2015/04/19

The Doozy by Sarkoozy: The EPR would conquer "irrational fear" of nuclear energy

When France launched its next generation nuclear reactor a few years back, French leaders were proudly touting their EPR project in glowing terms, claiming it heralded energy independence and the end of worries about global warming. This is what President Nicolas Sarkozy had to say in 2009:

… ladies and gentlemen presidents of EDF, Areva, Bouygues, Alstom, ladies and gentlemen. Since I have been president of the République I have wanted to come here, to Flamanville, to see the biggest construction site in Europe. Now I have come, and I regret that I didn’t come sooner. Flamanville, it’s a site that the whole world looks up to. It is the model for the world of the nuclear renaissance. Renaissance… The analogy with that glorious period of European history will undoubtedly provoke a few debates, but there are some points in common with the Renaissance: the questioning of old ways of thinking, the questioning of irrational fears, the faith in science, and the faith in technology which were the elements of the Renaissance. It is up to us to ensure that this rediscovery of nuclear energy will be an opportunity for the progress and cooperation for all humanity. Flamanville is a model suite for the third generation of nuclear technology. Flamanville is a facet of French excellence, technological excellence, industrial excellence—and “industry” is not a dirty word, by the way—and environmental excellence.

Nicolas Sarkozy, 2009/02/06
quoted in Nicolas Lambert, Avenir Radieux (Editions L’Echappée, 2012)

Well, that was then and this is now. This month even the mainstream media didn’t ignore the bad news out of France, probably because it was disastrous financial news that the global financial industry needed to know. Several reports have appeared like the one in The Wall Street Journal that outlined the sad tale of hubris, lost opportunities, and bad management that has left France’s nuclear industry battered, bruised and down for the count, perhaps to never again rise to its previous stature.
Areva, the company building the EPR, announced last year that it was failing financially because of the downturn in the uranium market since Fukushima, cost overruns and delays on EPR projects, and acquisitions gone bad. This month, Areva announced there was flawed steel in a crucial part of the nuclear reactor it is building in Flamanville, northern France. The regulator has shut down the project until further notice. Since the major parts have already been installed, serious questions are being raised about the viability of dismantling and starting over. A report in The Ecologist noted:

One problem is the pressure vessel's sheer size and the fact that it was already in place when the fault was detected. The vessel weighs 410 tonnes and cannot now be removed, and it is hard to see how it could be repaired or modified.

EPR projects in China and Finland are sure to be halted until questions are cleared up, and the UK is now wondering whether it should back out of a plan to have Areva build four EPRs there.
It is tragic to see France repeat its mistakes of the past with this pathetic replay of hubris and downfall involving grand plans for the next great thing in nuclear energy. This tale of the EPR looks too much like the history of the Superphénix breeder reactor that gave the nation twenty years of grief before it was finally shut down in 1996—and it is still undergoing its long dismantling process.
Nicolas Sarkozy has been out of power for a while, but lately he has been trying to resurrect himself. It remains to be seen whether he will grasp for some way to keep spinning the EPR as a glorious French achievement, trying to convince investors and the public that their doubts are just irrational fears lingering from the Middle Ages.

Demolition of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant cooling tower, Oregon, USA, 2006.
There are several nuclear projects that came to an early demise after long
periods of costly and controversial construction followed by short lives in operation.  
Sources:

Inti Landauro, “Areva Finds Flaws in New Nuclear Reactor,” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2015.

Paul Brown and Oliver Tickell, “Nuclear reactor flaws raise Hinkley C safety fears,” The Ecologist, April 14, 2015.



2015/04/16

ABC News, 1995, Hiroshima: Why the bomb was dropped

In 1995, ABC News looked at the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. This year, 2015, is the seventieth anniversary of the end of WWII. By the summertime, the remembrance of the atomic bombings is likely to be given much attention in the media. Twenty years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary, it was still controversial in America to question whether the decision to use the bombs was necessary. WWII veterans protested strongly against any historical revision, and they won the support of members of Congress and much of the public. This year it will be interesting to see if there is still the same reluctance to question the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In spite of the influence of WWII veterans in 1995, ABC News produced a one-hour special report that year that asked most of the uncomfortable questions that much of the American public didn’t want to hear. From the perspective of 2015, this report is a remarkable example of the mainstream media doing the job it is supposed to do. In this age of 24-hour cable news and reduced attention spans, it is difficult to imagine that such a report would be made this year. But I will just report. You decide.
Chronological Summary of the Special Report

Directed by Roger Goodman, Produced by Sherry Jones and Elizabeth Sams, Written by Peter Jennings and Sherry Jones, ABC News, August 1995
This special report on the 50th. anniversary of the end of WWII began by stating that Americans know very little about the decision to drop the atomic bomb. The reasons for the decision were never widely known.
The report begins by asking five questions that will be addressed:
a) Did the use of the atom bombs shorten the war?
b) Did it save American lives?
c)  Was it necessary?
d) Were there alternatives?
e) Did the United States need to be the first and only nation to use an atomic bomb?

