|Number 502||February 22, 2012|
This Week: Okinawa, and Campaign Madness
I'm back from vacation, so you can write to me again. I missed you all!
Since it's almost impossible to ignore media coverage of the presidential election campaign (and since readers frequently inquire about my views on this stuff), I have decided to succumb and occasionally mention some things that I notice about this gargantuan spectacle as the media tsunami roars past my ears and eyes. This issue has the first installment. This may be the last installment, but I have a feeling that there will be more to say as we go along.
That's all I have room for at the moment. Keep those emails and letters coming, especially if you have ideas for things to write about. At the moment I'm working on some longer pieces having to do with Compassion, Privatization, and Sweatshops. Let me know what else you're thinking about (besides Presidential Campaign Madness!).
Tuning back in,
This past Tuesday, February 21st, the New York Times published a major front-page article headlined "In Din Over Iran, Rattling Sabers Echo." In it we read:
Of course Iran is "defiant," since they are under threat of attack. And if a war starts, it won't be because of "blundering," and the involvement of the United States is not "inevitable."
This is a very dangerous moment. Iran is no threat to the United States. The real threat to the United States, not to mention the people of Iran, is the threat of another insane war like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please do your part to stop this looming war. Contact your local anti-war organization – just do an Internet search for "No war on Iran" and the name of your city or state – and get involved, or at least donate some cash.
The U.S. keeps over 40,000 troops permanently stationed in Japan. About half of these troops, and three-quarters of the total military facilities in Japan, are on the island of Okinawa. This all started after World War II, and has been maintained since as a part of the network of U.S. military bases that U.S. leaders considered necessary to maintain U.S. dominance in the region.
The importance of the U.S. military presence in East Asia has recently begun moving up the Imperial agenda again. Writing in the London Financial Times last November, President Obama's National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, wrote that the President is pursuing a strategy of "rebalancing our foreign policy priorities," adding that "On his recent trip to Asia Pacific, the president made it clear that the centrepiece of this strategy includes an intensified American role in this vital region." And that role includes lots of troops in Japan.
Not everyone in Japan—especially not on Okinawa—agrees that their country should be a major staging area for U.S. military power, and this has led to a lot of problems in Japan. Problems serious enough that, when the Japanese Prime Minister backed off of a promise to close the largest U.S. military base on Okinawa in 2010, he was forced to resign. Clearly, this is a big deal in Japan. The plan right now, supported by Tokyo and Washington, is to move the largest U.S. base on Okinawa—Futenma—to the small village of Henoko, located further north but still on Okinawa.
And, if you think the Occupy Wall Street protests have staying power, consider that there has been an ongoing protest against the Henoko base plan that has been going on since April... of 2004!
It was in this context that the New York Times decided to run an article on the U.S. presence on Okinawa in 2012. The February 15th story was filed from the Okinawan village of Henoko, which is the site of the aforementioned almost-eight-year-long protest. It was a remarkable article, one that presented some facts that seemed to contradict the conclusions.
The headline of the story, filed from Henoko, read "Amid Image of Ire Toward U.S. Bases, Okinawans' True Views Vary." And the first two paragraphs seem to underline the idea that there is an "image" of resistance that does not reflect the "true views" of people on the island. The Times leads off by saying, "At first glance, this tiny fishing village can appear a hotbed of the sort of Okinawan anger that has damaged America's ties with Japan. Near Henoko's docks, demonstrators in tents recently marked the 2,850th day of their vigil against construction of a United States Marine airfield. But wander up Henoko's narrow streets, and the villagers will tell you a different story. They say the activists are outsiders. Most residents, they say, still support the village's 'painful decision' of more than a decade ago to accept the planned air base, with its noise and risk of crashes, in exchange for jobs and compensation payments." (Okinawa is "by many measures the poorest of Japan's 47 prefectures.")
So the "story" is clear: It was a difficult decision to allow the U.S. to build an air base in Henoko, but most people support it, or at least their "true views" are different from the "image of ire" that we've been fed. Those who read further than the first two paragraphs, however, might be surprised at what they find.
"It Would Be Better Not To Have the Air Base"
First of all, a "community association leader," speaking of the protesters, tells the Times, "Of course, it would be better not to have the air base, but we are not dogmatic like them." So, is his "true view" that he supports the base? Guess not.
The main source of information for the article seems to come from members of "The Okinawa chapter of the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party," or LDP, which seems to be a little out of touch with the "true views" of the population. As the Times says, "In late 2010, the island's LDP-backed governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, won re-election by switching to an antibase platform. 'We had to reverse our position for political survival,' said Sunao Ikema, the secretary general of the LDP's Okinawa chapter."
Says the Times, "LDP members did not exclude the possibility of changing their position once again [in 2012], this time in support of the base, once public passions showed signs of cooling." Vice Governor Kanetoshi Yoseda "indicated that it would be difficult to go back to supporting the relocation without clearer signs of receding public passions." Still, those "passions" are apparently, in the view of the Times, not the "true views" of the population.
