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Whither Japan? Seven Decades After Defeat

The hard-won lessons of Japan’s wartime defeat are enshrined in its National Constitution and Article 9 in particular.… For the past seventy years, Article 9 remained a fundamental principle of Japanese diplomacy, undergirded by memories of the Asia-Pacific War and the U.S. occupation, buttressed by important revisionist histories of Japanese imperialism. A politically recovered, economically restored Japanese populace still appreciates the Constitution and the relevance of Article 9. But conservative politicians who never believed in the Constitution’s ideals repeatedly challenged and worked around Article 9 despite the majority’s support for it.… Today, once again, Article 9 stands in danger of abandonment by interpretation rather than revision by constitutional processes.… | more |

The Wonderful World of Capitalism

The search for the political truth will always be a difficult task even in our times, when science has placed in our hands a huge amount of knowledge. One of the most important was the possibility to know and study the fabulous power of the energy contained in matter.

The person who discovered that energy and its possible use was a peaceful and amiable man who, despite being against violence and war, asked the United States to develop it. The US president back then was Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man who had adopted a well-known anti-fascist stand; he was the leader of a country that was going through a deep crisis and helped to save the nation by adopting strong measures that earned him the hatred of the extreme right of his own class. Today, that State imposes on the world the most brutal and dangerous tyranny ever known to our fragile species.

The news received from the US and its NATO allies refer to their misdeeds and those of their accomplices. The most important cities in the United States and Europe are the theatre of continued pitched battles between demonstrators and a well-trained and well-fed police, equipped with armored cars and helmets, beating and kicking and throwing gases against women and men, twisting the hands and the necks of people, young and old, showing to the world the coward actions that are committed against the rights and the lives of the citizens of their own countries.

How much longer these barbaric acts would last?

I will not expand on this, since these tragedies will continue to be seen, more and more, on television and in the entire press; they will be like the daily bread that is denied to those who have less. I will just quote the news received today from an important western news agency:

Much of the coast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean could be flooded by a tidal wave of more than 34 meters (112 feet) that would be generated if a powerful earthquake hits its coastline, according to revised estimates of a government panel. Any tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake in the Nankai Trough, which extends from the main Japanese island of Honshu to the southern island of Kyushu, could reach 34 meters high, the committee said.

A previous estimate in 2003 estimated that the maximum height of the wave would be less than 20 meters (66 feet). The Fukushima plant was designed to withstand a tsunami of 6 meters (20 feet), less than half the height of the wave that hit the plant on March 11, 2011.

But, there are no reasons to worry. Another piece of news dated two days ago, on March 30, could give us some peace of mind. It was published by a really well informed media. I’ll summarize it in just a few words: “If you were a soccer player, an Arab sheik or an executive of a big multinational, what kind of technology would make you sigh?

Recently, some famous luxury shops in London inaugurated an entire section dedicated to technology-lovers with bulging wallets. One million dollar TV sets, Ferrari camcorders and individual submarines are some of the fetish to delight millionaires. The one million dollar TV set is the crown jewel. In the case of ‘Apple’, the company has committed to deliver its new products on the same day they are launched in the market.

Let us suppose that we have left our mansion and we are already tired of hanging around with our yacht, limousine, helicopter or jet. We still have the choice to buy an individual submarine or a submarine for two persons.

The offer goes on to advertise cells with stainless steel casings; 1.2 GHz and 8G memory processors; NFC technology to make payments through cell phones and Ferrari camcorders.

Capitalism, compatriots, is a truly wonderful thing! Maybe it is our fault that not every citizen has its own private submarine at the beach.

It was them, not me, who mixed up the Arab sheiks and the executives of the big transnationals with the soccer players. The latter, at least, entertain millions of persons and are not enemies of Cuba; I should state that very clearly.

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Fidel Castro Ruz

April 1st, 2012

8:35 p.m.

