Ted Cruz has won Iowa, primarily on the back of the Evangelical vote. The Republican party is clearly seriously divided at the moment, but outside the disputed politics of the Presidential election, it’s pretty clear that Republican candidates for House and Senate are generally very anti-choice. There is talk of a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood, and with Cruz as one of the two leading presidential candidates the anti-choice movement is even more prominent than usual in Republican politics. Cruz himself is supported by a scary bunch of Evangelicals who seem to advocate the most extreme anti-abortion laws in history: executing doctors who provide abortions and prosecuting abortion itself as murder. Cruz is the most extreme representative of this ideology, but in general the Republican party is unrelenting in its opposition to abortion, even after rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Normally this kind of politics doesn’t affect many people, especially the people who support it, so it’s easy to pull off. Even in a country with a fragile health system like the USA, most women get decent medical care during pregnancy and most conditions that might risk a mother’s health can be managed, so they have no reason (or desire) to have an abortion. This means that the issue of medical abortions doesn’t affect many people, so campaigning to close “loopholes” is easy, because most people won’t ever be affected by them. Similarly, most Americans can afford to buy their condoms or pills from a normal service provider, so it’s no big deal if Planned Parenthood cops a little bit of stick from the Republican crazies. Planned Parenthood appears to be one of the USA’s most trusted institutions but the people who trust it probably don’t vote, so it’s not going to be a big vote-loser to attack it. This has meant that historically, while anti-choice politics obviously riles up some people and loses a certain amount of votes, it is able to garner votes from a fairly large group of people who can be morally “pure” about abortion issues safe in the knowledge that they probably won’t face those issues.

All that will change once Zika virus hits the USA. Zika is spread by mosquitos, which means that its victims are blameless – although there is evidence of sexual transmission, it’s not possible to cast away the victims as mere sluts, because it is also spread by a mosquito that is endemic to the southern USA. Alarming reports from Texas suggest that conditions are ripe for its spread this summer, so it will be hitting the American population hard during the election season. If that happens then the Republican heartland is going to be hit by a disease that is an environmental rather than a behavioral risk, and which has only one major consequence: birth defects. The only treatment for pregnant women affected by this disease is abortion, and modern ante-natal care will ensure that those women affected by the disease have to face that horrible choice during the summer before the election.

And at that point, they will discover just how hard it is to get an abortion in America, and how full of hate their own community is. If the worst happens and Zika virus spreads rapidly through the southern part of the USA it’s possible that the CDC will further recommend women consider delaying their pregnancies (as some Latin American countries have). This advice is going to reach millions of women at exactly the same time as the Republican party is loudly demanding a shutdown of the government over Planned Parenthood – the leading organization that can supply the goods needed to ensure that this disease doesn’t create an epidemic of microcephaly.

It’s possible that the Republican party is going to be fighting its congressional elections on a strong platform of absolute opposition to abortion at exactly the same time as millions of American women are at risk of a disease whose only effect is a condition that can only be cured by abortion. During this period the media will be stoking both Zika fear and anti-choice activism to a fever pitch (especially if the Senate try to force a shutdown over Planned Parenthood). Imagine if the Republicans manage to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood at exactly the time the CDC and EPA need funds to support a nationwide campaign against a mosquito-borne virus that causes birth defects.

Such a strategy surely can’t end well. It will force most ordinary “anti-choice” people to confront the depth of their opposition to abortion, at which point they will suddenly discover that actually, while they are pro-life, they’re also pro-choice. They’ll suddenly realize that this whole abortion/contraception debate has nuance that they missed because they were comfortable, healthy and conservative, and they missed all the nuances of other people’s lives. There’s not really anything wrong with being clueless about things you never experienced – that’s human life, and I think it’s a very important part of the appeal of anti-abortion rhetoric, which can work very well so long as the majority of people hearing it never need an abortion. But Zika may well change all that.

If the Republicans go to the 2016 election at the same time as Zika is spreading across the USA, will their anti-abortion message kill them? That’s a fascinating reason to lose an election – especially given the putative relationship between global warming and spread of Zika. That’s a lot of chickens coming home to roost …

The UK has announced plans for a new set of laws on migrant spouses, which will see them tested on their English skills after 2.5 years, and their visa terminated if they are found to be lacking English skills. David Cameron is selling this as both a law to empower Muslim women, and also to help fight terrorism.

This law is so stupid and cruel it is unbelievable, and the language being used to justify it is so heartless and idiotic it’s hard to believe that anyone takes it seriously. Is this a paper-thin veneer on another stupid racist law, or are the Tories genuinely so stupid that they think this law is worthwhile in any way? Sadly, I think it might be the latter. In any case, the law is both cruel and pointless.

The law is a heartless abomination

I don’t know if Cameron can speak any second languages (most Brits can’t) but if he can my guess is that he’s passable in some kind of dialect of English, like French. I live in a country (Japan) with a language completely different to English, which any adult learner (like me) has to really battle with, and which is absolutely essential if you want to really enjoy the life this country has to offer. I know a lot of people who manage to contribute significantly to this country without every learning a single word, and I know a lot of British migrants here – many with spouses – who contribute nothing to this country but still haven’t learnt a word of the language. There are many reasons why adult migrants to Japan don’t, won’t or can’t learn a word of the language, but here are a few:

