40 – Where Political Fallacies Begin (22 Oct 2012)

The two subjects that hold European policymakers and the more serious part of the American electorate currently in suspense offer perfect and dismal examples of delusion because accompanying stories – where the euro crisis came from and President Obama's track record – have been given the wrong beginning.
     For North Europeans relying on mainstream media, the story of the euro crisis never had a beginning anywhere close to where it should have been. This deficiency was mostly due to another political phenomenon deserving more scrutiny than it receives: When governments or other institutions with authority are faced with an unpalatable subject, prompting questions that may spell deep trouble for them, they change the subject hoping that no one will notice. That is what Angela Merkel did when the credit crisis of 2008 revealed that German banks had swallowed so much of the toxic assets created by their American counterparts that this had in effect killed them. But in Merkel’s story the crisis began with a lazy Greek population, consisting of lots of tax evaders and overpaid officials who took too many holidays. The French and the Dutch authorities were similarly embarrassed with the factual bankruptcy of their banks, and gratefully endorsed the story that Merkel was allowed to dominate with in the headlines.
     This helped stoke strong indignation that spread over the northern euro countries; why should we, well-behaved taxpayers, have to bail them out? By the time the German broadsheet Das Bild had created a commonly accepted picture portraying hard-working Germans versus irresponsible Greeks there was no going back for the Chancellor. That tabloid, along with the domestic financial interests and their allies, blocked a return to rational analysis of the bank crisis, preoccupied as she was with minimizing threats to her staying on as chancellor in a new coalition after next year’s elections. 
     There were other possible beginnings that would have allowed a sound approach to the controversy from a different direction. Such as low German domestic demand compensated for by years of voluminous German exports to peripheral Europe, including Greece, which required funds for buying that German stuff; funds happily being pumped into southern Europe by German banks. As these were raking in premiums and interest, their credit risk analysts slept soundly because the credit rating agencies had given their blessings with blanket triple A ratings for all the euro countries. Is Greek governmental irresponsibility then only a figment of people’s imagination? Who cares? Merkel changed the subject. Whatever Greek conduct or motives, these did not cause the euro crisis.

39 – The Disabling Pacific ‘Alliance’ (15 Oct 2012)

    Amid news and pundit references about an alleged ‘tilt’ in American foreign policy toward Asia and the Pacific, it is useful to take a closer look at the badly under-reported story of Washington’s relations with what is habitually referred to as its number one ally in the Pacific. That focus furthermore sharpens the contours of the Sino-Japanese dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
    The label ‘ally’ is a misnomer. No Japanese government ever had a choice. Two further conditions before a bilateral relationships can be called an alliance are also absent: shared long-term objectives and consultation about how to achieve them. The same can be said, to at least some extent, with the post-Cold-War NATO alliance. But the US-Japan relationship represents an extreme case. In fact, since nothing quite like it has ever existed, we do not have commonly understood terminology ready to describe that relationship.
    Japan is not a colony, although a growing number of its exasperated thinkers like to use that term, and it is only very partially occupied territory. ‘Protectorate’ serves to some extent, except that Washington does not have the kind of leverage over Japanese domestic arrangements normally associated with that status. Remember also that not so long ago influential American voices feared Japanese economic power defeating that of their own. Japan shares a vassalage status, dating from the Cold War, with the European NATO countries, but there is something deeper, more elusive, and more desperate about its relationship with the United States. Japan’s domestic governing structure lacks something that has forced it to rely on the United States in all its major dealings with the international world and, judging by how they sabotaged a recent Japanese initiative to repair that anomaly, the Japan handlers in Washington would very much like to keep it that way. What fits squarely with the protectorate designation is that for global aims Washington takes Japan for granted as a political possession.
    Two mutually reinforcing facts about this extraordinary and geopolitically vital relationship must be kept in mind.

38 – Japanese Political Upheaval and Public Protest (3 July 2012)

On the surface the story is simple enough. Japan's most important/powerful/controversial politician has done it again: shaking up the party political world by leaving, and perhaps breaking up, the DPJ, Japan's ruling party. And that because things did not go his way. The Japanese media were, predictably, ready with their favorite epithet, ‘the destroyer’, and with quotes from political commentators that this time his star may be truly fading because the perennial polls show that the people have had it with him.
    Almost all foreign reporting trying to make sense of his latest turbulence in Japanese politics meekly follows the lead of the big national newspapers, as it has done for the last couple of decades (note that the number of regular full-time correspondents in Tokyo has dwindled to a small fraction of what it used to be). The financially oriented foreign reporting quotes resident analysts praising the leadership qualities of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose insistence that a law aimed at doubling the consumption tax must be pushed through Parliament triggered Ozawa's move.
    Added comment holds that the Prime Minister is better off without the recalcitrant Ozawa in his party since this makes it easier to push through a program of restarting nuclear reactors and to continue accommodating demands from Washington. This last point is not often voiced openly, but well understood. Hence, on the surface we have fiscal responsibility clashing with political egotism and obstructionism.
    As with so much else in Japan one must guard against taking this surface seriously. Looking beneath it we can observe a very different kind of struggle.