The only mention of "pressure" in the article comes when the Times quotes a "Communist Party-backed anti-base candidate who lost the Ginowan mayoral election." He noted that "We need to keep up the pressure on [Okinawan Governor] Nakaima to prevent him from backsliding." Whatever it is that is pushing him toward backsliding might also be called "pressure," but there is no word of pressure from anyone but the "Communist-Party-backed" candidate, who after all is a loser.
The Times reports that "opinion polls show that about 80 percent of voters on Okinawa now oppose [the Henoko base plan], enough for many analysts and politicians to proclaim the agreement to be as good as dead." The poll I saw had opposition at 84 percent, but whatever the number, it must not reflect the "true views" of the people, or else why would the governor want to "backslide"?
Well, says the Times, "look across Okinawa's divided political spectrum and the depth of that opposition varies." Thus leaving some wiggle room for right-wing politicians who, after all, have support in high places. "Both the American and the Japanese governments," the article reports, "still formally support the original plan to move the Futenma base to Henoko."
"There is much truth to the image of an angry Okinawa," says the article, after noting the "public passions" that make up the "hotbed of the sort of Okinawan anger" reported by 80+ percent of the people of the island. So what might the New York Times consider the ideal resolution in the face of this "truth"? Compromise! Here is the fourth paragraph:
"This southern island can often seem united in its resistance to the new airfield at Henoko and, more broadly, to the large number of military bases that the United States has maintained here since the end of World War II. But look more deeply and a nuanced picture emerges, one that seems to offer a possible chance of some sort of compromise."
What is going on here? Why would the Times put such a "spin" on what seems to be a fairly straightforward story of overwhelming resistance to being a pawn in the U.S. military game? I have a theory.
Remember, first of all, that facts have no inherent meaning. In order to have meaning, facts must be interpreted in light of other facts, ideally enough other facts to construct a "story" of which the new fact is a useful part. Sometimes, when the actual facts are not pleasing to the person receiving them (such as the fact of 80 percent opposition to U.S. plans), that person will construct a more-pleasing story into which they will then try to insert the un-pleasing facts. This is what is happening in this case, where the evidence pointing to massive and passionate opposition to the U.S. presence becomes "a nuanced picture" that allows for "compromise."
This often happens in the media, especially when most of the people that the reporter talks to are diplomats, U.S. government and/or military officials, and other "analysts" that in turn talk to the same sorts of people. To them, the priority is figuring out how to put in place the "intensified American role in this vital region" that is desired by the Obama administration and the imperial institutions that ran the show before Obama got there and will run the show after he's gone.
I'll be talking about this "intensified American role" in a future Nygaard Notes, but for those who would like to know more about the issue—and take action in support of the people of Okinawa—please visit the website "Close the Base."
In this first glance at the insanity that we call the Presidential Campaign, I'll say a word talk about Rick Santorum's "momentum" coming out of the February 7th Republican caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, and the (nonbinding) primary in Missouri. Maybe it's because I was on vacation when I heard it, but the media coverage on this seemed even more distorted than usual.
Newspaper reports on the day after the primary/caucuses spoke of "Santorum's stunning trifecta," noting that "Santorum gained some much-needed momentum" from his "stunning victories." Apparently people in the corporate media were stunned.
On that same day I was driving down the road in southern Texas when I heard the following 57 words on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" that gave the lie to the "stunning" angle that was adopted by virtually all of the corporate media:
"Renee Montagne: Our political editor Ron Elving has sent over a few of the numbers from last night. Missouri's statewide primary brought out less than 6 percent of the voting age population.
"Steve Inskeep: The caucuses in Minnesota had just over 1 percent participating.
"Renee Montagne: And in Colorado, fewer than 2 percent of people of voting age turned out for those caucuses."
How "stunning" is it when one percent, two percent, or six percent of voters turn out for a vote on something?
I searched major media for the past couple of weeks for the word "meaningless" in reference to these infinitesimal turnouts. Rarely did I find the word, unless it was used in the sense upon which the "Morning Call" newspaper in Allentown, PA used it:
"Santorum's stunning trifecta says less about his favorability than it does about Republican primary voters' persistent unease about Mitt Romney, the front-runner. The wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri were meaningless in terms of securing delegates, but monumental in terms of Santorum's ability to chip away at Romney's credibility."
Claiming that something is simultaneously "meaningless" AND "monumental" may seem like satire, but this is what we can expect for the next nine months, I'm afraid. And, in a way, it sort of sums up the overall process. The media produces much talk and data which, despite being meaningless in terms of information that might actually inform potential voters, nonetheless acquires meaning by creating various reflections in the house of mirrors that is the Modern American Presidential Election.
Creating such reflections is the point of the billions of dollars that are being spent to influence the outcome, and also is the point of the ongoing fear-mongering being used to push "Voter ID" laws that will have the effect (almost certainly intended) of excluding millions of actual voters from the process. And all of this will have an effect on who votes and how they vote, which will in turn actually influence the composition of the legislative and executive branches of the government of what remains the most powerful country in the world.
So, maybe it is correct after all to say that these caucuses and primaries are both meaningless and monumental! In any case, as painful as it is, I think we all need to pay some attention to this lunacy, as the stakes are high, and this farcical show does have something to tell us. Not so much about the candidates, but about the political and intellectual culture in which we live.