Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it — faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.
We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.
In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”
For reasons which you can find outlined in my Discover Your Inner Economist, I am generally in sympathy with arguments like Felix’s, but not in this case. I see a three special factors operating here:
1. The chance that your aid will be usefully deployed, and not lost to corruption, is much higher than average.
2. I believe this crisis will bring fundamental regime change to Japan (currently an underreported issue), rather than just altering the outcome of the next election. America needs to signal its partnership with one of its most important allies. You can help us do that.
3. Maybe you should give to a poorer country instead, but you probably won’t. Odds are this will be an extra donation at the relevant margin. Sorry to say, this disaster has no “close substitute.”
It may be out of date, but the starting point for any study of Japan is still Karel von Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power. Definitely recommended.
The fact that Charlie Sheen has decided donate a portion of the money from his live stage shows to help people affected by earthquake in Japan should be all you need to know that donating money to Japan is a bad idea.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and even chemical or nuclear disasters can provoke a strong urge on the part of people to want to provide disaster relief in the form of charitable donations directed at those afflicted by the most recent disaster. This is almost always a mistake.
Almost all international disaster relief is ineffective. Part of the reason for this is that relief groups rarely know who is suffering most, or how aid can be most effectively directed.
Concern and generosity are entirely human—and entirely admirable!—responses to the disaster and tragedy in Japan. But if you really want to be helpful, as Felix Salmon and others have noted, there might be better ways to donate your money than just sending it to Japan. There are two basic rules for being useful: First, give to organizations with long track records of helping overseas. Second, leave it up to the experts to decide how to distribute the aid.
The first suggestion is simple: Avoid getting scammed by choosing an internationally known and vetted group. Big, long-standing organizations like Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross are good choices. If choosing a smaller or local group, try checking with aid groups, Guidestar, or the Better Business Bureau before submitting funds.
The second suggestion is more important. Right now, thousands of well-intentioned donors are sending money to Japan to help it rebuild. But some portion of the donated funds will be earmarked, restricted to a certain project or goal, and therefore might not do the Japanese much good in the end. Moreover, given Japan’s extraordinary wealth and development, there is a good chance that aid organizations will end up with leftover funds they will have no choice but to spend in country—though the citizens of other nations wracked by other disasters, natural or man-made, might need it more. Aid organizations can do more good when they decide how best to use the money they receive.
Felix Salmon wrote a column for Reuters warning people “don’t donate money to Japan.” His argument is that donations earmarked for a particular disaster often “leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places.”
Commenters pointed out that many relief organizations accept donations with a disclaimer that surplus funds may be applied elsewhere. And other relief organizations don’t allow for earmarking of donations at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a burst of cash during an extraordinary crisis.
Salmon also wrote, “we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective.”
That last probably is true. I also have no doubt that various evangelical groups already are planning their crusades to Japan to rescue the simple indigenous people for Christ in their time of need. (Update:Yep.)
So if you do want to donate money, I suggest giving to the excellent Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization headquartered in Taiwan. Relief efforts in Japan are being coordinated through long-established Tzu Chi offices and volunteer groups in Japan, not by random do-gooders parachuting in from elsewhere. Tzu Chi does a lot of good work around the globe, so your money will be put to good use somewhere.
As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.
he emergency flooding of stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation.
Later Monday, the government said cooling systems at a third reactor had failed. The Kyodo news agency reported that the damaged fuel rods at the third reactor had been temporarily exposed, increasing the risk of overheating. Sea water was being channeled into the reactor to cover the rods, Kyodo reported.
So far, Japanese officials have said the melting of the nuclear cores in the two plants is assumed to be “partial,” and the amount of radioactivity measured outside the plants, though twice the level Japan considers safe, has been relatively modest.
But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOT MUCH: 7th Fleet repositions ships after contamination detected. “For perspective, the maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship’s force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun.”
Still, if that’s the dose received 100 miles away after wind dispersal and dissipation, it’s small wonder that the Japanese are evacuating the area near the plant. No nation has the history of radiation poisoning that Japan does, and one has to believe that this danger will loom the largest among the people even after the tsunami damage that killed thousands of people. The government will face a great deal of scrutiny for years to come for its actions in these few days, and they appear to understand that.
That’s the title of a post on the Morgsatlarge, reprinting a letter from Dr. Josef Oehman of MIT. According to his web page, his main research interest is “risk management in the value chain, with a special focus on lean product development.” Although he’s a business professor and not a nuclear scientist, his father worked in the German nuclear power industry, and the post provides a detailed and persuasive (at least to me) explanation of how the endangered Japanese nuclear power plants work, and why their multiple backup systems ensure that there will be neither an explosion nor a catastophic release of radiation. The American cable TV channels, by the way, seem to be taking a much more sober approach than they did yesterday, when Wolf Blitzer was irresponsibly raising fear of “another Chernobyl.”
Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.
“This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage,” Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter .
Specifically, Markey raised questions about a reactor design the NRC is reviewing for new plants that has been criticized for seismic vulnerability. The NRC has yet to make a call on the AP1000 reactor , which is manufactured by Westinghouse. But according to Markey, a senior NRC engineer has said the reactor’s concrete shield building could shatter “like a glass cup” under heavy stress.
The inner doll, which looks like a gigantic cocktail shaker and holds the radioactive uranium, is the heavy steel reactor vessel. It sits inside a concrete and steel dome called the containment. The reactor vessel is the primary defense against disaster — as long as the radiation stays inside everything is fine.
The worry is that a disaster could either damage the vessel itself or, more likely, damage equipment that used to control the uranium. If operators cannot circulate water through the vessel to cool the uranium it could overheat and burn into radioactive slag — a meltdown.
This morning, I got an email from a BoingBoing reader, who is one of the many people worried about the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan. In one sentence, he managed to get right to heart of a big problem lurking behind the headlines today: “The extent of my knowledge on nuclear power plants is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen on The Simpsons“.
For the vast majority of people, nuclear power is a black box technology. Radioactive stuff goes in. Electricity (and nuclear waste) comes out. Somewhere in there, we’re aware that explosions and meltdowns can happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that set of information is enough to get by on. But, then, an emergency like this happens and, suddenly, keeping up-to-date on the news feels like you’ve walked in on the middle of a movie. Nobody pauses to catch you up on all the stuff you missed.
As I write this, it’s still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don’t know enough to speculate on that. I’m not sure anyone does. But I can give you a clearer picture of what’s inside the black box. That way, whatever happens at Fukushima, you’ll understand why it’s happening, and what it means.
