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Uncovered: Illegal Attack on 364,000 Georgia Voters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 5:38pm in

Pamela Reardon wants to stop Tamara Horne from voting. Reardon of Marietta, Georgia who is running for Vice-Chair of the state Republican Party, has filed a legal challenge to Horne’s vote — one of 32,379 voters in Cobb County Reardon has challenged under a little-noticed provision of... READ MORE

“Lady Joker”: What Goes Around Comes Around

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 9:26am in


articles, culture

Published in Nikkei Asia 10/6/2021

One of the most mysterious incidents in the annals of sensational unsolved crimes that dot Japan’s post-war history concerns the confectionary company, Ezaki Glico.

In March 1984, company president Katsuhisa Ezaki was abducted from his home and an enormous ransom was demanded. He made his escape some days later.

The criminal gang – which dubbed itself “the Monster with 21 Faces”, after a villain in a series of early 20th century mystery novels – then threatened to poison the company’s products. Shortly afterwards, a “fox-eyed” (ie. narrow-eyed) man in a baseball cap was caught on a security camera tampering with confectionaries on shop shelves.

Over the next 18 months, the Monster widened its focus to include chocolate maker Morinaga and several other food companies, while mocking the police in a series of letters to the media. Thanks to timely warnings, nobody was injured but the companies suffered severe losses as they were forced to make repeated product recalls.

On Valentine’s Day, some cyanide-laced chocolates were found bearing the label “poison inside,” while some unlaced chocolates exhibited the hardly reassuring label “no poison inside.” The fox-eyed man was sighted on numerous occasions, but always managed to slip away.

After one mid-ranking police officer committed suicide by setting himself ablaze at his place of work, the Monster called an end to its activities. Rumours swirled, but no hard information emerged about the criminals’ identity or motivation, and it is not known to what extent the companies met the extortionists’ demands.

Such is the background to Kaoru Takamura’s best-selling mystery novel “Lady Joker,” which has just appeared in English. The translators who undertook this gargantuan project are Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida.


Given the story’s length and complexity – over thirty main characters are listed in the dramatis personae – it was inevitable that the book should be published in two volumes. By delaying the second volume until 2022, Penguin Random House will be keeping English-language readers on tenterhooks for many months to come.

It is well worth the wait for anyone interested in a panoramic portrait of modern Japanese society, including its dark corners, as well as fans of intelligent mysteries.

Takamura’s novel began as a serial in a weekly magazine, running from 1995 to 1997. At the time, most of her readers would have had clear memories of the Glico-Morinaga affair. They might also have been aware that the statute of limitations had passed in 1994 without a single arrest being made.

The author substituted a beer company for the food companies in the actual case, shifted the action from the Kansai region of west Japan to Tokyo, and moved the setting to the mid-1990s, with the criminal gang calling itself “Lady Joker.”

Tainted beer Tainted beer

At the time, there was speculation that members of Japan’s burakumin minority group, the target of discrimination for centuries, were involved, and that people with political connections had advance knowledge of the sabotage and profited from swings in the share prices of the companies.

Takamura fleshes out these rumours, giving the Lady Joker crew not only credible motivation, but also something close to justification. She also incorporates some of the Monster’s clever moves. Notably, a young man enjoying an intimate interlude with a girlfriend in a parked car suddenly finds himself dragooned into collecting the ransom – and is duly grabbed by the waiting police.

“Lady Joker” features few action scenes and no bloodbaths or car chases. Conventional story elements, such as the planning of the crime, are skipped over. Instead, Takamura makes brilliant use of changes in viewpoint to explore the inner turmoil of her large cast of characters.

She takes us into the mind of a chief executive who is making a huge bet on a new product; a disaffected cop who hates his arrogant superiors; a child growing up in an impoverished burakumin community in pre-war northern Japan; and an ambitious young reporter aiming for the scoop of a lifetime.

 Hinode Beer An appropriate graveside offering: Hinode Beer

In the end, nearly all of them – criminals, cops, journalists and high-flying businessmen – appear to have “drawn the joker” in life. They struggle vainly with their organizations, their own mistakes, and social injustices. Redemption is fleeting, if it comes at all.

Takamura studied French literature before joining a foreign trading house in the mid-1970s. Her writing is highly realistic, giving convincing depictions of horse-racing fans, blast furnace technology and stock market scams, as well as the organizational dynamics of the police, press and major companies.

Like America novelist Tom Wolfe, she believes in experiencing what she writes about. In her preparations, she gambled at the race track herself and was on the spot at the press club attached to the Tokyo police when a gruesome triple murder occurred. A native of the Kansai region, she probably knows more about the Glico-Morinaga affair than has been publicly revealed.

In recent years Takamura has abandoned the mystery genre in favour of literary fiction – which is perhaps unsurprising, given her preference for psychological and political exploration rather than tension-building and twists. The point of Lady Joker is not “whodunnit,” but “why?.”

An excellent TV version of Lady Joker, comprising seven one-hour episodes, appeared in 2012. Although some details, such as the prevalence of employment discrimination and the influence of “sokaiya” corporate extortionists, appear a bit dated, the story holds up well for the 21st century.

The "sokaiya" extortionist having the last laugh The “sokaiya” extortionist having the last laugh

As for the real-life mystery, there must be several people alive today who know exactly what happened but continue to hold their peace. In his autobiography “Toppamono” (Bulldozer), tough guy Manabu Miyazaki, described the many factors that led the police to consider him the prime suspect.

Son of a yakuza and former member of a violent underground arm of the Japanese Communist Party, he indeed bore a striking resemblance to the fox-eyed man who police considered the ringleader. Yet Miyazaki was able to provide a satisfactory alibi and is now a well-known literary figure himself. The Monster’s sleep is untroubled.

Miyazaki in the mid 80s (l), police identikit of the "fox-eyed man" (r) Miyazaki in the mid 80s (l), police identikit of the “fox-eyed man” (r)

In her novel, Takamura muses about a coming era where companies will be expected to follow socially responsible principles, not just the pursuit of profits. This is already happening in the shape of the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) investor agenda which is increasingly influential in many countries, Japan included.

Yet human nature does not change so easily. Economists John List and Fatemeh Momeni of the University of Chicago have found that employees of socially responsible companies are more likely to lie and cheat than others. Likewise, tech companies that publicly supported Black Lives Matter had 20% fewer black employees than average.

Corporate and other institutional scandals are not going to disappear in Japan or any other place. Behind the façade of planet-saving virtue, the age-old temptations of greed, lust for power and desire to hide unpleasant realities are as common as ever. That is great news for the writers and readers of intelligent mysteries, if no one else.

“LADY JOKER, Volume I,” by Kaoru Takamura, Penguin Random House.


Decolonizing the Curry-culum: Japan’s Indian Connection Part 2

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/06/2021 - 10:34am in


articles, culture

Published in Japan Forward 7/6/2021

The wedding between Bose and Toshiko took place in secret at Toyama’s residence, with witnesses including Foreign Minister Shinpei Goto and future Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, both enthusiastic pan-Asianists.

