TOKYO — Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture Governor Takeshi Onaga is expected to revoke his predecessor’s approval for a US military base, local media reported Friday, citing sources.
Construction plans for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to a less populated area in the prefecture are part of a 2006 intergovernmental agreement. In recent months, there have been renewed clashes between the local population and police over environmental concerns and opposition to the US military presence.
An advisory panel is due to submit a report to Onaga by the end of July, outlining the flawed nature of the previous governor’s approval, providing grounds for its cancellation, sources told Kyodo news agency.
Onaga, governor since December 2014 and former mayor of a coastal area near MCAS Futenma’s new location, has previously voiced opposition to the project.
In December 2013, his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, approved a Japanese government application to reclaim land in the Henoko coastal area to enable construction at the site of the new base, 30 miles northeast of its current location in Ginowan.
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his US counterpart Ashton Carter reaffirmed the relocation plan this April.
Over half of the 47,000 US troops deployed in Japan are based in Okinawa. Military sites are estimated to account for nearly 18 percent of the prefecture’s entire land mass.
A forest fire near Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear site may cause problems for communities a long way from the area as the dispersal plumes can transport radiation further to the north, nuclear safety expert John Large told RT.
RT: How dangerous is the situation in your opinion? Do you agree with ecologists who say the smoke will spread the radiation?
John Large: I spent some time in Ukraine in 2006 and I assessed the Chernobyl situation interviewing about 30 scientists and engineers who were working on the aftercare of Chernobyl. Brush fires and forest fires were the greatest concern in terms of the means by which you can disperse a secondary radiological impact from the original dissipation that occurred in 1986… What you have in Chernobyl in the exclusion zone and the further way you have an area that has been abandoned for farming, abandoned for management. That means you’ve got lots of brush and young wood growing out of control. Let me assess that – a big fuel load to have a fire. That means that the biological load is very high, so the radiation particles can be dispersed. Take down the chemistry as well. The chemistry is the way in which the strontium and cesium from the radioactive strontium and cesium from the reactor are bound here, and of course the elevated temperature of the fire and plus all the plume and aerial dispersion – means that could transport it hundreds of kilometers, particularly to the north, to Belarus. So there are more problems here for communities that are long way away from the site. What I had hoped was that the Ukrainian officials would have had in place firefighting capacity greater than they normally would have at any other area of Ukraine, because it certainly needs to be protected not just now but in the longer term as well.
We know that Ukraine is cash-strapped. There was a responsibility for its neighbors, Russia, the EU, not Belarus as much because it’s in an even worse financial situation, but there was a general responsibility to protect this area from another bout of radioactive dispersion.
RT: What lessons can be learned from this particular incident then to make sure that the brush and the forest doesn’t catch light again, or if it does, to make sure that site is secured?
JL: It is not the reactor, it is not the location of the reactor that is the problem – it is the dispersal plumes from the original accident – that is the problem. If there are radioactive materials on the ground now and then it’s engulfed by forest fire maybe 40-50 km away from the reactor. But that deposited radioactivity is re-suspended into gas, blown high into the atmosphere by the heat of the flames, and then of course it settles somewhere else. And it may be those communities to the north that are not prepared to have this new radiation plume and deposition and fallout come down on their communities.
RT: Do you think there should be a common international strategy and response for situations like this?
JL: We’ve seen recently with Chernobyl, with Windscale in the 1950’s in the UK, and particularly now with Fukushima that the radiation doesn’t respect any international boundaries. So an international effort is required for this type of catastrophe, all potential catastrophes. I would have thought that the EU or Russia would have healed their scars over this and got together and put some efforts and resources into controlling this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A court in Japan has issued a landmark ruling against the resumption of activities by two atomic reactors at a nuclear power plant, overturning an approval by the country’s nuclear watchdog.
The district court in the central prefecture of Fukui issued the injunction on Tuesday to prohibit the restart of the number 3 and 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant.
Last December, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) gave the green light to switch the reactors back on, saying they met tougher safety standards introduced after Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Disputing that ruling, a court official said, “The safety of the reactors hasn’t been secured,” adding that the watchdog’s new standards were “lacking rationality.”
Kansai Electric Power Company, which operates the plant, called the ruling “extremely regrettable and utterly unacceptable” and said it would appeal it.
