Wednesday, 25 December 2013

​Who is to blame for the crisis in South Sudan?

The nascent civil war in South Sudan is a product of kleptocratic governance, systemic corruption, and political posturing that has reignited deep ethnic divisions between the nation’s two largest tribal groups.

The world’s youngest nation has been in disarray since December 14th, when sporadic gunfire and skirmishes broke out in the capital, Juba. Shortly after, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced that a coup had been attempted by members of his own presidential guard allied with Riek Machar, the ambitious former vice president who was purged in July. Since then, the country has been destabilized by fighting between government forces and members of the army loyal to Machar, forcing tens of thousands to abandon their homes and seek shelter in squalid UN bases throughout the country. Reports indicate that rebels have captured swathes of territory, including areas such as Bentiu, a northern provincial capital in the country’s most oil-rich region, and other economically strategic areas. Kiir belongs to the Dinka – the country’s most powerful and populous ethnic group – while Machar is ethnically Nuer, and sources claim that brutal ethnic violence has broken out between the two groups with heavy involvement by government forces.

Juba has insisted that its forces have only protected civilians and have not taken part in massacres, despite numerous reports of security forces arbitrarily targeting civilians belonging to the Nuer ethnic group. The resulting violence has prompted the UN to add nearly 6,000 international troops and police officers to the more than 7,600 peacekeeping forces already in the country.

The United States – which has been South Sudan’s main political backer prior to and since its independence in 2011 – has firmly declared their support for Kiir’s government and warned the rebels against attempts to seize power through military force. Though the current crisis has undeniable ethnic dimensions that have reemerged as a consequence of historically unsettled animosity between the Dinka and Nuer people, the crux of the problem is political. The rampant corruption and misuse of governmental authority in political and economic affairs has divided the ruling party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or SPLM), while the state’s inability to provide basic services and alleviate poverty has created widespread disenchantment in a society that was largely optimistic that independence would bring lasting peace.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Can Uruguay hash out a progressive model for cannabis reform?

If Uruguay’s cannabis policies succeed in curbing illegal drug trafficking and promoting responsible public use of the substance, other nations have no excuse not to experiment with alternative models of narcotics regulation.

The small Latin American nation of Uruguay has taken the brave step of becoming the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana, one of the several progressive policies being undertaken by the left-of-center government of President José Mujica. The former Marxist and guerilla revolutionary spent more than a decade in jail prior to his release in 1985, and he later climbed his way up the political ladder from an elected deputy to president in 2009. Known for maintaining a frugal lifestyle and a preference for giving most of his monthly salary to charities that benefit the poor, Mujica has overseen the legalization of gay marriage, abortion, and now marijuana. Uruguay has become perhaps the region’s most socially liberal country, and the state’s decision to regulate the sale of marijuana – a de facto nationalization – will allow it to tinker with policies that can be emulated elsewhere if proven successful.

The new legislation would make marijuana commercially available to adult citizens after registering in a government database; users will be able to purchase 40 grams of marijuana from pharmacies every month and cultivate up to six plants on their property. The government aims to make marijuana available for one dollar per gram, with the aim of undercutting the black market rate of $1.40 per gram. Uruguay is estimated to have some 120,000 to 200,000 daily-to-occasional cannabis users, and the rationale behind the policy is that instead of these users getting their marijuana from traffickers and local mafia groups, the sensible alternative is to rein in the $40 million domestic industry by legitimizing it and offering a good quality product which can be regulated and offered in a safe environment.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perestroika in reverse? High-profile purge hints at N. Korea reform rift

The public sacking of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and mentor is not a sign of regime instability; it demonstrates that the young leader is firmly in control and is able to consolidate his power by purging any possible rival figures without question. 

The man widely believed to be the second-in-command in North Korea’s political hierarchy was been publicly chastened, stripped of all posts, and even forcibly removed by police officials during a political assembly.

Jang Song-thaek, the husband of former leader Kim Jong-il’s sister, has been politically intertwined with North Korea’s ruling family for over four decades. He climbed his way through the party, fell from grace in 2004, bounced back in 2006, and received a top military post in 2011 following the ascent of Kim Jong-un. Jang was frequently seen in public as the young leader’s mentor and adviser; he is known to have been a key figure in maintaining regime stability following the death of Kim Jong-il and was widely believed to be steering the state’s economic affairs, particularly in joint projects with China.

Jang’s purging and overt public denouncement in state-media is largely without precedent, turning an elite power broker into a reactionary agitator overnight. Sources indicate that Jang is already being given the Trotsky treatment as his name and image have reportedly begun being edited out of state-produced documentaries and articles.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Pope Francis & the globalization of indifference

In the midst of massive global inequality and economic austerity, Pope Francis’ embrace of frugality has fundamentally changed the Vatican’s narrative and breathed new life into the religious institution.

Against the backdrop of his damning critique of economic disparity, many can agree that the images of Pope Francis embracing the disfigured and washing the feet of convicts radiate the kind of humility that has been undermined by the singular dominance of capitalism and its self-centered value system.

Regardless of what faith or philosophy one subscribes to, the relevance of the Pope’s message – that capitalism has grown unmanageably reckless and tyrannical – cannot be shied away from.

The pontiff’s concept of the ‘idolatry of money’ has touched every facet of modern society. It is present in neoliberal leaders who slash social services and practice an unrestrained brand of capitalism. It’s in lobby groups and the corporate CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers that pull the strings of‘democracy’ from behind the scenes. It’s in environmental degradation stemming from the mass production of consumer goods under the wasteful planned obsolescence model.