This report was produced as a reaction to the recent cancellation of the Smithsonian exhibit about the atomic bombings that was planned for 1995. It was to be an exhibit portraying the full context of the atom bombings, from the point of view of America and Japan, as well as the international community. It was shut down by strong opposition from WWII veterans and 81 members of the US Congress for being “unpatriotic.”
The official history has always claimed that the atom bombs were justified because they shortened the war and saved a greater number of both American and Japanese lives that would have been lost if the war had continued.
Official history came to be portrayed in such things as the Hollywood film called The Beginning or the End. It claimed to tell the story of how Truman decided to use the bomb. It had to be approved by the White House, which insisted on revisions. There were factual mistakes in the film. For example, it claimed that the Enola Gay came under Japanese attack as it approached Hiroshima, and that American planes had dropped warning messages on Hiroshima. Neither of these claims were true.
The Manhattan Project (the secret program to build the atomic bombs) was launched by President Roosevelt in 1942, but President Harry Truman learned of it only after Roosevelt died in 1945, and after Stalin had learned about it from his spies.
When Truman became president he was regarded as insignificant, a lowly figure whom no one had expected to become president—he had been vice president for only 82 days when Roosevelt died. The Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, was unimpressed by Truman. Stimson was cautious and conservative about using the bomb.
James Byrnes was not so cautious. He became Truman’s trusted advisor, even though he had once been a rival who had competed with Truman to be chosen as Roosevelt’s vice president. Byrnes was afraid of political scandal over the costs of the bomb, and he was eager to use its leverage in global and domestic politics after the war.
The American public had little nuanced thinking about Japanese people. Germans were likely to be seen as either good, ordinary people or as evil Nazis, but there was no such distinction in the public mind about Japan. The Battle of Okinawa had been a recent unprecedented horror, and Americans began to see the casualty numbers increase greatly.
Japan was close to collapse and defeat, but far from surrender. The US wanted an unconditional surrender, but Japan wanted the Emperor protected. The final year of the war was known as the “killing year.” It was vicious and suicidal, and unrestrained. This was the time when the kamikaze attacks on American ships began. The brutality of the final battles had convinced Americans that the Japanese would fight to the bitter end on the home front.
There were B29 air raids throughout Japan in 1944 and 1945, with heavier damage than what was caused by the atom bombs. The normal restraints against harming civilians during wartime had been erased during WWII. As the bomb was made, no one gave much thought to the rules on the use of the bomb, to what limitations there would be on its use. The decision to use it was made as circumstances were quickly changing. The original plan had been only to get it before the Germans had it, but now a plan was evolving to use it on Japan.
General Groves (leader of the atomic bomb project) wanted “fresh” targets preserved for the atom bomb—cities that would not be bombed by conventional air raids. Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki, and Kyoto were on this list, but Kyoto was taken off because of its cultural significance to Japan. The planned targets (ground zero) were the centers of the cities, not military installations at the edges of urban areas.
Only the scientists building the bomb seemed to be aware of the impact the bomb would have on history. Some scientists started to fear the effect on the USSR. They could see that it would trigger an arms race. Leo Szilard led the opposition and wanted to meet the president to show him a petition advising against using the bomb and urging him to put the bomb under international control. He wasn’t allowed to meet Truman, but he was able to have a meeting with James Byrnes instead. Leo Szilard came away from that meeting utterly disappointed. He wrote afterwards, "How much better off the world might be had I been born in America and become influential in American politics, and had Byrnes been born in Hungary and studied physics."
Byrnes went on to become influential in government. He joined a special secret “interim committee” established by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, then he became Secretary of State. He was influential in creating hostility with the Soviet Union, turning it from a cooperative ally to an enemy within a very short time. Szilard’s petition was signed by 68 other nuclear scientists, but it had no impact on policy.
Stimson wanted the Soviets informed about the nuclear program, but Byrnes refused, and Truman let this hardliner run the show.
The hypothetical casualty figures, claims of how many people would have died if the atom bombs had not been used, became extremely flexible after the war, and grew as the decision became more controversial. They ranged from 250,000-1,000,000 casualties--figures that historians say has no basis in fact.
The big question was whether to wait for the Soviets to get into the war. There were several diplomatic options such as agreeing to a conditional surrender, waiting, blockading Japanese ports, or negotiating a surrender.
It was clearly understood, in Japan and America, that Japan would prefer American occupation to a conflict with Russia, and it was clear by the summer of 1945 that Russia would take advantage of Japan’s weakness.
Military men in the American government were the most prominent people urging negotiation and avoiding use of the atom bomb. George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, worried about damage to America’s reputation if the bomb was used, but he raised the issue only once before the war ended and never again after the war. Stimson was alarmed by the appalling lack of conscience and compassion that the war had brought about. Admiral William Leahy, a prominent member of the White House staff, wanted Truman to offer terms of surrender that Japan would agree to. Otherwise Japan would be desperate and the final battles would be vicious.
The idea of demonstrating the bomb on an unpopulated area was discussed but ruled out. In all of the planning, there was no clear definition of “military target.” This might have been the case because the implicit understanding was that by this time late in the war, every place had come to be considered a military target. The destruction of a large city degraded the enemy’s ability to wage war.
