If At First You Don’t Succeed

In the spirit of America’s Independence week, I present to you this citizenship test.  Write down these ten questions from the U.S. citizenship test and answer them before you click on the answers.

In order to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, a person must correctly answer six of 10 randomly selected questions. Can you pass the test?

1. What are the colors of our flag?

2. How many stripes are there in the flag?

3. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?

4. What are the three branches of our government?

5. Can you name the original thirteen states?

6. What are the 49th and 50th states of the Union?

7. Who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner?”

8. Who signs bills into law?

9. What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?

10. In what month do we vote for the president?

How did you do?

If you didn’t do that well, you are not alone.  It seems many Americans are not too aware of our history, much less our current government leaders.  Consider this quote:

However, the names of some of our current leaders slipped the minds of a few, for example, the leader of the executive branch (President Barack Obama) and his second-in-command (Vice President Joe Biden) seemed even harder for some.

Not to worry, however.  These types of press reports regularly appear to remind us of our ignorance.  They perpetuate the stereotype that Americans are either (a) oblivious to what’s going on in the world and at home or (b) oblivious to what’s going on in the world and at home.  (The choices are the same on purpose.)  While it is true that many Americans may miss a lot of these basic questions, I don’t believe that we should jump to the most negative of conclusions.  After all, it’s hard to keep up with the knowledge that Barack Obama is the leader of the executive branch of government and Joe Biden is his second-in-command when we have to keep up with the Joneses and the Kardashians. (Yes, that is the sound of sar hitting casm.)

Question: Why do I still love America?

Answer: Our potential.

Happy Independence Day

Today is the 4th of July (Fourth of July), a national holiday in the United States that commemorates America’s independence from Great Britain.  The Fourth of July is associated with traditional American food fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad, outdoor grilling, baseball, picnics, fireworks, and parades.  The date coincides with the Continental Congress’ signing of the Declaration of Independence.  We associate this day with the only two future presidents to sign the document, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom died on July 4th, 1826.  I guess you could say that was their independence day too!

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and declared his hopes for the national holiday:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Well, we may not be quite as religious about the holiday.  We’re more apt to shoot off fireworks and eat too much. Nevertheless, watch this highlight from the annual Capitol Fourth celebration in Washington, DC and tell me you don’t feel a little fired up.  I’ve been to several of these celebrations in Washington, since I lived in the nation’s capital for nine years.  This patriotic music can get my blood circulating and my skin full of goosebumps. Performed by country singer, Reba McIntire.

I make no apologies for loving my country.  It’s that love for country that makes me criticize it so often.  I believe we can always do better.  I am reminded of the words of one of my mentors, J. William Fulbright, who said, “In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith.”  He wrote one of the most important critiques of the Vietnam War in his book, The Arrogance of Power, on which my book, The Arrogance of American Power, is based.

If America has a service to perform in the world, and I believe it has, it is in large part the service of its own example. In our excessive involvement in the affairs of other countries, we are not only living off our assets and denying our own people the proper enjoyment of their resources; we are also denying the world the example of a free society enjoying its freedom to the fullest. This is regrettable indeed for a nation that aspires to teach democracy to other nations, because, as Burke said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.”

The Busy Trap: Here and Everywhere

Slow down, you move too fast.

I hope you aren’t too busy to read this latest post.  I recall sometime this year that my landlady in California said that I’m the busiest person she knows.  Wow, I thought, that must mean I’m doing something important.  On second thought, it could have meant that I’m like many Americans, including herself, who is preoccupied with, well occupations.  We’re too busy to care, too busy to bother, too busy to matter, too busy to know that we’re too busy.  Get the picture?

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap, New York Times

Do you feel like you are too busy?  Knowing your life as a full-time student, I would imagine that you must feel too busy.  How do you find time for yourself?  In an educational setting where the brain is on overdrive, we must take time to stop and enjoy the hollyhocks or just listen to the sage advice of Simon and Garfunkel or Mac Davis.  Now go grab that cup of matcha latte and relax.