When a smaller earthquake struck near Tokyo a couple of days ago, I wondered if worse was on the way soon.
Japan has been overdue for a major earthquake, given their historical frequency. Perversely, there was much more worry about the impact of a major quake on Japan when it was an economic force to be reckoned with (perhaps a subconscious wish to cut the seemingly unbeatable Japanese down to size?). While the horrific death count that resulted from the last great quake in 1923, led the Japanese to impose vastly tougher building codes and continue to improve upon earthquake-related technology, events like this too often have a nasty way of defeating careful planning. But this tremblor, which registered a formidable magnitude 8.8, was off the northern coast, but still has produced serious disruptions in Tokyo. There are no good reports of the damage yet.
Livestream news from Hawaii seem to show non-devastating waves and pullbacks as the tsunami spreads out from its source in Japan, but at “fairly significant numbers,” according to the islands’ tsunami guy. Japan is still reporting a shockingly low death toll from such a significant event; but that toll is expected to rise. In Hawaii, people seem nervous but assured: “I’ve cut my feet on this reef a few times but nothing like this,” said the KHNL newscaster a few minutes ago, looking at the exposed Diamondhead reef, which is now getting some water again. So far they’ve seen surge of about six feet; it’s now expected to top out at 8 or 9 feet. In the 1946 tsunami, waves lasted all day; this is not expected to be as severe, but you’ll see “odd behavior” all day around Hawaii. After 7 a.m., foot-size waves are expected to reach California.
Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of the country has caused devastating loss of life and destruction. Readers in Hawaii e-mail that they have prepared for coastal flooding as well. Be safe, friends.
I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable. My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage. The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.
Reports coming from Japan say the quake caused millions of people to evacuate buildings, and the government ordered people near several of the country’s nuclear power plants to leave. Concerns about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor, one of Japan’s 11 nuclear reactors, led to the precautionary evacuation. The biggest concern is that the electricity shortage at the plant is making it difficult for crews to operate the plant’s reactor cooling system quickly.
It is important to remember that the evacuation efforts are cautionary measures rather than indicative of any certain danger posed by the nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear power plants, like our own, are built to withstand earthquakes. Plants are engineered to shut down the moment an earthquake hits. Beyond that, each nuclear power plant is fitted with numerous and layered safety mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the facility.
Indeed, even if all of those systems fail, which has not been the case in Japan based on current information, the physics of light water reactors (the type operated in both Japan and the U.S.) make them inherently safe. The same water used to cool the reactor is also necessary to sustain the nuclear reaction. Should the ability to cool the reactor be lost because of an inability to pump coolant to the core, as is the case with the one Japanese reactor, the nuclear reaction will cease. However, it is much too early to even assume that has happened.
I was watching the live coverage of the tsunami in Japan last night and could not believe what I was seeing. It was something out of a movie — a movie that I would have thought was somewhat ridiculous until I saw this surge from the birds eye view. Unbelievable.
I’m sitting here now, six blocks from the beach in California, waiting for the wave to hit the west coast. Luckily it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to us at this point.
The good news is that if the Republicans have their way, when one of these things does hit us in this earthquake zone, we won’t have warning:
Thursday night’s massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami warnings that have alarmed U.S. coasts, seem likely to ignite a debate over a previously little-discussed subsection of the spending bills currently being debated in Congress.
Tucked into the House Republican continuing resolution are provisions cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, as well as humanitarian and foreign aid.
Presented as part of a larger deficit reduction package, each cut could be pitched as tough-choice, belt-tightening on behalf of the GOP. But advocates for protecting those funds pointed to the crisis in Japan as evidence that without the money, disaster preparedness and relief would suffer.
“These are very closely related,” National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien told The Huffington Post with respect to the budget cuts and the tsunami. “The National Weather Service has the responsibility of warning about tsunami’s also. It is true that there is no plan to not fund the tsunami buoys. Everyone knows you just can’t do that. Still if those [House] cuts go through there will be furloughs at both of the tsunami warning centers that protect the whole country and, in fact, the whole world.”
The House full-year continuing resolution, which has not passed the Senate, would indeed make steep cuts to several programs and functions that would serve in a response to natural disasters (not just tsunamis) home and abroad. According to Sobien, the bill cuts $126 million from the budget of the NWS. Since, however, the cuts are being enacted over a six-month period (the length of the continuing resolution) as opposed to over the course of a full year, the effect would be roughly double.
I realize that the productive wealthy can’t be taxed but I hope they’re all thinking ahead and employing their own natural disaster experts or they might suffer right along with the rest of us.
I grew up in Japan from Kindergarten through high school, so when I learned about the earthquake that struck the country this morning, I immediately had flashbacks to the many disaster preparedness drills I had gone through growing up. The images on the television of the aftermath of the earthquake are undoubtedly extreme and the level of damage from this natural disaster is more than any that I can remember from my lifetime. In addition to the news on television, a glance at facebook shows that many of my friends from Japan are scared as well. It seems that many phone lines are not working and I am sure the mobile phone networks are over-saturated as well. I’m also learning interesting pieces of news, apparently the roof of an ice skating rink my friends and I used to go to as a kid has collapsed.
However, only Japan could be hit with an 8.9 scale quake and come out of it with only hundreds dead. Similarly large earthquakes in less prepared countries have killed tens of thousands almost instantly. (A 7.5 earthquake in Bangladesh killed 90,000 people within minutes in 2010).
When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Japan does set the gold standard. In addition to strict building codes, a concerted effort is made to train and drill the entire population. Schools regularly practice evacuation routes, classrooms keep enough helmets in stock for all students, and reminders about where the safest place to be during a quake (under tables or in doorways) are constantly reiterated. I have vivid memories of an earthquake simulation truck that would travel around to educate people about what a large quake would feel like. The truck would be cut open to reveal a diorama of a living room. A series of springs would be activated to shake the diorama at levels up to and beyond the scale of quakes that Japan would normally be hit by.
Just as important as the civil preparedness, the security of Japan’s infrastructure is also a high priority. Its nuclear power plants have managed to be controlled despite initial concerns of a cooling problem.
Earthquakes are also excellent times to remember that Japan’s architects and construction companies are some of the best and most thorough in the world. Web video is already circulating of Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically. This video may look shocking to the uninitiated, but it is actually a very good thing: it is much better for a building to move and sway with the earthquake as opposed to resisting it.
Environmentalists, already peeved with the administration’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, are accusing President Obama of breaking his campaign pledge to end the slaughter of whales.