It’s also in the immoral hegemony of the military-industrial-complex; in the drive to patent organisms, plants, and animals; and in the pop-culture circus that incentivizes the unchecked dominance of consumerism, self-absorption and narcissism.

Former leaders of the Catholic Church have made similar criticisms, but it is Francis’ ability to communicate to laymen and his willingness to embrace those on the margins of society that set him apart from the gold, scandal and pomp that the Vatican has become known for.

The Pope’s reformist activism, his frugality, and his economic and political views can shape the thinking of world’s billion-strong community of Catholics, but can also create social rifts generated by those opposed to his populist philosophy.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

US flyover in China-Japan island row: Will the real provocateur please stand up?

Washington’s move to fly nuclear-capable bombers over China’s eastern air defense zone as a forceful endorsement of Japan’s claims over disputed islands is both needlessly confrontational and totally counterproductive.

The territorial dispute over an uninhabited chain of islands in the East China Sea – referred to as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China – has been a highly contentious issue in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, and the issue has resurfaced in recent times as both sides assert their sovereignty over the area.

Mass protests were seen in China targeting Japan’s embassy and Japanese products, shops and restaurants when Tokyo’s far-right former Governor Shintaro Ishihara called on Japan to use public money to buy the islands from private Japanese owners in 2012.

The issue stirs passions in Chinese society because Tokyo’s claims are seen as an extension of the brutal legacy of the Japanese occupation and a direct challenge to strong historical evidence that has legitimized Chinese sovereignty over the area since ancient times.

Moreover, the official stance of the government in Beijing is that Japan’s invalid claims over the islands were facilitated and legitimized by a backdoor-deal between Tokyo and Washington that directly challenges international law and post-World War II international treaties.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Iran & P5+1: Will hardline spin doctors look to derail deal?

The deal on Iran's nuclear program is promising, but differences among the parties threaten the fragile pact. Israel and members of Congress call for more pressure, and Saudi Arabia signals nuclear ambitions in response to changing geopolitical climes.

The agreement clinched in Geneva between Iran and major world powers is the Obama administration’s most significant diplomatic achievement, and though ‘all options’ remain on the table officially, cooler heads in Washington and Tehran have both understood that even a modest deal is preferable to maintaining the status quo.

The US and Iran have different interpretations of the agreement and its impact on the right to enrich uranium in the long term. Though the current six-month interim agreement technically allows uranium enrichment to continue at 5 percent, Iranian FM Javad Zarif believes that a comprehensive deal eventually brokered after the current pact will fully accept Iran’s uranium enrichment process within the bounds of international law, while at the same time lifting all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

On the other hand, Secretary of State John Kerry maintains – with maximum condescension – that “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich.”

The carefully-worded presentation of the pact – delivered by Obama and Kerry with trademark arrogance – was intended to ease the concerns of US hawks, Saudi spinsters, and Israeli belligerents as diplomats unveiled the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bloodletting in Beirut: Iranian embassy bombing brings Islamic cold war to Lebanese soil

The double suicide bombing targeting the Iranian embassy in a Shiite district of southern Beirut is directly linked to the Syrian conflict and the external sponsors of fundamentalist militias losing ground to Assad’s forces.

The brutal attack on the morning of November 19 was carried out by a motorcyclist who detonated himself near the Iranian diplomatic compound, attempting to breach the walls to make way for another man in a car who attempted to drive as close to the embassy building as possible before detonating his device. The attackers failed to substantially damage the embassy, but the double-tap bombing took the lives of two dozen bystanders and first responders, while injuring over a hundred more.

These tactics directly reflect the methods used by Al-Qaeda against Shiite communities throughout Iraq in the worsening terror campaign raging between Sunnis and Shiites. For the first time, Iranian diplomats were targeted on Lebanese soil, and the attack undoubtedly represents deteriorating relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the latter serving as the principle financier and arms supplier of the hardline Salafist militias fighting to topple the Syrian government, but losing.

The use of Iraqi-style terror tactics on Lebanese soil could be interpreted by some as a spillover from worsening fighting and lawlessness in Syria, but it is more accurately a measure taken by Salafist fighters in response to strategic victories by Assad’s forces, who have the upper hand and are quickly reconsolidating power.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 15 November 2013

TPP: From corporation personhood to corporate nationhood

The secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is the Obama administration’s bid to perpetuate US hegemony in Asia and lay the groundwork for a Pacific century led by American corporate and military muscle.

Although proponents of the TPP may claim that its focus is to help the economies of signatory countries create comprehensive market access, eliminate barriers to trade, improve labor rights and encourage environmental protection, every indication suggests that the wide-ranging agreement intends to maximize dramatically corporate revenues at the expense of public health and safety, civil liberties and national sovereignty.

While the significant majority of the draft text remains inaccessible and shielded from public scrutiny due to draconian non-disclosure agreements, leaks made available by courageous individuals via WikiLeaks indicate that this trade deal intends to champion corporate rights and blur the divisions between governments and multinationals. In essence, the stipulations of the trade deal would make governments – including their national laws to regulate public and environmental health – subservient to corporations and their maximization of profits.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Yemen’s got 99 problems, but a drone ain’t one

As Yemen faces a widely popular secessionist movement in the south, an entrenched Shiite rebel movement in the north, and a scattered Al-Qaeda insurgency campaign roused by US drone strikes, the state is effectively being pulled apart at the seams.