Another court is slated to rule on the restart of two other reactors in southern Japan later this month.
Public sentiment over nuclear energy in Japan has been badly scarred following the country’s worst nuclear accident at Fukushima in 2011, when multiple reactors experienced meltdown after their cooling systems were disrupted by a magnitude-9 earthquake, which also triggered a devastating tsunami. The destroyed reactors have leaked radiation into air, soil and the Pacific Ocean ever since.
The incident, which is regarded as the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, also led to the evacuation of 160,000 people from areas near the power plant.
All of Japan’s 48 reactors went offline following the Fukushima disaster.
Efforts on the part of residents of a rural town in Okinawa to block construction of a new US military base faced a major setback when the Japanese fisheries minister intervened on behalf of the new development.
On Monday, Japan’s Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi “temporarily invalidated” the Okinawa governor’s order to halt construction of a new US air base, which has been a source of discord among residents of Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan that supports some 26,000 out of 47,000 American military personnel, the Asahi Shimbun reported.
The new US air base planned for the rural town of Nago, on reclaimed land adjacent to a US military base called Camp Schwab, would replace the Futenma Air Base, some 50km (30 miles) away in a congested urban area in central Okinawa.
Hayashi said postponing construction of the base threatened “great damage to diplomacy and defense policy by having a negative impact on the Japan-US relationship, as well as affecting residents near Futenma,” he said in a statement.
Last week, Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga attempted to block plans to build a new US air base in Nago, claiming underwater survey work needed for reclamation of land for the new $8.6 billion base, hence the Fisheries Ministry’s involvement.
Onaga, who won the 2014 gubernatorial race on his pledge to keep out the US base, said he would hold a press conference to express his position on Hayashi’s ruling.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Hayashi’s decision came after he had examined the position of the governor “from a fair and neutral position,” adding that the federal government believes it is “extremely important” to confront the risks posed by the Futenma base, which is in a densely-populated urban area.
An agreement between the United States and Japan to close down the Futenma Air Base occurred in 1996 after the US military had a severe falling out with the local populace following a number of crimes, including 1995 gang-rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three US military personnel.
Okinawa’s governor ordered a halt to an underwater survey needed for reclamation of land for a new $8.6-billion base, which would host US troops after the Futenma facility on the island is closed.
Takeshi Onaga is delivering on the promise he made to voters to oppose the construction, after his election last November. At a media conference on Monday, he announced that defense ministry contractors must stop the survey due to the damage it’s causing to corral reefs. If they don’t, Onaga said he would revoke approval for drilling operations given by his predecessor in December 2012 within days.
The survey is necessary for the eventual construction of an off-shore runway for the future US military base in the less populous area of northern Okinawa, which would house thousands of troops after the closure of the Futenma base in the south.
The facility is viewed by locals as a source of noise, pollution and crime. Opposition to its presence flared up after the rape and abduction of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen in 1995.
In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed to shut the base down, but construction of a replacement stalled due to local resistance.
Onaga’s move coincides with the announcement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US in late April. Abe, who supports the construction of the new base, is expected to be praised for his determined position to oppose Chinese influence in the region.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told journalists the Japanese government was examining Onaga’s documents. He called the governor’s steps “extremely regrettable.”
“We are going to continue with construction work without delay,” the spokesman said.
Another radioactive water leak in the sea has been detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the facility’s operator TEPCO announced. Contamination levels in the gutter reportedly spiked up 70 times over regular readings.
The sensors are connected to the gutter that pours rain and ground water from the plant to a bay adjacent to the facility.
The levels of contamination were between 50 and 70 times higher than Fukushima’s already elevated radioactive status, and were detected at about 10 am local time (1.00 am GMT), AFP reported.
After the discovery, the gutter was blocked to prevent leaks to the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout Sunday, contamination levels fell, but still measured 10 to 20 times more than prior to the leak.
“We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend,” a company spokesman said.
He did not specify the cause of the leak.
It has proved difficult for TEPCO to deal with plant decommissioning. Postponed deadlines and alarming incidents occur regularly at the facility.
Earlier this week, the UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) said Japan had made significant progress, but there is still a radioactive threat, and a “very complex” scenario at Fukushima.