There was a summit meeting in Potsdam, Germany, in mid-July with Churchill, Stalin, and Truman. Truman wanted Russia to enter the war, and when he got the promise of this help he emphasized for a short time that this was the thing that was going to end the war, yet after he heard about the successful atom bomb test (July 16, 1945), he de-emphasized this factor.
The world after the war was on everyone’s mind. Once the bomb test had succeeded, Byrnes moved quickly to make sure that communication with Japan revealed as little as possible. It did not mention the certainty of Soviet attack, and there was no offer to keep the Emperor, nor was there a warning about the possession of a new, powerful weapon. One historian said the idea at this time was to not let the Russians “in on the kill.”
Truman thought Stalin didn’t know about the bomb, but actually he knew about it before Truman did. Stalin was only surprised that the Americans actually used it on a civilian population when it was obvious the war was going to be over soon anyway. He interpreted it as a threat to Soviet cities in the post-war period.
Truman wrote about his intent to give a warning and to make an effort to spare civilians, but these were never acted on.
There were only two bombs, so many wondered why were they used so quickly, why there was not more restraint and caution about using up the supply of this special weapon.
The order to drop the bomb was signed by Stimson and Groves. It went out one day before the Potsdam meeting, and it was not signed by Truman. He claimed later that he ordered it, but he didn’t.
The total number of bomb victims was never known. Official studies did not begin until 1950, and by then thousands of people had died from various causes, or moved away.
After the atomic bombs were used, Stalin rushed to get into the war before the Americans made Japan surrender. Fearing that the Japanese would soon surrender, Groves wanted the plutonium bomb (used on Nagasaki) “field tested” as soon as possible. It too was dropped without a presidential order.
Truman issued an order to not use “that third bomb” but it is not clear what made him believe it existed. There wasn’t one, so this was an indication that he was not being provided with accurate information.
Japan surrendered August 15th, 1945. The surrender was called unconditional, but actually it was conditional. Emperor Hirohito stayed in place, as a figurehead with no constitutional powers.
80% of Americans approved of the use of the bomb during the first year after the war, but this number decreased as time went on. America had a monopoly on atom bombs until 1949, but after that Americans would come to understand that they too were potential nuclear bomb victims. In 1946, John Hirsey’s article Hiroshima in The New Yorker gave Americans their first look at what really happened on the ground, and this article was the beginning of a shift in public opinion. Americans could not see films or photos in the post-war years, and even fifty years later such photos were not wanted in the Smithsonian exhibition.
In 1947, Harpers magazine published Stimson’s account of the decision to use the bomb. The issue was becoming controversial and it was necessary to respond. Debate and controversy had emerged, and Stimson succeeded in cutting it short. Here he made up the figure of “1,000,000 lives saved,” with lives confused with casualties. The article was actually ghost-written by McGeorge Bundy in Stimson’s name. Truman also raised his casualty figures after the war as the public began to ask questions about why the bomb was used.
The war had two bookends for US soldiers: Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. It is hard for people who didn’t witness the battles of 1945 to understand WII veterans’ feelings. Jennings concluded by saying that it was regrettable that some veterans bullied the Smithsonian into not showing a multi-faceted exhibit. After all, one of the values for which the war was fought was freedom of expression.
Comments:
The narrator and co-writer of the documentary, Peter Jennings, expresses the common view that America is the only nation to have ever used the bomb, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only instances, but this is true only if one defines “use” as use in an act of aggression during wartime. Many countries used the atom bomb in what were called “tests,” and these uses of the atom bomb were actually very devastating. They damaged the natural environment, destroyed precious homelands, and left many victims of radiation who are now referred to throughout the world by the Japanese word hibakusha.
This documentary, like almost all histories of this era, carries an implicit understanding that America had to defeat Japan and control it in the post-war era. Even some who question the decision to use the bombs seem to agree that it was a natural thing to want to obtain a victory without risking the lives of American soldiers. American leaders never considered the option of simply going home, of ending the war and leaving Japan to its own devices. If they really wanted to save American lives, this was a choice. Japan was so devastated by this time that its ability to be an imperial power or threaten America had been completely destroyed. But a decision to not occupy Japan surely would have let the Soviets get “in on the kill,” so the assumption that occupation of Japan was necessary reveals that everyone understood what was happening in 1945: the division of the world into two spheres of influence, one American and one Soviet. Stalin was certainly willing to sacrifice his soldiers in order to grab territory in East Asia, so American thinking at this time was curious. America wanted victory but didn’t want to risk soldier’s lives for it, and it was willing to make Japanese civilians pay the price for this reluctance. A few military leaders voiced opposition at this time because they believed it was dishonorable to pursue a military objective without sending soldiers to obtain it, but their protests fell on deaf ears.
At the end of the war, the Soviets did manage to grab Japan’s Northern Territories (the Kuril Islands), territory that belonged to Japan before its 20th century imperial project. The Soviets had no claim to these islands under international law, and ever since Japan has demanded that they be returned. Though the Japanese claim is legitimate, its selective attention to this issue is conspicuous when Japan continually ignores similar annexations by it ally and protector, the United States, during the Cold War. Land grabs by America and American allies of such places as Okinawa, East Timor, and West Papua (to mention only a few), are ignored by the Japanese government, as are the struggles for indigenous rights in Hokkaido and in many other nations. While the Japanese political establishment and society in general remain so oblivious to and ignorant of the struggles of other peoples, it is unlikely that the international community will ever pay much attention to Japan’s claims to small, sparsely populated islands. Even its best friend America has nothing to say about them.