The Obama administration is leading an effort within the International Whaling Commission to lift a 24-year international ban on commercial whaling for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the remaining three countries in the 88-member commission that still hunt whales.
The administration argues that the new deal will save thousands of whales over the next decade by stopping the three countries from illegally exploiting loopholes in the moratorium.
But environmentalists aren’t buying it.
“That moratorium on commercial whaling was the greatest conservation victory of the 20th century. And in 2010 to be waving the white flag or bowing to the stubbornness of the last three countries engaged in the practice is a mind-numbingly dumb idea,” Patrick Ramage, the whaling director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told FoxNews.com.
Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales — again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.
This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.
The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.
Australia’s filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.
The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.
Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.
Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling that Japan has honored only in the breach. Norway and Iceland don’t honor it at all, while a few aboriginal communities get exemptions. As a consequence, during the past 20 years, the number of whales killed annually has steadily increased; roughly 2,000 were killed last year.
This is a vast improvement over the 80,000 whales killed in 1960, but it’s a very leaky ban. The International Whaling Commission, the 88-nation body that regulates whaling, is now considering a proposal to formally lift the moratorium, in exchange for supposedly tighter limits on newly sanctioned hunting. The idea is that a more realistic regime will save thousands of whales during the next ten years.
But conservationists are rightly galled at a proposal that will again legitimate the killing of nature’s most majestic creatures — as harmless as they are awesome — with no guarantee that the number of whale catches will really go down substantially.
Whaling lost its Melville-esque romance long ago. Once, “iron men in wooden boats” hunted the beasts in something of an even match — otherwise, Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale wouldn’t have been so self-destructive.
The rise of steam engines, explosive harpoons, and then factory ships — capable of killing and processing whales at sea — facilitated the mass slaughter of whales. The creatures had as much a chance against their hunters as bologna does against a grinder. They were killed in a decades-long movable charnel house.
In the first four decades of the 20th century, about 900,000 whales were killed just in the southern hemisphere. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, had once been too fast for whaling ships. Not in the new age. Since 1920, their population has declined by 96 percent. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction.
It became clear the carnage didn’t even suit the interests of the hunters, who would soon be bereft of prey. Hunting became restricted, and then, in a great victory for animal conservationists, the IWC ratified the moratorium in 1986.
Why protect whales? They should be preserved as befits anything else that evokes wonder; they are the mammalian equivalent of the Grand Canyon or of the giant redwoods. They are also incredibly long-lived creatures with a sophisticated social structure, closer to chimpanzees than to cattle.
Besides, there’s no reason to kill whales. No one has needed whale oil to light lamps for at least a century, and blubber isn’t a necessary source of nutrition in a modern society. Yet Japan persists. It agitates against the moratorium and organizes international opposition to it at the same time it cynically defies it.
Countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that oppose whaling are frustrated. The IWC has become a battleground between the two camps, with each side trying to recruit allies from neutral states. Half the body’s 88 members joined in the past decade—helping to make it deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable either to curb whale hunts or to reauthorise them.
There have been physical stand-offs as well as diplomatic ones. In January there was a collision between a Japanese ship and a trimaran from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a green group based in the American state of Washington. The crew (from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) had to abandon ship. In February Australia (with quiet sympathy from New Zealand) threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice unless it stopped whaling off Antarctica.
Against this nastiness, a “peace plan” was unveiled on April 22nd, Earth Day, by the IWC’s Chilean chairman, Crishán Maquieira, and his Antiguan deputy, Anthony Liverpool. It reflected months of closed-door talks among a dozen countries. The moratorium would be lifted for a decade, but whalers would agree to a sharp reduction in their catch, stricter enforcement measures and a ban on all cross-border commerce in whale products.
The aim is to buy time in which countries can hammer out a longer-term agreement, while achieving an immediate drop in the number of whales that are killed. Supporters—including Monica Medina, who heads America’s IWC delegation—say the deal seeks to “depoliticise” the whaling that does go on, while laying the ground for a tougher conservation system. The plan will be considered in June at the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.
Enter the naysayers
But objections are already coming in. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calls the proposed quota for Antarctic waters unrealistic and unacceptable. Junichi Sato, a Japanese conservationist from Greenpeace who does not share his compatriots’ predilection for whaling, regrets that “the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers.”
That is not an easy corner to argue in Tokyo. Japan’s fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, deems the limit “too drastic” and wants it raised. But in principle at least, Japan is ready to make a deal. An official at the Fisheries Agency says that the country is willing to hunt fewer whales provided it can do so without international opprobrium. “We have to lose something in order to get something,” he says. Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest obstacles to a cut in the number of whales slaughtered do not lie with the harpoon-wielders, but rather with their most zealous opponents, for whom the best is the enemy of the good.
Japan’s critics say that by using a loophole in the IWC charter to practise “scientific” whaling, the country is violating the spirit of the document. Japanese officials counter that the 1946 convention never anticipated a moratorium on all commercial whaling. Whale meat is still occasionally served to schoolchildren in Japan as a reminder of their culture, though large-scale whaling only really began after the war, on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s occupation. The aim was to provide cheap nourishment for a famished nation.
The current proposal would also:
Overturn the global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.
Approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.
Add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters.
Allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.
The Obama administration is spearheading a policy that would allow commercial whaling to proceed for 10 years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 1970s. Before the ban on commercial whaling, close to 40,000 whales were killed annually; since the ban, that number has dropped to fewer than 2,000, and whale populations have begun to recover.
The administration is arguing that if we see whales being slaughtered, we are more likely to support a total moratorium. But that is like saying if we see people killing puppies, fewer people will kill puppies. It’s garbage.
According to a survey by the Nippon Research Center, more than 95 percent of Japanese residents had never eaten whale. But the Japanese government has begun supplying schools with whale meat in an attempt to justify its slaughter. Additionally, Japan has begun bribing land-locked nations in Africa, and poor nations like Nauru and Togo, with aid in exchange for support of position within the IWC.
Whales are intelligent animals. Australia has taken the lead on their protection. For the US to take any other position is abominable.
But can we blame Bush? Yes we can! Or at least, the Brit Independent can:
The deal which may do away with [the ban], which has been on the table for three years, was first thought to be merely a diplomatic compromise to end the perpetual confrontation at IWC meetings between the whaling nations and the anti-whaling countries. But recently it has become clear that it had a different purpose, and was cooked up in the US – by leading figures in the Bush administration, among them being Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who, until his conviction for taking unreported gifts in 2008, was the longest-serving Republican senator in American history.
