SAY IT ISN’T SO: Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is soliciting bids from private sector contractors for a job that some people view as tantamount to monitoring thought crimes on Twitter and the Internet.
No, they won’t be spying on political dissidents guilty of thought crimes as defined by the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, legislation that was abolished on 15 October 1945. One provision in that law was to keep tabs on thought criminals, reform and rehabilitate them, and promote their ideological recantation and return to society. In our more enlightened age, METI will be using public funds to pay contractors to scour cyberspace for nuclear energy dissidents.
This report comes from the Safecast website (English and Japanese both), put together by a group of people who are monitoring radiation levels throughout Japan to provide the public with more “robust” information, as they put it. Here’s their explanation:
“Last Friday, July 15, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (METI), Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, opened a call for bids (tender) regarding the “Nuclear Power Safety Regulation Publicity Project”, for contractors to monitor blogs and tweets posted about nuclear power and radiation.”
Safecast also provides an English translation of the Japanese language bidding specifications. (The original Japanese pdf file is here.):
“The Contractor is required to monitor blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues as well as Twitter accounts (monitoring tweets is essential) around the clock, and conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors, and to report such internet accounts to the Agency.
When the Contractor becomes aware of such incorrect and inappropriate information, it is required to publish correct information in Q&A form on the website and Twitter account of the Agency, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary. The Agency is to be notified of ANY consultant experts and engineers in advance.
The Contractor is required to keep the Agency well informed on the internet accounts and keywords used in the blogs and Twitter accounts that are posting incorrect and inappropriate information. The Contractor is required to maintain (a) sufficient number of personnel for around-the-clock monitoring. The Contractor is required to submit report(s) on internet accounts via CD-R.”
To be sure, it is the legitimate function of government and regulatory agencies to provide accurate information that tempers public hysteria and panic. That’s particularly important for life- and health-threatening incidents, such as those involving the safety of nuclear power plants. Lord knows the news media isn’t about to cool society’s jets; it’s in their financial interest to fan the frenzies and highlight the vapor trails with neon exclamation points.
Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto understood this once upon a time. People still remember that as Health Minister about 15 years ago, he scarfed down a plate of daikon radish greens to reassure the public about food safety during an e.coli scare. (Unfortunately for the nation, he still remembers too; the incident gave him the idea that media grandstanding was the only way to communicate with the public.)
In addition, the Safecast group membership seems to include a few of the eternally vibratory activistas incapable of keeping their hands out of their pants and pressing their proverbial hot buttons. That behavior does tend to attract attention, but only in the way that former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko once observed that a dog licking its underbelly attracts the attention of passers-by. For example:
“Since March 11, 2011 it has been frequently reported that YouTube videos containing footage or comments unfavorable to Tepco or the Japanese government have been removed within several hours of their posting. Examples of offending YouTube videos include excerpts of TV shows with controversial comments, footage showing smoke emitted from the nuclear reactors, an ex-Tepco employee speaking on his Fukushima experiences etc.
“Also, “agents” would show up in engineers-only internet forums, and interrupt with completely off-base pro-nuclear politically motivated comments. Likewise, Twitter accounts with too much content regarding nuclear power and radiation issues have been disrupted.”
What the author of the post doesn’t mention — or doesn’t know — is that Japanese TV networks are aggressive about forcing YouTube operators to immediately pull excerpts of news broadcasts that wind up on the site. I’ve put up two YouTube links to news reports from Japanese TV in the past, and both were taken down by YouTube within 24 hours. One showed then-DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio in doofus mode trying to explain that the party’s 2009 election manifesto he had unveiled a few days before with the hoopla dialed to 11 wasn’t really the party’s manifesto after all. (They discovered Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru didn’t like it). The other was a film clip of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China after the Senkakus incident.
They also provide no explanatory detail on Twitter accounts being “disrupted”, nor even what that is supposed to mean. And let’s not get into that bit about “agents” in Internet forums. Yes, that tactic was often used in 2008 by “agents” of America’s Democratic Party scared shitless of Sarah Palin. Their instructions were to masquerade as conservatives appalled by the Palin nomination as vice-presidential candidate and claim they were going to vote for Obama as a result. (They fooled no one and were the source of much amusement.) Putting that aside, are the Safecasters so sure of themselves they can’t believe a legit engineer in an Internet discussion group would disagree with them?
If so, what would they make of this?