2015/04/06

Sister Cities of Disaster

Some days it seems like the world has forgotten the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown syndrome (genpatsu shinsai in Japanese) that occurred in Japan in March 2011. Other days it seems like it gets more than its fair share of attention while other lesser known disasters unfold without gaining any attention from an international community.
From the blog of Manitoba member of parliament, John Gerrard
It was the physician Alice Stewart (1906-2002), a leading scientist who challenged the assumptions of the global nuclear establishment, who first noted the need to incorporate an understanding of disaster trauma into studies of the effects of radiation. She faulted the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb studies for not taking account of the effects of disaster trauma on the populations being studied. In the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many people who would have suffered radiation effects were already dead from other causes when the studies began in 1950--and radiation was likely a contributing factor in weakening the immunity of all these people who died from causes apparently unrelated to radiation. The same may be true of the displaced people in Fukushima who are dying of "stress" in their "temporary" residences. As Alice Stewart recounted to Gayle Greene in The Woman Who Knew Too Much:

…. those who’d survived the blast were already damaged—they were physically damaged by the high doses of radiation, psychologically changed by the trauma they’d lived through. My experience as a doctor has shown me that there are many types of trauma from which you never recover. You cannot recover. I saw from the London air raids that the people who went through those were never going to be the same—certainly not after five years. And there was no radiation in that story. I once read about a flood in Bristol—one of the few disasters that’s ever been studied: after the flood, the death rate from every cause went up. There was one death from drowning, but that was the least of it—there was this sort of generalized disaster effect, from shock, stress, infection, bad water. And you get this from a tiny disaster, without the added horror of radiation. Imagine the case in Hiroshima. (p. 133)

The nuclear establishment never paid attention to this flaw in the A-bomb studies, but this didn’t stop them from becoming the “gold standard” upon which all radiation safety guidelines are still based upon to a large degree. Unfortunately, we still don’t appreciate the degree to which the hibakusha—in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima—are victims of multiple disasters layered one upon the other. The A-bomb victims were also victims of the sort of urban destruction that happened in conventional air raids. They were victims of the preceding decade of war, of famine, malnutrition, economic collapse, epidemics, a powerful typhoon that ripped through Hiroshima in September 1945, and a cold winter that followed. The 160,000 persons officially displaced by radiation contamination in Fukushima were also traumatized by the most powerful earthquake and tsunami of recent history.
Alice Stewart seemed to have an intuition of the relationship between the trauma of a radiation disaster and the trauma experienced from other disasters. It's uncanny that she chose the example of the Bristol flood years before a major nuclear disaster came in the wake of a great flood in 2011. As the victims of Fukushima marked the fourth anniversary of their triple disaster syndrome, a small, now fragmented community in Manitoba, Canada was also passing its fourth anniversary in conditions very similar to people in Japan who have been living in a state of permanent transience since the day their lives were upended. In an uncanny way, they are a sister city to many towns in Northeastern Japan.
The people of the First Nations community of Lake St. Martin were forced to abandon their homes in the spring of 2011 when the provincial government made the deliberate decision to flood their community in order to save Winnipeg (population 664,000) from a greater flood disaster.
At the time, they were promised that they would be fully compensated during their temporary relocation, and a fully-funded new location for the town would be found without delay. Of course, plans went astray as soon as they set foot in Winnipeg. The community splintered as they were housed in various hotels and apartments around the city. With no jobs, and no experience living in an urban setting, people were adrift, especially young people who were not prepared to deal with Winnipeg’s mean streets. Federal, provincial and municipal bureaucracies tried to help, but things turned sour when a government official closed a deal for a new town site with an impatient seller. The land was purchased without the agreed upon consultation with the Lake St. Martin leadership, so they refused to resettle there.
The media occasionally checked in with the progress of the dislocated, and now web searches turn up headlines like these:

Deal for a New Lake St. Martin (Winnipeg Free Press, July 16, 2014)
There are Flood Victims in Winnipeg (Winnipeg Free Press, March 24, 2015)

The second headline above (Deal for a New Lake St. Martin) refers to a report that gives a short history of the years of scandal and disputes that finally led to an agreement on how and where to build the new community. However, an appalling aspect of the reporting in general is how it failed to portray the city of Winnipeg as in any way owing a huge debt of gratitude to the people of Lake St. Martin. The July 16, 2014 report in The Winnipeg Free Press reported:

Lake St. Martin was destroyed in the 2011 flood, forcing the evacuation of the entire population at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the federal government.

The reporting here emphasizes the cost to the federal government, implying a burden on mainstream society imposed by the land’s original inhabitants, yet it makes no mention at all of the fact that this was a forced evacuation done in order to prevent damage to the lives and property of hundreds of thousands of people in Winnipeg. Like the people of Fukushima, they were treated simply as forgettable sacrifices for the urban population 200 kilometers to the south.
The people of Lake St. Martin had no choice in the matter, but they went along with the evacuation willingly, and agreed to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. In every comment and report I’ve found on this matter, I haven’t noticed one person who asked that they be treated like heroes, but this begs the question: why weren’t they?
I dread to think about what the sentimental outpouring would have been like if Lake St. Martin had been populated by white people. Perhaps it would have been much the same. One could ask why there was no heroes’ welcome from the mayor. Why was there no welcome mat put out by schools, business leaders, neighborhood associations, unions, or city councilors? Where was the big collective hug? If there was one, it sure was a well kept secret. 
Perhaps our cities have become nothing more than populations of alienated salaried folk preoccupied with paying the rent or the mortgage. If they hear something about some unfortunate souls who’ve come to town after losing their homes, why should they care? Tax payers hear that the victims are getting their hotel rooms and their monthly checks, so all is well, right? But maybe what they needed most of all was an embrace and a thank you from the city they saved from the great flood of 2011. 
But the people of Lake St. Martin had a close, interconnected community, and this is precisely something which city slickers have no comprehension of, so we can’t expect them to have empathy for the loss of genuine communal bonds and ties to the land. And thus it is that the Lake St. Martin story passes down the memory hole, barely noticed and misapprehended on the rare occasions when urban Canada paid attention to it. Nonetheless, it is a grim, small-scale reminder of the way you will be abandoned when some event in this age of dislocation comes to your town. What is in store for anyone, potentially, has been heralded by other such events this century: Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (2005), the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (2010), the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster in Japan (2011), and Hurricane Sandy in the US Northeast (2012).

