Monday, February 19

Blog-Power Strikes in Japan

When a Japanese publisher distributes to convenience stores nationwide a magazine dedicated single-mindedly to demonizing foreigners, whom it portrays as lawless, heartless, and lewd, what's a foreign-born resident to do?
In the case of Japan's minority Anglophone community, dispersed throughout the archipelago, the answer was clear: blog, organize, resist. The results of these efforts, made over the first few weeks of February, provide a case study in civic resistance to exploitative racism. And since individually maintained blogs were the main vehicle of resistance, lessons can be drawn as well for the progressive power of blogging. This was something of the sort I had never witnessed in the United States, though perhaps readers can cite analogous cases.

I will let the original Web sites and documents bear witness, inviting readers to click into the story themselves as I limit myself to a thematic progression of events as I understand them.

Blogging: On February 1st, the American-born Japanese citizen Arudou Debito, a tireless activist for human rights in Japan, is alerted by an American-born educator friend of the February 29th publication of "Foreigner-Crime File," and posts scanned pages and a gist of the magazine's contents. The popular website Japan Probe echoes Debito's notification and requests information from readers.

Organization: Eventually, Japan Probe goes a step further and calls for a boycott of Family Mart convenience stores (the first of several stores recognized as carrying the magazine). Debito composes a letter of protest in both English and Japanese that he invites others to politely distribute to store managers in stores where the magazine is sold. Through his efforts and other channels, the foreign press is alerted and articles appear in, among other places, the Guardian and the Times (London) Blog.

Resistance: Perhaps a few dozen people participate in the distribution of letters. As a result of this pressure, as well as the full documentation of the issue online, after an initial gesture of resistance, Family Mart sends letters of apologies to those who had contacted it in protest and orders that the magazine be removed from all of its stores as of February 5th. These steps can be followed blow-by-blow as they are recounted at Debito's blog and Japan Probe, the two prime movers against the magazine and its publisher.

Reflection: It is particularly noteworthy that the magazine's editor responds to his critics at Japan Today. Indeed, Shigeki Saka's comments are themselves a case study in right-wing xenophobia and self-blinding racism. The responses to Mr. Saka by both Debito at his blog and James and other commentators at Japan Probe are forceful and in many ways enlightening.

The curious may peruse the entire magazine online.

One estimate put the total cost of the magazine's production and distribution at a quarter of a million dollars. The publisher, who could not find any sponsors to advertise within its vehicle for hate speech, will surely think twice before once again financing a project of shameless racial scapegoating or assuming that the English-speaking community will not notice when foreigners are viciously targeted in a Japanese-language publication.

The incident surely has increased the organization of the progressive English-speaking community in Japan. It remains to be seen if further chapters will be added to this resounding success.



Saturday, February 10

Joe Sets the Record Crooked

When Vladimir Putin articulated in a restrained and unprovocative way a view that is both held on a majority basis throughout the world by populations and leadership alike and supported by legal scholarship, it was the trusty warmonger, Senator Joe Lieberman, who denounced the Russian leader and denied that the US government of George Bush has increased global insecurity through its illegal use of international violence (full article, quoted below). Having removed himself from the Democratic Party, Lieberman now pursues a course of unimpeded US lawlessness across the planet while deriding anyone who seems to notice it.

The AP Writer, David Rising, reports that, in Munich,

Putin told a security forum attracting top officials that "we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations" and that "one state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. "This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law."

And here, from the same piece, is the delusional response of ol' Joe:

"Even our involvement in Iraq, certainly Afghanistan, is pursuant to United Nations resolutions."

The hesitant phrasing suggests that ol' Joe smells deception in the very words he speaks. "..., certainly Afghanistan.." This should give us pause. Hesitation over the invasion of Iraq is found in the speech of never-saw-a-military-expenditure,-corporate-lobbyist, -or-US-invasion-I-didn't-like Lieberman. And with reason.

Joe knows that he is bullshitting. The head of the United Nations at the time of the invasion proclaimed it illegal. To cite one respected legal opinion among the vast majority that concur on the matter (as Lieberman surely knows), Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and president of the American Society of International Law, puts the matter plainly:
"the invasion was both illegal and illegitimate."
(American Society of International Law Newsletter, March-April 2004)