“Japan’s already reeling economy could be crushed by over-reaction to the Fukushima disaster, warns radiation scientist T.D. Luckey in the summer 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. http://www.jpands.org/vol16no2/luckey.pdf
“Japan should not repeat the mistake that Russia made in the tremendous unwarranted expense of its reaction to Chernobyl. As Mikhail Gorbachev understood too late, ‘The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago…was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.’
“Japan should not act on the false presumption, shared by most of the world’s press, that all radiation is harmful, Luckey states.”
Meanwhile, the current edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai features an article on what that publication charges is the government’s manipulation of information and suppression of debate about nuclear power. While the article may make the same claims (I haven’t read it), that magazine’s distribution is not being disrupted. It’s on sale today at convenience stores, bookstores, and train station kiosks throughout the country.
There’s also this:
“Dr. Onoda is sure that his blog will be blacklisted soon.”
I’m sure his blog, which also promotes his medical practice, will not be blacklisted at all, but if conspiracists talked only about what actually happened instead of the double-secret broadcasts beamed straight to their tinfoil hats by the big-eyed beans from Venus, they’d have to find some other way to fill the frightening silence.
Further, let us not forget the perpetual civil war within Japan for control of the government, fought between politicians and the bureaucrats, with combatants from both sides crossing the lines to fight for their adversaries. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is responsible for government policy at the nexus of the three sectors in its name. Consider: Prime Minister Kan proposed at the G8 Summit that natural energy sources should account for more than 20% of all Japanese energy consumption by the early 2020s, and set as a target the installation of solar panels in 10 million homes. He also wants to Japan to give up its 30% “dependency” on nuclear power. In addition, Environment/Justice Minister Eda Satsuki, who started his career in electoral politics in the same “Socialist Democrat” group as Mr. Kan, “vowed Wednesday (a week ago) to maintain Japan’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020”.
If the Kan/Eda fingerpaintings were to be accepted as real art, it would be the end of the world for Japan’s economy, trade, and industry (as we know it). It would not be surprising if METI is taking steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. Grazers in the Kan/Eda section of the political pasture often champion schemes that lead others to suspect their real motivations are to create a world of glorious global hunter-gatherer arts and crafts villages without the blunt instruments under the stewardship/thumb of an uno mundo international elite. In other words, them.
But just because people and groups of this sort are easily dismissible doesn’t mean their accusation should be easily dismissed. This is Kasumigaseki, after all. METI is the ministry responsible for regulating Japan’s nuclear power industry, but it also contains internal elements actively promoting the use of nuclear energy. In addition, let us not underestimate the bureaucracy’s conviction that it is the real government of Japan, and that from time to time they must undertake the unpleasant task of humoring the performing seals of the political class. All the Kasumigaseki ministries think they have the right to conceal and/or manage information. And while METI and the Kan Cabinet are now at loggerheads over accusations that the former is concealing information on the amount of non-nuclear generated power available, the dreary fact remains that the Kan Cabinet also started lying about Fukushima on the day the accident happened.
Some might argue that the ministry is simply gathering information, but no government or bureaucracy anywhere is capable of stopping itself from crossing the line to malfeasance in the use/abuse of that information. It is one of the reasons the opposition to social democracy is so intractable.
Then there is that inclusion of the word “inappropriate” in the bidding specifications. What is the functional definition of the word in this context, and how does METI define it? Whatever makes them look bad?
The Japanese press is unlikely to bring this up as an issue for sober discussion — surely they already know — if only because of the restrictions inherent in the kisha club system. That includes the anti-nuke Asahi and Mainichi, the latter of which is running a feature this week attempting to tie atomic power to atomic weapons through guilt by association, just in time for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries next month. The Asahi is also hawking the idea of a nuclear-free Japan in its own inimitable style, but then again, their support for nuclear power was so strong in the 1970s some people wondered if the industry had bought them off.
Don’t look to the English-language media in Japan for anything serious or sober either. The grand claims of speaking truth to power are only for consumption at media guild seminars, journalism grad schools, and trade publications. They also save it for public consumption when they’re accused of giving the left a pass on the same behavior they crucify the right for. When it comes to walking instead of talking, Weird Japan is all they can manage.
Speaking of weird, here’s the weird part of this story: Safecast could be right even if they’re wrong.
Thanks to Tony for the link.
Live in Tokyo: