debate of the Republican primary race on November 12, all but one of the nine would-be presidents supported an attack — by the United States or Israel — on Iran to stop it from getting the bomb, if sanctions failed, as they have done so far.

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.

The US elections and pandering to Israel

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 23, 2011 16:28 UTC

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

So much for charges from conservative contenders for the 2012 U.S. presidential elections that Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough — the president just won seals of approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the U.S. lobby that usually reflects their views.

If the elections, as some predict, will include a contest on who loves Israel most, Obama can use their praise to good effect. How much it will contribute to his legacy is another matter.

The plaudits came in response to Obama’s address to the United Nations on Sept. 21, when he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership in what one Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, described as “probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual U.N. General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none.”

To create U.S. jobs, bring in immigrants

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 13, 2011 15:04 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — In tandem with the $447 billion jobs plan President Barack Obama announced on September 8, his administration is breathing new life into an old program to draw job-creating foreigners to the United States. It’s known as the EB-5 investor program, has a clouded history, and can’t bring much relief to America’s unemployment misery.

But with 27 million people unemployed or underemployed and Obama’s own job depending on whether or not he can bring down the unemployment rate in time for next year’s presidential election, every job-creating opportunity is worth pursuing.

Which is why Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced “streamlining measures” to America’s complicated immigration laws a few weeks before the president laid out his ideas on how to spur growth, a mix of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

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.

American secrets and bizarre rules

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 17, 2010 15:59 UTC

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

Does a secret stop being a secret when millions of people know it? Yes, says common sense. No, says the U.S. government, whose reaction to the WikiLeaks dump of classified diplomatic cables portrays a bureaucracy inhabiting a logic-free world all of its own.

Writers thinking of producing 21st century novels emulating the works of Franz Kafka are well advised to closely follow Washington’s problems in coming to grips with what kind of information should be open to whom and when.

Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can see the 1,500-odd classified cables released so far by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which holds more than 250,000 messages exchanged between the U.S. Department of State and American embassies around the world. Five news organizations, including the New York Times, have reported on the cables in great detail. But the fact that the information is in the public domain makes no difference to the government’s view of its classified nature.

A counter-productive WikiLeak

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 3, 2010 16:00 UTC

WIKILEAKS/AMAZON

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

WASHINGTON — Now that WikiLeaks has begun releasing a quarter of a million classified U.S. State Department cables from embassies around the world, a new era is dawning. Political change and reform are inevitable world-wide and at long last, there’s a chance for peace and stability in the Middle East. Really.

This is how Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, views the effect of the dispatches that lay bare the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, provide frank and often titillating detail of the shortcomings and foibles of foreign leaders, report on the breath-taking scale of corruption in such places as Afghanistan and Russia, and note that — surprise, surprise — Arab leaders in particular tend to say one thing in public and quite another in private.

“The…media scrutiny and the reaction from government are so tremendous that it actually eclipses our ability to understand it,” Assange said in an interview with Time magazine on day 3 of the data dump, which began on November 28. “I can see that there is a tremendous re-arrangement of viewings about many different countries. And so that will result in a new kind of harmonization … ”

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