The central government in Sana’a is desperately weak and commands little authority outside the capital. Militant groups, rebels, and tribes seized the opportunity to embolden themselves, following the drawn-out resignation of strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in 2011. The ancient capital, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, is rife with bullet holes, damaged infrastructure, and rubble from past explosions and fires. As the poorest country in the Arab world, some 54.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and economic stagnation is worsening. The severe instability of the state today is a consequence of three decades of rampant mismanagement under Saleh’s rule, as he consolidated his power through a system of patronage that wildly enriched members of the country's tribal, economic, and military elite at the expense of the wider public. Following an assassination attempt that significantly injured him, Saleh handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who became president in February 2012, after he stood unopposed in elections.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Is Libya ripe for 2nd civil war?

The Libyan central government is so far failing to assert its authority over the country, buried in rampant infighting and lawlessness that could lead to civil war.

The failed coup that culminated in last month’s kidnapping of Libyan PM Ali Zeidan demonstrated the central government’s glaring lack of authority. Lawlessness has become an everyday feature of life; foreign embassies are targeted and attacked, rival militias and branches of Al-Qaeda vie for power, and the country’s borders are porous and outside the government’s control.

In another symbolic blow, a federalist movement in the eastern Cyrenaica region has declared an autonomous regional government. This region, known as Barqah, was the cradle of the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi and has been historically marginalized, despite being a generator of economic activity, with 80 percent of Libya's proven oil reserves and several strategic ports and oil refineries within its territory.
The people of Barqah seek autonomy and federalism to combat the political and administrative marginalization meted out by the central government in Tripoli, which refuses to recognize the region’s aspirations of self-rule, and has previously warned that it would forcefully respond over attempts to break away.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Isolated & discredited: Intransigent US policy impedes Cuba’s reforms

Despite the mutual economic benefits of normalizing ties with Cuba, the unceasing and immoral embargo further emboldens the Obama administration’s diplomatic incompetence.

It is no exaggeration to say that the world is opposed to the crippling economic embargo unilaterally imposed on Cuba by the United States. 188 nations approved a resolution calling for an end to the blockade at this year’s annual vote on the issue at the UN General Assembly, with only 2 countries opposing – the United States and Israel. The outcome was unsurprising, as Washington has refused to waver from its policy for over five decades, despite immense opposition from the international community that it so often claims to represent. As a result of the embargo, Cuba cannot sell its products on the US market and cannot use dollars in its transactions, hindering foreign trade, the establishment of joint ventures, and international investment. Third countries have been aggressively fined and pursued by the US to stop them from trading with Cuba, while fines against embargo violators have risen totaling $2.5 billion to date. Cuba is also prevented from accessing medical and surgical equipment, and drugs needed for the effective treatment of tumors, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and cancer.

According to Havana, the cost of the embargo to the Cuban economy is estimated at $1.1 trillion dollars. China and Venezuela railed against the US for its reactionary stance following the recent vote, while Russia criticized Washington’s policy as being “reminiscent of the Cold War.” The stance of every US president since Kennedy has effectively been, “give it time.”

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Renminbi rising: China’s ‘de-Americanized world’ taking shape?

China’s leadership will soon usher in bold reforms to support a domestic consumption-driven economic model, and globalizing the renminbi as an alternative store of wealth to the US dollar is at the center of the strategy.

The scathing commentary published by China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency calling for a ‘de-Americanized world’ was undoubtedly music to the ears of many in the developing world. The article – published during the recent fiscal deadlock – accused Washington of abusing its superpower status by engaging in unwarranted military conflicts, engineering regime changes with impunity, and mishandling its status as the issuer of the world reserve currency by exporting risk abroad. Xinhua’s commentary also called for drastic reforms of the IMF and World Bank to reflect the growing muscle of the developing world, and most significantly, “the introduction of a new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar.”

The planned reforms led by the Xi Jinping administration in Beijing should be viewed through the lenses of the position taken by this article, with the end goal being the full convertibility and internationalization of the renminbi.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

BitTorrent ethics: Punishing piracy or criminalizing sharing?

If you live in a densely populated modern city, there is a strong chance that wireless network transmissions that are in breach of copyright law could be around you at this very moment.

The decentralized network architecture known as peer-to-peer (P2P) communications allows files of all kinds to be shared over the internet with other users without monetary exchange, and millions utilize this technology on daily basis. To some, this kind of exchange represents a new paradigm shift in sharing arts and culture that has the potential to empower new content producers who would have otherwise been consumers, while giving rise to a new decentralized economic model. To those who have a stake in maintaining the pre-eminence of copyright laws over the means of distribution, the millions who utilize these new habits of consumption are likened to renegade sea-bandits in arms – pirates – and they need to be stopped.

Most file-sharing is utilized through BitTorrent, and involves a host website that supports an index of .torrent files that can be downloaded in separate client applications. The content itself is not stored on a single centralized hard drive, but rests on the individual hard drives of millions of users who share their files through a P2P network, making file-sharing very difficult to regulate. The kinds of files that are shared range from films and music to software and e-books. All of it is done without monetary exchange, just as one would share the same kind of content with a friend. Much like the printing press, cassette recorders, VCRs, cable television, mp3 players and the like, the film studios of Hollywood and the recording industry view such innovations as an existential threat to their industries - and file-sharing has become the present day object of a witch-hunt led by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its counterpart, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Ready to detonate: Saudi-backed rebels strap bombs to Geneva-2 talks

As Syria’s rebels refuse to take part in Geneva-2, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the primary state-backer of rebel groups now trying to escalate the Syrian conflict and topple Assad by force.

When Vladimir Putin met with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in August, the newly appointed Intelligence Chief reportedly tried to cut a deal with Moscow by promising to buy billions in Russian arms and pledging not to challenge Russian gas sales to Europe in exchange for withdrawing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Though later refuted by the Kremlin, the media reports suggested that Bandar told Putin to forget about any political solution to the Syrian conflict.