One of the most powerful figures in US politics, Senator Stevens sought a deal with Japan after the Japanese caused problems for the US by objecting (as a bargaining counter in IWC negotiations) to the whale-hunting quota for Alaskan Inuit peoples, who have a traditional hunt for about 50 bowhead whales.
Senator Stevens is believed to have put pressure on the then-US Whaling Commissioner and IWC chairman, William Hogarth – whose budget, in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr Stevens controlled as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – to open talks with Japan, which Mr Hogarth duly did at the 2007 IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
Mr Hogarth’s proposals, which would have allowed the Japanese and others to restart whaling commercially, were eventually thrown out by the IWC. Yet the deal now back on the table is essentially a modified version of his original plan, which is even more favourable to the whaling states.
It is notable that the US, which used to have to negotiate its Inuit bowhead quota every five years, will get a 10-year quota if the new deal goes ahead.
Blaming Bush and the Eskimos – I knew it. But if that is all the payback we get, I am surprised.
And can we find a flip-flip quote from Obama? Yes we can!
As a candidate, President Obama said, “As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (March 16, 2008 – Greenpeace candidate questionnaire)
Yeah, well, that was more than two years ago, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and no one thinks Obama has a little mind.
At approximately 9:30pm local time on March 26 a ROK Navy Pohang class, the Cheonan, corvette was patrolling off Baengnyeong Island when it was torn in half by an underwater explosion. The explosion killed 46 ROK sailors and a diver died during subsequent recovery operations.
Suspicion immediately focused on the rogue regime now ruling North Korea, the DPRK. Today that suspicion was borne out.
South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world’s most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.
South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained.
Will North Korea’s Kim Jong-il get away with murder? That’s a question Koreans, and many in the region, are asking a month and a half after a South Korean naval vessel was sunk, killing 46.
An investigation, assisted by U.S. naval intelligence, and other international partners, is still ongoing. Yet it’s all but certain that the Cheonan was torpedoed, an act of war. While North Korean motives (escalation for aid? Kim Jong-il consolidating his power base? rogue captain?) remain the subject of debate, the destruction is clear.
What to do? To read the press, the conventional wisdom is that South Korea would not dare retaliate, for fear of sparking a wider war and that any effort to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions would meet China’s veto (Beijing just hosted Kim Jong-il on a state visit). Some see the most likely scenario as the status quo – public condemnation, Beijing continuing to enable Pyongyang with aid and Washington happy not to rock the boat. Watching the State Department spokesman dance around this issue, it’s pretty clear that Foggy Bottom wouldn’t be too bothered if the investigation was permanently “ongoing.”
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put North Korea back on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
The request comes as South Korea briefed diplomats today on the findings of an investigation into the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors died. Reports said the investigation implicated North Korea in launching the torpedo that sank the vessel in March.
“As the recent sinking of the Republic of Korea warship Cheonan has demonstrated, North Korea is, in fact, intent on pursuing the opposite policy of ours, namely, undermining peace and increasing tensions in northeast Asia,” Ackerman wrote Clinton in a letter.
“The apparently unprovoked sneak attack on the Cheonan, by North Korea, and the murder of 46 Republic of Korea sailors sailing in home waters, is a clear potential causus belli, and unquestionably the most belligerent and provocative incident since the 1953 armistice was established,” he continued.
Ackerman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, also said Pyongyang’s sales of ballistic missiles, artillery rockets and conventional arms to Hamas and Hezbollah warrant returning it to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008.
Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts at reconciliation with the criminal regime in Pyongyang (the so-called Sunshine Policy), which provided North Korea with significant aid while getting almost nothing in return. The policy was abandoned in 2008 by President Lee Myung-bak, having done nothing to alleviate the squalid conditions suffered by the hostages of the Juche dictatorship. Now, how will President Lee respond to news that Cheonan naval ship was likely, though not definitively, sunk by a North Korean torpedo?
The sinking of the Cheonan and North Korea’s recent attempt to assassinate a high-ranking defector inside South Korea suggest that we’ve entered a dangerous new phase of the dormant Korean War. This unstable dormancy began with a 1953 cease fire, which North Korea unilaterally renounced last year. North Korea appears to have chosen a strategy of provocation like the one it pursued in the late 196o’s, when it seized the U.S.S. Pueblo, killed several American soldiers and dozens of South Koreans in cross-DMZ raids, sent a team of commandos to Seoul kill the President of South Korea, and shot down an American surveillance aircraft, killing all 31 members of its crew.
This precedent suggests that Presidents Lee and Obama will soon face greater tests. The question of how to respond to the sinking of the Cheonan may be only the first of these. The last-minute cancellation of U.S. Forces Korea’s annual Noncombatant Evacuation Operation exercise, ostensibly to avoid the appearance of panic, suggest that both governments understand the gravity of the danger. No one wants the people of Korea to hear “White Christmas” in May.
I’ve already explained why a direct military response would create an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic war and, most likely, would be precisely what Kim Jong Il needs to reconsolidate his rule and bequeath it to his unaccomplished son, Kim Jong Eun, at a time of rising discontent. Just about everyone agrees that a military response would be a bad idea. Here, the agreement ends. The same foreign policy clique that has long advocated (as Christopher Badeaux has brilliantly put it) “managing” Kim Jong Il out of headlines, inevitably by paying him until he provokes us again, is now extending the argument that we lack good military options into the false contention that we have no options at all, except the one to which they are inextricably wedded: appeasement.
John Byron, our chief contrarian correspondent, recently wrote about stopping what he sees as the runaway military welfare train. The North Korean navy recently has provided an counter-example of what happens when a military is starved for support. North Korean patrol ships are getting pushy in contested waters, apparently because the crab season is about to begin, and (according to proven provider John McCreary) Pyongyang’s military mariners survive in part by crabbing and so in late spring start laying claim to crustacean-rich waters. I have this image in my head of the USS Harry S Truman cruising the Med with seine nets out.
Anti-government protesters clad in red shirts and bandanas, agitating for weeks now at two major sites in Bangkok, have converged today to form a single, massive pool of crimson in the center of the Thai capital’s financial district. While living in Bangkok in 2006, I recall looking down from a skytrain station in this same area and witnessing a sea of yellow shirts marching through the streets. Those protests led to a peaceful coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, accused at the time of massive corruption and the same man whom many of the red shirts now hope to return to power.