In order to allay suspicion, Toshiko and her parents breached custom by travelling to the ceremony by streetcar and in ordinary clothes. Toshiko’s wedding kimono had been sent directly to Toyama’s house by the Takashimaya department store.

In the crude ideological categories of today’s world, Mitsuru Toyama carries the label of “right-wing nationalist.”  He was a major figure in two semi-clandestine organizations, the Black Dragon Society and the Dark Ocean Society, and through mysterious means rose from poverty to riches while remaining a private citizen all his life.

Yet he was on good terms with the bohemian Nakamuraya crowd, to the extent that examples of his calligraphy remain in the Nakamuraya art collection to this day.

Toyama with the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore Toyama with the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (see below)

Historian Ian Rapley of Cardiff University says this about the Nakamuraya circle. “There were undoubtedly strong socialist and in particular anarchist connections but, whilst we might characterize them broadly as ‘progressive’ or some similarly loose term, it is important to recognize that many associations crossed what seem, to contemporary eyes, to be intellectual boundaries.”

What gave the Taisho era its freewheeling dynamism – so different to what came before and after – was this willingness to cross boundaries and the intellectual ferment that was thereby generated.

With the end of the First World War, the British pretext for arresting Bose, that he was a German agent, lost validity. Bose came out of hiding and took his place in the Nakamuraya family. An accomplished linguist who had quickly mastered written Japanese, he set himself up as writer and activist for Indian independence.

In 1923 Bose took Japanese citizenship.  His sponsors debated whether he should be added to his wife’s family register (a crucial aspect of Japanese identity) or start his own, as might be more fitting for a male. In the end, he started his own register, using Chinese characters for his surname: 防須 .

Toshiko died at the young age of 26 after bearing two children. By then, Bose was a shareholder and director of Nakamuraya and had built a house for himself in Harajuku.

Shinjuku was changing from a sleepy semi-agricultural suburb to a major hub. When the Mitsukoshi Department Store opened a branch there, Nakamuraya’s revenues plunged 15%. That was the context in which Bose created his “authentic Indian curry.”

Biographer Nakajima believes that Bose had an anti-colonialist agenda too: he couldn’t bear the thought of Japanese people assuming  that the basic fare served up on the colonizers’ warships was a true representative of India’s national dish.

Nakamuraya's 60 staff celebrate the opening of the curry restaurant in 1926 Nakamuraya’s 60 staff celebrate the opening of the curry restaurant in 1927

In reality, Bose’s curry had to be modified for Japanese tastes. The spices had to be milder, the meat off the bone and indica rice swapped for something softer and stickier.

Here the Somas came up with a masterstroke by reviving shiromemai, a rare rice variety favoured by the Shogun and the Imperial family in ages past. The product was a hit. Nakamuraya was able to charge eight times the price of British navy-style “kare raisu” as wealthy sophisticates flocked to the restaurant.

Currylove2 (2)

Yet the British had the last laugh. In Japan, “kare raisu” remains the overwhelmingly dominant format, to the extent that Ichibanya, a stock market-listed “kare raisu” purveyor, has opened restaurants in India itself, as well as several other Asian countries. Indeed, if you want to know what the food was like on board a British warship in the mid-nineteenth century, the best place to look today would be in a low budget eatery in Japan.

Bose and the Somas were great admirers of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet and thinker, and welcomed him several times during his five trips to Japan. Tagore had become increasingly critical of Japan’s copying of Western modernization, particularly its imperialist designs on the east Asian continent.

Other erstwhile Indian admirers of Japan, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, later to become India’s first prime minister, felt the same way. In the 1920s, Bose did too and published articles that deplored Japanese policy towards China.

According to the memoirs of A. M. Nair, another Indian resident of Japan, in 1934  Bose even sent a telegram to Minister of War General Araki, protesting the ill-treatment of the Chinese in Manchuria.

From bottom left, Aizo Soma (Bose's father-in-law), Tagore, Bose's son, Kokko Soma. Top - Bose, Toshiko. From bottom left –  Aizo Soma (Bose’s father-in-law), R. Tagore, Bose’s son Masahide, Kokko Soma. Top – Bose, his daughter Tetsuko and wife Toshiko.

Later, however, Bose’s attitude changed to whole-hearted endorsement of Japanese expansionism. As he said himself, he was prepared “to shake hands even with Satan himself to drive out the British from India.” This damaged his reputation in the post-war period, and biographer Nakajima is highly critical of Bose’s support for Imperial Japan’s conquest of China.

Yet Bose was not an ideologue, but a single-minded Indian nationalist – and Japan never showed any interest in extending its empire into the subcontinent.  A similar Machiavellian calculation caused the allies to shake hands with the communist Satan, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and trade away eastern Europe as part of the deal.

The clash of empires was indeed destined to end colonial rule in Asia, but not in the way that Bose had anticipated. He became an increasingly influential figure in Japan and an increasingly marginal figure in his homeland.

Although never a military man, in 1943 Bose was given the task of organizing and leading the Indian National Army, a pro-Japan force recruited from Indian prisoners-of-war captured by the Japanese in Hong Kong and Singapore. Eventually, command was transferred to his more famous fellow-Bengali, Subas Chandra Bose, also by no means a military man. The INA’s attempt to invade India from Burma ended in a disastrous defeat.

Neither Bose lived to see the end of war, let alone Indian independence, which followed two years later. Chandra Bose went down in a plane crash. Rash Bose died of illness in January 1945 while the bombs fell around him. At his funeral, condolences were read by General Tojo.

Bose’s son Masahide – “straight and excellent”, a name chosen by Toyama –  died in the Battle of Okinawa. His daughter Tetsuko – “child of wisdom”- passed away in 2016 at the age of 93.  She lived most of her life in the RB Building in Harajuku, named after her father and constructed on the site he acquired in the mid-1920s.

 Kokko (l) and Toshiko (r) wearing saris c. 1921   Golden years: Kokko (l) & Toshiko (r) wearing saris c. 1922

History is never kind to the losers, and Bose and his pan-Asian backers are often dismissed as apologists for Japanese Imperialism, which is certainly part of the story, but by no means the whole. A more nuanced verdict comes from Professor Cemil Aydin of North Carolina University.

“Despite its internal paradoxes and its tensions with the logic of Japanese imperialism, pan-Asianism nevertheless allowed Japan to conduct a relatively successful propaganda campaign against Western imperialism in Southeast Asia while motivating numerous idealist Japanese activists and their collaborators. Pan-Asianist propaganda, accompanied by Japan’s own imperial expansion during WWII, did contribute to the end of Western empire…”

The pan-Asianists may have been right about the western colonizers, but they were woefully naïve in assuming that the natural state of Asia was one of peace and harmony between different peoples. There was nothing in pre-colonial history to support such a belief, nor does contemporary reality correspond with it.