The use of both "illegal" and "illegitimate" suggests that the two have different meanings. However, the words should not be twisted in such a way. Slaughter, who had once herself given the pseudo-distinction credibility, puts the matter this way to shut the door on the potential ambiguity. (The ambiguity was first created to excuse the US-led 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, which was deemed "illegal but legitimate." That is, its illegality was determined by the Head of International Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Kosovo war, who then called it nonetheless "legitimate" because "all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted" -- a claim that ignores two concrete diplomatic options on the table at that time, one by Serbia and one by NATO. The expression is now commonly used to patch over criminal actions of the US government with the appearance of necessity.) Nonetheless, putting strictly legal questions aside, the fact that the invasion of Iraq was perceived widely and accurately to be illegitimate (i.e., self-serving, based on falsehoods) is in some sense more significant, because it is this recognition that fuels and in some cases legitimates politics of violence and desperation across the world (assuming that others are allowed to use the same rationales for violence as the US government does). It is this that does the greatest damage to efforts on all sides to resolve disputes by non-violent and non-catastrophic means. The voices that refuse to recognize this increased insecurity, which are curiously grouped together within the US government and its client state Israel, believe perhaps that their actions enhance their nations' security. It is nonetheless worth remembering that the beliefs of the mad should not be held up as beacons of guidance for the world at large.

Indeed, the predictable deception on the part of one of the invasion's biggest supporters needs to be kept in the context of issues of global security. The opening lines of the Preface to Noam Chomsky's Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, a book that richly documents the trashing by consecutive US administrations of the international security consensus that emerged after World War II, serve that purpose well, and so it is with the opening lines that I close today's post:
"The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes {and as Chomsky explains, not the American people, who as a whole do not support the illegal government initiatives and its trashing of international treaties}."

On the US government's violation of international law, see also Howard N. Meyer

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Friday, February 9

A Film for Our Times

If you have a little time, reward it generously by watching this film. My explanation follows.

Gdansk Panorama (bearing no relation to present post)

"I do believe that Hugo Chavez is destroying his own country economically, politically." Condoleezza Rice, conveying dangerous delusions to the U.S. Congress.

During my first year of leading a seminar on American studies in Japan, I tried to teach a group of five students, among other things, the power of broadcast media to shape public opinion; the importance and relative reliability of critical, independent media; the power of corporations to bend governments to their will without regard for the desires or needs of a nation's citizens; the democracy deficit in the United States and its causes; and the largely untapped but undeniable power that citizens in any country can wield when they come together and resist alien order. Well, it was quite a struggle to convey all these ideas in the time and constraints (many linguistic in nature) within which I worked.

The other night, however, I saw a movie that, with little dialog (albeit much in Spanish) conveyed all of these issues with gripping real-life drama. So, despite the fact that the movie's action takes place entirely in Caracas, Venezuela, it would have made for an excellent introduction to an American studies seminar. No big-budget spectacle, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is an on-the-spot documentary of a military coup as it develops slowly, is cynically executed, and swiftly reversed. Incidentally, the film bears the title that comes from a Gil Scott-Heron song that was, in fact, the primary object of one of my student's research papers. (The film is also referred to as "Chavez - Inside the Coup," perhaps due to copyright issues.)

The documentary was shot by two BBC reporters who had not anticipated the coup in which they were to be caught up at the risk of their lives. It was their intention merely to document the political life of Hugo Chavez, out of a desire for objective understanding rather than a spirit of ideological partisanship. I was riveted to the screen as the film played on my computer, for a couple of reasons. I was not aware of the details of the coup and therefore could not anticipate how it would proceed; and, a couple of months earlier, I had read a detailed account of the incredibly vicious and bloody U.S.-sponsored coup in Chile and recognized that all the same types of forces were pitted against one another in Venezuela, only with remarkably different results. In this case, not only does democracy defeat U.S.-backed corporate hooliganism, but it does so by avoiding a bloodbath.

Before I say another word or inflate expectations to bursting point, know that I found the document here. It can be watched online or downloaded here.

If you still find a shred of credibility in the petro-imperialism of Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush administration who cloak themselves in the language of democracy while working aggressively to suppress it; or if you spend regular stretches of your life gazing at the obsequious corporate media that echo the administration's war-mongering and banditry, have a look at this documentary. Ask yourself, who is willing to destroy not only Venezuela but any hope for democracy both there and, yes, in the United States of America?

The film goes miles further down the road toward exposing the nature of U.S. government policy and the dishonesty of its "mainstream media" than Micheal Moore's much-heralded-and-reviled Fahrenheit 911.

Here is an insightful article by Naomi Klein who puts the media troubles in Venezuela in perspective and compares them to the situation in the United States. And there's also an excellent information page relating to the film.

Because of its topic and the impassioned tone of the citizens it depicts, the film bears a striking resemblance to the incredible French-language film by the Lithuanian-based Englishman Peter Watkins. Called "La Commune (1871, Paris)," the film anachronistically portrays the radically different coverage given to the nineteenth-century popular uprising by "state TV" (corresponding to today's corporate media) as opposed to low-budget, independent media. And you can imagine which side portrays the popular uprising in an accurate light, and which distorts it as the work of "outsiders" or "terrorists."

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