  • Some people just can’t learn languages: In my intensive course I had a good friend, Ali, who was fluent in Arabic and English but couldn’t learn a word of Japanese no matter how he tried, and he really did try. I had another friend, Rana, who was a great reader and listener who couldn’t speak a word. This isn’t because they were stupid or ignorant – both knew at least two languages already, and were qualified doctors – but because learning a new language as an adult is really fucking hard. Sure, if the language is basically just a variant on your existing tongue – like Korean to Japanese, or French to English – it’s not hard, but if it’s genuinely different – like English is to a lot of people – then learning it is really challenging
  • There are no opportunities: I cannot stress what an exhausting waste of time it is to try and learn a language in all its depth and complexity from a few hours a week of poor-quality teaching at a night school. In a country like Japan it is almost impossible for most people to find a class for more than an hour or two a week, it’s even harder to find a class that is taught well, and it’s even harder to stick with it when you have a full time job, family, etc. Many of the white people in Japan are English teachers, which means they work evenings and weekends in an exhausting job. The idea that they will put in hours of intensive study at weird times to pick up a language is really stretching it. In the UK, the Cameron government has massively cut funding for English teaching. What are the chances that a poor migrant spouse who doesn’t need the language will be able to find a class?
  • Learning languages sucks: It’s tiring, boring, and often humiliating and the teachers are often really poor quality. There’s always someone else in your class who should be in a higher class and humiliates the students with his (it’s always a he!) skills, and a lot of what you learn is irrelevant to actual life. Many classes require you to perform your piss-weak language skills in front of others, and you’re constantly screwing up and embarrassing yourself. Then you go out into the real world and none of the language people use with you is taught in class (this is a universal problem). Try to keep that up for 2.5 years!
  • You don’t need the language to contribute to society: A challenge for shallow Tories like Cameron to comprehend, but you can actually contribute to society without being able to speak a word of its weird gobbledigook. From the trivial – working hard and paying taxes – to the culturally deep – writing books that introduce the culture to other societies – it’s possible to contribute without ever learning a word. In Japan I have known people who are having multiple children (a big contribution here), who are working wonders in their chosen field, or who are big figures in a movement to popularize the works of a famous writer. I know people who have lived here for years, never learnt a word, and have children who are fluent in Japanese, speak no English, and are really engaged with the local culture. How do those parents compare to a wife-beating Japanese pachinko addict who speaks perfect Japanese? Language is a useful tool but a welcoming and accepting society doesn’t need you to speak it in order to contribute.
  • Adult life betrays your efforts: No doubt whatever patois of crappy French Cameron speaks, he picked up in high school, when he had all the time in the world, and anyway it was easy. But could he learn Pakistanian if he lobbed up in Pakistan as an adult, living with his wife and kids, working a 40+ hour week and only hanging around with Pakistanis who spoke fluent English? I think you might find that he could not learn a word, because he doesn’t have time for serious study, none of his friends expect him to, it’s embarrassing to struggle to say hello in Pakistanian to someone who can debate the Quran with you in English, and when he’s at home he speaks English exclusively because wtf?

For all these reasons, it’s really common to find adults who are really committed to the country they moved to but who don’t speak a word of its native language, or are only dabblers in the complexity of that language. Even people who are determined to learn, as adult learners, will be struggling to get their language together in 2.5 years. But despite all their efforts and the vagaries of life as an adult in the modern world, Cameron aims to deport these people. His reasons are so horribly shallow, as well. Today he said:

If you’re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh

This is a hilarious piece of stupidity. If you’re staying home, not learning a word of English, and a woman in a traditionalist Islamic family, chances are that you have a very strong identity centred around hearth and home, and there’s almost zero chance you’ll be susceptible to extremist ideology. It’s fascinating to see a party that has traditionally respected the role of housewife (and criticized feminists for undermining that role) suggesting that such an important and powerful cultural figure would “have challenges understanding” their identity. Is this really the party of Thatcher? Was Thatcher ever so cruel? Because rest assured this law is cruel. But it is also pointless.

This law is pointless

Cameron seems to think that deporting the wives of Muslim migrants after 2.5 years is going to prevent terrorism. Maybe he really hates his wife, so much that he wouldn’t resent the government if it took her from him after 2.5 years, or maybe he’s just really ignorant, but does he not think that separating families on completely arbitrary grounds might possibly be a source of radicalization? Even putting aside the obvious counter-productive images (and court cases) we’ll be seeing in 2.5 years’ time, there are so many reasons why this law is targeted at all the wrong people. For starters, all the people we know of who were radicalized in the UK appear to have been born there, and seem to speak really good English that the “intelligence” services try to track down by using a database of regional British accents. Secondly, it’s likely that the standard they set for staying in the UK is going to be pretty low, and well below the level at which it is possible to debate nuances of religious theory, so it’s unlikely that whatever English skills the spouses learn will be sufficiently advanced to enable us to engage with them to prevent radicalization, or for them to be exposed to anti-radicalization messages by chance. Thirdly, if the reason they’re being held back from learning English is “patriarchy” as Cameron suggests[1], it’s unlikely that the spouses are the people we have to worry about in the first place.

Finally, of course, Cameron previously introduced a law that requires migrants to the UK to have a certain minimum amount of savings before they can bring their spouse. This amount is high enough that it’s unlikely your average Middle Eastern migrant will be able to bring their spouse over in the first place unless they’re from a social class that already speaks English really well – or are a refugee. Which means that this law is going to break up refugee families in 2.5 years’ time – as if they hadn’t been through enough hoops just to get to the UK. A cynic would suggest that was his purpose all along …

This cruel stupidity would make UKIP blush

Immigration policy under the Tories has been moving into the gutter over the past few years. The savings requirements for bringing one’s spouse over are vicious, nasty policy that achieves nothing at the expense of perfectly legitimate relationships between British people and their foreign lovers. These laws are absolutely reprehensible, unjustifiable nastiness. The new proposal simply adds a new level of viciousness to a migration system that is vindictive and petty beyond all reason. All of this is being done because Cameron is desperate to show he is tough on migrants without actually touching the main source of UK voters’ apprehensions about migration: Europe. Cameron is campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU even though most of the British public are skeptical, and even those who want to stay in the EU want to see the end of the rules on free movement. He can’t do that and keep his business mates happy, so he needs to try and show he is doing something to keep out migrants to counterbalance his weakness on this issue. But the real source of British fears about jobs and benefits is EU migration, not a couple of badly spoken Muslim wives. Publicly humiliating those women will work for him in the short term, but will it fool grassroots Tories in the referendum? Or will we see the UK leave the EU even as it introduces ever harsher, ever stupider rules on non-EU migrants?