Which takes us back to the Quad – and specifically the paucity of human interchange between Japan and India. Imagine a future Japan containing tens of thousands of Rash Boses and hundreds of institutions like Nakamuraya. Imagine a twenty first century version of the Taisho era, overflowing with not just home-grown and Western trends but, to quote historian Ian Rapley on the Nakamuraya circle, “a complex and unpredictable mix of influences from across the globe.”

It would be a lot of fun – and Japan would be all the stronger and safer for it.


Toyama’s calligraphy, from a poem by Kaishu Katsu – “the sun and moon shine on all things with perfect equality”

Is it time we made Manchin a verb?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/06/2021 - 8:45pm in

Who would have ever thought that it would be one lone Democratic Senator that would finally put an end our democratic voting system? The one person, one vote ideal we’ve been trying to achieve in this country. Maybe it’s time now to make Joe Manchin’s name into a verb, as in “Manchining” — as in crippling a structural system of voting. As in ... READ MORE

Love, Curry and the Quad: Japan’s Indian Connection Part 1

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 06/06/2021 - 8:07pm in


articles, culture

Published in Japan Forward 5/6/2021

I’m sitting in the Nakamuraya restaurant in Shinjuku wolfing down a substantial portion of chicken curry. In the alcove behind me hangs the painting of a young girl staring out at the world with a seriousness beyond her years. The menu bears an unusual slogan – “the taste of love and revolution.”

The backstory is that the young lady was the eldest daughter of the couple who owned and ran Nakamuraya in the early decades of the twentieth century. In 1923, she married the man who invented the curry I’m eating. He was an Indian revolutionary called Rash Behari Bose.

Bose and the two children he had with Toshiko Soma Bose and the two children he had with Toshiko Soma

A few hours earlier, I had been listening to an interesting online discussion about relations between Japan and India featuring Jagannath Panda of the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Satoru Nagao, non-resident fellow of the Hudson Institute.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” brainchild is fast becoming an important geopolitical reality. India, traditionally suspicious of the United States, is now part of the Quad, a China-containment configuration that also includes Japan, the US and Australia. But, as the two speakers pointed out, the developing relationship between Japan and India is driven almost entirely by security issues.

Human interchange, as measured by the number of Indians living in Japan and the number of Japanese living in India, is underdeveloped. Likewise, economic ties. Despite the impressive performance of car-maker Suzuki, which has half the Indian market thanks to its venture with local company Maruti, Japan ranks as number fifteen amongst India’s trading partners. For both countries, China is the number one counterparty.

For the Quad to grow into a NATO-like fixture, as will likely be required, the relationship between Japan and India will have to broaden from the current single-minded emphasis on security.  As it happens, there is no better symbol of Japan-India human interchange than the Nakamuraya restaurant itself.

Nakamuraya started serving curry in 1927, just one year after Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in London, opened its doors.  Curry had been served in Japan well before then, but it was in the form of a thick stew originally copied from Indian cooks aboard British naval vessels. Nakamuraya calls its more authentic product “karii” as opposed to “kare raisu”, which is the standard term for Japanese-style curry to this day.

Bose is well-known in Japan for having invented the Nakamuraya curry, but he is a much more significant figure than that. A member of the Indian revolutionary underground, he fled to Japan in 1915 after staging a bomb attack on Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India. The Viceroy survived his wounds, though his servant was not so lucky.

Contemporary depiction of the attempted assassination Contemporary depiction of the attempted assassination

From then on, Bose (not to be confused with the more famous nationalist, Subhas Chandra Bose) was a marked man. The Anglo-Japanese alliance required the Japanese government to hand him over to the British authorities, which would probably have led to the death sentence which had been the fate of his co-conspirator.

Fortunately for his sake, Bose had developed connections with important figures in Japan’s pan-Asian movement, and a sympathetic journalist from the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun covered his plight. Amongst the many newspaper readers who had been moved and angered by the article were Aizo and Kokko Soma, the couple who owned and ran Nakamuraya.

The nearest equivalent to Nakamuraya in today’s world would be a vegan patisserie with gallery and live music space attached. In the words of Richard Nathan, writer and publisher of the Red Circle imprint, the Somas were “a dynamic and radical couple… Their circle included activists, poets and university professors as well as artists – locals, returnees and non-Japanese alike.”

They actively supported artists that they respected, by offering studio space and lodgings in an annex behind the bakery. It was there that famed painter Tsune Nakamura created the portrait of their fifteen year old daughter Toshiko which hangs in the alcove of the curry restaurant. The infatuated Tsune also completed several more portraits of the girl, including a nude study which was highly esteemed by critics, but not by her Christian schoolteachers.

Ayako at 15 Toshiko at 15

Another member of their salon was the sculptor Rokuzan who had studied under Rodin in Paris thanks to financial support from the Somas. Like many artists of the era, he died young. His last work was an erotically charged female figure which bore an uncanny resemblance to the woman he was reputedly in love with, Kokko Soma herself.

"Woman", bronze by Rokusan Ogiwara “Woman”, bronze by Rokusan Ogiwara

It was the Somas who provided a safe house for Bose when he was days away from being forcibly expelled from Japan. The plan was hatched by Mitsuru Toyama, a powerful political fixer who was a committed pan-Asianist and head of the Black Dragon society, so named after the Chinese word for the Amur River. Toyama and his friends had already supported several political exiles in Japan, including “Father of the Chinese Nation” Sun Yat-sen and anti-colonial activists from the Philippines and Vietnam.

The scheme to whisk Bose away from under the noses of the authorities was beautifully simple. The Japanese police took Bose and his compatriot Gupta to a farewell dinner at Toyama’s house, located in what is now the grounds of American embassy. As is the Japanese custom when entering a residence, the two Indians left their shoes in the lobby, where they were in plain view of the waiting Japanese police.

What the cops did not know was that, after a few rounds of saké, Bose and his friend had donned alternative footwear and slipped into the grounds of the next-door house, owned by one of Toyama’s friends. Another friend was the proud possessor of one of the few high-speed cars in Japan at the time. Before the cops knew what was up, the two Indian nationalists had arrived at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, where they were bundled into the annex.

As far as the authorities were concerned, the fugitives had disappeared into thin air. In due course Gupta, who was not facing serious charges, gave himself up and left for the United States, but Bose spent three years moving from safe house to safe house. It should have easy to trace an Indian in Taisho Era (1913-1925) Japan, but the formidable Toyama, who had himself been jailed as a young man for anti-government violence, knew how to keep the secret intact.

Toyama with Chiang Kai-shek in 1929 Toyama with Chiang Kai-shek in 1929

The Somas’ young daughter, Toshiko, was enlisted as an inconspicuous bearer of messages to and from Bose. That gave Toyama an idea. What if Bose were to marry Toshiko?

Kokko had refused to accept the penniless and consumptive painter, Tsune Nakamura, as a suitable match for her daughter. On the face of it, an Indian revolutionary on the run from the police was an even worse bet.