About a month ago, TEPCO announced it would miss their toxic water cleanup deadline, suspending it until the end of May, after earlier pledges it would be done by March.
Joshua Blakeney was interviewed on January 5, 2014, by Bob Tuskin for his radio show. They discussed a number of issues including:
– The Ottawa shooting of October 22, 2014
– Zionist hegemony in Canada
– “Hate Speech” legislation and other thought-crime laws
– Election fraud in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election
– Blakeney’s research at the National Diet Library in Tokyo
– The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Pan-Asianism, Shūmei Ōkawa and Western imperialism in Asia
– The inorganic nature of Communism in Asia
– Press TV, Russia Today and the importance of counter-hegemonic discourses
– Fukushima and the energy crisis in Japan
The fate of a contentious US military base, slated to be relocated on the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, is now in doubt after exit polls showed a gubernatorial candidate deeply opposed to the plan emerged victorious in the election.
The national broadcaster NHK, news agency Kyodo, Jiji Press and private broadcaster Nippon Television all projected victory for Takeshi Onaga after polls closed on Sunday night. Going into the election, opinion polls put Onaga, the former mayor of Naha, Okinawa’s capital city, firmly ahead of incumbent Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.
Nakaima had supported the relocation of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, a densely populated town in the island’s south. US military bases of various stripes currently occupy 38 percent of the town.
Onaga, who said his position was not anti-American, but rather about the people’s will, put the base’s future at the center of his political platform.
“We must not allow the construction (of the new base). Let’s show that the people of Okinawa Prefecture will not waver even if the governor and some other politicians are wavering,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily cites projected victor Takeshi Onaga as saying on Saturday, during a last minute campaign speech.
Why should the burden fall on our shoulders?
The fifth gubernatorial held since the Japanese and US governments decided to relocate the base in December 1996, the Futenma relocation plan clearly dominated the election this time around.
Onaga had campaigned on moving the base outside Okinawa, forcing other parts of Japan to pull their weight in maintaining the security alliance between Japan and the US.
He further demanded the island house no new MV-22 Ospreys, a loud tilt-rotor aircraft that locals view as dangerous.
“Okinawa has suffered a lot. Why do we have to suffer more,” Onaga told The Washington Post before the election.
Last December, Nakaima green-lighted the transfer of the base to the city of Noga, in the island’s north. As part of the transfer, he approved the central government’s late-2013 application to reclaim the sea area off Nago’s Henoko Bay, sparking protests from those opposed to the relocation.
The move followed reports Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had pledged 348 billion yen (roughly 3 billion US) in financial assistance to Okinawa, which has Japan’s highest poverty rate.
“I’d like to convey the message to the governments of Japan and the United States… that the wishes of the people here are different from the administrative action in December last year,” AFP cites Onaga as telling reporters.
According to Jiji Press, Onaga said he would “act with determination” to rescind approval for the plan and preparatory work was already underway.
Will the election change anything?
In August, Japan’s Ministry of Defense started a drilling survey in the area to prepare for the building of the base. The following month, 70 percent of Nago’s residents turned out to vote in a new municipal assembly, whose majority is opposed to the base relocation plan. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine is strongly opposed to the construction of the new military complex in Nago’s Henoko Bay.
“Why should only Okinawa hold the burden for security of all of Japan, when the presence of US Marines doesn’t play a big role in deterring China?” Inamine said in May, echoing Onaga’s sentiments during a visit to Washington, DC. “I, as mayor, have operational control over two ports that are needed for use as construction landfill and I will exercise all powers in the municipality to block access.”
Currently, Okinawa houses 74 percent of all US bases in Japan, despite the fact the prefecture constitutes less than one percent of Japan’s total landmass. US military bases cover roughly one fifth of the island.
Their presence has served as a constant source of tension with locals due to crimes committed by servicemen, disruptions caused by military flights, noise, air pollution and massive land use by the US military.
While Onaga’s victory does not guarantee he will be able to hold up the $8.6 billion dollar relocation ($3.1 bill of which will be covered by Japan), it will likely string up Washington and Tokyo’s efforts to end years of deadlock over the issue.
If Abe attempts to veto local officials, his democratic credentials could be tarnished just days before he is expected to announce a snap general election.
