Japan’s right-wing nationalist government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an enthusiastic ally of Tony Abbott, will go to an early election in mid-December.
If you read the mainstream media and its business pages, “Abenomics” is a gleaming beacon of innovative policy to resuscitate the chronically sick capitalist economy.
Ever since Abe announced a 10.3 trillion yen ($A120 billion) injection of cash into the Japanese economy in January 2013, he has been hailed as an audacious visionary.
What are the facts? As of this week, the Japanese economy is officially in recession.
The value of the yen has fallen by half, prices are skyrocketing and wages and pensions are going backwards. The only thing to boom after Abe’s credit splash has been the share market. The speculators have been engaged in an orgy of “insider” transactions yielding quick profits.
So what happened to Abe’s economic “theory” that the injection of trillions into the credit system, aka Quantitative Easing, would sponsor major infrastructure projects, new jobs and an enlivened economy?
As you would expect from capitalist plunderers, they did the same as their brethren on Wall Street and the City of London – they took the money and maximised their pay packets, commissions and bonuses. They didn’t invest in construction projects but in the share market.
With his economic plans in a shambles, Abe is storming the frightened electorate with an intense three-week campaign to gain a fresh mandate.
One of his objectives is to alter the “peace” constitution imposed on Japan following its surrender in 1945. His aim is to permit Japan to use its current “defence” forces – army, navy and air force – in overseas combat operations.
This is being encouraged by right-wing anti-Chinese Republicans and Democrats in the US. Their policy of “containment” and “encirclement” of China using “big stick” diplomacy is at the heart of explosive tensions in the Far East.
When Julia Gillard released her “Asian Century” White Paper to Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper in 2013 hoping to encourage some favourable press (the ploy didn’t work), she probably never dreamt that a year later the isolationist Abbott would collapse into China’s arms with an ill-conceived “free trade agreement” while trying to balance his relations with Washington and Tokyo.
Last year the eccentric regime in North Korea accused Abe of being a “militarist maniac” after he vowed to rewrite the “peace” constitution and visited the controversial Yasukumi Shrine to Japan’s war dead, adding that the country was taking the path of “self-destruction”.
Pyongyang had a point.
A different view of G20
When a global story of immense implications breaks, the mainstream media is tested. Politicians are tested too. Now that the G20 is done and dusted, we can ask how readers, viewers and listeners were served.
In the days leading up to the Brisbane summit, the Queensland capital was crowded with coppers with guns and reporters who were asking each other: “What’s going on? What’s today’s story?”
They didn’t know whether the story was Tony Abbott, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Xi Jinping or one of the lesser attendees.
They decided the “big story” was Abbott’s vow to “shirt-front” Putin. So for 48 hours the media presented a comic strip clash between the Good Guy (i.e. our guy) and the Bad Guy (Putin). Overseas media read this stuff and shook their heads in utter dismay.
The conference opened with a speech by Abbott which was execrable. It was the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear at the Mosman branch of the Liberal Party. It wasn’t just provincial or parochial, it was suburban.
The assembled dignitaries and media shook their heads in utter dismay. A long-standing Liberal standing near me said that speech was so incompetent and aberrant that it showed Abbott wasn’t a proper prime minister. “He will have to be replaced,” he told me.
Then a sudden shift occurred. With the summit heading down the toilet, the world’s sharpest media minders and spin doctors took charge. Even Abbott’s staff took him aside and told him that his opening gambit – shirt-fronting Putin and refusing to allow climate change and Ebola onto the agenda – threatened to turn the summit into a lightweight farce.
Abbott was pulled into line. All his subsequent speeches were written and read line by line.
He was rescued by Trade Minister Andrew Robb, a former federal director of the Liberal Party, who scrambled together a free trade agreement with powerbrokers from the Chinese Communist Party.
The summit leaders came, saw Abbott on his home turf and at close quarters and concluded he was an idiot. And that’s the opinion they carried back to Washington, Beijing, Moscow, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Jakarta.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, fresh from being named Woman of the Year by a glossy magazine called Harper’s Bizarre (sic), was elevated to the top of a list of ministers likely to become the next prime minister if Abbott fell under the proverbial bus.
As a result, she was sidelined (by Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin?) and vanished from the summit.
Her response was to go to New York, attend the United Nations and claim some media attention by “shirt-fronting” Obama over his perfectly reasonable observations about the declining state of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a diplomatic gaffe of epic stupidity.
As the leaders drifted back home, Abbott was left to tour the wreckage of his “great diplomatic triumph” (The Australian and Sky News passim). He was drawn, pale, gleaming with oily sweat and uncomfortable.
In truth he hadn’t led the summit or even intelligently hosted it. He had managed to survive it.
The NSW State Library has been hosting an exhibition by the great London photographer Don McCullin. It not only covered his famous work from war zones in Vietnam, Biafra, Bangladesh and Ireland but also a collection of magical landscapes.
It’s high time reviewers stopped referring to Don as a “war photographer”; he’s much more than that.
Over the decades the semi-literate Cockney has matured artistically and philosophically. On the London Sunday Times in the 1960s when we worked together his war photography seemed like a brutal fetish expressing raw anger and machismo. But his attitude has radically changed since then.
One of his captions at the Sydney exhibition caught my eye: “Young people over here have grown up with a Hollywood vision of war: frivolous and glamorous, filled with handsome and muscular guys, nicely tanned.
“That’s not what war is about. My goal is to show that what war is really about: ugly and repugnant.”