According to Takeshi Nakajima, Bose’s Japanese biographer, Kokko left the decision to her daughter, explaining that it would be no ordinary marriage and might end in disgrace or death.

Toshiko’s answer: “I know that. You and father are worried, but please let me go ahead.”

To be continued.

Bose and Toshiko

Texas Democrats Walk the Walk in Support of Voting RightsBut will these baby steps be enough to save our democracy?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/06/2021 - 7:23am in

This week saw fireworks in Texas when Democrats walked out of the House chamber, leaving Republicans high and dry without the quorum they needed to ram through Senate Bill 7, a horrible piece of ... READ MORE

Cyber Ninjas and Voting Pandas?The skullduggery doesn't take a break!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 16/05/2021 - 1:09am in

Just when you think the world of electioneering couldn’t get more bizarre, armies of Cyber Ninjas and mythical Voting Pandas come to the fore to remind us that they can.

Palast and Rick Smith team up to dissect the crazy. ... READ MORE

A choice between yes please and yes thank you

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/05/2021 - 10:07am in

The Radical Imagination episode with guests Michael Hudson & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: April 21, 2021 (transcribed May 3, 2021): 

Jim Vrettos:
 So, Michael, Jonathan. Thank you so very, very much for being here. Jonathan, you’re from… We’re looking at you from North Carolina there and Michael is in Queens. You’ve both had tremendous influence in your respective fields. Spiritual economic activist and so on. What do you make of the contradictory statements in the news, particularly… particularly… Let’s start with the idea of the movement by the Biden administration given parameters of its neoliberal roots. Do you believe that they have the commitment and vision commensurate to Roosevelt’s build of economic whites in 1944 and the attempt to broaden the conception of social justice and democracy [inaudible 00:08:36] In other words, what do you make of the first 100 days or so? Let’s start with Jonathan. Are we moving in the right direction? Which narrative do you think is going to win out here in America? Economic-

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 Jim, it’s good to be with you. Thanks for having us. I’m delighted for the chance to engage here with Michael. I come at the question you’re asking from the perspective of the Poor People’s Campaign. For the last three years, we’ve been organizing people across this country who were already in their communities doing grassroots work to raise an alarm about the way that the current economy isn’t working. You mentioned that 140 million people were living in poverty or were low wealth before the pandemic and the pandemic that we’ve experienced for the last year has, in many ways, exposed the fissures in the economy. 

We had a huge package under the previous administration, where the vast majority of the investment from the government went to corporations and to banks. The result of that was that we saw the wealthiest people get much wealthier while unemployment on the bottom has stayed very high and the people who earn often less than a living wage are the people who have suffered the most.

Incidentally, those are also the people who have been on the front lines and most vulnerable to this coronavirus. All the research that we have now says not only are African Americans three times as likely to get it as their white neighbors, but poor people are three times as likely to contract as their wealthier neighbors. And so, in many ways, I think this world altering experience that we’ve all lived through has exposed the lies of the neoliberal system and the way in which we’ve gone on believing for far too long. That if the economy is doing well, the people are doing well. Well, that’s just not true. 

And so I think the Biden administration has successfully passed one piece of legislation that, at the very least, did put more of the investment in the hands of people at the bottom of the economy. And so I’ll give him credit for that. But that’s only temporary and it’s only confined to COVID relief.

Frankly, we need to reimagine the whole economy. Because the Poor People’s Campaign has been saying and saying clearly, in the words of the people who experience it directly and with the support of evidence from economists and sociologists who we’ve worked closely with, that when we lift the bottom, that’s when everybody can rise. And so we need economic investment that is designed to lift from the bottom. I hope and pray we can push this administration towards more of that.

I would say, just in terms of your question about how it compares to FDR, that FDR was no radical, but there was a movement that pushed him. Part of that movement was very faith-based. Frances Perkins was a product of the Social Gospel movement. She came up in Chicago, when she was getting educated, watching the settlement houses and those great Black churches of the Black social gospel in Chicago that were committed to the message of Jesus. The good news to the poor. She was determined to implement that through the Roosevelt administration.

Now, they didn’t get anywhere near everything they were trying to get, but nevertheless, we did hammer out some very real universal policies that guaranteed the basic necessities of life. Things like Social Security. That’s an, I think, incredibly important piece of our history that is widely accepted and appreciated now, but when it was proposed, it was called radical. It was called Marxist. It was called all the things that these ideas get called now. So, I think it’s important to remember that history as we push together for economic activity that lifts from the bottom.

Jim Vrettos:
Great. Michael, do you want to comment on what Jonathan just said there?

Michael Hudson:
 I agree with everything Jonathan has said. I think he’s put it very clearly. One comment I had… He talks about the good thing that the Biden administration has done is provide relief for the poor, but this relief went right through their hands. The vast majority of the relief was not a stimulus. It was a relief, as he pointed out, and it’s temporary. Most of this money was simply paid to the banks and to the landlords. It was paid for the rent arrears, especially by people who were unemployed and it was paid to write down credit card debt. In many cases, the relief was paid directly into the bank accounts or the other accounts of the poor. The poorest people didn’t get any of the relief because they don’t have bank accounts and they don’t have addresses because they’re already joining the homeless. Here in New York. Of course, the problem is that there’s going to be a huge wave of homelessness when the freeze on evictions of families behind in their rent expires.

Landlords have already begun to illegally evict many of people who’ve been unable to pay their rents. They don’t have enough money to draw on their bank accounts to do this. So, that is very unfortunate. 

Jonathan mentioned Frances Perkins and the gospel. The word gospel meant, literally, the good news, but wherever it was used in the Bible, as Sharon Ringe, a Lutheran historian has pointed out, it always was used as a code word for the Jubilee year. For the clean slate.

The only way that you can really liberate the people who’ve been pushed way behind the eight ball by the virus is to say, okay, the economy is taking a pause. You don’t have to pay the rents that have accrued when you’re unable to do that. You don’t have to pay the debts that have accrued when you’re unable to do this. Because, otherwise, there’s not going to be a recovery.

How on earth can you recover if most of the people have to now, all of a sudden, pay up all the arrears that they’ve been accumulating during the pandemic and, not to mention that, long before? It can’t be done. 

The other comment I have… Jonathan said the economy hasn’t been working. What has been a bonanza for the five percent! And even more of a bonanza for the one percent. The top one percent of the population has made more money since the pandemic began… as much money as than they made since 1980. Economic crises are always a bonanza for the wealthy because they get to profit from the distress of others. What you call distress is for them a wonderful marketing opportunity.

Wall Street has been incorporating all sorts of private capital funds to make a killing once the arrears come due. They’re planning on residential property at a discount as they did after 2008. Buying commercial property at a discount. They’re looking to make a killing, which is what usually happens in the aftermath of a crisis. So, the Biden administration has given a palliative. The palliative has helped mainly the creditors and the landlords so far with not much being used by the people and the economic activity that’s picked up is mainly by people who can afford it, which is not the constituency that Jonathan and I are talking about. 