A local council has voted to re-open the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on the outermost western coast of Japan, despite local opposition and meteorologists’ warnings, following tremors in a nearby volcano.
Nineteen out of 26 members of the city council of Satsumasendai approved the reopening that is scheduled to take place from early 2015. Like all of Japan’s 48 functional reactors, Sendai’s 890 MW generators were mothballed in the months following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 people, relies heavily on state subsidies and jobs, which are dependent on the continuing operation of the plant.
But other towns, located within sight of the plant, do not reap the same benefits, yet say they are being exposed to the same risks. A survey conducted by the local Minami-Nippon Shimbun newspaper earlier this year said that overall, 60 percent of those in the region were in favor of Sendai staying shut. In Ichikikushikino, a 30,000-strong community just 5 kilometers away, more than half of the population signed a petition opposing the restart. Fewer than half of the major businesses in the region reported that they backed a reopening, despite potential economic benefits.
Regional governor Yuichiro Ito has waved away the objections, insisting that only the city in which the plant is located is entitled to make the decision.
While most fears have centered around a lack of transparency and inadequate evacuation plans, Sendai is also located near the volcanically active Kirishima mountain range. Mount Ioyama, located just 65 kilometers away from the plant, has been experiencing tremors in recent weeks, prompting the Meteorological Agency to issue a warning. The government’s nuclear agency has dismissed volcanic risks over Sendai’s lifetime as “negligible,” however.
Mount Ioyama (image from blogs.yahoo.co.jp)
Satsumasendai’s Mayor Hideo Iwakiri welcomed the reopening, but said at the ensuing press conference that it would fall upon the government to ensure a repeat of the accident that damaged Fukushima, an outdated facility subject to loose oversight, is impossible.
September’s decision to initiate the return Japan’s nuclear capacity back online was taken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who endorses nuclear production in the country, but has delegated the controversial call on reopening to local councils. Sendai was chosen after becoming the first plant to officially fulfill the government’s new stricter safety rules. It may also have been picked due to its geographical remoteness, and distance from the 2011 disaster area.
The primary reason for Abe’s nuclear drive been the expense in replacing the lost energy that constituted 30 percent of the country’s consumption, which the government says cost Japan an extra $35 billion last year. Japanese consumers have seen their energy bills climb by 20 percent since the disaster as a result.
But another concern remains the state of the country’s aging nuclear plants, which will cost $12 billion to upgrade. Meanwhile plans to build modern nuclear reactors – which were supposed to be responsible for half of the country’s nuclear power by 2030, according to previous government energy plans – have predictably been shelved in the wake of the disaster.
Fukushima dome removal suspended
The painfully slow and calamitous decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the northeast of the country, had to be halted yet again Tuesday, after the removal of the temporary dome over the damaged Reactor 1 was interrupted by severe winds.
The canopy needs to be taken off so that the radioactive reactor rods, which have been contaminating the soil and water around the plant, can be placed in storage.
But as workers attempted to lift a section of the plastic dome to decontaminate the air inside, a segment of the cover up to six feet was blown off by a severe gust of wind.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, the operator of the shuttered plant, says that the incident has not impacted radiation levels, and hopes to resume operations as soon as possible.
Finland – In a groundbreaking study Awara Group reveals that the real GDP growth of Western countries has been in negative territory for years. Only by massively loading up debt have they been able to hide the true picture and delay the onset of an inevitable collapse of their respective economies. The study shows that the real GDP of those countries hides hefty losses after netting the debt figures, which gives the Real-GDP-net-of-debt.
The moral of the study is that GDP growth figures as such reveal very little about the underlying dynamics of an economy if one does not simultaneously attempt to analyze what part of the growth is credited to simply artificially fueling the economy with new loans.
The study has found that the Western countries have lost the capacity to grow their economies. All they have left is a capacity to pile up debts. By massively accumulating new debt, they are able to keep up a semblance of at least sluggish growth, or of hovering around the zero growth mark.
