Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

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.

Power-generation and nuclear waste are not usually subjects of great public interest but they made headlines and sparked renewed debate in the wake of last March’s nuclear accident in Japan, where spent fuel rods (nuclear waste) posed a greater radiation threat than the core of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those rods were stored in pools of constantly circulating water — the system used at most U.S. nuclear plants — and dangerously overheated when an earthquake interrupted power supply to the pools.

Over the past few weeks, the steadily increasing waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors and the repository once meant to hold most of it deep underground, have been the subject of a string of reports and congressional hearings. They shed light not only on the need for a decision on what best to do with the waste but also on the fact that science on this issue has not been restored to the “rightful place” Obama promised in his eloquent inaugural speech.

Obama and the vexed issue of immigration

Bernd Debusmann
May 6, 2011 16:22 UTC

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

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) — It was a pledge that helped Barack Obama win the presidency. “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.”

That was on May 28, 2008, and it went down well with the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States, Americans of Latin American descent. Of the around 10 million Latinos who went to the polls in November 2008, more than two thirds voted for Obama. For many of them, he has been a disappointment. Once in office, he put immigration on the back burner. He did not push the issue when Democrats had solid majorities in both houses of Congress.

Instead, in the first two years of the Obama presidency, around 1,100 illegal immigrants were deported every day, on average, a pace without precedent. According to the Department of Homeland Security, deportations totaled 387,790 in 2009 and 392,000 in 2010. These are not figures that have endeared Obama to immigrant communities.

Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 29, 2011 14:40 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — Call it the coalition of the baffled — a diverse group of prominent public figures who challenge the U.S. government’s logic of keeping on its terrorist blacklist an Iranian exile organization that publicly renounced violence a decade ago and has fed details on Iran’s nuclear programme to American intelligence.

On the U.S. Department of State’s list of 47 foreign terrorist organizations, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is the only group that has been taken off similar lists by the European Union and Britain, after court decisions that found no evidence of terrorist activity in recent years. In the U.S., a court last July ordered the State Department to review the designation. Nine months later, that review is still in progress and supporters of the MEK wonder why it is taking so long.

The organization has been on the list since 1997, placed there by the Clinton administration at a time it hoped to open a dialogue with Iran, whose leaders hate the MEK for having sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

Human rights and the US as global judge

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 15, 2011 16:20 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — Every year since 1976, The U.S. Department of State has published an extraordinarily detailed report on the state of human rights in the world. The latest, out in April, runs to more than 2 million words. Printed out from State’s website, it would run to more than 7,000 pages. The report covers 194 countries.

That’s every country in the world, except one: the United States.

Which gives rise to a few questions. Is the United States the one and only country on the planet with a perfect record of observing human rights, at home or in the countries where it wages war? If not, why does the government feel entitled to scrutinize the human rights practices of others? The report discovers blemishes even in countries that rarely come to mind in the context of human rights violations.

Switzerland, say, where in 2010 “police at times used excessive force, occasionally with impunity.” Or Canada, where “human rights problems included harassment of religious minorities, violence against women, and trafficking in persons.” Or the tiny South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, where American human rights checkers found “police violence, poor prison conditions, arrests without warrants, an extremely slow judicial process, government corruption, and violence and discrimination against women.”

Libya and selective US intervention

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 25, 2011 15:44 UTC

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

“We stand for universal values, including the rights of the … people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the freedom to access information.”

–President Barack Obama, during the Egyptian mass uprising against a detested dictator.

“The United States is … to construct an architecture of  values that spans the globe and includes every man, woman and child. An architecture that can not only counter repression and resist pressure on human rights, but also extend those fundamental freedoms to places where they have been too long denied.”

Obama, guns and media control

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 18, 2011 17:08 UTC

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

There is fresh thinking, of a peculiar sort, in the perennial debate over gun violence in the United States, world leader in civilian ownership of firearms. Censorship of news reporting on the mass shootings that have long been part of American life will help prevent other mass shootings.

So says the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an open letter responding to President Barack Obama’s suggestion that it is time for all sides in the gun debate to get together and find a “sensible, intelligent way” to make the United States a safer place. The president mentioned common sense and a White House spokesman talked of the need to find common ground.

Common sense has not been in abundant supply in decades of on-again, off-again debate on guns and violence. As to finding common ground between the leading gun lobby and advocates of better controls, the NRA’s Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, says his group will “absolutely not” take part in the sort of meeting envisaged by Obama. Such a meeting, he said in a series of media interviews, would be with people opposed to the constitutional right to bear arms.

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