Jim Vrettos:
 Right. Jonathan. Jonathan, are you and Rev. Barber talking about the Jubilee? What is your position?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 We are preachers, so we have to talk about it. It’s in our authoritative text. If you follow Jesus, of course, the first sermon Jesus preaches at Nazareth is straight from the prophet Isaiah. The spirit of the Lord is on me, he says, to proclaim that word gospel. But it’s gospel [inaudible 00:17:46] to the poor. Recovery of sight to the blind. Release to the captives. The year of Jubilee! That’s Luke 4. Jesus quoting the Jubilee passage from Isaiah. This is very much what we understand to be the good news that is needed over and against all the problems of the economy that Michael was just describing. So, yes, debt cancellation. Debt forgiveness, which is central to the Jubilee theme in scripture. I absolutely agree. It’s the way out and it is justice. Because canceling debts that were created by unjust systems is not giving someone a free pass after they goofed off. It’s simply doing justice where injustice has been done. That’s why Jesus said that it was necessary then and why it’s still necessary now.

Michael Hudson:
 Even in a just system, people fall into debt. Often for no problem of their own. They would get sick. I’m so glad that you emphasized Jesus’ first sermon because I’ve had a number of presentations, and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing. That’s a path… You’d think that his first sermon would have been the center of a lot of the evangelist religions, but your group and my Harvard group are about the only people really emphasizing that that was the key. Of course, when Luke describes that passage, Luke comments that a lot of the people didn’t like it. They got very angry. Especially the Pharisees, who loved money. That’s really the problem that you’re doing. There’s a difference of approach today and the approach that you and I are taking is not really being backed by much of the middle class that says, well, we want to get rich off our savings and debt. There’s really a conflict there that goes much deeper than just what to do about the pandemic.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 You’re absolutely right. What I have been trying to teach in churches and wrote about in Revolution of Values is the way that this has been framed for Christians in a way that really isn’t designed to help people understand it. The distortion of the Christian message, in particular about the economy, is really some 80 years in the making and it has everything to do with the way in which corporations were scared to death by the activism of Christians in the Social Gospel movement. Kevin Kruse has written this history in his book One Nation Under God, which I would encourage people to read. 

But if you go back and look closely, after the Great Depression, there wasn’t a lot of confidence in corporate leadership. So, the Chamber of Commerce got together and they literally hired a preacher. They had done a survey that said preachers were some of the most trusted people in the country. They hired a man named James Fifield and he started an organization called Spiritual Mobilization and he recruited tens of thousands of pastors across the United States to preach what Kevin Kruse calls Christian libertarianism.

Essentially, that Jesus endorsed the free market economy and that to be Christian is to be a libertarian. That got pushed very hard over and against the social gospel, over and against what FDR’s administration had tried to implement, and was their strategy for how to push back against the New Deal. Not simply do it politically, but do it by tying it to people’s faith. 

And then, of course, after the civil rights movement, that gets tied together with those people who came in and formed the religious right and said that the way to push back against the civil rights movement is not as the segregationists did in the South but rather to do it in the name of morality, in the name of traditional values, in the name of faith. All of that fuses together and creates avenues and a whole wraparound culture of radio shows, books, Christian television, para church organizations, political organizations, that reinforce a message over and over again that to be Christian is to be a reactionary right-wing libertarian. Believe that the economy has the final word. It says, “in God we trust,” on the money, which means for most people that we trust the money to be how God is working in the world.

People have easily bought the lie that, if you have money, God has blessed you, if you don’t have money, it’s because you haven’t been true to God. It blames the poor. It uses these lies to justify a system that is set up to benefit the very elite and it’s produced what we are now talking about in the public square as Christian nationalism. But I think people don’t realize that this has been around for a long time and there’s a whole culture that supports it. 

Michael Hudson:
A long time. What we’re doing is fighting the same fight today that Jesus fought against his opponents 2000 years ago. It’s exactly the same fight. The people who claim to be the Christian right were the people who were fighting Jesus and spent the next three centuries fighting him.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
Yes indeed. You’ve studied your scriptures. That’s how I read it too, brother. 

Jim Vrettos:
 And you’re not doing the poor any good by having government helping through various programs, correct? Government becomes the enemy. 

Michael Hudson:
 But it tries to pose as the friend. What Biden wanted to do was use the poor as a vehicle to give money to his constituency, the campaign donors. The landlords and the financial interests and the neoliberals who Jonathan’s mentioned. That’s really his constituency. How can you expect them to do really much help when you look at where their constituency is? They mastered the rhetoric. They read 1984 and they know what double think is and double speak. That’s the problem that we’re in. That people are confused as to what is really the issue and what’s going to really get us out of the mess we’re in. And we really are in a mess.

It’s not going to be an economic recovery except for the top layer. That’s what all the economists that I know are saying. How do you explain how the economies got down and down in the last year and the stock market has gone way, way up? 

The government has created, I think, 10 trillion, 12 trillion dollars, but it’s all been to buy stocks and bonds. They could’ve paid off everybody’s mortgage. They could’ve made America a low-cost economy. But all the amount of money has been added to the stock and bond market. Not to the housing market. Not to the income of the poor. Not to raise the minimum wage.

The Democrats were overjoyed when the Senate lady said, “If you raise the minimum wage that doesn’t have anything to do with taxation.” Well, of course, it does. Because, right now, one of the tax burdens on America is paying the wages of people who work at Walmart and paying the wages of people who work at other exploitative companies for low wage. Companies can afford to pay a very low wage and the workers get a subsidy from the government to the wage. Essentially, if you would raise the minimum wage, you’d cut the budget. You’d provide the government with more money after not having to bail out the worst exploiters that pay the low wage. Not a word from the Democrats on that. Not a word to push it. 

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 Oh, this is what we’ve been trying to tell Brother Joe Manchin in West Virginia. We’ve met with him. The campaign is led by people in West Virginia… very adamant on this point. When anybody says they don’t believe in welfare, it’s just not true. They do believe in welfare. They’re paying welfare to these corporations. This is government-sponsored corporate support that’s allowing them to keep going by paying their people so much less than a living wage.

Jim Vrettos:
 How does reparations figure into our discussion here?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 Well, the reparations conversation goes all the way back to the end of the Civil War. I think people are fairly familiar with the phrase 40 acres and a mule. That was the field directive that came out of the southern theater. When Sherman took the plantations on the east coast of Georgia, what the union troops said to the African Americans who had been enslaved on those lands is that you can have a plot, 40 acres and a mule. You can work this land. This land will be your economic base in order to survive as free people in the United States. And that was the plan. Until, of course, Lincoln was assassinated. 

Andrew Johnson, his Southern vice president, his Democratic vice president, at the time in the way the parties were aligned, becomes in charge. He pardons the seditious leader. I think most people have forgotten this. Jefferson Davis led a rebellion against this country. They threw him in the jail cell at Fort Monroe and he only stayed a few months, until Johnson was president, and then he pardoned him and he went home to his plantation. I mean, we’re still talking about what we’re going to do with the insurrectionists from January 6th.