Negative Ads: Hate ‘Em, Love ‘Em, Nuke ‘Em

The president, any president, should go negative early, often, and without apology if the goal is victory. The notion that negative campaigning is some toxic modern aberration in American democracy is bogus. No campaign may ever top the Andrew Jackson–John Quincy Adams race of 1828, in which Jackson was accused of murder, drunkenness, cockfighting, slave-trading, and, most delicious of all, cannibalism. His wife and his mother, for good measure, were branded a bigamist and a whore, respectively. (Jackson won nonetheless.) In the last national campaign before the advent of political television ads, lovable Harry Truman didn’t just give hell to the “do nothing” Congress, as roseate memory has it. In a major speech in Chicago in late October 1948, he revisited still-raw World War II memories to imply that the “powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions”—that would be the Republicans— and their chosen front man, Thomas Dewey, were analogous to the Nazis and Hitler. Over-the-top? Dewey was a liberal by the standards of the postwar GOP and had more in common with a department-store mannequin than with a Fascist dictator.

That’s why he would be wise to seriously reexamine the history of a spot so effective that it’s the only aspect of the entire LBJ-Goldwater race that anyone remembers. The latest volume of Robert Caro’s epic life of Lyndon Johnson stops just short of the 1964 election. But last fall, Robert Mann, a journalist and historian with a relevant previous career seeped in the cauldron of Louisiana politics, got there first with Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds, an enterprising book meticulously reconstructing the genesis and impact of this very brief, very devastating piece of film. Mann’s account is all the more instructive when read in the context of 2012. Paradoxically, the most famous attack ad in history stands apart from many of those that followed it—including most produced today—by containing no facts or even factoids, no quotes, no argument, no image of either candidate, and not even a mention of the target’s name. And yet its power remains awesome to behold. It finished Goldwater even though Americans in 1964 tilted slightly more conservative than liberal (37 to 35 percent, according to Gallup) and even though the Goldwater campaign outspent LBJ’s on television advertising by some 40 percent, including for an attack ad of its own linking the president to graft, “swindle,” juvenile delinquency, crime, and riots.

Frank Rich, Nuke ‘Em: Why negative advertisements are powerful, essential, and sometimes (see “Daisy”) even artistic. New York Magazine, June 17, 2012

Read the entire article by Frank Rich and tell me, do you think that we moralize too much about negative versus positive political campaign ads?  Is all fair in love and political war?  Do ads turns off the people from voting or fire them up to participate in the political process?

Barackaganda: Where Hollywood Meets Washington

Just weeks ago President Obama was hard at work delivering his Washington Correspondents’ Dinner stand-up routine and now we find him on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for what is being dubbed his “Checks and the City” tour, a play on words for actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s $40,000 a plate soiree featuring Michelle and Barack Obama.  Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and screaming diva in the documentary film, The September Issue, will also be at the Thursday gathering.  For $40,000, that plate should come with a new Prius c.

The AP author of the article says that Obama has no choice but to hook his falling star status onto the ready cash of multimillionaire Hollywood actors and actresses like George Clooney, Cher, Matthew Broderick, Ellen Degeneres, among many others.  There is great potential for this money-raising tete-a-tete to backfire.  Americans have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Hollywood.  While we may like the product that comes out of the industry, we don’t think much of the lifestyles of many of the rich and famous.  These are not the Go Go 1980s anymore nor are these the “Yes, we can!” feelings of just a few years ago.  Granted, anyone who hates Hollywood isn’t going to vote for Barack Obama anyway, but he needs the Independents to beat Mitt Romney.

Is President Obama looking too closely aligned with Hollywood?  Do you think this close alliance between Hollywood and Washington will make any difference in the presidential election?  Or do you just want to know what they are serving for $40,000 a plate? 

Obama, the Rock Star? No More

Many American reports are out today, including this article in the Christian Science Monitor, citing the just released Pew Global Attitudes Survey that President Obama’s rock star status in the world has severely declined.  I could have told you this, as it comes as no surprise to this American, but some of the data in the report is quite revealing.  Obama’s support for deadly drone strikes has all but evaporated any goodwill he had in Muslim majority countries.  (Anyone remember his famous Cairo speech in 2009?)  The world’s majority does not support the Obama drone campaign, with the American people (62%) still mostly in support of such actions to take out extremists and Al Qaeda supporters.