This new wave of protests began to reach a critical mass several weeks ago but have been visible in the city sporadically for months. The protesters themselves, coming largely from the countryside, have little in the way of a specific agenda, other than demanding improved conditions for the rural poor and bashing Bangkok’s urban elite. Recently they have broken through the gates of the Thai parliament, taken over a television station, and literally painted the streets of the city red — with gallons of their own blood.
These were the casualties in yesterday’s violent clash between Red Shirt protesters and soldiers in Thailand. The Red Shirts, which have been protesting in the streets for one month already, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign, dissolve the Parliament and call for a new round of elections.
Earlier in the day the army had pushed their way into Phan Fa bridge and had forced the protesters back, well this evening the protesters decided to mount a comeback.
At first the situation was relatively calm with the army playing soft soothing music to try and keep the situation peaceful. However that all changed in a split second as gunfire erupted and the crowd attacked with plastic water bottles and bamboo sticks.
The army, outnumbered and perhaps sensing that they were losing control opened fire on the crowd. People ran and ducked for cover as the sound of automatic gunfire range out over the protest site. Soon the protesters were picking up even deadlier weapons and suddenly the army was hit by a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails.
The army at this point decided to retreat and surrendered their thanks and armour personnel carriers to the red shirts, who attacked them with sticks and shields.
Nirmal Ghosh was also an eyewitness of the violent clash
The army had bizarrely set up a sound truck which was blasting out ’70s disco hits in an attempt to keep the mood light. When I got there they were playing Boney M’s “Rasputin.” A local truce was negotiated between a red shirt and the army unit commander.
But red shirts reinforced their fellow protestors in large numbers both at Ratchaprasong and at Rajadamnoen, and by nightfall it seemed inevitable that the army’s push to clear Rajadamnoen and Pan Fah, would go wrong.
The mood at Ratchaprasong where the main red shirt protest is camped was stable and even upbeat. But at Rajadamnoen in the Democracy Monument-Kao San road area, hours of standoffs and some skirmishes erupted into nasty full scale pitched battles with troops shooting directly at red shirts with both rubber and live bullets.
Journotopia’s twitter feed is must-read: “Barricades going up at Khao San. Reds preparing for soldiers’ return. Several pools of blood on road…. Don’t listen to bland Thai govt reassuarances. Khao San is a dangerous place. I’ve seen 2 tourists with injuries… Khao San lis shuttered up, red shirts everywhere. It looks like a warzone… Pitched battles in streets around Khao San. Tourists ducking for cover. A red shirt with an AK47. Scenes of chaos at Khao San. Tourists tell me they saw horrific inuries, an old man with an eye hanging out.”
I thought it was going to be hard to top the great Latvian cow head protest of 2009 in stomach-turning outrageousness, but this literal blodbath might do it. The red cross is also complaining about the waste of perfectly good blood.
The protesters — supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra — want current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
Alex Ringis in Australia has been observing coverage of the “Red Shirt” protests in Thailand in recent days. Word on the street was that the anti-government protesters mixed up many tons of fish sauce (a stinky fermented condiment, like soy sauce only fishy-foul) and human feces as a sort of homemade non-lethal weapon. “Yep, fish sauce and SHIT. Anybody who gets in their way will have that lovely concoction hurled at them.” Alex sends an update today:
Our friends in Bangkok have said they’re staying indoors and out of the way, as moving around in the city at this stage is pretty pointless, and nobody wants to catch any stray bullets, heaven forbid. Local Bangkokers at this stage seem to just be pretty bloody annoyed that a bunch of country bumpkins have rolled in and stopped them from going about their daily business, at least at this stage. Today the Red Shirts gathered outside the 11th Infantry Regiment’s army base in Bangkok – said to be where PM Abhisit Vejajiva was holding up – he left via helicopter not long after they arrived. Interesting trivia is that the Military’s way of dealing with them was playing them I’saan music over loudhailers, and it was also reported that they even addressed the crowd as “brothers and sisters”, speaking in I’saan.
What’s transpiring is very interesting – the Red Shirts clearly want some kind of a confrontation, or violence, to prove that the “evil” government intends to repress and harm them. But so far, the Military and the government have been on their best behaviour.
The question remains, what will the extreme elements within the red shirts (who were said to have started the violence in April 09’s protests) do when they realise that the Military is not going to fire the first shot? Latest reports have the Red Shirts saying that Government Ministers will have to “Walk across one thousand liters of blood” to get to work at government house tomorrow – so it remains to be seen what they mean by that. Today news that four M-79 grenades were fired into a military batallion outside the State TV headquarters, and STILL no military crackdown. This is incredible and unprecedented – the army are quite obviously on their best behaviour. The Bangkok Post reports that arrests have been made in connection with the case. So far, our direct sources in Bangkok seem to be the best source of information. The Nation and The Bangkok Post (the two main English Dailies) are respectively suspiciously quiet, and suspiciously biased, so I’m thinking there’s multiple gag orders in play, though I do get some decent tidbids now and then from my favorite Bangkok blog – 2bangkok.com The rumour at present is that Thaksin Shinawatra is in Montenegro – both Germany and the UK have said that they would not accept him, and if he was recognised in their country, he would be detained. The man is literally on the run, as it were.
And finally, my personal feeling is that the “mainstream media” organisation that seems to be offering the absolute best coverage on the situation so far is – surprise surprise – Al Jazzeera’s English service. Im guessing their primary interest is based on the fact that Thaksin Shinawatra was a resident of Dubai for the past twelve months or so – in any case, they are covering the story closely, and it’s been on the front page for over 12 hours.
Iranians and Thais tend to repeat a certain phrase: “This is Iran” or “This is Thailand.” I didn’t know that about Thailand until I read a Bangkok Post editorial after April 10’s bloody street protests. In both countries, the term can be loosely interpreted to mean, “What do you expect me to do about it?” Decades of corruption, authoritarian rule, and ancient belief systems that say life and its many circumstances are beyond one’s control make the saying commonplace, but it can be maddening, especially for someone raised in a democratic society.
Perhaps this is why the movements in Iran and Thailand, as played out on the streets of Tehran and Bangkok, have been so gripping: In both places, people are beginning to believe they have some control.
In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.
Granting that a promise is a promise and that journalists sometimes have to make hard choices in gaining access to autocrats, this is a truly bizarre thing for which to apologize. Is there any question whatsoever that Singapore, despite having had elections for decades, is authoritarian by Western standards? Or that nepotism and other forms of personal loyalty plays a stronger role in Singapore than in true representative democracies? Or that Lee Kuan Yew played and continues to play an outsized role in Singapore and People’s Action Party politics?
