28 – A Tale of Two Countries (26 Nov 09)

A Tale of Two Countries – Obama’s Failure and Minshuto’s Success
(I gave this talk yesterday before the Ozaki Foundation in Tokyo)

    You perhaps think the subtitle of this talk – Obama’s Failure, Minshuto’s Success – to be a mischievous and overly hasty conclusion. But I think it is already a reality staring us in the face. Summing it up right away: Obama has missed the one rare opportunity for initiating the momentous reform policies he was expected to deliver, and such opportunity will not come again. The Minshuto, on the other hand, has moved fast to change Japan’s political reality beyond a point where it can revert to where things were until September, and where they had been for decades of indecision.
     Both the United States and Japan are in the middle of developments that are bound to have a great effect on the wider world, quite aside from them changing their domestic circumstances. I can imagine that you have greater trouble believing that about Japan than about the United States, but that may be because of an ingrained habit, widespread in the world, of identifying the United States with leadership and vigor and Japan as a place where the politics never change.
     What the two countries have had in common are serious problems connected with a lack of effective political control. This out-of-control situation has in the United States led to regression; to things moving in very much the wrong way, especially with regards to its financial system and its waging unprovoked and unnecessary wars. And in Japan the out-of-control situation has led to stagnation, to things not moving at all, except, very gradually downhill, socially and economically. No wonder therefore that expectations before the American and Japanese elections were considerably greater than they tend to be with run-of-the-mill elections among the world’s democracies.

27 – An American Plea for European Awakening (18 Sep 09)

see also a new Sampiemon columnn about NATO in Afghanistan

    What I hoped to read has finally been written: A plea from an American addressed to all Europeans for help with bringing the United States to its senses. It ought to be on the editorial pages of every serious newspaper in Europe. In a speech contributed to the Mut zur Ethik Conference held in Austria a couple of weeks ago, Paul Craig Roberts lays out the case for Europe to “go into active opposition to US foreign policy.” American freedom as well as “sovereign independence elsewhere in the world” require this. Both the political leaders and the people of the United States “need Europe’s help in order to avoid the degeneration of the American political entity.”
     Europeans insufficiently clued in about the gyrations of American non-mainstream media discussion might imagine such exhortation as coming from rather far-off leftist quarters. But Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and has held numerous academic appointments in what in the US are categorized as ‘conservative’ institutions. I first came across his writing on a well-known ‘conservative’ website. He disappeared from that ever rightward drifting site when he became one of the first authors from a non-leftist background to pierce through the political exploitation of the September 11 attacks. And pierce he did, deeper and more to the point than many on that threadbare left side of the American political spectrum. Articulate, erudite, and informed by historical perspective, Roberts has been one of my anchors on the internet, a reassurance that it was not me who had gone mad, while what I call the insanity factor

26 – What Can the DPJ’s Overwhelming Victory Mean for Japan? (31 Aug 09)

    The significance of yesterday's Japanese election results goes beyond a relatively new and untried political party ending half a century of rule by a competing party; if the new leaders turn out to be true leaders and are allowed to carry out their declared intentions, this will fundamentally change the Japanese power system. That power system has in modern times always been averse to genuine political leadership. It has been relatively good at administrative governance, with career officials maintaining policy stability and initiating adjustments to stick to a course set by accident or imagined national expediency before their time.
    This means that with few exceptions the elected officials – politicians in Japan's parliament, in the Prime Minister's office, and ostensibly as heads of government agencies – besides reassuring their own citizens and the outside world that Japan is a democracy, have played a mostly marginal role, as powerbrokers at best. We can actually single out an architect who set it up this way just before the turn of the century before last: Yamagata Aritomo. Rather than here telling the story of this remarkable man, who created Japan's modern bureaucracy along with its early 20th-century military establishment, I will copy an essay about him that I wrote in 2001 in a sub-jotting hereunder. What Japan’s new government will be up against is essentially what he wrought and, in a modified way, has endured for over a century.
     To say that the task that Hatoyama Yukio and his fellow leaders of the Minshuto have set themselves is daunting would be putting it very, very mildly.

26b – The Architect of What Japan’s New Leaders Hope to Dismantle (31 Aug 09)

    What better opportunity than the election of aspirant supervisors of Japanese bureaucratic power to bring to the attention of the world a neglected Japanese figure who established that power and ought to be remembered, along with Bismarck, Lenin, Mao, and the two Roosevelts, as one of the creators of twentieth century political reality.

Written in June 2001 (pdf of original essay):
     His name, Yamagata Aritomo, may only register with those who have read Japanese history. Even in Japanese minds he may not be more than a shadow, dwarfed by Ito Hirobumi among the Meiji Period architects of Japanese modernization. But he deserves to be known as the creator of what in essence has remained Japan's political system. In the end, what the world has been learning to think of as Japan's lack of political will, should be blamed on Yamagata. His legacy endures in a more immediate sense today than, say, Bismarck's legacy does in Germany.

25 – Obama’s Failure (29 Aug 09)

    The most noteworthy thing that Barack Obama has done since he became president is to put his stamp of approval on policies that at the end of the presidency of George W. Bush were considered unacceptable by a majority of the American public (and which appalled much of the world). He has thereby joined the large number of his fellow Democratic Party members who, dependent as they are on support from special interest groups, had countersigned them long ago. I am referring to the two things in particular that have gone disastrously wrong, and which Obama had been expected by his activist supporters to try to reverse: American belligerency and the unaccountable power of the crisis-creating apparatus of financial institutions. While after the November election these most undesirable aspects of American participation in the world appeared ready for repair, the trends that made them what they are have now become irreversible. Europeans and Asians ought to take note. Latin Americans have already done so. It is the most significant thing we have learned this past half year in the context of all our future.
     The “give him time!” response from a multitude of those who had faith in Obama has proved to be very damaging, as it throttled

24 – The Elephant in the Tent (10 July 09)

see also the new Sampiemon column on Obama in Moscow

    Much progressive political energy is lost as it is channelled toward narrowly conceived causes, where it may do some good but where much of it is wasted. This was an overwhelming impression I had when attending the Tallberg forum in Sweden the week before last. It was, to be sure, a wonderful occasion to meet some of the roughly 400 people who had come from literally all corners of the world and who – certainly the ones I met – clearly had their hearts in the right place. I do not want to detract from their seriousness and hard work as they try to help alleviate dire conditions of poverty, ecological crisis, and other fairly concrete ills of the world in connection to which human action might make a difference. But would their causes not be better served if at least some of this energy was channelled into efforts to revive countervailing power against the forces that cause the problems of their concern to begin with?
     One of the biggest central notions of the forum is ‘sustainable development’. When listening to the earnest accounts presented at one of the preliminary sessions I suddenly felt a compulsion to comment on it all as an outsider, thinking myself to be eminently qualified by the fact that the term sustainable development had, until then, giving me the jitters. Practically all attention has gone to sustainable methods, while the very things to be developed tend to get a cursory glance and appear to be mostly taken for granted.