Mercury News – Editorial: The U.S. visit earlier this week by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was met with an uproar over the Iranian president’s outrageous views on everything from homosexuality to the Holocaust, not to mention his country’s nuclear aspirations and its link to global terrorism. The Mercury News
Mercury News Editorial
The U.S. visit earlier this week by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was met with an uproar over the Iranian president’s outrageous views on everything from homosexuality to the Holocaust, not to mention his country’s nuclear aspirations and its link to global terrorism.
But one of the most meaningful responses came from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: He announced he would sign bipartisan legislation forcing the state’s $350 billion pension funds to divest from companies that do business with Iran.
This could be the start of another California-led national movement. Divestment legislation is being considered in about a dozen states, and at least five divestment bills are pending in Congress. Ahmadinejad’s visit should speed up state and federal action.
Of course, the United States has to be in a position to work and negotiate with Iran, which is a major force in the Middle East. But it’s important that we not have business as usual with a country that is providing the material for roadside bombs in Iraq and trying to develop nuclear weapons. The fact that the country is led by an unstable ruler makes financial pressure even more of a moral imperative.
The state’s major pension funds, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, aggressively opposed the divestment bill. They argued that it would cost millions of dollars to implement and would impede efforts to get the best return they can on investments.
As major stockholders, they said, they could be more effective in getting corporations to change policies about investing in Iran.
The Legislature and Schwarzenegger rightly rejected those arguments. There’s no stronger way to send a message to companies than to pull money out.
Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit to Columbia University and the United Nations left no doubt in the minds of the free world that Iran is teetering on a dangerous precipice. The president said there were no homosexuals in Iran and argued that the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews was not fact. At the United Nations, he said “the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed.”
While his defiant tone on American soil likely raised his stature among some in the Middle East, Columbia President Lee Bollinger nailed it when he called Ahmadinejad “a petty and cruel dictator.”
Words alone won’t bring about change, however, and California has been a leader in using divestment to raise the profile of injustices. Last year, the state ordered its pension plans to cut ties with companies doing business with Sudan. And in the 1980s, state pension funds were required to divest from South Africa, a trend credited with hastening the downfall of apartheid.
Columbia and the United Nations made the right decision to let Ahmadinejad speak. Hopefully, more states and the U.S. government will answer back the way California did.