Further Reading:


The 48-minute film [Treading Water: Plight of the Manitoba First Nation Flood Evacuees] tells the story of Canadian Aboriginals who were moved off of their reserve... due to unprecedented flooding. 
In April 2011, Manitoba experienced a 1-in-350-year flood. In an effort to save the City of Winnipeg and other urban centers, unprecedented water levels were intentionally diverted through the Fairford Dam to Lake St. Martin. As a result, First Nation communities in the area were swamped, and 2100 people forced from their homes for what they thought would be just a few weeks. But weeks turned into months. And months stretched into years.
To this day, evacuees remain stranded, drowning in despair and stuck at a standstill, scattered in hotels and temporary housing throughout Winnipeg and Manitoba. They have no homes to go back to, and the displacement has triggered family breakdown, compromised education, stress and depression, and ultimately, increased substance abuse and suicide rates.
The people in the documentary are as frustrated as they are devastated, as they struggle with feelings of isolation, loneliness and dejection.


Other sources:

Gayle Greene, The Woman Who Knew Too Much (University of Michigan Press, 1999).





2015/03/28

Japan's Lonely Brave Bureaucrat Speaks Out on TV Asahi

A former high level bureaucrat in the Japanese Ministry of Trade was one of the few public officials to bravely speak up for radical change in the wake of the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown catastrophe. The Economist was one of the first in the English language media to report on Shigeaki Koga’s radical proposals for reform of national energy policy. In September 2011, The Economist reported his views:

"I believe this is the final chance for Japan to change," Mr. Koga said in May, when I asked him during a wide-ranging interview why he was speaking out. "If I shut my mouth and obtain a good post in the ministry—even if I did that, in a few years Japan's economy would plunge," he said. "That is why I am taking on risks, and I don't care if I have to resign. Because if I don't speak out, Japan will not change. It is meaningless for me to be in the government if I cannot advocate reform."

Since this time he has been shut out of meaningful participation in reform, but he has been a regular guest commentator on news programs. He has been a regular on TV Asahi’s evening news program Hodo Station, but things took a bad turn in January, when, taking inspiration from the “Je suis Charlie” frenzy, he held up a placard during the broadcast stating “I’m not Abe.”
At a press conference afterwards at the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club, Mr. Koga explained the way he was being excluded from further appearances on Hodo Station:

(Reporter) Mr. Koga, just to follow up on this because your case may be very important for the future of Japan. Could you tell us if you are officially and publicly being “sacked” from your job?

If I make any mistake in explaining this, it will bring about many problems. Even if I am scolded, I will be scolded only by TV Asahi. So it is not as scary as being scolded by [Chief Cabinet Secretary] Suga. Precisely speaking, there is no contract that guarantees exactly how many times per year that I will appear on Hodo Station. From TV Asahi’s perspective, they ask me to appear on a case-by-case basis. So, it is not that they are firing me. As far as I have heard, it is the producer who has the leading role in deciding which commentator appears on the show. As for me, I have been very busy, so the producer and I used to set a schedule for next three-month period. Basically, the producer asked me to appear about once a month, and as for the exact date of appearance, we agreed to decide two or three months ahead.
I heard that the head of the press bureau of TV Asahi had not been comfortable with my appearances since last year. But, after January 23, he ordered a strict prohibition on my appearances after April 2015.
I have not heard this from the head in person, so I would like to hear this from him in person.
This is how I understand the case. My appearance on March 6th and 27th were already scheduled. If they had canceled scheduled appearances, there would have been criticism. But since no appearances by me were scheduled after April, I think that is the reason why they decided to enact the prohibition in April.
A reporter at yesterday’s press conference by the president of TV Asahi told me that nothing has been decided yet about my future appearances. Moreover, the president maintained that he is not aware of any pressure coming from the Kantei [Prime Minister’s office]. (as reported by Japanese Perspective)