In addition to being the main propagator of a militant anti-Shiite form of Islam that many rebel fighters subscribe to, the Saudi monarchy has become the chief financier of anti-Assad movements aimed at toppling the Syrian government and weakening its allies in Iran and Hezbollah. Russian diplomatic sources claim that the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus was carried out by a Saudi-black op team with support from the Liwa Al-Islam group, a hardline militia headed by the son of a Saudi-based Salafi cleric.

Following the attack in August, Saudi Arabian diplomats pressured Obama to take military action – the collective message was, "You can't as president draw a line and then not respect it."

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 11 October 2013

PM kidnapping fiasco: ‘Liberated’ Libya is chaos-state

Although the detention of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan only lasted a few hours, it was a bold indication of the country’s deepening instability since the civil war that toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In the early hours of October 10, militants whisked Zeidan out of a luxury suite in the Corinthia Hotel, regarded as one of the most secure places in Tripoli, without a shot being fired. The gunmen who abducted the prime minister belonged to one of the many former rebel militias now interwoven into Libya's fragmented power structure as an improvised police force. Militants were angered by the capture of suspected militant Abu Anas al-Liby, who was abducted days earlier off the streets of Tripoli by US Special Forces in connection to the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Prime Minister Zeidan was held over suspicion that he allowed al-Libi’s abduction to take place, despite publicly raising concerns over the illegality of the snatch to US authorities. Reports indicate that Zeidan's abductors were not willing to let him go, and that another militia – calling itself the 'Reinforcement Force' – intervened and freed the prime minister by force. The Libyan leader escaped unharmed, certainly the best scenario that could have resulted from this crisis. Information trickled out slowly in the tense few-hour period during which Zeidan’s whereabouts were unknown, and had allied militias not come to his aid, the situation could have spiraled into a hostage crisis or worse.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

No sunshine: Preemptive strike rationale deepens N. Korean status quo

Seoul and Washington have signed a new military pact that provides for carrying out preemptive strikes on North Korea, a move that will only deepen mutual distrust and damage inter-Korean cooperation. In stark contrast to the hardline saber-rattling that ensued following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February, ties between the two Koreas have simmered significantly in recent months with the reopening of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in September after five months of closure.

Still, diplomatic exchanges always seem go nowhere, and often end in finger-pointing. Since coming to power earlier this year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has further entrenched the policies of her deeply unpopular predecessor, Lee Myun-bak, with a harder military stance on Pyongyang. Seoul’s posturing recently culminated in a massive military parade showcasing homemade cruise missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere within North Korea, as well as Israeli-made Spike missiles that have been deployed right on the tense Northern limit line separating the two countries. Seoul plans to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on enhancing its missile defense capabilities over the next year.

Following a recent meeting between Chuck Hagel and the South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the so-called "Tailored Deterrence Strategy" has been rolled out, detailing the protocol for a preemptive strike on North Korea in the event of Pyongyang’s impending usage of WMDs. According to the doctrine, Seoul can employ not only conventional strikes and missile defense capabilities, but also the American nuclear umbrella. Starting from 2014, the US Air Force will begin flying surveillance drones near North Korean borders to gather intelligence data.

Pyongyang hasn’t exactly applauded this news, and has fired back, promising to preempt any strike by attacking first. The scenario is a familiar one – Seoul and Pyongyang armed to the teeth, promising mutually assured destruction and war in one of the world’s most densely populated and economically productive regions.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

‘Shutdown’: China’s Xi upstages Obama’s Asia pivot

When the clock struck midnight on October 1st, there was plenty more optimism in Beijing than in Washington. In China, people gathered in Tiananmen Square to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s founding. In the US, the situation was much grimmer.

A kabuki theatre of incompetence that brought about a federal government shutdown, has failed hundreds of thousands of government employees while cutting billions on social programs spending. Now Washington faces the very real scenario of a default. The problems posed by the US domestic situation are so dire that Obama was forced to cancel high-profile trips to Asia-Pacific countries, in fear of the debt ceiling crashing down on his presidency. Obama was supposed to visit the APEC Summit in Bali, the ASEAN meeting in Brunei, as well as pay visits to Malaysia and the Philippines – two countries that feature prominently in the “Pivot to Asia” policy unveiled in 2011. Instead, he sent the court jester, John Kerry, in his place.

With Obama’s wings clipped and Air Force One grounded, China’s President Xi Jinping swooped in and stole the show, cutting billion-dollar deals on landmark visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and securing the spotlight for the APEC and ASEAN conferences. While Xi came arm-in-arm with his classy wife for a massive charm offensive that topped headlines in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, Obama twiddled his thumbs in the Oval Office and played the blame game with Republicans, like truculent teenagers. Given the extreme value placed on the concept of saving or losing face in Chinese culture, this can only be a “paper tiger” moment for Obama when viewed through the lens of Beijing. Obama’s no-show is yet another symbolic indication of the winds of global power blowing eastward, as the two largest economies vie for influence in military affairs and markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region: this century’s global locomotive for economic development.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Netanyahu fear mongering over Iran to mask Israel's lack of legitimacy

The Israeli Prime Minister may have left his cartoon bomb at home, but his latest appearance at the UN contained no shortage of dubious claims aimed at strangling the nascent US-Iran rapprochement in its cradle.

Just three days after the historic phone call between US President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani, hopes for a thaw in relations between the two countries were dashed when Obama confirmed that military options were still on the table during a press conference with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. In his eloquent address to the General assembly, Rouhani explicitly cited the "military options on the table" position as being an illegal and ineffective contention, prior to explicitly declaring, "peace is within reach." Obama's unwillingness to deviate from his dominant line comes as no surprise looking back to his excessively uni-polar and exceptionalist address to the general assembly. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif immediately decried Obama's flip-flop, and urged Washington to show consistency in dealing with Iran to promote trust - a unexceptional plea that will most likely prove to be too much for Washington to adhere to.