I think we will. And I think those rules will be a disaster to ordinary families, and will do nothing to prevent extremism.

fn1: Good to see a once radical idea becoming a mainstream conservative principle. I’m looking forward to mandatory gay sex abortions for all British citizens now that the Tories have found their radfem groove.

In the first Republican debate all the candidates were asked if they would rule out an independent presidential bid, and Donald Trump was roundly decried for refusing to do so. In hindsight, perhaps the better question would have been “If a batshit insane dude captures the nomination, will you endorse the Democrat candidate?” Because it is looking increasingly likely that a batshit insane dude is gonna steal the Republican candidacy, and if he wins the whole world is in a dark place.

It’s very clear now that a significant proportion of the Republican “base” are sympathetic to a campaign that is, essentially, fascist. Some “moderate” left-wingers are trying to claim that Trump is not fascist, and are splitting hairs over whether he is really a narcissist or just “leading America down a fascist path” but I think it’s clear from his latest little announcement that the F-word is no longer hyperbole. Lots of Republicans have gone ballistic over his plan to prevent all Muslims from entering the USA but some of the front-runners have been careful to avoid criticizing him directly, and it’s not clear whether the objection from some of those Republicans is based on respect for “American values” or fear that such a strategy would prevent them from winning an election. It’s certainly clear that for a significant proportion of Republican primary voters the much-vaunted Republican ideals of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association are running a distant second to any political strategies based on racial discimination and nebulous notions of “strength,” mingled in with a healthy dose of imperialism.

This is, of course, the consequence of a long period of Republican craziness, that has mixed racist dog-whistling with openly racist attacks on Mexican migrants and overseas Muslims, along with muscular support for torture and the police state and racism and violence towards internal enemies. This is the environment in which Elliott Rodgers, Robert Dear and Dylan Rooff enacted their openly racist or misogynist militarist plans, and the environment in which some sizable minority of Republican voters have shifted towards an openly fascist platform. For all his bluster and popularity, Trump is a latecomer to this scene of frenetic hatred and partisan divisions: he is a well known birther, but his birtherism is hardly unique or especially well-represented, and when he says there is “something wrong” with the president he is drawing on a deep vein of discontent that is obviously built on racist origins. Although we can hope, there’s no reason to think his latest utterances are going to sink his campaign or discourage his followers.

I think some of the Republican elders must be starting to think that they have woken a slumbering giant here, and worrying that when it starts stomping about it isn’t going to be particularly careful about where it puts its feet. Certainly the Bushes are worried about it, and given how reviled they are by the base I think it’s safe to say they didn’t have much part in the creation of this monster. But a lot of them are up to their necks in it. Cruz, Huckabee and some of those doyens of hate radio, the Limbaughs and Hewitts, need to face the fact that they built this beast, and they’re now caught in its storm. But others, like Christie and Kasich, for all that they’re oily operatives that anyone with any sense wouldn’t go near in this political universe, I think they realize that this beast is going to devour its own party first, before it bursts out of the chest of American democracy and starts eating everything in sight. They want to stop it.

I think they may find that they can’t stop it without interfering in the nominating process. I think Trump is going to win some states, and if they’re lucky he won’t get a clear majority, but there’s a chance he will, and then they face a choice: refuse to nominate him and have him run third party, essentially splitting the vote; or let him be the candidate and watch him either win and destroy the country (unlikely) or lose massively and hand the Democrats a massive majority. In that case I think it’s likely that Trump’s candidacy will spoil the House and Senate elections, and the Republicans risk losing control of all three branches of government. I don’t think the Republicans understand just how toxic this primary is going to be for them, and my fundamental faith in humanity tells me that the longer Trump is in charge, the worse the general election will be for them in every house.

The basic problem here for the doyens of the Republican party is that they have a crazy-wing, and they need to destroy it. Take Cruz as an example. Trump’s antics have made Cruz look almost reasonable, but he’s actually a complete fruit loop. Yesterday he held hearings in the Senate committee on science, of which he is somehow the chair, which all the serious Republicans didn’t attend because they hate him, and which were basically a joke. Steyn was in attendance as an expert on climate change, but didn’t get a chance to speak because Cruz was outnumbered by minority Democrat members, because the other Republicans didn’t want to be there. So instead of having a chance to discuss a Republican approach to climate change based on free markets and innovation, they had some grandstanding about how it isn’t real, and Steyn got some free publicity for his doomed attempt to defend himself from libel charges that will absolutely destroy him. This isn’t how serious people behave, it isn’t how policy is made, and it isn’t a serious base for a political party. Senior Republicans know this, but they don’t know what to do about it.

Trump offers these Republicans a chance to take their party back from the religious nutjobs and Tea Party lunatics. But first they need to find a way to destroy those lunatics, and what better way than to show that they are a tiny minority of the electorate. I think at the very least the senior figures in the Republican party need to make it clear that they won’t support Trump and that if he wins the primary they will campaign against him in the general. They should lay down the line on policy and make clear why they don’t support him. I think, further, that they should endorse the democrat candidate as a strategy for saying enough is enough, and when Trump gets sweet fuck all of the general vote they can start rebuilding – an 8 year process with a real political movement at the end of it. Once Trump lays waste to their party the elders can come forward with a plan to rebuild it based on coherent strategies on ISIS, global warming and healthcare, strategies that may not be what my reader(s) or I want but are generally consistent with vaguely intelligent notions of how to get shit done.