On March 27, 2015, Mr. Koga made what he said on air would be his last appearance on the show (now on Youtube). He had a rather tense exchange with the host because he wandered off the script to say some general things about government policy that he wanted to cover. He also upset his hosts by suggesting that TV Asahi management was excluding him from further appearances because of explicit or implicit government pressure. 
   He countered the common wisdom that Prime Minister Abe is not accomplishing anything, and explained sarcastically that in fact he was pushing through his vision of a “beautiful Japan.” He then held up a placard that listed the three major goals the Abe administration has been working toward: nuclear technology exports, weapons exports, and gambling (or recklessness might be a better translation). Mr. Koga then gave his own advice that these three arrows of reform should be replaced by exports of renewable energy technology, peace and culture. Then he again held up the “I am not Abe” sign, explaining politely to his host that this time he did not trouble the Asahi staff to make the sign. This one he made for himself. He finished by holding up a placard with a quotation by Gandhi as he advised Japanese people to not be afraid to express their views:

Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it. Changing yourself may not change the world, but for the world to stay as it is, it depends on you not changing.

Mr. Koga's proposals for changing national policy
goals to renewable energy, peace and culture.
     Shigeaki Koga may be banished from certain media outlets for the time being, but I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of him. It was interesting to note that in the reporting that followed this controversial broadcast, the media was very good at relating the conflict between Koga and TV Asahi, but there was no mention of the national policy issues that Mr. Koga tried to draw attention to.

UPDATES

APRIL 5, 2015: Koga’s parting shot may not hit its target.

MARCH 30, 2015: The Japan Times reported on the controversial broadcast a few days afterwards: Ex-bureaucrat blasts Abe on news program.


MARCH 29, 2015: Asahi Shimbun reported on the controversial broadcast the day after I wrote the above: Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management.

Sources:

The GoodBureaucrat.” The Economist. September 14, 2011.

Japanese Perspective, February 27, 2015

"Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management," Asahi Shimbun, March 29, 2015.

Tomohiro Sasaki, "Ex-bureaucrat blasts Abe on news program," The Japan Times, March 30, 2015.

Philip Brasor, "Koga’s parting shot may not hit its target," The Japan Times, April 4, 2015. 

2015/03/06

Commucapitalism in Cold War Plutopia

Commucapitalism:
The Sovietization of Capitalism and the Merger of American and Soviet Ideals in Cold War Plutopia

On a recent episode of The Keiser Report (2nd. half of episode 723),[1] anthropologist David Graeber talked about his new book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. He discussed the way government and corporate entities have merged into a seamless bureaucracy in which it is impossible to make distinctions between the two. For example, corporations might apologize to their customers for the “red tape” of government regulation imposed on them, but the regulations are written by corporate lobbyists.
Graeber explained, “At this point the free market… and the government are so completely fused together that you can’t even tell them apart.” A prime example, one he discussed elsewhere in an interview in Salon.com,[2] was Obamacare: “You can’t tell if it’s public or private; and it’s partly government regulated profit-taking, forcing you into a profit-making enterprise [whether you like it] or not. And it creates completely unnecessarily complicated layers of bureaucracy.”
During the Keiser Report interview, Max Keiser commented, “It sounds like the Soviet Union back in the day when people were saying this is completely choked with this bureaucracy, this communism. There’s no entrepreneurism. There’s no growth.”
David Graeber agreed, adding, “I would call it the Sovietization of capitalism.”
By this he meant that there was a utopian ideal in communism, and whenever it failed, the system punished people who couldn’t live up to the ideals by stifling them with rules and bureaucracy. In much the same way, the utopian ideal of capitalism produces the same effect. He cites the example of banks that now need fees and penalties imposed on their depositors, not profitable lending, in order to make a profit. This is no different than a government charging a fee for a license plate. He drove home the point by saying further, “Someone figured out that they’re printing enough [euros] to give every individual in Europe 763 euros a month for a year. Well, why not give everybody in Europe 763 euros a month for a year?... How could that not be a better stimulus for the economy?” The answer was that if they adopted such a bottom up solution, there would be no fees to collect for the mandarins at the top.
In the Salon interview he said,

“There was this liberal fantasy in the 19th century that government would dissolve away and be replaced by contractual market relationships; that government itself is just a feudal holdover that would eventually wither away. In fact, exactly the opposite happened. [Government has] kept growing and growing with more and more bureaucrats. The more free-market we get, the more bureaucrats we end up with, too… It always goes up. It went up under Reagan.”