Whatever glimmers of pragmatism employed by the Obama administration in its dealings with the incumbent administration in Tehran at the start of the general assembly were overshadowed by Washington's unshakeable bond with Israel as Netanyahu visited the White House and took to the podium as the final speaker. Obama is not quite transparently about to turn his back on the "warmongering pressure groups" Rouhani warned that would enact measures to maintain the status quo in his address. For those radicals who dominate the political establishment in Tel Aviv, the coherent and temperate Rouhani is incomparably more troublesome than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose bellicosity allowed Israel to more plausibly sell its anti-Iran narrative. As many journalists and always analysts point out, following Israel's tirades, Tel Aviv has Iran accused of being "months away from the bomb" for over two decades.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Obama & Rouhani: The historic handshake that never happened

As political leaders in Washington and Tehran signal they are in favor of diplomacy, is a genuine rapprochement between the two powers actually possible? The speeches at this week’s UN General Assembly by the leaders of Iran and the US, although each striking conciliatory tones, both envisage a vastly different international order. Recently-elected President Hassan Rouhani, in his first speech to the assembly, reiterated that the Iranian nuclear issue is essentially a red herring, while eloquently addressing the moral deficiencies of the international order as it exists today. He spoke of the human cost of sanctions that devastate communities and the most vulnerable members of society, the illogicality of militaristic pursuits of hegemony, and the need for an international order that rests upon nations existing on an equal footing and the primacy of international law. Rouhani called upon nations to form a peacemaking coalition that rejects extremism and warmonger coalitions. Rouhani’s words were not bellicose, but grounded in moderation and compassionate sensibilities that reflect a growing consensus of global opinion in favor of a truly multipolar world.

The Iranian president’s speech reflects a world view that Iranians themselves overwhelmingly favor, and those who voted him into office are the victors, as Rouhani has taken to the world stage and emerged as a true statesmen and a representative of his people. Unfortunately, this is the point where optimism turns into pessimism. President Barack Obama’s speech, although conciliatory in some respects, was spoken through the lens of unilateralism and the mythology of exceptionalism that has dominated decision-making in the US for decades. Substantial elements of his speech were attempts to justify existing US policy, which is viewed as increasingly unsustainable and narrow throughout many corners of the world. In his 40-minute speech, Obama’s words reverberated in an Orwellian echo chamber, as the orator attempted to dress reactionary positions in the clothing of morality.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cold War redux: Washington turbo-militarizes China’s backyard

While the Middle East teeters on the brink of another prolonged conflict that would engender some form of US involvement, the Obama’s administration’s shift away from the region and toward East Asia is easier said than done. Though the “Pivot to Asia” policy of the Obama administration may not be stealing all the headlines, US military presence around the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca is quietly building up, giving rise to increased American muscle in Southeast Asia. Obama announced the pivot policy during a visit to Australia in 2011, declaring a fully equipped 2,500-strong Marine task force operating from Darwin by 2016. The pivot to Asia is anything but an empty catchphrase, as the US Air Force is beginning to bolster its presence in bases in Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, with plans to move 60 percent of US warships to the region by 2020. It’s no secret that these developments are the Pentagon’s response to China’s ever-increasing military and economic clout, and Uncle Sam is boldly sending the message that he’s coming to town.

Washington’s objective is to build a Cold War-style security ring around China by deepening military partnerships with American allies in Southeast Asia, while broadening its capacity to police vital trade and energy chokepoints. Around 80 percent of China’s oil imports pass through the Straits of Malacca in addition to much of its freight trade, and the deepening US presence being established by the Pentagon is designed to limit China’s access to energy and raw material in the event of a major conflict or political crisis. Washington also aims to rope Southeast Asia into its economic sphere through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a plurilateral free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and a handful of Pacific-rim states, with China distinctively excluded. Ongoing TPP trade negotiations have been hampered time and time again due to growing public disapproval and the reluctance of some participatory nations to accept broadened intellectual property rights legislation that would benefit US firms, as well as drastic deregulation of financial sectors and measures that would undermine existing laws in participating countries.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

‘Expect everything’: A new pretext to justify bombing Syria?

While the Obama administration pays lip service to the Russian solution, there is no reason to believe that Washington will take its finger off the trigger. In a recent interview with CBS, Syrian President Bashar Assad warned that the United States should “expect everything” if it launches a military strike against Damascus, insinuating that the already highly combustible situation could genuinely spiral out of control if Washington escalated this war. The pictures coming out of Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11 speak for themselves. A year after the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was one of the principle coordinators of arms to the Libyan rebels (many of whom are now fighting in Syria on the side of the US), instability ensues in a chaotic post-regime change Libya. In the words of Hilary Clinton reflecting on last year’s attack, “How could this happen, how could this happen in a country we helped liberate?” It’s an easy question to answer – it happened as a result of unthinkably destructive and illegal US foreign policy that materially enabled terrorist groups to overthrow a government that Washington didn’t like.