Well, let’s remember. We didn’t do a very good job of having any real justice after there was an insurrection during the Civil War. But at any rate, when Johnson is then in charge of implementing the beginnings of Reconstruction, he does such a bad job that he completely obliterates the plan for reparations. That’s why, of course, Congress has to take over and we get congressional Reconstruction that did press forward some things like the 13th, 14th, and 25th Amendments, but nevertheless, never addresses this issue of reparations. 

The basic question is… Anybody who’s played Monopoly at home knows that if you get eight rounds into the game and then somebody wants to come and play, they’re never going to catch up with everybody else.

How do people who were enslaved and were considered property for 250 years all of a sudden become full citizens and part of a society and an economy without any resources? There has to be some reparation for that injustice. That has never happened and that is the root of the economic disparities… the racialized economic disparities… that continue to exist in this country. And so the conversation that we’re having now about reparations is simply a question about what can we do at this point to address that mistake that was made after the Civil War that has never been corrected for? And that we still playing out in disparities not just in…

Now, it’s not only in the economic disparities, but it’s in the health disparities, the education disparities… I mean, you can go all down the list. It’s the result of that basic economic divide. 

Jim Vrettos:
 Michael, you’ve done a lot of writing about this. Tell us. 

Michael Hudson:
 Status starts really with land and with real estate. Because much of the discussion of reparations is described by anti-reparations people as, well, it’s all reparations for slavery, and slavery doesn’t exist anymore. What are you going to do? But you’re absolutely right. The reparations that are paid for has been excluding the blacks, really, from real estate. That’s gone right down to today. It was part of Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s providing government mortgage guarantees for the middle class didn’t extend to Black people.

All of the growth of the white middle class wealth in this United States consists of homeowner that you can trace back to whole takeoff we’ve had since 1945. Most of the middle class wealth that’s handed down to their children has been a result of the fact that they could get real estate. They could get loans for real estate and all the benefits that have come from multiplying 100 times in value whereas the blacks don’t. That’s why all of the Federal Reserve statistics on net worth between blacks and the rest of the population. The blacks have almost nothing, because the net worth on the white side of the balance sheet is mainly real estate. 

So, what would you do to make reparations?

Well, you’re not going to just say, well, gee, the average house is $500,000. Let’s give everyone $500,000. In my mind, what you would do to make reparations equitable would be to give every Black family a home – and that requires every poor family, whites and Hispanics as well as Blacks. You can’t be racist and only give it to one group and not to another. Give every family the same offer that was made to the white middle class in 1945. I worked for the Savings Banks’ central bank for many years, doing statistics on home buying.

When I came to New York and began working on Wall Street in the 1960s, any family could get a loan to buy a house. The limit was the mortgage could not take more than 25% of the income and the mortgage they were given, at the current interest rate, would be self-amortizing to pay off the entire mortgage and give them home ownership in 30 years. It would be self-amortizing mortgage as a result of one quarter of their income.

Well, suppose you were to give this today. I think the government should provide housing… not public housing, but real housing. A house of your own, which is the modern equivalent to 40 acres and a mule because people live in cities now. They’re not going to go back to the country. Suppose someone is making a minimum wage salary. Suppose they’re only making $20,000 a year. Okay, you will take $20,000 a year. They will give them a home. A nice two-story, three-story home with a yard and everything. They’ll have to pay for that over 30 years. What will they pay? They will pay $5000 per year and at the end… three and a half percent, four percent interest rate, which was what was charged back in the ’50s and ’60s. At the end of the 30 years, this $5000 will give them a home.

It works out to about $168,000 including the accumulated interest charge. The interest usually ends up amounting to more than the home purchase price. 

But that would be… If you were to give the poor the same deal that the white middle class was offered in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, that would give them the same foundation that the middle class has. Because the characteristic of the middle class is home ownership. All of this has been reversed since 2008.

President Obama’s eviction of 10 million families in order to support his donor class, the banks, has lowered owner occupancy rates in this country by about 10%. Home ownership is going to be plunging even more as a result of the pandemic and the foreclosures that are all being filed and waiting to be executed by the banks and the landlords. If you don’t have this reversal, if you don’t offer people the same guarantee of self support homes, then you’re going to have a wipe out. 

Part of the Jubilee year was not only the canceling of debts. It was the return of the lands that they had lost. What you’re doing in this case is returning the lands to the people who had lost them by the frauds that occurred in the Democratic and Ku Klux Klan fight back against the settlement of the Civil War. And the frauds that are occurring right down to today. I had a home in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I’d bought it for one dollar down in 1967 and I wanted to finance it in 1980. I asked Chase to come out. They sent out an appraiser and he kept saying, “We’re not going to loan here. Only Black people live in this neighborhood.” He used another word for blacks. I made a complaint to the commission in New York. Nothing ever came of it.

So, I lived in a redlined neighborhood. I ended up selling the house and moving down to Tribeca, but the redlining continued right into the ’80s, ’90s, right down to today. Without realizing that this stripping away of property and preventing the poor people from ever being able to work their way out of that to actually get decent loans, to get an affordable house that… If you don’t solve that problem, then the economy is going to polarize at an accelerating rate and you’re certainly not going to have a recovery. 

Jim Vrettos:
 What do you think, Jonathan?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 All true. He’s absolutely right. The only thing I would add from a Southern perspective is that one of the things you know if you live in the South is that, through those years you were describing, when so many white families were building wealth and so many African Americans were excluded from that, there were nevertheless… despite the systemic barriers, there were Black folks who built wealth in Black communities across the South.

In the 1970s, those communities were obliterated by urban renewal. The people who did invest and were able to build wealth to pass on to their families saw that wealth decimated by the building of highways and airports and everything else that white folks were in charge of planning. When they made the choices about where it was going to happen, they placed all of those infrastructure pieces in places where it didn’t hurt the value of their property but it hurt the value of property that Black folks did own.

So, the injustice of the system has continued alongside the refusal to give reparations. 

I think of the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign as very much a holistic set of demands addressed at reparations. Something along the lines of what you’re saying in terms of housing. Universal access to affordable housing is a demand of the campaign, but I think that has to go alongside a demand that people have access to healthcare. A demand that people have access to a fully-funded and diverse public education for their children so that there’s hope of a future generation that can also enjoy life here. And we keep insisting that living wages have to be a part of this. I mean, being able to afford your housing is one thing, but so many people can’t afford to eat.

It’s incredibly important that people who work more than full-time in so many cases don’t have enough to pay their bills. And so we really do need a holistic approach to a policy agenda that says we’re going to lift from the bottom and we’re going to remake this economy in a way that it can work for most people. Because, like you said, it’s working for some people, but it ain’t working for most of us.