This ironic Sovietization of capitalism, has a parallel, and perhaps a cause, in the Cold War factory towns where the two superpowers built their atomic weapons. It turns out there is an extra reason why this new social structure is called a plutocracy. In Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters,[3] Kate Brown highlighted the remarkable hybridization of the American and Soviet systems that occurred in these towns, which were an entirely new form of social organization created out of the existential dread of nuclear war. The differences between the ideals of the two systems can be seen in Table 1:

Table 1
Ideals of American Capitalism and Soviet Communism



American Capitalism
Soviet Communism
1
Property
private
state-owned
2
Individual Outcomes
unequal
equal
3
Economy
free market
directed by the state
4
Speech
free
state-controlled
5
Individual Motivation
enlightened self-interest
enlightened self-sacrifice
6
Value of the Individual
primary
secondary to the collective

Table 2
The actual values adopted in both of the superpowers’ plutonium cities: Richland, USA and Ozersk, USSR




Ozersk-Richland Hybrid Economic and Social Order
1
Property
state-owned
2
Individual Outcomes
unequal
3
Economy
directed by the state
4
Speech
state-controlled
5
Individual Motivation
enlightened self-interest
6
Value of the Individual
secondary to the collective


About Table 2

1. Property

The city of Richland, Washington emerged out of the desert for no reason other than the production of plutonium. There was a need to have high quality housing built fast for an elite of scientists and engineers, and it is believed that this gave rise to prefab housing and modern suburbia. However, the difference in Richland was that private home ownership was banned. The federal government had to give security clearance to every resident, and monitor their health for radioactive contamination. This would have been impossible if employees of the plutonium factory had been allowed to buy their own homes and sell them on the market to someone who lacked security clearance and an approved reason to be in Richland. Score a point for the Soviet system.

2. Individual Outcomes

For the first few years of the Cold War, the USSR was in a panicked rush to catch up to America in the nuclear arms race. It relied on soldiers and prison labor to build a plutonium factory, but it soon learned what the Americans had learned during the Manhattan Project. The best way to maintain security, quality of the product, and loyalty was to lavish highly educated scientists and engineers with a quality of life they could not get elsewhere. In both atomic cities, the perks were so good that many refused to leave even when they knew they were being contaminated with radionuclides. Score a point for good old American inequality of outcomes.

3. Economy

During the Cold War, American conservatism developed its rhetoric lauding free enterprise and deriding government interference, but this movement thrived during the time of greatest state intervention in the economy. Of course, this was the time when great corporations like Boeing, Dupont, and Rockwell emerged, but these existed only because of the massive government programs to build nuclear weapons and missiles, which in turn necessitated the interstate highway system (for evacuation of big cities) and the internet (to maintain communications after a nuclear attack). Score a point for Soviet-style state management of the economy.

4. Speech

Richland had a newspaper, but it was heavily censored and never ran stories that helped citizens question how the Hanford reactors were being operated. Score another point for the Soviet way.

5. Individual Motivation

We could say that the people who built the atom bombs were making a sacrifice for their country, but both nations had to shower their workers with extra privileges that they couldn’t get outside of their gilded cages. There was an element of sacrifice in the work, but success depended on knighting the workers with elite status. Score a point for the American way of better outcomes for all through enlightened self-interest.

6. Value of the Individual

Both plutonium cities left a legacy of the worst environmental contamination known to mankind. There were horrific accidents, deliberate massive releases of radiation, and reckless contamination of workers and residents in surrounding communities. The cleanup is an unresolved nightmare that stretches out to the crack of doom. In both places it was implicitly understood by management that this was war, and in this war lives would be sacrificed for the “greater good.” The ideals of the Enlightenment and of the American constitution say that the protection of individual rights must be the basis of the state’s legitimacy, but in the atomic cities of the USA and the USSR, it was individual sacrifice for the state that was required. Score 1 point again for the values of the USSR that emphasized the honor in dying for the motherland.

Cold War Scorecard: America 2, Soviets 4

Though it is common wisdom to say the America won the Cold War, it ain’t over ‘till it’s over. And how will we know when it’s over? The transformation of both nations in the early Cold War suggests that the two systems converged in ways that were seldom acknowledged. In fact, if we want to keep score by the categories of Table 2, the Soviet system had a clear victory. Perhaps this is why now, a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, academics are taking note of a phenomenon called the Sovietization of capitalism.

Notes

[1] “The Keiser Report,” Episode 723, Russia Today, February 24, 2015.

[2] Elias Isquith, “David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life,” Salon, March 5, 2015.

[3] Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013).