Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On Arriving in Japan and the US Debt Crisis

As I cruised over the Pacific enjoying movie after mind-numbing movie, Congress passed a measure to raise the debt ceiling that by all accounts (or at least by Democracy Now and Paul Krugman) sucks. Not only will the deal likely prolong the current recession - primarily hurting the working class and middle class, and positively screwing the already unemployed - it essentially allows the wealthy to stay that way, requiring nothing new of them in the way of taxes, and likely profiting them. Those politicians and pundits on the right who called for cuts with no new revenues engaged in selfish and mean-spirited bullying, asking others to sacrifice while not being willing to give slightly more from their already overflowing, deep pockets.

When I landed in Japan, less than five months after the 3/11/11 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant crisis, I couldn't have been greeted by a more different picture. Signs everywhere in the airport and train stations call for measures to save energy, which in the sweltering summer months in Japan means sacrificing on air conditioning. (This may not seem like a big deal unless you've been in Japan in the summer.) An article in the English-language Japan Times today talked about how the government's request of both manufacturing and private home to reduce energy use by 15% this summer is seeing 50% success rates, achieved in part by auto factories temporarily changing their work schedules to try and balance energy use out over the week. And this from an industry that today posted 99% (Toyota) and 90% (Honda) drops in revenues last quarter due to shutdowns after 3/11.

This is not to say that everything is rosy in Japan (see this recent NY Times article on how Japanese citizens are taking their own readings of radioactivity because local and national governments are saying everything's fine, despite new findings of radiation in the food supply). But it is striking to see industry and individuals all taking part in reducing energy consumption here, while at the same time in the US those who could actually make a difference - the rich - threaten to take down the entire economy before they'd agree to pay their fair share.

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