The alternative is that Trump gets selected, leading figures in the party like Cruz refuse to distance themselves, and the Republicans get smashed at every level in the elections, losing complete control of the government. That may seem overly apocalyptic, but bear this in mind: Even though people say he lost the Democrats the senate in the mid-terms, he actually did exceptionally well for a president in his second mid-term. Mid-term elections in the second term typically go really badly for the incumbent and Obama did a lot less badly than the historical average. The Democrats are more popular than they look, and if Trump wins the primary there is every chance of a bloodbath. If the Republican leadership want to take back their party, now is their chance, but they need to show leadership and moral backbone, something in precious short supply in the Republican party. If they don’t act to crush him in the general, the Republican party is going to be toast for a long time to come. Or worse still, America will become a fascist state.

It’s time for the Republicans to show they love their country and not their donors.

In case you missed it, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been accused of face-fucking a dead pig. Apparently the pig was roasted, and this all occurred in his university days as part of a (presumably unsuccessful) attempt to join some repulsive British fraternity. Aside from the excellent twitter humour that ensued, and despite the delicious prospect of a Prime Minister (any Prime Minister, really) having to publicly deny face-fucking a dead pig, this seems like the kind of story that we really should not be reading – it’s unbelievable that this is even news, because where any man decides to put his (no doubt very small!) weener should be a matter between him and the unfortunate recipient, provided all involved in this exchange of policy are consenting. If David Cameron leaves office with a bukkake pig as his greatest legacy, I think it’s safe to say that Britain will have got off lightly, except for the massive increase in NHS costs devoted to counselling all those who had to imagine such a horror and were left mentally ruined by the visions.

What’s depressing about this news story is the thing that the press have completely failed to care about. It’s clearly a story being released publicly for revenge by Paddy Ashdown, some kind of rich arsehole who also happens (shock!) to be a Conservative Party member and who has written a new biography dishing the dirt on Cameron for the apparently openly-stated reason that he gave the Tories 8 million pounds and didn’t get a Cabinet post.

That’s right, David Cameron’s awkward teenage fumblings with his first love are being spread across Britain’s tabloids and becoming international news because some rich arsehole is angry that he was refused a cabinet place after he gave 8 million pounds.

Isn’t that bribery? Shouldn’t the openly-avowed existence of such a promise constitute evidence of, at the very least, attempted bribery? Shouldn’t the police be paying Mr. Ashdown a visit, to have a quiet word about the truth of these claims he made that he tried to buy a cabinet position? If word reached the UK press of some Russian oligarch[1] turning vindictive because his 8 million rubles didn’t get him a cabinet position, that would be seen as strong evidence of corruption and bribery. In the UK it’s … unmentionable. Heaven forbid that we look at the actual political relations being bought quite openly over the table, when there’s a dead pig to be fucked.

Of course this isn’t surprising. This is the same country where a newspaper was able to hack into a dead girl’s phone, possibly disrupting a criminal inquiry; where its senior staff threw away a computer with evidence of illegal phone hacking and were never convicted of perjury; where its staff were able to bribe police in order to hack the phone of a future head of state and a serving Prime Minister; but no one was successfully convicted of any crime, and no one charged with treason even though the company in question is foreign-owned. It’s a country where a single man was able to rape hundreds of children in hospitals and prisons and police repeatedly backed away from investigating him. It’s a country where a single black cab driver was able to rape upwards of 100 women over a 10 year period, and even though the police received multiple complaints never be investigated. It’s a country where police can murder a middle-aged man in front of hundreds of witnesses, and not even be charged with any crime. Of course you can openly brag about attempting to bribe a Prime Minister in Britain, even make money from a book about it, and not be investigated by the police – or even have your bribery remarked upon as such by the newspapers who are lapping up your pig-fucking stupidity.

This little piece of bribery is being announced in the same month that the pig-fucker general is planning to pass legislation to ensure that unions can’t donate money to a political party unless they get the permission of their members to do so, with the express purpose of starving the Labour Party of funds from working people. Because in Britain, only rich people should be allowed to buy cabinet positions. It’s okay to spend 8 million pounds of your own money buying a cabinet position, but completely unreasonable to use a couple of pounds of your member’s money supporting a political party that protects their interests.

The only good thing to come of this is the realization that Cameron has principles: whether or not he fucked a pig, he won’t sell a cabinet place for even 8 million pounds. According to our rich and truthful raccoteur, Margaret Thatcher claimed that Cameron didn’t stand for anything, but I beg to differ with the sainted Tory Goddess. His parliament is a deeply, viciously ideological parliament, and he stands for a lot of things. And it appears that one thing he includes in his list of strong political positions is not giving up cabinet seats to rich men with deep pockets. Good on him! Now charge the man with bribery and be done with him.

[For the record: I don’t believe Cameron fucked the pig. It’s none of my business if he did or didn’t fuck a dead pig, since as far as I know it’s not a crime, but I think he didn’t fuck the pig, and anyway it was like a lifetime ago. I’m also suspicious about his membership of the Bullingdon club. The Bullingdon club is founded on a deep hatred of working people, and I don’t think Cameron shares that hatred. I’m not even convinced that he simply doesn’t care about them. To quote Suicidal Tendencies: “Just because you don’t understand it don’t mean it don’t make no sense.” Cameron’s political ideals are completely antithetical to the rights and interests of working class people but that doesn’t mean they aren’t genuinely held out of a genuine belief that he can do right by those people. I recently read a report that he bailed on the Bullingdon Club as soon as he found out what they do, and I can’t judge one way or another but I can see how this is possible. The fact that he hasn’t ever had to defend his supposed membership of this nasty little fraternity says a lot more about the press than it does about him!]

fn1: People in Russia who spread their riches around for political benefit are “oligarchs”. In the UK they’re “grandees”. What does that tell you about the honesty of our news services?