I get apologizing for breaking a pledge, even if it’s 16 years old and shouldn’t have been given in the first place. But issuing a correction for telling the truth?
The apology is part of a $114,000 defamation settlement in favor of the Singaporean meritocracy in which the International Herald Tribune went so far as to suggest that, just like Notre Dame football or the Bushes, not every win came out of thin air.
And while it’s slightly off-topic, I do want to apologize to Dizzy Gillespie, for trading off his name and, occasionally, causing distress by arguing in favor of drug legalization, open borders, and abolishing the minimum wage.
The Times, the editor of its global editions, and the article’s writer Philip Bowring agreed to pay SG$60,000 to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, SG$50,000 to his father Lee Kuan Yew and $50,000 to Goh Chok Tong, a lawyer for the Singaporean politicians said Thursday.
Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and was replaced by Goh Chok Tong until 2004, when Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister. The leaders of the authoritarian city-state have sued journalists and political opponents several times over the years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and Dow Jones & Co.
The upshot has advocates of press freedom deeply concerned. In an open letter to the Singapore prime minister sent last week, Jean-Francois Julliard, the head of Reporters Without Borders, noted several other cases in which foreign news outlets have agreed to pay damages to the Singapore government after publishing articles deemed libelous. “You have perpetuated your father’s legacy by continuing to harass and intimidate news media,” wrote Julliard. “As a result, aside from a few websites specialising in Singapore, no news outlet can publish independent news and information about issues affecting the political situation in your country.”
Vincent Brossel, an Asia specialist for Reporters Without Borders, told TPMmuckraker that the government in Singapore has an outsized influence in the country’s court system. As a result, said Brossel, “when they make a defamation case, they are sure to win.”
That means that if the Times Company hadn’t agreed to the settlement and had gone to trial, it could have ultimately have been forced to pay a much larger sum. And if it refused, it could be putting any employees in the country in jeopardy of jail-time, and would risk no longer being able to do business of any kind in Singapore, including distributing the IHT. It’s not clear how much that might cost the Times Company, but Singapore is a business hub for Asia, and Brossel described it as a “significant country.”
A spokeswoman for the New York Times Company did not respond to two requests for comment. Bowring declined to comment.
Over strong Turkish objections, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly approved a resolution yesterday recognizing the 1915 massacre of Armenian civilians as “genocide.” An infuriated Turkish government has recalled its ambassador to Ankara for consultations.
The panel also acted against the recommendation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman on Wednesday night to warn that the resolution could negatively impact Turkish-American relations as well as the ongoing Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process. Clinton, along with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, promised to recognize the genocide during her campaign for the presidency.
“I don’t pretend to be a professional historian,” Berman said before the vote, “but the vast majority of experts agree that the tragic massacre of Armenians constitutes a genocide.” The nine-page resolution said the international community’s failure to respond to the genocide was ” a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the future.”
A Turkish government statement condemned the vote, saying, ““This decision, which could adversely affect our co-operation on a wide common agenda with the US, also regrettably attests to a lack of strategic vision.”
Poor Armenia. Just about the only time that wee country gets a mention in Washington is when the perennial Recognise-the-Genocide issue comes up. As tradition demands, the Secretary of State lobbied Congress to avoid passing anything resembling or hinting at any such thing. Nevertheless the Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 in favour of the annual motion acknowledging the ghastliness. Whether it makes it to the floor remains a moot issue.
Everyone, I think, recognises the practical and political difficulties in siding with the Armenians or, as may be the case, handing a sop to the American-Armenian community. Turkey matters more than Armenia. And Turkey is touchy and macho and quick to take offense. No surprise then that their ambassador to Washington has been called back to Ankara for “discussions”.
To be fair to Obama he is little worse than his predecessor who also raised Armenian hopes only to pass the issue on to his successor. But this issue should also be a reminder that you cannot wholly leave the campaign behind once you assume office and that you should, perhaps, be wary of writing cheques you cannot cash. Otherwise you look like a chump at best and, more probably, a duplicitous fraud.
Sure, yes, this is, in many ways, vastly more trivial than recent improvements in Yerevan-Ankara relations. It may well be that, as was true last year, passing the resolution and gaining Presidential approval might set back the bigger, broader, better picture. But this too should be a memo to 2012 candidates: don’t make cheap commitments you have few intentions of honouring.
Mr Obama’s team says that he personally recognises the Armenian genocide, but that he opposes the resolution. You could say that “as a senator” he supported the resolution (the kind of thing senators, responding to narrower constituencies, might naturally do), while “as president” he only recognises the genocide himself, while opposing the resolution (as he is right to do, as the overall steward of American foreign policy). The president’s men seem to be looking for a technical fix here, as a way of saying he hadn’t broken his promise. But it’s just a bit too typical of the administration’s often overly lawyerly devotion to “honesty”. (Shades of “what ‘is’ is”.)
Mr Obama’s position is the right one, today—it’s important to recognise historical facts, but it’s not up to Congress or anyone else to legislate those facts, and it’s manifestly stupid to do so if it will infuriate a crucial ally. He never hould have made that promise, realising that he could one day end up in the office he was seeking.
It’s difficult to gauge who’s being sillier here: The Turks for being unable to admit that which has been obvious to everyone else for decades or the U.S. Congress for banging this drum every year over an incident that transpired nearly a century ago and that has zero bearing on the United States except that bringing it up alienates an important ally. If forced to choose, I’d take the latter. While domestic politics plays an important role in explaining the idiocy in both Ankara and Washington, it’s decidedly more pressing there than here.
Even before the resolution, the United States’ popularity in Turkey was dismal. According to the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, only 14% of Turks view the United States favorably – a remarkable figure for a country that has been a major U.S. ally since the end of the Second World War. That number is sure to go down after today’s vote.
Sorting out the historical grievances between Turkey and Armenia is an immensely complicated task – and it is certainly understandable that many Armenians feel that Turkey should do more to atone for what was undoubtedly a major tragedy.
However, it is difficult to fathom how today’s developments will help Turkey and Armenia move forward. Rather, today’s vote is the triumph of diaspora politics over serious foreign policy.