The disaster in Japan and a friend’s visit

Today I had the pleasure of greeting Jimmy Carter, who was President of the United States between 1977 and 1981 and the only one, in my opinion, with enough equanimity and courage to address the issue of his country’s relations with Cuba.

Carter did what he could to reduce international tensions and promote the creation of interest sections in Cuba and the United States. His administration was the only one to take a few steps to moderate the criminal blockade imposed on our people.

The circumstances were certainly not propitious in our complex world. The existence of a truly free and sovereign country in our hemisphere could not be reconciled with the ideas of the fascist extreme right wing in the United States, doing everything it could to ensure the failure of his proposals, which made him worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not an honor awarded to him for nothing.

The Revolution always appreciated his valiant gesture. In 2002, I received him warmly. Again I reiterate respect and appreciation for him.

Might the oligarchy which governs that superpower really renounce its insatiable desire to impose its will on the rest of the world? Might a system which generates presidents like Nixon, Reagan and W. Bush, with increasingly more destructive power and less respect for the sovereignty of others, honor such a purpose?

The complexity of the current world situation does not allow much attention to even relatively recent memories. Carter’s departure, today Wednesday, coincided with disturbing news about the nuclear accident caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which continues to arrive and cannot be ignored, not only given its importance, but also for the practical and almost immediate repercussions felt in the world economy.

Today the news agency AP reported from Japan, “The crisis in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, worsened Wednesday when experts logged the highest radiation yet in nearby seawater.

“In Fukushima, radiation leaking from the plant has seeped into the soil nearby and made its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far as Tokyo, 240 kilometers to the south.

“In the meantime, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited a group of evacuees in Tokyo for about an hour.”

Reuters reported from Tokyo, “Japan ordered an immediate safety upgrade at its 55 nuclear power plants on Wednesday in its first acknowledgement that standards were inadequate when an earthquake and tsunami wrecked a facility nearly three weeks ago, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

“The announcement was made after the government conceded that there was no end in sight for the crisis and a jump in the levels of radioactive iodine in seawater added to the evidence of leaks from the reactors in the area around the complex and beyond.

“The discovery of highly toxic plutonium in soil at Daiichi had raised alarm over the disaster, which has overshadowed the humanitarian calamity triggered by the earthquake and tsunami, which left 27,500 people dead or missing.

“Before the disaster, Japan’s nuclear reactors had provided about 30% of the nation’s electric power. The percentage had been expected to rise to 50% by 2030, among the highest in the world.

“New readings show an increase in radioactive iodine to 3.355 times the legal limit, the country’s nuclear safety agency indicated, although the organization minimized its impact, saying that residents had left the area and fishing had stopped.

“Hundreds of engineers have been toiling for nearly three weeks to cool the plant’s reactors and avert a catastrophic meltdown of fuel rods, although the situation appears to have moved back from that nightmare scenario.

“Jesper Koll, director of equity research at JPMorgan Securities in Tokyo, said a drawn-out battle to bring the plant under control and manage the radioactivity being released would perpetuate the uncertainty and act as a drag on the economy.

“The worst-case scenario is that this drags on not one month or two months or six months, but for two years, or indefinitely,” he said.

“A byproduct of atomic reactions which can be used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on earth, experts indicated.”

A third agency, DPA, from Tokyo, “Japanese technicians are still unable to control the nuclear crisis three weeks after the accidents at the Fukushima power plant. The Japanese government has begun to consider extraordinary measures to contain the release of radiation.

“The idea is to cover the reactors with a kind of fabric. The recent high readings of iodine 131 in the ocean are an indication of the increasing radiation. The environmental organization Greenpeace has also warned of serious danger to the health of residents after making its own studies.

“Experts believe that the process required to definitively eliminate the possibility of a meltdown could take months. TEPCO has promised to improve the working conditions of technicians who are growing more concerned and exhausted all the time.”