Michael Hudson:
 What you described in the South is very much like the American treaties with the Native Americans. Sent them out west to where nobody wanted and then imagine what happened when all of a sudden they found oil under the land. Well, all of a sudden, they tried to kick them off and you had the Koch brothers’ fortunes come from working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to kick off the Indians, to strip away their rights, and to take the oil rights for the Koch brothers, basically. So, just like they were kicked off their lands, the Southerners found… Black people found their lands paved over for the airports and what you mentioned. They tried to do that in New York. Robert Moses tried to drive a highway right through Rome Street and Lower Manhattan and the Village and that was James Jacobs’ whole fight was. The white middle class was able to stop it. They were all for it in the South. That’s exactly the problem there.

Jim Vrettos: 
What I hear you all saying is we’re up against a neoliberal philosophy that we’ll give to a certain extent, correct? But when we’re talking about the sorts of structural changes… economic, political, racial, and so on… will only go so far. Am I reading that wrong? Or the hope is with the Poor People’s Campaign somehow that can convince this… the Biden administration and neoliberal roots to go further than it wants… No. You’re shaking your head already.

Michael Hudson: 
We’re talking about human rights. Not just poor people’s rights. We’re talking about human rights. Everyone has the right to medical care. They’re not giving that in America. I must say it’s largely because of Black leadership has fought against human rights for medical care. They’re on the right wing of the Democratic spectrum. Look at the presidential election when Clyburn threw all of the support against Bernie Sanders and in favor of Biden. I’m sorry to say that the Black leadership has not been progressive when it comes to either a living wage or education or public health or any of the things that we consider human rights. 

Now, obviously, the reason that Jonathan is talking about the Poor People’s Campaign is they’re the most deprived of the human rights. But the only way of phrasing this in a way that is universal is to put them in human rights.

Neoliberals are against it and the fact is the middle class… the politicians are not going to be leading in this. They’re going to try to jump in front of the parade when they see it’s successful, but they’re going to hold the parade back and say not now, wait, or compromise. Let’s do it in stages. Let’s stretch it out over 10 years so that the next incoming administration can roll back anything that [inaudible 00:43:12]. It has to be done [inaudible 00:43:14] with a principled position. Biden and the Democrats or whoever have a principled position for human rights because they’re against them. 

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 What we believe in the campaign is that the only alternative to that sort of neoliberal compromise is moral fusion organizing. We have to build a coalition of Black, White, Brown, Native, Asian together that does demand that these things be human rights and that whoever is in office has to face that demand and face real political consequences, which means in the present moment we have to… In order to pursue this agenda, we have to be equally committed to fighting for voting rights. Because it’s very clear that the organizations of the reactionary right are working in statehouses to push back against these growing coalitions. I mean, we did see some real progress in terms of turnout in the last year and a lot of that was because poor people across various racial groups came together and said we do want a new kind of leadership. 

In Kentucky, they were saying, “We want it from the hood to the holler.” I think that’s a good call for the whole country. Often, we think about rural as white and urban as Black, but this was interracial infusion.

From the hood to the holler, we have common interests. We need to come together. We need to vote together. The response to that has been an attempt to roll back voting rights and to abridge the right to vote. The very thing that is prohibited by the 15th Amendment. And so, as a campaign, as we continue to push this agenda and to push the current administration as far as we can, we’re also absolutely clear that, in terms of the next election cycle and pushing candidates who are willing to embrace more of this agenda, we’ve got to have voting rights and an expansion of federal voting rights protections. And so I think that’s a critical piece that we’re working on this year.

Michael Hudson:
 Well, the fusion you’re talking about of course is why Martin Luther King was killed and why even Malcolm X after him was killed. The Democrats’ response to voting rights was, okay, we’ll give you a choice between yes please and yes thank you. If you have the Democratic Committee making sure that no leftie, no social Democrat, can qualify, and if they pull the tricks that they did for the last two elections against Bernie Sanders and against other left-wingers, if they give all the funding to the right-wingers, if they act, really, just like they did act in the Civil War, where are you going to get? That’s the whole problem. You want people to be able to vote for something besides a choice between right-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans and that’s not… Both political parties are organized in a way to prevent that. 

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: 
I agree. I think that’s true and that the kind of organizing that is bringing together a new and a broader voting coalition has strengthened the progressive caucus in the Congress and is creating the possibility for a political position that embraces these sort of ideas. That’s the direction we’re going to keep pushing in. And I think building power to do it is the work of our day.

Jim Vrettos: 
I was going to ask. So, the progressive caucus. Give us some individuals that would be an example of what you’re talking about in terms of fusion politics.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 Well, I think of somebody like Pramila Jayapal. She’s leading the caucus right now. She was from Seattle and worked to pass a living wage there in local politics and then was elected to the Congress and has really seen that caucus grow in her time in the Congress. But I think this can’t be about party. It’s got to be about transforming the system. That means it has to be a grassroots movement that really pushes whoever’s there towards these ideas and these policies.

Michael Hudson:
That’s exactly what the military theorist von Clausewitz said. He said don’t go to war without having an idea of what you want to accomplish. What’s the situation that you want to achieve? You begin from saying the end and then you work back how are we going to get there? Your group has defined the ends. Exactly what I would do is not merely having money in your pocket. It’s having the human rights.

The education, the homes of their own, the real estate, the minimum wage. That really is the key. There’s no party as such that’s supporting that and to the extent that you succeed with the progressive caucus in getting your members elected, every reaction is going have an equal and opposite reaction and you’re going to face sabotage, as you know. You have to really throw down the gauntlet and let people know this is not a marginal talk we’re talking about. This is basic and goes right to the core. 

Jim Vrettos:
 This is serious stuff. Yeah. Well, listen. We only have a minute to go. Why don’t we… Why don’t both of you let our audience know how they can reach you? How they can contact you. Jonathan, you want to…?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
 Well, if you want to get in touch with me, I write books and I have a website that’s just my name. You can find me there. But I really want people to connect with the Poor People’s Campaign wherever they are. Please go to and learn about what the Poor People’s Campaign is doing and what organizations are already part of the coalition there where you are. 

Michael Hudson:
 My work is on the general economy and on economic history. is where I have all of my lectures and my articles. I’m working mainly with the Chinese now on coping with their problems, especially real estate problems and I’m still working on my antiquity articles.

Jim Vrettos:
 Thank you both so very, very much. This was really, really interesting and riveting. As we struggle still to create the Jubilee and the blessed community, social justice, and a moral economic system. Thank you again so very, very much. It’s really been great and enlightening. We’ll see you-

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: 
Thank you again. Good to be with you, Michael. Take care.

Michael Hudson:
 Thank you.

Jim Vrettos:
 All the best. Again, this is Jim Vrettos. Thank you so very, very much for watching us here on The Radical Imagination. We’ll see you again next week on The Radical Imagination.

The post A choice between yes please and yes thank you first appeared on Michael Hudson.