Every year the resolution lives or dies based on a key but never openly verbalized question: what does Israel want? This year, Israel is somewhat chagrined by Turkish refusal to see last year’s Gaza carnage as a measured response, but remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak would seem to indicate that Tel Aviv still values the relationship, unleashing AIPAC to make sure that each and every congressman votes the right way. Having received its instructions, the US Congress will likely genuflect and do as it is told, allowing the resolution to languish in committee just as it did last year. All the resolution really does is make both Armenians and Turks angry and it probably doesn’t do much good for Israel either.
While the fixed vote in Iran received extensive international attention, the world paid no notice to an honest election in Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim nation. As recently as the 1970s, Indonesia was a repressive military dictatorship; gradually it has become a democracy with a civil-society basis and freedom of speech, plus strong economic growth. And America did not force this outcome on Indonesia or, for that matter, have anything to do with what happened — Indonesians made their nation a democracy entirely on their own. Why do the same politicians and pundits who have limitless breath to denounce the troubled Muslim nations say nothing about the success story of Muslim Indonesia? Islamist fanatics hate freedom in Indonesia as much as they hate it in the United States and Europe, and have committed awful crimes against Indonesia democracy. But the world only notices Indonesia when a bomb goes off there — how about some notice for social and economic progress?
I have to write in to agree with Freddie, lest he think I’m here just to bug him. I also admire Indonesia’s political culture and deplore our black history of intervention there. Wasn’t Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno (?) the Quisling leader for the Japanese in WWII and responsible for enslaving his countrymen in their war efforts? Wasn’t he later a champion of third-world nationalism, etc etc.?
Indonesia is a great exception in the Arab/Muslim world for its pluralism and tolerance. It’s notable that Islam arrived to Indonesia not by the famous Islamic Sword but through the peaceful efforts of Muslim traders. People in Indonesia accepted Islam because they wanted to not because they were conquered. Could this historical tidbit be a factor in its political culture today?
Just to add a bit of info: the slaughter in East Timor is part of Kissenger’s legacy to our great nation and to Indonesia. Kissenger is still alive and kicking, by the way. His latest assignment reprises his favorite national security role: back-channel contact for the White House. Today he’s Obama’s back-channel to Putin/Russia. Just one more of the many parallels between Obama and Nixon.
I think the story of Indonesia, and the Year in particular, is that part of the failure in looking at foreign policy as a series of good/bad actors is understanding how fluid internal conflict is, and how many loyalties are a product of intra-national real politik. I don’t want to refight the old arguments about 1965. It is worth pointing out, however, that the Sukarno-Suharto power transfer was an intra-military affair, and really a reassertion of the military’s power and authority against the populist Communist movement. (And, of course, supported by Western nations disturbed by Sukarno’s penchant for nationalizing resources.) I’m not defending Communism. But the fact of the matter is that an awful lot of Indonesian Communists joined the party because it represented the only real alternative to military rule, and by extension the status quo. For hundreds of thousands of landless, poverty-stricken people, there wasn’t any real endorsement of Marxism beyond a belief in the capacity for change.
Freddie posted a quotation from Gregg Easterbrook (whose writing I often find refreshingly counter-intuitive) about the success of the recent Indonesian elections. Easterbrook correctly laments the lack of coverage in the US press this event has received. Given that Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, has had peaceful democratic elections and voted down more hardline Islamist elements, you think this would receive praise from all the right-wing pundits always calling out “moderate” Muslims. Well I don’t know about moderate–how about just decent, good people–but here they are. And crickets chirp on the right. (Apparently that’s going around over at those parts lately).
A lesson to be gained from Indonesia is that responsive government that tries (sincerely) to work on anti-corruption and extending development to larger swaths of the society will very likely A)get voted back into office and B)tamp down any retrograde movements. Who wunda thunk it? The reason Islamism is so strong in the Arab world in particular is the total corruption and authoritarian suppression of humanity that is the political norm there: cf, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, to name just a few.
Mounting my hobby camel, it’s a point to remember that religion (particularly Islam) does not exist separate from politics. [This is to project the Western secular interpretation of things onto the Islamic world]. That is the religion is always mixed up in the actual history.
In particular I’d like to hone in on this symbol of Islam as spread by the sword. Particularly when it is contrasted as in this paragraph with non-violent forms of conversion (traders sharing their faith, people being attracted to that and joining of their own volition). It’s a very powerful rhetorical device and emotional symbol–particularly in current debates about US foreign policy and the state of the world politically–but it needs some unpacking (or perhaps sheathing?).
When discussing this issue it’s really important to make a distinction between the spread of Islam as a religious empire and the spread of the actual religion among the populace of said conquered areas. Of course yes in its early days Arab Muslim warriors went around and were highly successful militarily and conquered a huge empire–arguably the largest in world history–in a very short amount of time. By that measure yes the religion spread through military projection of might.
But the lesson to be drawn from such a piece of information is typically way overblown.
Christian missionaries to India, Japan, the New World, Africa rode on commercial vessels that were imperial (crown-approved politico-economic) projects. So I guess you could say Christianity was spread by the gun and the steel blade. Before that Christianity was spread by its promotion as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Plus, we’re talking about the ancient and the medieval worlds. Everybody was spreading their power through violence.
Moreover, this classic view of Islam as “convert or die by the sword” really doesn’t comport with the history. For those interested I recommend Philip Jenkins’ book The Lost History of Christianity. The subtitle to which is The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–And How it Died. Thousand years in the Middle East goes well past the initial arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Of course the numbers for that period are always hard to gauge, but Jenkins (and others) makes a compelling case that Christianity was for hundreds of years after Arab Islamic elites conquered and ruled the Middle East politically, the mass majority of the population was still Christian.
Indonesia’s second-ever direct presidential election, a major test for its still-evolving democracy, has commonly been described as dull. And that’s a good thing.
With the exception of complaints of bloated and fraudulent voter lists from the opposition, the elections passed peacefully and without incident. Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a reform-minded former general, was re-elected in one round with an impressive, though not surprising, 60 percent of the vote, according to a quick count released hours after the polls closed, but which is considered accurate.
His two challengers — Yusuf Kalla, his current vice president who will have to remain as such until October, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president whom Yudhoyono already defeated once before in 2004, during the country’s first-ever direct election — finished with about 13 and 27 percent of the vote respectively.
Only 10 years ago, the country was in a political and economic tailspin. The Asian Financial Crisis, coupled with the institutionalized corruption made popular by Suharto, the country’s kleptocrat for 30 years, laid waste to any economic gains the general had previously made. Suharto was ousted after massive riots and for years the country struggled to find a leader who could bring stability. Add the rise of Islamic terrorism, and Indonesia looked destined to become another Pakistan.