The Obama administration clearly hasn’t learned its lesson, but as bombs rip through the Libyan city of Benghazi two years in a row, it's going to be even harder for Obama to sell this war not only to the public, but to his own government. Round two of Benghazi blowback raises numerous questions – we’re supposed to believe Washington’s intelligence that it knew Assad planned to use chemical weapons 3 days in advance and that its totally secret evidence, which it won’t reveal to anybody, is solid. It seems that US intelligence agencies are only adept at finding “evidence” that is amenable to their strategic foreign policy objectives, meanwhile they are totally incompetent when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks, from Benghazi to Boston. The Russian solution has succeed in getting warmonger Obama to backpedal on his bombs-for-peace proposal for the time being, even so, one should also “expect everything” from the rabid Washington regime that has poured enormous financial and diplomatic resources into bombing Syria and toppling Assad. In other words, expect a new pretext.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Has questioning 9/11 become more acceptable?

Despite the media’s best efforts to dismiss 9/11 conspiracy theories, one in two Americans doubt the government’s narrative and skepticism is slowly seeping its way into the mainstream. Twelve years on from the events of September 11, 2001, and a seemingly nightmarish deja vu has gripped the United States and its war-weary citizens.

Again, the public is told that destructive weapons in faraway countries pose a critical danger, and that despite wearing the clothes of humanitarianism, a military solution that will inevitably harm civilians is the only meaningful response. The main difference today is that after an abstract decade-long ‘War on Terror’, Washington finds itself fighting in Syria on the same side as Al-Qaeda and those who are sympathetic to the alleged culprits of the 9/11 attacks.

The international relations landscape has changed dramatically over the past 12 years, and in the build-up to another US military intervention in West Asia, a handful of leaders are today more willing to ask common sense questions about the official line toed by Washington, such as: how can the Obama administration assert that Assad used chemical weapons before the UN team of experts on the ground has even published its findings?

World leaders have cast doubt on Washington’s stories before, but that the leaders of major countries have – ever so gently – insinuated that Washington may be complicit in a ‘false flag operation’ to justify military escalation in Syria is quite significant.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 6 September 2013

No law will stop Obama's democracy-bombs over Syria

Regardless of how Congress votes, Obama is going to attack Syria. The president is doing his best to avoid constructive dialogue when the focus should be international law, not ‘international norms’ as defined by Washington.

As world leaders descend on the Russian city of St. Petersburg to discuss global tax regimes and international trade, this year’s G20 Summit is really a G20+1, with an extra seat allocated for the massive elephant in the room.

Many of the leaders attending have brought along their foreign ministers, as the summit will also informally serve as a global platform to discuss the sorry state of affairs in Syria. One can only speculate as to the substance of any exchanges between President Putin and his American counterpart and forced smiles will be in no short supply.

“He is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad,” said Putin, of John Kerry’s address to the US Congress. That about sums it up – the lies and deceit of the Obama administration are so breathtaking, so innumerable, and they’re being trumpeted knowingly and shamelessly. Want a taste of highly moral and ethical narrative being championed in favor of “the Syrian people?” Look no further than the New York Times, with its recent headline “Bomb Syria, Even If It Is Illegal,” which argues that Obama and his poodles should “declare that international law has evolved and that they don’t need Security Council approval to intervene in Syria."

The establishment press is calling for blood, and they're claiming the moral high ground while doing it – slightly pathological? You bet. The insane are really running the asylum on this one.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Western logic on Syria: ‘We need to bomb it to save it’

The military buildup in the Mediterranean indicates that Assad’s opponents intend to militarily intervene in Syria under cover of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a disingenuous narrative that could not be further from the truth. Pictures and videos that have surfaced following the alleged use of chemical agents in the eastern suburbs of Damascus are profoundly disturbing and a thorough and substantial investigation into what took place there is absolutely essential. However, it is conversely disturbing that those Western governments who have staunchly supported anti-government militants are using this opportunity to legitimize the use of force against the government in Damascus.

The United States, Britain, and France are unwavering in their assertions that the Assad government and the Syrian Arab army were the perpetrators of the chemical weapon attack, despite no evidence to substantiate these claims. These governments seem to be sure that Damascus is guilty on the basis of it preventing a UN investigation team from visiting the site, and when investigators eventually did reach the area, it didn’t matter to them because they argued that the Syrian government had destroyed all evidence of wrongdoing. Assad’s opponents have constructed a deeply cynical and hysterical political narrative that Western leaders are now parroting in unison.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Financial Fukushima: Is ‘Abenomics’ making Japan ‘Abenauseous’?

While Japan faces mounting risks and a dangerous cleanup at the failed Fukushima nuclear plant, the situation may be similarly bleak for the Japanese economy in the short term. Ladies and Gentlemen, Japan is basically screwed. There are no two ways about it – with its rapidly-aging population, the unmanageable environmental disaster in Fukushima, and government debt to GDP levels at a staggering +240 percent, Japan will soon be teetering on the brink of a very turbulent situation.

Mainstream financial pundits and prominent Western economists have had a lot of nice things to say about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's highly-touted ‘Abenomics’ economic reform program, and Abe’s strong mandate in recent parliamentary elections was treated as a green light to continue pressing ahead. But there is reason to believe that Japan may not be able to finance its gargantuan pile of debt for much longer.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Ulver's MESSE I.X-VI.X

For two decades, the music of Ulver has both challenged and transfixed. The Norwegian group delves into thick layers of avant-garde that most casual listeners would not so easily commit to, but for those that do, the experience is rewarding. Their eclectic catalogue is not bound to genre – from folk and uncompromising raw black metal in their early days, to trip-hop, glitch, film score, and psychedelic rock in their more recent offerings. In my view, Ulver are not recording artists in the traditional sense, but artists who use sound as their medium, as a sculptor would use clay. Their latest album, MESSE I.X–VI.X, is an intimate and compelling recording that is indicative of the group’s continual maturity in its quality and scope of work. The record is haunting, contemplative, empathetic and consistent with Ulver’s previous albums in that solemnity is its constant. The Tromsø Chamber Orchestra commissioned the music on the album, and Ulver’s ability to seamlessly weave together orchestrational score with electronic soundscapes is what defines this record. 