“AGANAI – Me and the Cult Leader”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/04/2021 - 12:43pm in

Published in Japan Forward 12/4/2021

At the time, it seemed more like the plot of a bad James Bond movie than everyday reality. Imagine an obese, bearded guru with fifty wives who claims he can float in mid-air. Add a heavily guarded headquarters near Mount Fuji where scientists work tirelessly to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Throw in a giant microwave oven to get rid of the corpses of the guru’s enemies.

Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have felt right at home.

Yet the human damage was all too real. On March 20th 1995, Aum Shinrikyo attacked Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki subway station with sarin, a deadly nerve gas. Thirteen unsuspecting commuters were to die agonizing deaths and over 6,000 would be injured, some suffering lasting brain damage. Thirteen cultists, including guru Shoko Asahara, were eventually executed in 2018 for their part in this act of indiscriminate terrorism.

The director of the documentary film AGANAI, Atsushi Sakahara, was in Kasumigaseki station on that fateful day in 1995. He inhaled the toxic fumes and has been living with the physical and mental consequences ever since. In a strange twist, he went on to marry a woman who he subsequently discovered to have been a fringe member of Aum. It comes as no surprise that the marriage did not last.

AGANAI has been well received in various overseas film festivals. Perhaps because it was partly financed by a Hong Kong production company, it comes with English language subtitles even in Japan. That is good – the film deserves wider exposure. Although it tackles one of the most notorious events in recent Japanese history, it has a disturbing message about human nature that has universal significance.

There are two kinds of documentary film. The traditional type assumes an uninvolved, “objective” approach to its material. Then there is the interventionist type, exemplified by the work of Michael Moore, in which the filmmaker enters the world of the film as protagonist and provocateur. AGANAI is very much of that latter type. It consists of a series of conversations between Sakahara and Hiroshi Araki, the head of public relations at Aleph, as the Aum cult now calls itself.

If that sounds boring, it is anything but. The air crackles with tension as the two men engage in mind-games and soul-searching and delve deep into their own pasts.  They have some things in common. Natives of the Kansai region, they both studied at Kyoto University in the late 1980s. Both were there when the red-robed Asahara arrived at the campus in a chauffeur-driven limo, hoping to attract highly educated recruits. The future film director yelled out “Go ahead and levitate.” Araki attended the guru’s lecture and was duly hooked. As the ancient Greeks insisted, character is fate.

Kasumigaseki Station  20/3/1995 Kasumigaseki Station 20/3/1995

In his programme notes, Kasahara describes the film as a “road movie.” Like all the best examples of the genre, it features a journey that is metaphorical as well as physical. Together the duo revisit Kyoto University and familiar countryside. Araki proves unusually adept at skipping pebbles in a lake near his grandmother’s house, but breaks down when recalling an illness of his younger brother that was potentially life-threatening but turned out to be trivial. Confronting the reality of life and death in this world was unbearable to him.

Unlike Robert de Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (1988), which is Kasahara’s favourite road movie, the two men can never be true buddies. AGANAI’s opening sequence – news footage of the mass murder at Kasumigaseki – ensures that.

“Aganai” is the Japanese word for atonement. Kasahara explains that by making the film he is atoning for his failed marriage and the suicide of a close friend that he was unable to prevent. In the course of the film, he forcibly confronts Araki with the need to atone for the crimes of Aum – in which the senior cultist has been passively complicit after the fact. We see posters of Asahara on the walls of the  Aum / Aleph headquarters a decade after his guilt was established in court.

Posters of Asahara on the wall Posters of Asahara on the wall

Araki joined Aum in 1992, several years after Asahara returned from a trip to Tibet determined to implement his interpretation of Vajrayana, an esoteric form of Buddhism. The guru chose to take literally texts that are usually considered symbolic, such as this from the Hevajra tantra – “you should kill living beings, speak lying words, take what is not given, consort with the women of others.”

In 1990, an Aum hit-squad broke into the house of a lawyer acting for the relatives of cultists and, on Asahara’s specific instructions, murdered him, his wife and young son. The bodies were buried in remote areas, with faces and teeth smashed to prevent identification. Other killings followed, supposedly required by Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and creation repurposed by Asahara to suit his apocalyptic agenda.

Araki would not have known about that, but the paranoia and psychosis must have been noticeable to anyone willing to notice it. Film director Kasahara extracts one startling admission from Araki: the current head of public relations would not have joined the cult after the sarin attack. But as for leaving now, it seems unlikely. Aum / Aleph is his whole world. It has made him what he is. As Kasahara’s probing makes clear, Araki was a weak and frightened soul from an early age, which made him a natural recruit for Aum.

Araki (in blue) with Director Kasahara Araki (in blue) with Director Kasahara

To the western eye, it seems strange that a religious cult could attract masters students at prestigious universities and doctors and scientists. There were also sympathizers in the police, even in a TV network, where supporters managed to insert subliminal images of Asahara into a children’s cartoon.

Does that mean that highly educated Japanese are more gullible than highly educated Westerners? Not necessarily. Western elites tend to be less religious than the general population of their countries, but their record of falling for simple totalizing belief systems is appalling. If we broaden the concept of religion to include political dreamlands, the differences disappear.

It wasn’t truck-drivers and miners who idolized the psychopathic Mao Zedong, but Nobel Prize-winner Jean-Paul Sartre and distinguished American academics, some of whom defend Mao and his cultural revolution to this day. The limits of such delusions were exemplified by the radical British academic Malcolm Caldwell, a staunch supporter of Pol Pot who defended the Cambodian dictator from accusations of mass murder. Invited to Cambodia, he was shot to death by Pol Pot’s men a few hours after interviewing the creator of the “killing fields.”

Simon Leys, the Belgian-Australian sinologist, saw through Mao from on an early stage. This is his view of the dictator’s admirers, at home and abroad –

“What people believe is essentially what they wish to believe. They cultivate illusions out of idealism—and also out of cynicism… They believe because they are stupid, and also because they are clever. Simply, they believe in order to survive. And because they need to survive, sometimes they could gladly kill whoever has the insensitivity, cruelty, and inhumanity to deny them their life-supporting lies.’“ Simon Leys: the New York Review of Books, July 20 1989.

Not a comforting view of human nature, but one that matches the historical record in relation to Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Shoko Asahara and many others.

AG9 (2)

Director Kasahara chose to write “aganai” in capitalized Roman letters. In the programme notes, he comes up with some wordplay. “Ai ga nai” means “there is no love.” Replace the first word with the English “I”, and you get “there is no me.” One near-anagram that immediately strikes the eye is “again.”

Could an Aum-like phenomenon appear again? If Simon Leys is right, the answer is yes. The human capacity for self-delusion is endless. But where and in what form is anyone’s guess.


Deepwater Horizon: Corporate HomicideBP's cover-up aided by Bush State Department

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 8:49am in

On April 20, 2010, eleven men on the Deepwater Horizon were incinerated when the BP/Transocean oil rig blew out and exploded.
Just 17 months before the Deepwater Horizon destroyed 600 miles of Gulf Coast, BP covered up a nearly identical blowout in... READ MORE