Today is the 70th anniversary of victory in the Pacific (VP Day), when Japan surrendered to allied forces. For the USA, UK and Australia this marked the end of four years of merciless war; for China it marked the end of about 20 years of colonial aggression on the mainland; and for Korea it represented the end of 35 years of colonization by Japan. For the rest of the Asia-Pacific region the end of the war brought on in many cases a new era of instability as colonial governments collapsed and the independence movements of south and south-east Asia took off. The start of peace for Japan was only the beginning of years of civil war, colonial confrontations and communal violence in the rest of Asia, and in comparison to the slaughter and chaos visited on these countries before and after the war ended, the other allied powers’ experience of the Pacific war was relatively pleasant. Still, Australians have many reasons to mark VP Day as a major event in our history, both on account of the huge loss of life sustained, the cruelty experienced by Australians at the hands of Japanese captors, and the profound political implications for Australia of the collapse of British colonialism in Asia, and the UK’s inability to protect Australia (or even win a single battle against Japan!) Japan’s early, complete and ruthless victories over the supposedly superior army, navy and air force of the UK shook the foundations of the UK’s colonial project and brought on the rapid collapse of not just British but also the Dutch, French and Portuguese colonial project. For Australia that meant a major reorientation of our political outlook, first towards the USA and then (much later) towards Asia.

While the long-term political consequences of world war 1 were a second war in Europe, the holocaust and the cold war, the long-term political consequences of the Pacific war were decolonization, rapid development, and ultimately a long peace and relative stability in all of Asia, presided over initially by US power, then by a resurgent and determinedly non-colonial Japan, and now by the three great industrial powers of China, Korea and Japan – once mortal enemies who now have a shared goal of peace and development in all of Asia. Seventy years after Japan’s colonial ambitions were thoroughly repudiated, at great cost to China and Korea, they share a broad set of goals in the region. These goals are disturbed primarily by only two issues: border disputes that no one is really willing to go to war for, and the issue of Japan’s acceptance of its past crimes. Every VP Day there is renewed controversy about exactly how much Japan admits past wrongdoing, and renewed calls for an apology for past acts, and it was expected that on this day especially the Japanese government might do something special about this.

Unfortunately Japan’s current prime minister is a historical revisionist like no other in a long time, and is playing to a right-wing rump at home that prevents him from properly acknowledging Japan’s guilt. He is exactly the wrong prime minister to be making statements of contrition, but it was him who had to give a speech, widely reported, in which he stated that he did not want Japan to have to continually make new apologies. Seventy years on, he wants to draw a line over the past, and look forward to a world without war. Such lofty ideals might sound better if they were coming from someone who was not intent on denying the truth of the comfort women issue, and who was not trying to reform Japan’s constitution to enable this peace-loving nation to deploy its (considerable!) military in joint self-defense actions.

But putting aside the political background of this particular PM, is he actually wrong? Japan has made many apologies over specific incidents and general wartime aggression and violence, and in particular on the 50th anniversary of the war made an apology with the full backing of the Cabinet (the Murayama statement) that is widely seen as an official apology. This statement has been repeatedly reiterated and referred to in subsequent dealings with the affected nations, and at other VP Day events (including in 2005). Abe did not explicitly reference that statement, but he did implicitly endorse it when he stated that “Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future”. He went on, however, to make clear that he thinks that Japan should stop continually apologizing, while remaining aware of the sins of its past and endeavouring never to repeat them:

In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

This statement is being taken by some in the media as a repudiation of past apologies and a statement of intent to forget the war, but I don’t think it can be seen that way at all. It’s simply making the obvious point that when a population has apologized, and is no longer connected to the people who did these things, there comes a point where you have to stop expecting remorse to be a key part of how they memorialize those past mistakes. Instead Abe proposes that future efforts to remember the war be focused on better understanding of the events of the past, and stronger efforts to build a global society that does not or cannot seek war to resolve economic or political problems.

As a citizen of a nation that has only recently apologized for past wrongs that were committed recently enough for a large part of the population to be connected with them, I think he raises a strong point. In 2008 the Australian federal government apologized officially to the living Aboriginal people known as the Stolen Generation who had been stolen from their families by commonwealth policy, and also made a broader statement of recognition of guilt for genocide. This apology came after long years of campaigning (in which I as a young Australian was involved) and a broadly-supported reconciliation movement which wanted to see not just an apology but full recognition of Aboriginal people’s history and the history of genocide against them, and proper compensation where proper compensation could be given. This reconciliation movement was tied in with a land rights movement that saw victories and defeats but was built on a fundamental acceptance of the role of white Australia in stealing land from black Australia and benefiting from that theft.

I don’t think at any point that when we were campaigning for that Apology, we ever intended that the government should repeatedly apologize and continually be forced to officially admit its guilt in some public and formalized way, even as it continued to work on development and welfare improvements for Aboriginal Australians. We saw the Apology as a moment to convey acceptance and recognition, and … well, to say sorry. There is discussion about formalizing a national Sorry Day, but this wouldn’t be a day intended to force every PM to continually reiterate these apologies; rather, it would be a day of recognition of the past, with local events intended to revitalize and reauthorize our commitment to working together to make the future better. I think if the official Apology had been proposed as an ongoing, annual ceremony of abject admission of guilt, no one would have supported it and no government would have done it.

There is something about apologies that requires at some point they stop. As a nation we can have ongoing recognition of the past, through e.g. national memorials, national days of commemoration, or whatever; but the requirement that every government reiterate the sorrow of its predecessors for deeds committed (ultimately) after all those involved have passed on (or been found guilty) doesn’t seem to be the right spirit of apology.

In the case of Japan, the entire Asia-Pacific has VP Day in which to remember the events of the past, but that doesn’t mean that every VP Day the Japanese government should craft a new apology and seek forgiveness again for something that happened 70 years ago; rather, a simple reiteration of past statements, the laying of a wreath, perhaps the unveiling of any new local projects (Japan is involved in projects throughout the Asia Pacific, including research projects aimed at better understanding the war itself); surely, after 70 years and multiple apologies, it’s time that everyone recognized that the past is the past, what was done was done, and moving on from that past to make a better future requires that the events of the past not be raked up and made fresh, whether out of anger or sorrow?