The opening track, “As Syrians pour in, Lebanon grapples with ghosts of a bloody past,” is Ulver’s response to the war that has shaken the Levant region for some time now. When vocalist Kristoffer Rygg was asked about the significance of the song title in an interview, he conceded that “We live in troubled times,” and that Ulver has “no [political] ideology for sale. Only our sadness.” Sounds of vultures and gunfire echo under the droning low-end reverberations throughout the track while somber melodies build, giving rise to choiring hymns. The first movements of orchestration around the four-minute mark strike the listener with a haunting sharpness that is as evocative as it is beautiful. The music’s atmosphere conjured in my mind’s eye images of suffering suggested by the title – the shattered lives, the innocents, the lines of bodies in white shrouds, al-Houla – and yet the movements and elegant passages also bring compassion and resolve. 



The record flows impeccably into rhythmic electronic textures that bare some resemblance to Coil’s later work, albeit Ulver places greater emphasis on melody, and the marriage of organic and synthetic sound. The warm electronic passages, often accompanied by orchestra, dancing feedback and digital textures, soothe and rivet the ears. The use of percussion is sparse, but it boldly accentuates the ambiance when it is present. Vocals are heard for the first time halfway through the album on “Son of man” and they come in the form of a plea, seeking deliverance and solace. Ulver’s lyrical themes are almost always philosophical in nature, and in reflection of the sins of mankind, the destruction and sacrifice, Rygg wailingly delivers the line “What kind of choir of angels will receive us?” I wonder that question a lot to myself too. The crescendo of percussion, electronics and orchestra that follows is perhaps the most determined and hopeful moment throughout. The climax of the track is one of the highpoints of Ulver’s entire catalogue.

The subtlety of the quiet moments and their withdrawn undertones bridge together more complex arrangements, where noise and samples are sculpted in to a new tangible form, as masterfully heard in “Noche oscura del alma”. The album’s conclusion, “Mother of Mercy,” opens with a ballad, a similar plea, offering words that evoke images of old Jerusalem and the plight of Christ, giving way to a gradual finale, both melancholic and anxious over sounds of prayer and worship. Alas, we live in troubled times. Ulver has overcome and has ascended to a higher stage with MESSE I.X–VI.X. Masterful is the only word for it. The sounds are as elegant as they are morose, while the compositional soundscapes are erudite and innovative. The group has defied industry norms by cutting themselves free of intermediaries while producing and manufacturing the album themselves, and the sacrifices they’ve made for their art are highly appreciated by Ulver’s small but dedicated fan base. Ulver are both pioneers and wanderers of their genre, and one would hope that their catalogue would expand for a long time to come.

Click here to purchase a digital copy of MESSE I.X–VI.X from Ulver's webshop.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Tokyo Turbulence: The Looming Japanese Crisis

Nile Bowie discusses the Fukushima disaster and the daunting possibility of economic collapse in an increasingly militaristic Japan with James Corbett, independent journalist and editor of the Corbett Report:

NB: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition has grasped a strong mandate in recent parliamentary elections, and this is viewed as a green light to continue pressing ahead with the much-touted “Abenomics” economic reform program. In Japan, government debt to GDP sits at a staggering 245%, while government expenditure to government revenue amounts to some 2000%. The strategy being employed in Tokyo has essentially been mass Ben Bernanke-style money printing with the aim of inflating away some of the debt and boosting Japanese exports off the back of a weakened yen. Is this a long-term solution, or could mishandling lead to a hyper-inflationary situation, or a currency war brought on by Japan’s neighbors because their exports are being priced out of the market by Abe’s QE?
JC: The risks posed by Abenomics are manifold. While the hyperinflationary risk seems slightly less pressing given the past two decades of deflationary recession here in Japan, the currency war is already underway and shows no signs of abating. The Federal Reserve just has to talk about the possibility of curtailing their own stimulus programs and the markets there begin to plunge. This is an increasingly dangerous situation. The real risk, however, lies in the Japanese bond market. It's the second largest bond market in the world (after the US') and is the real backbone of the Japanese economy, itself the third largest economy in the world. If it becomes destabilized as a result of unforeseen consequences of Abenomics, not only is the government's ability to continue financing its mountainous debt called into question, but so is the stability of much of the Japanese banking system which has large exposures to that bond market.
NB: Abenomics has earned the praise of US pundits and prominent western economists, and much of the news coverage of Japan’s economic restructuring has been pretty positive in light of the dramatic surges in the Japanese stock market. Are Japan’s improved GDP rates an accurate measure of its real economic growth? Over the past two decades, wages have stagnated; are any measures being taken to raise real wages? Is there a real danger of a mass sell-off in the Japanese bond market in the face of extreme interest rate volatility?
JC: Proponents of Abenomics simply spoke too soon. The modest 1% GDP growth achieved in the first quarter was attributed largely to psychology and expectations of Abenomics' effects. Private consumption was up 0.9% on the quarter. However, private capital investment, signaling the strength of the economy from the business perspective, actually fell by 0.3%. Meanwhile, excited projections of 3.6% growth in Q2 fell considerably short, clocking in at only 2.6%, again boosted by consumer spending (up 0.8%) and dragged down by lack of capital investment (down 0.1%).