Not only has Obama’s popularity waned, but also the perception that the United States is the leading economy in the world.

The Obama era has coincided with major changes in international perceptions of American power – especially U.S. economic power. The global financial crisis and the steady rise of China have led many to declare China the world’s economic leader, and this trend is especially strong among some of America’s major European allies.

Four years ago, a plurality of 45 percent in the 14 countries also surveyed in this year’s poll named the US as the king of the global economic hill, as opposed to 22 percent who picked China. Today 42 percent place China in the throne, while the percentage naming the US has slipped to 36.

In European countries especially, China is viewed as the leading economic power: About two-thirds of Germans hold this opinion, while nearly 60 percent of Britons, French, and Spaniards do as well.

Thanks a lot, Europe, especially you, Germany, where nearly four years ago in August 2008 several hundred thousand of your own citizens cheered on the American presidential candidate Obama as he spoke in Berlin.  Check out this Associated Press photo of Obama’s fans in Berlin.

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end,”goes the old song made popular by Welsh singer, Mary Hopkin.  Seriously, this China economic power number one ranking is a somewhat shocking perception, but I recall telling many a listener when I lived in Beijing in 2007 that this century would not be called “The American Century,” but rather “The China Century,” thanks to not only China’s growing economy but also its super culture power status (Confucius Institutes, for example).  Little did I know then that a mere five years later many parts of the world would view China the greater economic power over the United States.  Interestingly, 48% of the Chinese people surveyed by Pew still consider the United States the world’s economic leader versus just 29% citing China.  For the record, the United States is still the world’s strongest economy.  Most of the US slippage is due to the perception that the dollar is not the leading economic indicator it once was.

The US president, much less the United States, may not hold rock star status in Europe these days, but we can cast our eyes across the Pacific to our Northeast Asian treasured ally.  Here is what the Pew Global Attitudes Survey had to say, and I thank you in advance:

In Japan, 72% currently express a favorable opinion of the U.S., up from 50% four years ago. America’s image in Japan improved dramatically in 2011, due in part to American relief efforts following the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Fully 85% of Japanese respondents expressed a positive view of the U.S. in last year’s poll.

Is there anything about this drop in Obama’s popularity that surprises you?  How about the United States?  Do you think we obsess over our position in the world more than other countries?  I think we do.  After all, we are the nation of celebrity, and just like actress Sally Field once said after winning her second Oscar® for Best Actress, “you like me right now,  you like me,” America really wants to be liked, not just in the Facebook sense.

Sushi Diplomacy: Japan in the World

The following is a prepared text of my May 30th speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  I was asked to discuss Japanese Public Diplomacy as part of a panel on Public Diplomacy in Northeast Asia.

History

In 1923, the Japanese Diet created a Special Account from Japan’s share of the Boxer indemnities to fund cultural activities to China.  That same year a China Cultural Affairs Bureau was established within MOFA.  This cultural bridge between China and Japan was severed with Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and the Marco Polo Bridge incident that led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).  Japan’s defeat in World War II led to almost thirty years of focus on economic reconstruction and recovery.  By the 1970s when Japan had become an economic superpower, it began to channel more of its resources into cultural diplomacy.  The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 for this sole purpose.

In the last 40 years, Tokyo’s cultural diplomacy has been focused mostly on the United States and its ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors.  The US –Japan Alliance is Japan’s foreign policy cornerstone and ASEAN involves expanding markets and energy security issues.  The Fukuda Doctrine pledged “heart to heart relations” between Japan and Southeast Asia after anti-Japanese protests occurred in Bangkok and Jakarta.  Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda’s 1977 speech in Manila, Philippines reasserted that Japan was a peaceful nation that would never become a military power and would show mutual respect, fairness and equality to its ASEAN members.  Japan asserts a peaceful approach because it cannot exercise hard power according to the no-war clause of Article 9 in its constitution.  Hence, Japan’s soft approach in the post-Meiji and post-WWII era is two-fold: cultural diplomacy (CD) and developmental assistance, official and nongovernmental through Japanese NGOs.  Institutions involved include the Japan Foundation, Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) Program, founded in 1965 and modeled on the US Peace Corps, Global 30, and the Office of Global Communications, Prime Minister’s Office.