While these events are taking place in Japan, the Bolivarian President of Venezuela has visited Argentina, Uruguay and is headed for Bolivia, promoting economic accords and strengthening ties with countries in our hemisphere determined to be independent.

At the University of La Plata, where the dictatorship supported by the United States eliminated, among thousands of Argentines, more than 700 students – 40 in the school of journalism – Chávez was awarded the Rodolfo Walsh Prize, in honor of one of the heroic revolutionary journalists assassinated.

Now, it is not Cuba alone, there are many peoples prepared to struggle, to sacrifice their lives for their homeland.

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Fidel Castro Ruz

March 30, 2011

6:51 p.m.

Good Conduct Certificate

In these bitter days we have seen pictures of an earthquake that reached 9 on the Richter Scale with hundreds of strong after-shocks, and a tsunami 10 metres high whose waves of dark waters dragged tens of thousands of people between cars and trucks over homes and 3 and 4 storey buildings.

Sophisticated mass media has been saturating our minds with the news of civil wars, arms trade associated with drugs that in just five years have killed more than 35,000 people in Mexico, climatic changes in various countries, asphyxiating heat waves, mountains of ice melting at the poles, torrential rains, shortages and growing prices for foods. We really need some consolation and this has just reached us via that life-saving angel of our species, the United Nations Security Council and its colossal invention: good conduct certificates. (more…)

The disasters threatening the world

IF the speed of light didn’t exist, if the closest star to our sun weren’t four light years away from Earth, the only inhabited planet in our solar system, if UFOs truly existed, imaginary visitors to the planet would continue their journey without understanding much of anything about our long-suffering human race.

Just a few centuries ago in the long history of humanity, no one knew what happened on the other side of the globe. Today we can find out instantaneously and, sometimes, they are events of great importance which affect all of the world’s peoples. (more…)

Two Earthquakes

A strong 8.9 on the scale earthquake shook Japan today. The most worrying is that early news reports were talking about thousands dead and missing, figures really unheard of in a developed country where all constructions are quake-proof. They were even talking about a nuclear reactor that was out of control. Hours later, it was informed that four nuclear plants close to the most affected area were under control. There was also information about a tsunami 10 metres high that had the entire Pacific area on tidal wave alert. (more…)

The powerless powers

This is a serious subject.

The summit meeting of leaders of the eight most highly industrialized powers on the planet took place July 7-9 at a mountain retreat on the banks of the Toyako, a lake formed inside a volcanic crater located in the north of the island of Hokkaido, in the northern reaches of the Japanese archipelago. It would be hard to choose a site more removed and distant from the madding crowd than this.… | more |

June 1998 (Volume 50, Number 2)

June 1998 (Volume 50, Number 2)

Notes from the Editors

What’s the matter with Japan? According to today’s conventional wisdom—i.e., what we are told by the media and the syndicated pundits—almost everything. Its economy, the second largest in the world, is in a long-term crisis that affects on everyone else, most severely the United States, and it stubbornly refuses to do anything about it despite the friendly advice and frustrated pleas of its partners in the developed capitalist world.

What do they want Japan to do? Simple: they want Japan to “be like us.” Open its markets, deregulate its financial and trading systems, and then step on the economic accelerator—reduce taxes, especially on the higher incomes, and open wide the government-spending spigot. The consequence would presumably be that Japan would quickly become a bigger and better market for its stricken neighbors in Asia and its rich trading partners on the other side of the Pacific Rim.

This is of course the orthodox neoliberal cure for Japan’s crisis. Why does the Japanese government hold back, drag its feet, refuse to accept its “responsibilities” to the newly globalized capitalist economy? Until quite recently the answer to this question was to blame the ossified bureaucratic structure of the Tokyo government. The top bureaucrats, particularly in the Ministry of Finance, were seen as living in the past and being incapable of understanding the needs of the new situation. But this is not a very convincing story. The bureaucrats have been around for quite a while now, and during the great post-Second World War upsurge that catapulted Japan to the top level of the world economy, they gave a pretty good account of themselves. Why should we now believe that they have suddenly become a bunch of doddering incompetents?