Again, it is the bond market that tells the true tale of whether this monetary expansion will work in the long run. Remarkably, Japanese 10 year bond yields were at their lowest point this year (0.45%) when the BOJ announced their plan to purchase 7 trillion yen of JGB a month and double the monetary base. After the announcement, yields actually rose, flirting with 1% and now trading in a channel around 0.77%. This is the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen in the wake of this type of stimulus announcement, and only goes to show that Abe and his crew do not have a handle on the situation. With debt to GDP already the highest in the developed world and more of Japan's aging population beginning to retire and draw on their JGB holdings rather than purchasing fresh ones, the Japanese government may be unable to stem the coming carnage.
 
NB: The Abe government is now aiming to boost private investment, privatize more publicly-owned assets and industries, deregulate energy and financial sectors, and pass laws that will allow corporations to fire workers without review; Japan is also taking part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which will have enormous implications for the way business is conducted in the country. What will be the long-term ramifications of these measures?
JC: Japan's labor laws have long been completely out of step with the rest of the Western world. Ask any Western economist or businessman about the root of Japan's economic problems and they will talk about the inability of corporations to fire workers or streamline bureaucracies. The Japanese, of course, by and large don't see things that way and as a result all previous promises of labor reform have come to nothing. With the TPP, however, we could conceivably see the lowering of the bar across the board, in labor laws and just about every other aspect of society. If the TPP goes through, the changes to Japan's economy, and even the fabric of its society, will be overwhelming. Of course, this is not an issue that is isolated to Japan. Every signatory to the treaty will see drastic changes to business practices, financial regulations, and other key aspects of their economy.
NB: It’s not just economic policy that is changing under Japan’s new government; Abe’s right-wing administration has taken steps to revive Japanese militarism. Reports issued by the Defence Ministry call for Japan acquiring offensive strike capabilities and building up its military. How is the government’s embrace of militant nationalism affecting Japan’s traditional pacifism? Abe’s approach has worked to fuel tensions with China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea – what is the position of the Obama administration on these developments vis-à-vis the pivot to Asia policy?
JC: The US DoD's so-called Asia-Pacific Pivot has to be seen as the green light signal for increased militarism across the board in the Asia-Pacific region. With the US increasingly turning its attention (and overwhelming military superiority) to the region, governments across the board feel more free to ratchet up the rhetoric and increase military budgets. The Abe administration, too, is taking full advantage of this, engaging in a dangerous game of one-upsmanship with China over their territorial issues that Japan is increasingly confident will be backed up by American firepower if need be. Attendant with this is a complete reversal of Hatoyama's DPJ rhetoric about getting the Americans out of Okinawa. As the recent downing of the HH-60 over Okinawa and the US Air Force's subsequent no fly zone enforcement shows, if anything the American military presence in Japan is going to expand and strengthen under Abe.
NB: Regarding plans to amend the country’s post-World War II Constitution to allow for expanding the military, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso was actually quoted saying, “We should proceed quietly. One day, people realised that the Weimar Constitution had changed to the Nazi Constitution. No one had noticed. Why don’t we learn from that approach?” Some have expressed concern that Abe’s drive toward creating offensive military capabilities aims to revive Japan’s imperialistic policies – is that an accurate assessment? Is Japan really in a position to dramatically bolster its military spending?
JC: Japan already is bolstering its military spending, with the Abe administration increasing the defense budget for the first time in 11 years earlier this year. But its important to realize that Japan doesn't need to expand its defense budget significantly; it already has one of the world's most advanced and well-trained militaries. That military has simply been operating under the guise of a "Self-Defense Force" but the switchover of Japanese forces to an active military would be more to do with perception than with actual switchover.

The big issue is one of public opposition. A significant majority of the Japanese public are extremely wary of these moves to amend the constitution, but the 2012 parliamentary election that led to Abe's victory was primarily about domestic issues. Now that Abe has a strong position in the Diet he is almost certainly going to use that momentum to push for constitutional reform. The amendment of Article 9 of the constitution is a very real possibility at this point, and a very worrying one given the implications that would have for Japan's relations with China and the inevitable bolstering of tensions it would bring.
 
NB: Reports claim that for the past two years, some 300 tons of extremely radioactive water from the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – containing 2.35 billion Becquerels of cesium per liter, or 16 million times above the limit – has been flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has recently announced that the contaminated groundwater accumulating at the site has risen 60cm above the protective barrier, and is now freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean. What are the long-term health and environmental implications if TEPCO is unable to contain the contaminated water? Has the Japanese media accurately portrayed the scale of the crisis?
JC: The major threat to northern Japan remains the contamination of the groundwater and the fishing areas around Fukushima. Unfortunately, throughout the crisis the government has collaborated with TEPCO to keep the true extent of this problem from the public, and rushed to lower radiation standards and get Fukushima produce and fish back on the market as quickly as possible. The media, with a few notable exceptions, has by and large played along with this agenda, and has dutifully focused attention on things that they have been told to concentrate on (like TEPCO's "cold shutdown" announcement) and avoided some of the thornier issues (like the contamination of the groundwater).
NB: The previous administration of Yoshihiko Noda responded to anti-nuclear protests in the wake of the Fukushima disaster by looking at ways in which Japan could reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear power – this of course would come at extraordinary costs for the energy sector. How strong is the anti-nuclear movement in Japan today, and what is the Abe government’s position on the phasing out of nuclear power?
JC: Whatever momentum might have existed last year to end nuclear power in Japan has completely faded with the Abe government. Recommendations for Japan to become nuclear free later this century have been abandoned, and the administration is moving to restart nuclear reactors as soon as possible. At this point, there does not seem to be a political force, either grassroots or parliamentary, that is able to effectively prevent the restart from taking place.
James Corbett is the editor of the Corbett Report. He produces video reports for GRTV, the video production arm of the Centre for Research on Globalization, and BoilingFrogsPost.com, the website of noted FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.