If this massive debt would go towards investments, then there would be nothing wrong with it. But, it is not. The debt is going towards financing the losses in the national economies and essentially it all is wasted on consumption that the countries in reality cannot afford. The Western countries act like a 19th century heir to aristocratic wealth, borrowing from year to year to keep up the former lifestyle, while the estate is relentlessly dwindling. Sooner or later the prodigal heir would be forced to face reality and sell the remaining property to stave off the creditors, downgrade his dwellings, and rein in spending. Inevitably, the European countries and the USA will have to curb their excessive consumption, too, but for the time being they are putting off the final reckoning with new debt rather the way a drunkard reaches for the morning after drink to put off sobering up. In the case of the EU and the USA, we are speaking about a debt binge that has been going on for a decade.
While the situation has been generally bad for the last decade or so, it took a dramatic turn for the worse, or should we say for the catastrophic, following the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. The shocking figures depicting the virtual crippling of the Western economies from 2009 to 2013 are illustrated in Chart 1. It depicts the development of real-GDP-growth per country in years 2005 to 2013. The chart shows that during this period Russia has been able to deliver real non-debt fueled GDP growth, whereas the Western countries are running huge deficits. The accumulated growth of the Russian economy from 2005 to 2013 was 147% while the Western countries accumulated losses from 16.5% (Germany) to 58% (USA). In the case of Russia, the real-GDP-net-of-debt figure is also corrected to adjust for the calculation error caused by an erroneous GDP deflator that Russian Statistics Agency (Rosstat) has used. We have discussed the persistent problem of Russia’s GDP growth having been underestimated due to the use of a wrong GDP deflator in the study Awara Group Research on the Effects of Putin’s Tax Reforms 2000-2012 on State Tax Revenue and GDP
Chart 2 shows the real GDP growth net-of-debt after deducting the growth of public debt from the GDP figure. Net of debt we see the scale of the Western economies, for example the Spanish economy, which amounts to the staggering figure of minus 56.3%. This while the conventional official method of crediting GDP growth with growth of debt would give only minus 6.7%.
The analysis shows that by these measures Russian economic growth, unlike that of the Western countries, has been comparatively healthy and not debt-driven. Russia has in fact a resoundingly positive ratio by these measures, where GDP growth has exceeded growth of debt by a staggering 14 times (1400%). The figure is astonishing when compared with the Western countries that have been flooded with new debt.
Chart 3 shows how much the accumulation of debt in the Western countries exceeds the official GDP growth. The USA is leading the pack with an increase in the debt load in years 2004 to 2013 of USD 9.8 trillion (in the chart in euros, EUR 7 trillion). In those years, the growth of the USA public debt exceeded the GDP growth 9 times (900%), which is illustrated by Chart 4, comparing the proportion of growth of debt to that of growth of GDP.
The comparison of growth of debt to growth of GDP reveals the UK, as the country that has amassed the most amount of new debt relative to GDP growth, having a new-debt-to-GDP-growth ratio of 9 to 1; in other words UK has taken on 900% new debt relative to the GDP growth. But the picture is grim for all the Western countries surveyed, less so for Germany, while Russia’s debt increase amounts to only a fraction of the GDP growth.
The analysis shows that by these measures Russian economic growth, unlike that of the Western countries, has been comparatively healthy and not debt-driven. Russia has in fact a resoundingly positive ratio by these measures, where GDP growth has exceeded growth of debt by a staggering 14 times (1400%). The figure is astonishing when compared with the Western countries that have been flooded with new debt.
The above figures are adjusted taking into account public debt (general government debt), but the situation is even worse when we consider the effect of private debt on the GDP. New debt of corporations and households have at least doubled private debt of most of the Western countries since year 1996 (Chart 5).
Reviewing these figures, it becomes evident that in reality Western economies have not grown in the past decade, rather the countries have massively inflated their debt load. With these levels of debt reached this cannot continue for long. There is a real risk that the bluff will be called sooner rather than later dropping the Western economies to GDP levels that they can carry without debt leverage. But in that situation they will not be able to serve the accumulated debts leading to catastrophe scenarios.
We have not included Japan and China in the analysis due to the difficulties attributed to finding consistent data for all the input variables. For those countries we have come across problems of fractured data that do not capture all the relevant years; inconsistent data across the samples we looked at; and uncertainties about conversion of the input data into euros. (We are sure that major research houses could overcome such problems, having greater and more sophisticated resources than ours). This exclusion of Japan and China is regrettable as Japan is the country worst affected by the problem of debt-fueled GDP growth, having a public debt to GDP ratio of well above 200%, and would therefore have been very instructive for our purposes.