Yudhoyono is not the most exciting of leaders, but in five years he managed to stabilize Indonesia, which is now a shining example to its neighbors and the region’s most impressive success story.
The election was Indonesia’s second direct presidential election and, as with the first, it was largely devoid of controversy or violence. Indonesian voters once again demonstrated their sophistication, with about 60 per cent (based on early, unofficial ‘quick counts’) voting for a leader they feel is honest and who has brought tangible improvements to their lives. The April parliamentary elections and Wednesday’s presidential election continue a process of evolution of political parties in Indonesia– a process marked by the decline of Soeharto-era parties and the inability of Islamic parties to expand their appeal beyond about a quarter of the electorate.
However, two aspects of the elections were less positive.
First, the elections were poorly administered, damaging the credibility of the electoral process and highlighting a disturbing laxness on the part of Indonesia’s political establishment with regard to safeguarding the quality of democratic processes. Second, there was a near total lack of ‘new blood’: all six candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency roseto prominence during theSoehartoera and three of them, including SBY, come from the military. A decade of democratic politics has yet to bring to the fore a new generation of national leaders free from tainted association with Soeharto.
Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say most Indonesians felt relieved Wednesday to hear news of the Constitutional Court verdict — binding and final — rejecting the lawsuits of the two losers in the July 8 presidential election.
All the petty squabbling over the results of the election ended Wednesday when the court announced its verdict, upholding the General Elections Commission’s (KPU) earlier decision to name Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the winner of the July 8 election.
“While it can be proven in court that there were cases of election violations, there is not enough evidence to support the allegations that those violations were massive and systematic — a prerequisite to declare the election invalid,” Constitutional Court chief Moh. Mahfud M.D. said as he read the verdict.
The verdict nullified earlier claims made by the legal team of presidential candidate Megawati Soekarnoputri; that the July 8 election was full of violations, and that 28.6 million votes for Yudhoyono were not valid.
“The 28.6 million votes came from voters registered more than once, underage voters and even dead voters,” a member of Megawati’s legal team had said. “We believe the KPU awarded these invalid votes to Yudhoyono.”
The verdict also confirmed that despite all its weaknesses, the KPU had organized the July 8 election in a lawful and transparent manner. At least the KPU’s official results were on par with tallies provided by five separate survey groups offering quick count calculations.
Even in Asian investment circles, it can come as a surprise to learn that the world’s second-best performing stock market this year has been Indonesia’s.
Bloomberg did its bit on Thursday to publicise the fact, reporting that Indonesia’s stock index may return to the record reached last year in the next 12 months, led by automotive, banks and property stocks as falling interest rates boost growth.
That prognosis, offered by Batavia Prosperindo Aset Manajemen, one of Indonesia’s best performing funds over the past five years, follows a boom-bust-boom cycle for the Jakarta Composite Index, which hit a record high of 2,830.26 in January last year before plunging 61 per cent to its October low. Since then, the index has surged 68 per cent this year.
Japan has the oldest population among major countries, according to new figures from the US Census Bureau.
In total, 22 per cent of the Japanese population is aged 65 and over.
As well as this, the bureau has revealed that by 2050, the number of Japanese people who are aged 100 and above will have risen to 627,000, which the equivalent of almost one per cent of its population.
People born in Japan can now expect to live until around 82.
A low birth rate in the country will also lead to a rise in the median age, which is expected to go from 37 in 1990 to 55 by 2050.
Such a decline is cataclysmic for an indebted country that values infrastructure and personal service. (Who is going to maintain the trains, pay for social benefits, slice sushi at the Tsukiji fish market?) The obvious answers—encourage immigration and a higher birthrate—have proved difficult, even impossible, for this conservative society. In the United States, foreign-born workers make up 15 percent of the work force; in Japan, it’s 1 percent. And, official protestations to the contrary, they’re not particularly welcome. One columnist I met compared the standard Japanese attitude toward immigrants to that of French right-winger Jean-Marie Le Pen. In the 1990s, descendants of Japanese who had emigrated to South America early in the 20th century returned to replace retiring factory workers. Now that unemployment is on the rise, Japan is offering to pay the airfare for those who wish to return home.
Japan doesn’t particularly want to import new citizens, but it doesn’t seem to want to manufacture them, either. It’s become harder to support a family on a single income, and young people are living at home for longer. And Japan isn’t particularly friendly to working mothers—pre-K day care is not widely available, and the phrase work-life balance doesn’t seem to have a Japanese translation. (The directory of the Japanese Business Federation, a showcase of old guys in suits, makes the Republican Senate caucus look like a Benetton ad.) The upshot: a chronically low birthrate. Too often, demographic change was described to me as a zero-sum game—rather than being seen as potential job creators, women and immigrants are often seen as taking jobs from men.
Chalk it up to age or to culture, but Japan strikes me as strangely passive about the huge changes it is facing. I heard plenty of bromides about the need for new policies toward both immigration and work-life issues but no real policies. “The ongoing issues of the lower birthrate and the aging society have been going with such speed that the national design of how to respond to that has not caught up yet,” said Yuriko Koike, a TV reporter turned politician (Japan’s first female defense minister) and one of the most prominent women in public life.
This shift poses serious questions for the United States and its increasingly important relationship with Asia. The U.S.-Japan alliance has moved steadily forward over the last decade, with Japan assuming a higher profile when it comes to regional security. But wehave probably seen the high-water mark of Japan’s international security activities. Even though the region is increasingly tense, Japanese defense budgets have actually declined in recent years (and Japan continues to cap defense spending at 1 percent of GDP) — a fact that could put U.S. interests in Asia at risk.
Financially, too, considering that Japan’s savings has bankrolled much of U.S. spending in recent decades,the country’s increasingly elderly population is going to hit the American empire where it hurts. U.S. trade negotiators have long targeted Japan’s trade surplus with the United States, but those funds have been recycled back to America to suppress the value of the yen, finance consumption of Japanese-made goods (and support employment), and help the United States cover its steadily expanding government deficits. Until late 2008, Japan was the number one holder of U.S. Treasury bills. (China has overtaken Japan, but as of February 2009, Japan still held $662 billion in T-bills, putting it just behind China.)
An aging Japan will no longer be able to recycle those surpluses. More precisely, an aging Japan won’t have those surpluses: Its trade accounts will fall into deficit, and funds that do exist will be badly needed at home. This process is already underway as the country’s savings rate declines. According to estimates by the consulting firm McKinsey, the total savings rate in Japan is projected to slide to 0.2 percent by 2024.