Saturday, October 13, 2012

Away With Objectivity

Posted on Nov 7, 2011
Wikimedia Commons / SusanLesch (CC-BY-SA)

This article originally appeared in Spanish on

It is assumed, as a divine command, that the journalist should be “impartial, objective, balanced and fair” as a prerequisite for being a true “professional.”

I answer that to keep our balance, swings and seesaws at the park or trapezes in the circus will do, but it just so happens that journalists are not acrobats. Nor is journalism a spectacle to show off keeping one’s balance on a tightrope, getting along with all and getting the public’s acclaim.  But journalism must always have both sides of the story, reads the creed of the faithful devotees of “objective and balanced information,” and here I ask: Is it then, that as journalists we are required, for example, to take the point of view of Hitler and the Nazis to be fair or balance the points of view of Jews and other non-Jewish victims of Nazism during World War II? In fact, most stories are not antagonistic or symmetrically reduce to only two sides, and that optical geometric simplification is not applicable to the journalistic task to reflect diverse and complex facts of reality that have more sides than a dodecahedron.

For as the acclaimed American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges, considered one of the greatest moral voices of journalism in the United States today, wrote for Truthdig, “The creed of objectivity and balance, formulated at the beginning of the 19th century by newspaper owners to generate greater profits from advertisers, disarms and cripples the press.”

Hedges said that this creed became “a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits. This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices,” wrote this graduate of Harvard University with decades of experience reporting in conflict zones in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans.

When I am invited to speak at various universities in Southern California, I always speak against the “creed of objectivity and balance.” I say that you cannot balance the truth with falsehood, and that the rules of objectivity, as theory taught in universities and schools of journalism, promote the practice that what is published becomes, many times, the official version of events.
That version, presented under the guise of objectivity and balance, ends up imposing what is “true or false” and is accepted by the public as an article of faith, while hiding the perspective, both social and historical, from which it is written and published. Thus, anything else written outside that framework that does not conform to the dogmatic worship of a false objectivity permits those in power to design, manage and impose a consensus of “opinion” useful to them, while sending other nonconforming versions, without passing through purgatory, to the hell of paranoia or so-called “conspiracy theories” to scorch there.

The essence of journalism is for me the search for truth, which is not usually sitting in a corner waiting for the arrival of reporters to run into it, pick it up as it was found—chaste, pure, immaculate and free of contaminants—and then transfer it without subjective media interests, “professional, objective and balanced,” to the readers, the public and audiences beyond.

The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote that “to be a journalist, first of all, you have to be a good human being. Bad people cannot be good journalists. If you’re a good person, you can try to understand others, their intentions, their faith, their interests, their difficulties, their tragedies.” A good person, then, who exercises journalism can keep his eyes subjective, but honest, to describe what he sees from his specific place and tell from there what he sincerely sees, whether it is literally a physical place, or a social or economic context in which he is immersed.

I wonder, for example if anyone believes that the mainstream media had honest, sincere, professional, objective and balanced coverage on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I contend that there was not even any coverage; instead, they had propaganda intended to stop other opinions from being voiced, turning the propaganda into “public opinion,” thanks to what Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, a pioneer in the use of collective manipulation technique, called “the engineering of consent.”

Those who hold political and economic power are very comfortable with the journalists who claim to be neutral and objective. We live in a world where no one can be neutral, where neutrality is often confused with hypocrisy and indifference. 

How to be neutral between truth and falsehood, between hatred and love, between construction and destruction? How to be neutral with such impunity, so much injustice, so many repulsive acts committed by man against man? How to be neutral to the children killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? How to be neutral when so many demons, disguised as humans, are on the loose causing grief, pain and immeasurable suffering to so many people in this world who don’t deserve it? Do not ask me for neutrality, please; I plead I am partial toward the search for truth and all that may give us back a more human way of life.

I maintain that theologians who believe that so-called objectivity, balance and fairness are required to consecrate a reporter at the sacred altar of the “professional” have been successful in that many “journalists,” unconsciously nostalgic of when they were babies rocked with a pacifier in their cribs, today—with their news, interviews, features and reports—are mollifying a society that is in urgent need of waking up.