The same can be said of Australia’s genocidal past. There are ways still in which Australia hasn’t come to terms with that past, but mostly these are best confronted and expressed not through apologies but through concrete actions: efforts towards the finalization of land rights law and land reform; redoubled efforts to improve Aboriginal health, welfare and employment; and better incorporation of Aboriginal people into Australian political life. Although in many cases the problems that still exist are bound up with racism that needs to be confronted through political action (see, e.g. the recent shameful treatment of Adam Goodes), this political action needs to be expressly practical. This is exactly what happens in Australia now, too, I think – for example, Adam Goodes’ treatment was not tackled by further apologies, but by practical action by the football association and statements of support and respect from other football clubs and their captains.

In my view apologies are a very important part of the process of political reconciliation and healing, but they should not be some kind of constantly-repeated process of formal self-flagellation because, while on an individual level an apology usually involves an explicit admission of personal guilt for a personal act, on a political and national level they do not represent guilt, as most of the people whose representatives are doing the apologizing were not responsible in any way for the crime. Political apologies are an act of recognition and restitution, not an expression of guilt. At some point the apologies need to stop, and life needs to proceed with practical political commitments and goals.

So I think it’s time that Japan stopped apologizing, and the other nations that were affected recognize that Japan is a good neighbour, an exemplary world citizen, and a nation that is genuinely aware of and remorseful about its past crimes, with a real intention never to repeat them. Japan doesn’t deal with its past crimes in a perfect way, and indeed much work still needs to be done on understanding what Japan did (many records were lost), on coming to terms with the comfort women issue, and on dealing with the (frankly ridiculous) Yasukuni Jinja situation[1]. But these are all practical efforts, that will advance future understanding and respect much more than further apologies.

I also think it’s high time that people in (and on occasion the politicians of) the USA and UK stopped criticizing Japan’s “lack of apology” and instead started thinking about doing themselves what Japan and Australia have done: Apologizing for their own crimes. There is a new willingness in India to make demands for recognition of Britain’s colonial crimes, but many British people – including most of their politicians – still cling to the repulsive notion that the colonization of India was an overall plus for its people. The UK, Holland, Spain, France, Belgium and Portugal all owe apologies for severe and extreme crimes committed expressly in the interests of stealing other people’s land. Similarly the US puts a lot of effort into memorializing Vietnam but hasn’t apologized for its murderous war, let alone subsequent adventures that killed a million people, and whose architects are advising Jeb Bush on foreign policy. Indeed, Kissinger and McNamara are still respected in the USA, when they should be in prison. I think it’s time that the world recognized that while the great crimes of the 20th century have been pored over and guilt ascertained and accepted, there are many slightly lesser crimes that go unremarked and unrecognized, and that a mature nation should recognize those crimes. Rather than seeing Japan as a recalcitrant revisionist, Japan should be seen as a model of how to acknowledge and atone for past crimes, that “better” nations like the UK and USA could learn from.

A few other notes on Abe’s apology

Abe’s apology, which can be read here, is extensive and, I think, quite powerful. He talks about how Japan lost its way and went against the trend toward peace that other nations were following, and explicitly blames colonial aggression for its actions in China. He thrice refers to the injury done to women behind the lines, giving a nod to more than just the issue of the comfort women but also to the general evil of rape as a war crime, and explicitly identifies the need to prevent this from happening in future wars. He also has some very powerful thoughts to add on the nobility of China and Korea after the war, when he states that Japan must take to heart

The fact that more than six million Japanese repatriates managed to come home safely after the war from various parts of the Asia-Pacific and became the driving force behind Japan’s postwar reconstruction; the fact that nearly three thousand Japanese children left behind in China were able to grow up there and set foot on the soil of their homeland again; and the fact that former POWs of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and other nations have visited Japan for many years to continue praying for the souls of the war dead on both sides.

How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?

I think this is a powerful statement of respect for how well Japan was treated after the war, and recognition that there is a great willingness on all sides of a conflict to move on from it despite great cruelties committed. I think also the paragraphs near the end of the speech, which start “We must engrave upon our hearts” are also very powerful, showing how Japan and the world can strengthen efforts to make sure that the crimes Japan committed are not possible anywhere in the world in the future.

Also, I note that this apology is a Cabinet Statement so represents official government policy, not just Abe’s personal opinion. I think it’s a good basis to move forward, recognize that Japan did wrong, and accept that apologies should not and cannot continue forever.

Instead of constantly dwelling on a world consumed by war, let’s work on building a world without it.

fn1: I personally think that this problem could be solved best by opening an official national war memorial – Japan currently has none – that explicitly excludes the 14 war criminals, is non-religious, recognizes Japan’s war crimes and war of aggression, includes a memorial to the people killed in other countries by Japan, and has a high quality modern museum that accurately reflects the truth of the war. Then on some nominated day that isn’t VP Day, politicians can officially go there and pay their respects to the dead and officially, without controversy, reflect on what was, ultimately, a great tragedy for the Japanese people.

You entrusted your money to people who eat smoked guillemot?

You entrusted your money to people who eat smoked guillemot?

I was in the UK in 2008 and 2009 when the Icesave banking disaster happened, and the UK government rushed to use anti-terrorism legislation to try and protect the money of British investors. There were something like 300,000 “ordinary” British and Dutch investors with money in Icesave accounts, and when the disaster happened all but the first 20,000 pounds or so were not protected by deposit insurance, so the UK government acted to try and protect the full deposits of the savers. I remember this clearly [although, probably not details of dates and money amounts] because one of my colleagues at the time had 120,000 pounds parked in such an account, the proceeds of selling her house, and was looking forward to using the money – inflated by the high interest – to buy her next one, and she was understandably distraught when she woke up to discover it had vanished into volcanic smoke.