Japan has been essentially living on debt since the early 1990’s. However, some of the more irrational Western analysts want to take Japan as a prime example to follow, arguing that since Japan has been able to pile up debt for some 25 years now, all the Western countries would be able to do it as well for the foreseeable future. In this they fail to grasp that Japan earlier had the luxury of being the sole country living on such exorbitant levels of debt. Japan has enjoyed great support from the Western countries to be able to continue that practice, not least for political reasons. Another important consideration against the idea that Western countries could continue to accumulate debt is that they have, since the early 1990’s, rapidly lost their economic hegemony in terms of share of world trade and global GDP. I have written about this in a recent article entitled Why the West is Destined to Decline.
The West is fast shrinking in economic significance relative to the rest of the world. This is demonstrated by comparing the GDP of the Western powers as represented by the G7 countries (USA, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada) with the GDP of emerging powers. As recently as 1990, the combined GDP of the G7 was overwhelming in relation to that of today’s 7 emerging powers: China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Korea (not necessarily constituting one political block). In 1990, the G7 countries had a combined GDP of USD 14.4 trillion and the emerging 7 had a GDP of USD 2.3, but by 2013 the tables had been turned, as the G7 had USD 32 trillion and the emerging 7 had USD 35 trillion. (Chart 6).
With the challenge of the ever increasing share of world economy belonging to the emerging countries, it becomes clear that the Western countries will not be able to profit sufficiently from world trade to service their debt loads.
For the time being the Western countries benefit from the privilege of having currencies that the rest of the world still largely trusts as reserve currencies. In essence, the USD and the euro enjoy a kind of monopoly status. This is what allows Western countries to gain access to cheap debt and fuel their economies with central bank financing (quantitative easing or “printing of money”). But the risk is that, with the deteriorating debt situation and diminishing share of the global economy, they will forfeit this privilege, perhaps even in the near future. What would follow from this is sharply more expensive financing and inflation, with hyperinflation as the eventual outcome. In this scenario – which I consider inevitable over the next 5 to 10 years – the economies of Western countries would essentially collapse.
The problem is that there is no way of averting this scenario, because the Western powers have lost their competitive advantages as economic powers. Eventually, their economies must shrink to match their resource and population bases. (I have written about this in the article referred to above). But it seems that the ruling Western elites have no intention of facing up to these realities. They will try to keep up a semblance of prosperity with ever new debt, as long as they can. The political parties of the West have been essentially converted into voting machines with one singular concern – that of winning the next elections. To do that they will continue to engage in what amounts to bribing of the electorate – creating new debt that fuels the national economy.
But there is no way to turn back this historical tide. Just as the aristocrat of the old regime eventually squandered his legacy, so will the Western powers. This inevitability of the process is what makes it really scary, because I am afraid that the Western elite might be tempted to bail itself out from this doomsday scenario with a war of epic proportions. We are now truly approaching the Armageddon between the West, with its desperate economic circumstances, and the emerging world powers.
Jon Hellevig is a business consultant and economic and political observer. He is the co-editor and co-author of Putin’s New Russia and several books on philosophy and political and social sciences.
The Japanese government has pushed back imposing new sanctions on Russia, which it planned to impose on Friday, in expectation of a possible meeting of foreign ministers next week.
The Japanese media reported Thursday of Tokyo’s intention to issue additional sanctions against Russia. The move was discussed on Tuesday at a National Security Council meeting and was expected to be announced on Friday, but according to The Japan Times the government is yet to make a final decision.
The implementation could be postponed until at least next week, when Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida may meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Tokyo wants to give Moscow more time to respond to the reports of the looming sanctions, the newspaper said.
Japan imposed sanctions on Russia in March as a gesture of solidarity with the US and the EU, which are championing a policy of punishing Russia for its stance on the crisis in Ukraine. Tokyo suspended talks with Moscow over visa restrictions, investment, space cooperation and military tension prevention. It also targeted 40 individuals from Russia and Ukraine with asset freezes and travel bans.
The new round of sanctions was expected to be individual rather than sectorial.