Opinion

The Great Debate

Michael Bloomberg and America’s guns

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

New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is stepping in where President Barack Obama fears to tread — confronting America’s powerful gun lobby. In the country that holds a commanding global lead in civilian gun ownership, it promises to be a hard fight.

No matter how it goes, America’s position at the top of the list of gun-owning nations looks secure. Up to 280 million guns are estimated to be in private hands and the arsenal is growing year by year. On a guns-per-capita basis, the United States (90 guns per 100 residents) is way ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

Obama has been a sore disappointment for advocates of tighter gun controls, and a boon to gun manufacturers and dealers. Predictions that his administration would swiftly work towards greater restrictions helped spark a huge run on firearms after his election. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s biggest gun lobby, said its members reported widespread shortages of ammunition.

Supply and demand are back in balance and those who rushed to stock up need not have feared an Obama assault on gun ownership. The president has shown no eagerness for stepping into the political minefield of gun legislation. On the contrary. Obama rowed back in haste after his attorney general, Eric Holder, prompted alarm among gun lovers by saying he wanted to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that was allowed to lapse under the Bush administration.

There are no signs either that Obama intends to fulfil campaign pledges on other hot-button gun legislation issues such as closing the so-called gun show loophole that allows private citizen-to-citizen sales without background checks, or the Tiahrt amendment, which limits disclosing information on the sale of guns used in crimes.

Obama, Elvis and America’s birthers

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –
Nobody ever landed on the moon, the televised images are a hoax. John F. Kennedy was murdered in a complex plot involving the Mafia and the CIA. Elvis Presley lives. Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president.

All these claims stem from conspiracy theories and myths born in the U.S. and they throw a question mark over the long-held view of experts that such ideas flourish most in societies where news is controlled, access to information difficult and barriers to independent inquiry difficult to overcome.

This kind of restrictive environment  applies to many Third World countries – conspiracy theories are particularly abundant in the Middle East and Africa — but not to the technologically and economically advanced United States. Yet there is a parallel universe inhabited by millions and millions of Americans immune to facts, logic and common sense.

Europe loves Obama. Does it matter?

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

Barack Obama’s star may be fading slightly at home but it is still so bright in Europe that  he outshines the leaders of Germany and France in their own  countries, according to a poll that shows a remarkable global  shift in attitudes towards the U.S. since he took office.

The question is: does it matter?

First, the statistics. The latest Pew Global Attitudes  Project, a widely-respected survey that has tracked  anti-Americanism around the world since 2002, polled 26,397  people in 25 nations in May and June and found that the image of  the United States had improved in all but one (Israel),  reflecting, it said, “global confidence in Barack Obama.”

Driven to drink by marijuana laws?

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

Tough marijuana laws are driving millions of Americans to a more dangerous mood-altering substance, alcohol. The unintended consequence: violence and thousands of unnecessary deaths. It’s time, therefore, for a serious public debate of the case for marijuana versus alcohol.

That’s the message groups advocating the legalization of marijuana are beginning to press, against a background of shifting attitudes which have already prompted 13 states to relax draconian laws dating back to the 1930s, when the government ended alcohol prohibition and began a determined but futile effort to stamp out marijuana.

How dismally that effort has failed is not in doubt. Marijuana is so easily available that around 100 million Americans have tried it at least once and some 15 million use it regularly, according to government estimates. The U.S. marijuana industry, in terms of annual retail sales, has been estimated to be almost as big as the alcohol industry — $113 billion and $130 billion respectively. On a global scale, marijuana is the world’s most widely used illicit drug.

The Ugly American and other stereotypes

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

What happened to the Ugly American, the one with the loud shirt and the loud voice, expecting the natives to speak English? Has he been shouldered aside by the Arrogant French?

That’s the conclusion one could draw from a survey this month of 4,500 hotel owners around the world who rated the French the world’s worst tourists, bad at foreign languages, arrogant and tight-fisted. Spaniards, deemed noisy and messy, came second in a field of 27. Americans ranked 9th on the list of the top 10 best.

The survey, commissioned by the online travel agency Expedia, ranked travellers in nine categories, from cleanliness to generosity in tipping, and provided food for thought on a long-running debate on an unresolved question: to what extent do national stereotypes correspond to reality?

Spare a thought for Hugo Chavez

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

Spare a thought for Hugo Chavez, the larger-than-life Venezuelan leader who flourished in the role of Latin America’s defender against an evil empire led by a devil who smelt of sulphur and was named George W. Bush.

Those were the easy days for Chavez. Now he has become a dragon-slayer without a dragon, an actor on a stage without the most important prop. It was one thing to rally the Latin masses against the widely-detested Bush, it is another to deal with Barack Obama, “the first (U.S.) president who looks like us,” in the words of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

America’s spies and a language crisis

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

“There is a great deal about Iran that we do not know…The United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran.”

That was the verdict of a Congressional committee on U.S. intelligence policy two years ago. How valid it still is was highlighted by Iran’s June elections and their turbulent aftermath.

Obama, Iran and a meaningless phrase

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

It’s time to kill the international community. The phrase, that is.

Usually shorthand for the governments of “the West,” the phrase is over-used (a Google search produces 447 million hits) and under-thought. It is often misleading and sometimes plain wrong. As in President Barack Obama’s news conference remarks this week on Iran’s post-election crackdown on protest:

“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.”

Fearing the supermen of Guantanamo

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

Americans need to be afraid, very afraid. If President Barack Obama has his way, the country will soon be at serious risk of terrorist attacks coordinated by Muslim men held in maximum security prisons from where no-one has ever escaped.

These inmates possess superhuman strength and cunning. Even in solitary confinement, they might recruit fellow inmates to the cause of al Qaeda and incite riots. They might succeed where the worst of the worst American criminals failed – break out and disappear, seamlessly blending into the community. Next thing you know — a mushroom cloud.

Obama and the wrong side of history

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

Ringing words, smoothly delivered: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Did that memorable line from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address on January 20 mean his administration would break with a long American tradition of paying lip service to democracy and human rights while supporting authoritarian rulers friendly to Washington? Too early to say for sure, but probably not.

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