37 – The Significance of Ozawa’s Acquittal (26 Apr 2012)

     The April 26 acquittal of Japan’s most important politician on charges connected with delayed reporting of a financial transfer is greatly significant for Japan and possibly its neighbors as well. Ichiro Ozawa has for almost two decades been considered as the one Japanese politician with the organizational skills; the understanding of the career officials who in practice run the country; the political network building capacity and, above all, a thorough grasp of what causes the notorious weakness at the center, to have the best chance of reforming the governing system in line with what the electorate and political specialists outside the realms of vested interests have long believed to be desirable. In 1993 he gave the crucial start signal for the reformist movement by leaving the LDP, which had been the mainstay of Japan’s de-facto one-party system since 1955, and which ruled in name only, leaving actual policy making in the hands of a dominant (and uncommonly skillfull) group of administrators within the bureaucracy. He had laid down his credo in a book advocating for Japan to become “a normal country” (with a center of political accountability), and eventually brought the various groups of reformist minded politicians together in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), engineering its grand electoral victory in the summer of 2009 that substantially ended the one-party system.

36 – The Most Monstrous Lie of the Twentyfirst Century (19 Sep 2011)

     Following with half an eye the pap pouring forth from the commentariat about how it felt on the day and what it thought since the event “that changed everything”, I was heartened by a reminder from Douglas Lummis (a former US Marine living in Okinawa, and eminent observer of the American-Japanese vassalage relationship) that the anniversary deserving even more attention is tomorrow. It was on September 20th ten years ago that George W. Bush declared perpetual war on large chunks of the world. On that day he told Congress that terrorism would no longer be dealt with as a crime but as something to be confronted with military might. Judging by published mainstream opinion the monstrousness of that announcement has never sunk in. What it comes down to, as Lummis reminds us, is that the United States has granted itself the right to create suspects, murder them, and to invade countries for such a purpose. “And given that no other country, but only the U.S., claims these rights, the result is that in international law, the principle of equality under the law has been destroyed.”
    Bush and Cheney also began something, as Lummis understands well, that because of its nature can never end. The Washington Post, a virtual propaganda instrument for Bush’s administration, has also to my surprise discovered that “A Decade After the 9/11 Attacks, Americans Live in an Era of Endless War.” In the superficial ‘objective’ way that has become that paper’s hallmark, reporter Greg Jaffe writes that “in previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.” But nowadays, by the logic of what he quotes from the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security, “America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive.”
    In other words, America’s warmaking and the belief that it is necessary have become perfectly normal. As the Washington Post as well as official documents and supposedly ‘liberal’ pundits and professors tell us, we should all simply get used to it.

35 – The Austerity Epidemic (21 June 2011)

    I have said it elsewhere on this site: the notion of a 'marketplace of ideas' is nonsensical (jotting 24). Ideas are not traded, and are not scarce. They infect you, may cause intellectual and emotional fever and have frequently enough brought about epidemics that changed history. For the right metaphor in this case we should stick to the field of medicine, especially now a new epidemic, also known as the 'austerity craze', has been spreading in three of the most important industrial areas of the world; after having been allowed, in a chronic process in Africa and Latin America, to keep poor countries poor.
     Today, the very efficacious political command that belts must be tightened, budgets slashed, and welfare provisions thrown overboard is threatening to help make the future of Europeans, Americans and Japanese dimmer and more miserable.
     Before saying anything else about it we must be clear about the fact that the seductive power of the political/economic recipes that come with the craze does not derive from historical proof that these have been successful. Quite the contrary; starving the state of the means to cater to the common good has often enough lead to the kind of social unrest that produces false prophets and Pied Pipers who lead countries from bad to worse, or even to calamitous outcomes as in the case of the German Weimar Republic. Austerity measures will make unemployment shoot up and, when applied too deeply and for too long, tend to invite violence and repression.
     What is being offered as medicine for restoring economic health is a virus, one incubated in ideology. We may define ideology here as horse-medicine against uncertainty, which means