Cool Culture

Japan is playing catch-up with other nations in the region in making public diplomacy an integral part of its foreign relations.  It has always had a “soft power” agenda in the aftermath of WWII when Japan’s new constitution (Article 9) forbade any military aims.  Japan’s core strength is in cultural diplomacy, Cool Japan (manga, anime, J-Pop, J-Fashion) as well as traditional Japanese culture (rock garden, Zen architecture, tea ceremony, Kimono culture).   The global appeal of manga and anime has everything to do with globalization and global consumer tastes and nothing to do with the Japanese state.  So the challenge remains: how does the state expand and exploit its new “hip and cool” soft power image and reconcile that positive image with Japan’s East Asian mixed reputation.

Before 3.11, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was working with the Japan Foundation to expand cultural exchange programs.  In April 2006, Foreign Minister Aso Taro linked manga and anime with a hearts and minds campaign to China’s youth in a speech to the University of Digital Content located in the Akihabara district (electronics Mecca) of Tokyo.  He wondered what pictures emerge in the heads of foreigners when they hear the name, Japan.  The more positive, the easier it is for Japan to get across its long-term views.  That same year, the head of Toyota Motor Corporation, Cho Fujio, who was also head of the MOFA-advisory Council on the Movement of People Across Borders, recommended a “Japan Manga Grand Prize.”  Its purpose was two-fold: (1) target foreign artists of manga and anime; and (2) appoint Japanese artists as cultural ambassadors to help promote J-Pop overseas.

In January 2007, Aso Taro gave a policy speech to the Diet that officially called for J-pop to be used as a public diplomacy tool.  “What is important is to be able to induce other countries to listen to Japan.  If the use of pop culture or various subcultures can be useful in this process, we certainly should make the most of them.”  A natural offspring of this vision is the AKB48 girl group (Akihabara 48), not only in Japan but also through spin-off versions throughout the region.  The popular song and dance act is now being enlisted in the sale of “reconstruction bonds.”  Japan has held cultural appeal for quite some time.  Before Hello Kitty, Doraemon (the earless robot cat), or Pokemon, there was Astro Boy and Godzilla.  The difference between then and now is that the J-state is finally taking notice that J-pop has J-policy links.

Cool Japan has its problems.  What it means to be cool is ephemeral.  Today’s Cool Japan is tomorrow’s (or today’s) Cool Korea or Cool India.  The Japanese government and institutions like the Japan Foundation recognize that being a cultural superpower isn’t enough, especially against the backdrop of the lost decades.  Nevertheless, the emphasis on culture continues in a region where China, Korea and Taiwan assert their own cultural features, China with its global Confucian Institutes in particular.  The question remains: Is culture power in the East Asian region just politics by other means?

Whither JPD after 3.11

Everything has changed with 3.11.  It is no longer exclusively Cool Japan but rather Gratitude Relations (Yamato spirit) that is driving Japan’s soft power.  Disaster pictures spoke 1,000 words, with long lines of people politely lined up and waiting for hours for water and food.  What started out as neighbors helping neighbors in Japan after the quake and tsunami was quickly appreciated globally and donations poured in.  Pray for Japan, the Lady Gaga effect in 2011, became Japan thanks you in 2012.

Japan’s image today is on the rise with its recovery.  But there is another side to this coin that is a major concern.  JPD holds opportunity for person-to-person diplomacy but public suspicion persists related to the Fukushima nuclear fallout and the Japanese government’s lack of transparency.  There is a huge loss of trust in government and corporate institutions.  Will this be a nuclear Japan, a post-nuclear Japan or something in between?  Mass anti-nuclear sentiments challenge the government’s efforts to link nuclear power with the Japan nation branding campaign of the Future City.  Former PM Naoto Kan told the Diet on Monday, May 28 that Japan should give up nuclear power, while Noda will decide soon whether or not to start the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.  (Coincidentally I’m meeting the mayor of Fukui city June 7th as part of a sister-city goodwill exchange.  Fukui is the sister city to my university employer home city, Fullerton.)