I also remember at the time that there was a lot of anger in the British public, not only at Iceland, but also at the British government for guaranteeing the deposits of people who were basically risking their money to get a higher rate of return. I often heard the refrain “they knew the risks” and many people pointed out at the time that higher interest rates usually correspond with higher risk, and these people could have had their money protected if they had taken more reasonable risks in a UK bank. This rhetoric probably wasn’t based entirely in fact, since British deposits weren’t fully guaranteed, and the UK government had to rush to assure large deposits in Northern Rock after it failed[1], but the general rhetorical principle was correct, British banks were safer than Iceland banks and had a correspondingly lower rate of return. The question was asked: should we bail out people who knew the risks they were taking? (Incidentally, I didn’t actually know at that time that a slightly higher rate of interest in a country that I assumed had good banking laws was a sign of higher risk; as a result of the rhetoric of that period I reassessed my involvement in an ING online account that is now defunct).

I can’t easily find articles online from the time that say these things, but I don’t think my memory is wrong. This comment by an academic from McGill University (Canada) makes the point that investors should wear the risk; this blog roundup suggests that many economists thought it was right for Iceland to refuse to protect investors, and indeed Christine Lagarde of the IMF thought Iceland took the right approach. I can’t find any articles directly demanding that deposit holders should carry their risk, but I do remember it being a commonly-stated view at the time, and the view that Iceland did the “right thing” by telling investors to take a haircut is well-accepted, I think, as is the view that it has recovered better than those economies that did not. A subsidiary view, that deposit insurance creates moral hazard, is widely broadcast I think and is consistent with the idea that if you want to get a high rate of return on your deposit you need to be willing to accept the risk that you will lose it, pour encourage les autres. So I don’t think I’m wrong about this perspective and how it was broadcast at the time even if I can’t find written evidence.

The idea that “investors” should wear the risk they take when chasing big profits seems completely reasonable, until one remembers that in this case the investors (and ultimately the creditors) for Icesave included depositors, that is ordinary people who put money in a high-risk/high-return account hoping for a short term gain. It seemed at the time that a lot of people were comfortable with the idea that creditors should just put up with their haircut, and depositors “knew the risks.”

So it’s interesting to compare this rhetoric with the rhetoric surrounding Greece’s recent troubles. Much of the rhetoric about Greece focuses on its profligacy, the easy-spending nature of the Greeks, their corruption, their crazy ideas that they could just keep taking on more debt and spending it however they want. You don’t see much rhetoric (or at least, I haven’t) questioning why people were willing to lend them all this money, and why their creditors are now so heavily exposed. Remember that for every debtor there is a creditor, and the creditor wouldn’t be lending the money if they didn’t want to, i.e. if they weren’t benefiting from it. When Icesave collapsed the greedy motives of the creditors (and, implicitly or explicitly, the depositors who make up a certain proportion of those creditors) was front and centre in the debate, but it’s strangely absent from the Greek debate. We know that in the early stages of its crisis Greece had to take on a lot of public debt to bail out banks that were in trouble; at the time of writing it appears that private debt constitutes about 60bn euros of Greece’s total, which would have been about 30% of the total debt before the collapse. Why were these people lending money to a country that was cooking its books, had apparently obviously unsustainable pension and welfare systems, and an entire population that we are now told were slurping up ouzo down by the beach rather than working 12 hour days like Germans? These creditors didn’t have to lend this money, they could have bought German bonds or Iranian nuclear futures or something more solid and reliable. They loaned money to Greece because up until the crisis Greece’s economy was growing faster than anywhere else in Europe, everyone wanted a slice of that golden Greek sunshine, and basically they thought they could make their motza[2] and get out before the whole shebang went tits-up. i.e., they were greedy. Yet nowhere do we hear tell of their greediness – even though at the same time as their golden goose was turning barren, Icesave depositors were copping flak in the press and the public for being greedy and reckless.

Why is that?

We also shouldn’t stop with these faceless private lenders, who are no doubt lounging around in a gold-plated yacht off some private Greek Island, fluffy white cat firmly en-lapped. We can also wonder why none of this rhetoric of recklessness extends to the dour and responsible Germans. Germany has 60bn Euros sunk in the Greek project, and it is earning a healthy rate of interest. Germany, the country that has never paid its debts, the ultimate trust fund kid, is now strangely insistent on Greece paying its debts, and no one anywhere is questioning why Germany is so exposed to the economy of a country it has deplored as reckless, irresponsible, intransigent and wayward (indeed, worse than Iran if we are to judge by their negotiating results). A handful of eurozone countries have something north of 200 bn Euros sunk into the Greek project, and we now know that they are making a lot of money from this little act of charity: the Guardian’s live blog today tells us that David Cameron is contemplating demanding some of the 1.9bn Euros in profit that the ECB has made from its loans to Greece (though it doesn’t tell us over what period that profit was made). How come this fact – that the eurozone lenders are making fat scads of cash – is not being broadcast widely, as the Icesave depositors’ greedy winnings were being broadcast in 2008? Instead of this morality play, we are constantly reminded that the German taxpayer doesn’t want to have to cough up his or her hard-earned dollars to cover Greek mistakes. Yet right now the German taxpayer is making money from this debacle, so shouldn’t we be instead asking why the German taxpayer tolerates his or her government sinking 60bn Euros into a high-risk, high short-term profit venture in junk bonds? Germany is a responsible country, we’re told, whose taxpayers don’t take risks – at the same time as the media carefully avoids reporting on the big money Germany stands to make if Greece doesn’t default.