In this situation, we have New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof to thank for a very different and much more satisfactory explanation of Japan’s recent performance, one that no one, at least in this country, seems to have had any intimation of. Kristof’s contribution is contained in a long dispatch under the headline “Shops Closing, Japan Still Asks ‘What Crisis?’” that takes up part of three columns on page one and almost all of an inside page (April 21, 1998).

Kristof’s thesis, reduced to its essentials, is that the Japanese as a whole are not feeling any crisis, that they are reasonably satisfied with things as they are, and that they have no interest in pumping up their economy to meet the demands of the Americans. In sum, “the lack of a crisis mentality means that Japan cannot summon the political will to lay off surplus workers, to extinguish insolvent banks, to snuff out the hopes of the kindly old ladies who run rice shops and futon stores. It means that there is little public pressure on prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to push for the sweeping deregulation and huge stimulus that the United States is urging.” As a further indication of Japanese opinion, Kristof cites Hironori Tatayama, a banker in a small town 200 miles southwest of Tokyo: “For people like Mr. Tatayama, the problem of economic restructuring is the price in fairness, equity, and civility. To foreigners, Japan often seems virtually socialist in mind set, profoundly believing in social equity and relying on the most progressive income tax system of any major country in the world—including a marginal rate of 65 percent on personal income taxes—to achieve the equality. After the Soviet Union collapsed, I [Mr. Tatayama] thought that socialism had failed and that capitalism was better…but when I visited Singapore one time, I saw skyscrapers and what looked like a slum next to them. I was surprised, and maybe that was because Japan is the only place where that kind of thing doesn’t happen, the only place where everyone thinks of themselves as middle class.&rdquo

As he approaches the end of his long dispatch from Japan, Kristof sounds a note that must be reassuringly welcome to his bosses at the Times in New York. Citing Yasuo Murata who runs a sawmill and has been hard hit by the opening of Japan’s economy: “Unless the Government changes its policy,” he said,

it’ll be impossible for me to survive here. The problem is the imports…. I want the Government to stop the imports of logs, but I know it can’t do that. Japan is selling high-tech products to other countries, and I understand that if the Government stops the log imports, then the other countries won’t buy Japanese cars or high-tech goods. I understand that the weak are eliminated. I’m really against deregulation, but ultimately I have to accept it. There is no other way.

According to Kristof there are a lot of people who think like Mr. Murata, and so far they have managed to resist caving in altogether. Perhaps this is because Japan is a much more egalitarian country than it is usually given credit for and the popular resistance to neoliberalism may be greater than those who rule Japan would like. If so, that is a piece of good news, coming at a time when good news is in sadly short supply.

March 1998 (Volume 49, Number 10)

March 1998 (Volume 49, Number 10)

Notes from the Editors

A striking feature of the mountain of talk about the Asian crisis is that its root cause is all too often ignored The focus of the media and the pundits is on weak banks, bad management, corrupt officials, heavy indebtedness, excess speculation, and the fragility of the financial markets. Typically, the disaster is viewed as a regional affair. A rare exception is the statement of Eisuke Sakakibara, Japan’s vice-minister for international finance: “This isn’t an Asian crisis. It is a crisis of global capitalism.” (Business Week, January 26, 1998) But he too was apparently thinking of financial markets, concerned with effects, not causes … | more |

Value and Crisis: Essays on Marxian Economics in Japan

Value and Crisis: Essays on Marxian Economics in Japan

Notes from the Editors

Value and Crisis opens with a long and highly informative essay on the development of Marxian economics in Japan, and contains a number of the author’s important and original contributions to this stream of thought. Itoh discusses the major points of view on Marx’s theory of value, on theories of crisis, and on problems of Marx’s theory of market value.… | more |