Another concern involves the persistent lack of internationalization in Japanese higher education.  Internationalization has always been linked more with economic and business issues.  To address this concern, the Japanese government formed the Global 30 project, which was originally slated to involve 30 universities but stands at 13.  These 13 Japanese institutions of higher learning are using government funds to internationalize their curriculum, increase foreign student percentages and offer more English-language instruction.  The program’s goal is to attract 300,000 international students by 2020. (The 13 member institutions had 21,429 international students in 2011.) Most coursework is offered in English so that the Japanese language requirement is not an impediment, but the hurdles are high for other universities to participate because of strict Ministry of Education standards.

Foreign student numbers in Japan were just over 138,000 in 2011, with nearly 90,000 coming from China and the rest from Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia.  USA student numbers were 1,400.  Global interest in the Japanese language is on a significant rise, in part because of great love and affection for manga and anime more than for economic reasons, but Japan has no equivalent to the Confucian Institutes outside the Japan Foundation.  Less than 4 percent of Japan’s university students are from overseas (133,000) compared to China’s 223,000 and the US with over 672,000.  Five percent of faculty is foreign and most are hired to teach in English or as ESL instructors.  Today fewer Japanese students are going abroad to the US and Europe.  South Korea, half the size of Japan, sends twice the number of its students to America.  All of this is causing angst about Japan’s ability to compete globally, but with the worse public debt among industrialized nations, change will be slow.

It is also plainly obvious that Japan’s public diplomacy suffers from the lack of a CNN International or BBC-like global media presence.  The Prime Minister’s Office recently opened an Office of Global Communications to strengthen its presence with international media and to reestablish the credibility of the Japan brand. But a closed society image persists.  Japan’s government policies favor ethnic homogeneity to maintain social order over a more open immigrant policy.  If you add in the fact that Japanese is not a global language either in business or diplomacy, then you have a recipe for a more sluggish soft power nation.

Japan’s future public diplomacy agenda will likely expand its Gratitude Relations through ODA and ORC (Open Reconstruction Collaboration).  A recent boost is that Japan has 18 months to convince the IOC that it would be a better host for the summer Olympics in 2020 than either Istanbul or Madrid.  The publicity surrounding this Olympic bid is driven by the rhetoric of thanks and acknowledgment to the world for helping Japan after 3/11.   The Japan Foundation is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Some, but not all of its staff, prefer a more human touch and less statist touch approach to cultural diplomacy, what might be called “The Personal (Kizuna) is Public Diplomacy.”  JF’s Hideki Hara cites the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies (http://www.japan-studies.org) launched at Hebrew, Haifa and Tel Aviv universities this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of ties between the two countries or the sponsorship of Japanese-Brazilian artist Hamilton Yokota (Titi Freak) colorful fish murals on temporary houses in Ishinomaki.  Hara says,

The worst thing that can happen to scholars or people like me is to have set prejudices about my country versus other country’s uniqueness.  The cultural diplomacy based on uniqueness, superiority or inferiority for that matter is over.  Now it’s all about compassion.  It’s all about getting nods from other countries.

The US-Japan Tomodachi Initiative to support more interpersonal artist and student ties into the Japan recovery.  (The Lady Gaga Teacup from which she drank during a news conference in June 2011 was auctioned off in early May for $75,000 to support Tomodachi efforts.)  In the Kizuna and Tomodachi spirit, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended the 60th anniversary of the Japan-US Educational Commission (Fulbright) at the Imperial Palace Hotel on May 25, 2012.  What was striking was to see so few young people at the reception.  Attendees were mostly the Japanese Fulbright students from the 1950s and 1960s.  Who will replace them?

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom tree saplings by then mayor Ozaki of Tokyo City to Washington, DC.  A recent Gallup rating showed a slight majority of Americans considers Japan “the most important partner of the US in Asia.” The challenge for Japan is this: Does clicking “like” on the Sushi page of Facebook translate into state and foreign policy goals?