The situations aren’t exactly the same of course, and people could argue that the eurozone nations didn’t have a choice – they aren’t loaning this money because they want to, the poor darlings, they’re doing it to save Greece and the euro project. But they did have choices, many choices: they could have told those (primarily French and German) banks to fail, as Iceland did, back at the beginning of the crisis; they could have rushed through some changes to the welfare transfers in the EU to ensure that Greece received direct payments rather than loans[3]; they could have printed money and handed it to the banks, as the UK and US did; they could have raised debt in their own countries, which are much less financially at risk, and provided it as a grant or something; they could have told Greece to find the money on private money markets. But they didn’t, they chose to lend money to Greece on terms that just happen to deliver them large profits – profits that are likely larger than they could have got from e.g. buying each others’ government bonds, or investing in the kind of low-return portfolios that would be politically acceptable to their electorates. And it just so happens that, since they control the mechanism by which Greece generates the repayments of those debts, they are able to turn the screws to ensure the money keeps coming – unlike those investors in Icelandic banks, who have no direct means of control over Icelandic politics and economy (and anyone from Britain who is old enough to know about the Cod Wars should surely know how hard it is to control Iceland!)

And all while this was going on, we were being told about how irresponsible ordinary depositors were to put their money in a bank that had a high interest rate. It’s almost as if the morality underlying the rhetoric depends entirely on the people who took the risks …

Fn1: Northern Rock was then run by famous climate change denialist Matt Ridley, which one should always remember when one is considering how far our modern banks have sunk, and how much one should trust the risk assessment abilities of climate change denialists.

Fn2: This is a Greek word, trust me, I’m Australian so I know Greek slang

Fn3: Something you might argue is hard to do, but it appears that today the leaders of the ESMF have been able to magic up 20 billion euros from the Common Agricultural Policy, in order to find a way to provide rapid finance without leaning on the ECB[4]

Fn4: Which makes one wonder, doesn’t it? Have these people been listening to the Greek government when it tells them how fucked it is? Had they not noticed? They just spent two days arguing with a Greek dude about whether to give him any money, and after they agree they find they don’t have any mechanism to provide the money, and he needs it now and he’s been telling them that for weeks! Perhaps instead of spending that two days arguing, they could have spent it more productively looking for their wallet.

At least it's not debt relief!

At least it’s not debt relief!

This week the European Union was involved in two major deals that settled two outstanding issues. One involved a long-standing issue that posed a threat to global economic prosperity, with an intransigent and corrupt government that consistently refused to adhere to past agreements, was not transparent about its activities, consistently responded to criticism of its activities with aggressive and nationalist rhetoric, and was suffering serious economic problems that required it to rapidly come to a deal that the rest of the world could agree to. The other involved Greece.

The first of these two deals is, of course, the Iranian nuclear deal, which sees Iran keep its peaceful nuclear program and the vindication of its claim to a right to peaceful nuclear power, despite 10 years of obfuscation, secret development, and often dangerously inflammatory rhetoric. For much of that time Iran has been actively undermining US foreign policy interests in the region, including those of its allies, and any concessions to Iran are widely seen as both an insult and a threat to the US’s regional allies. But somehow the EU plus Russia and the USA managed to come up with a genuine compromise that respects Iranian sovereignty, allows it to continue to broadly control (and in many ways, expand) its nuclear science program, eases sanctions and gives security guarantees to the whole region. This deal is realistic about the realpolitik of the region, sensitive to the levers required to influence a sovereign nation’s domestic policy, and mindful of the long-term sustainability of the actions proposed. On a first reading it seems like a masterpiece of cooperative diplomacy.

In contrast, in the same week the EU managed to come up with a completely reprehensible deal that crushes Greek national sovereignty, removes all national control over the key levers of the economy, and doesn’t offer any promise that the problem will go away in 5, 10 or even 30 years. It is both ignorant of the underlying economics of the problem and completely unrealistic about what can be achieved with the policy levers available. On a first reading, it seems like a dog’s breakfast of coercion and wishful thinking.

How could the EU have come up with two such radically different deals in the same week? Ostensibly the former concerns a much greater threat – nuclear proliferation – from a much less tractable nation that shares no strong cultural, political or even geographic ties with any of the nations involved, while the latter involves an ultimately manageable debt crisis in an allied country with strong cultural, political and geographic ties. The latter problem could have been solved by unilateral EU fiat (debt relief) while the former required cooperation from the other power. Yet the deal on Greece has been forged as if that unilateral action were inconceivable, while the deal with Iran has taken a nuanced approach to the real challenges of securing cooperation from such a belligerent negotiating partner. I don’t believe that anyone negotiating with Iran really believed that Iran has a nuclear weapon, so they weren’t negotiating under such a threat, so it appears that they really, genuinely have just tried to come to good terms. It’s not even the case that oil diplomacy or regional military concerns could have been that influential – oil is losing its importance as a geostrategic asset (and will rapidly drop in value as global warming bites), and although Iran has something to offer the US in dealing with ISIS, it is effectively militarily contained.

So what drove this difference? My suspicion is that the economic ideologies underlying the politics of most developed nations are now so completely unhinged and divorced from reality that it is impossible for them to negotiate reasonably in a sovereign debt crisis. They don’t (or won’t) understand fiat currencies, and won’t act with the authority and power that proper understanding of fiat currencies gives, so their negotiations have to be conducted in such a way as to carefully skirt around the actual economic facts in evidence. Connected with this is the related problem of ideologies and moralities – about work ethics, deserving vs undeserving poor, leaners and lifters – that are really hangovers from 100 years ago, and have no place in modern economic discourse (whether sub-national or international). In comparison, the nations involved in negotiating with Iran remain very cognizant and accepting of the basic principles of realpolitik and so are able to incorporate them into decision making and policy development. Hence the apparently bipolar mind at work on these two deals.

An alternative explanation is that negotiations with Greece involved only the EU central powers, whereas negotiations with Iran involved Obama and Putin – who at the moment are looking waaaay saner than the European leadership …

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