Journalism that does not make you uncomfortable is not journalism. Journalism that soothes and numbs instead of alerts and awakens is not journalism. For human beings, being awake is an indispensable requirement to realize our dreams, for if we take a good look at the world with sincerity and honesty, we can see how millions are living and others are watching with indifference, and we can see it is the corrupt and evil face of a nightmare.

Veteran Mexican journalist Ruben Luengas is host of Telemundo’s 11 p.m. newscast in Los Angeles and the program “Contragolpe” on KPFK 90.7 FM. This article was translated by Isabel Carreon Scheer.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

USA Today - B-1 bomber mission shifts from Afghanistan to China, Pacific

Mỹ đem máy bay ném bom chiến lược B-1 đến vùng Trung Quốc, Thái Bình Dương 


<<Với việc TQ đang trở nên cứng rắn và hung hăng hơn trong và ngoài lãnh hải của mình, chiếc B-1 có thể đóng một vai trò gì đó ở TBD, John Pike, một nhà phân tích q
uân sự ở at nói. "Biển Nam TH là vấn đề an ninh nổi cộm nhất hiện nay, và nó chỉ có thể trở thành tệ hơn nữa">>


DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – President Obama's new military strategy is taking shape here on the sun-seared grasslands of West Texas where B-1 bomber pilots train. 

The strategy pivots from missions over the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan to targets on the sea and, though the military doesn't come out directly and say it, in China. "We're going back to the future," says Col. David Been, commander of the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess. "As the balance shifts from almost exclusively Afghanistan right now, we're shifting to the Asia-Pacific region."

After a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — 6,350 Americans killed and more than $1 trillion spent — Obama announced the new strategy in January that looks to counter the rising power of China. The changing role of the B-1 is a prime example of how the Air Force is responding.

Suddenly, the B-1, a plane that once seemed irrelevant after the end of the Cold War, is being repurposed again. First, the B-1 became the workhorse of the air war in Afghanistan. Now, as the Pentagon's strategic vision shifts to Asia, so too is the B-1.

"The B-1's capabilities are particularly well-suited to the vast distances and unique challenges of the Pacific region, and we'll continue to invest in, and rely on, the B-1 in support of the focus on the Pacific directed in the president's new strategic guidance," said Maj. Gen. Michael Holmes, assistant deputy chief of staff for Air Force Operations, Plans and Requirements at the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta highlighted those changes during a series of meetings with Pacific leaders recently.

"One of those principles in our strategy is the ability to be agile, to be quickly deployable, to be flexible, and to be on the cutting edge of technology," Panetta said in Cam Ranh, Vietnam. "And in a region as large as the Asia-Pacific region, agility is going to be extremely important in terms of our ability to be able to move quickly."

The armed services also will have to make do with less, with $480 billion in cuts to projected budgets forecast over the next 10 years. That puts a premium on existing weapons, at least in the near term. The Air Force wants a new bomber, one that is invisible to radar and possibly pilot-less. But that plane wouldn't be ready for combat until well into the next decade.

The B-1's revived fortunes, however, bode well for the communities that depend on the jobs affiliated with the bomber. The Air Force employs 13,000 people to support B-1 operations in three states, with an estimated economic impact just shy of $1 billion, records show. Not only is the bomber based at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, but it is also at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and there is a maintenance facility in Oklahoma City.

A long road

It's been a long flight for the B-1 to its current role in the new military strategy. Designed in the 1970s to replace the B-52, the B-1 wasn't ready for missions until 1986.

A main feature is its terrain-following radar that allows the plane to fly itself at low altitude to avoid detection by enemies. "It's designed to fly over the pole by itself, hug the ground — you push a button and you let go — whether it's pitch black, a snowstorm, a rainstorm," Been says. "It would hug the ground, go into Russia, drop nuclear bombs and recover on the other side of the planet somewhere. All by itself. Not talking to anybody."

That sounded good in theory. In practice, the debut stank. "It was a painful birth back in the late '80s for the B-1," says Been, who has flown in the B-1 for 3,500 hours, the equivalent of almost five months. "Engine problems, fuel leaks, it couldn't fly real high. Self-protection … a lot of problems with those right when it came out."

Eventually, the Air Force worked most of the bugs out of the plane.

Today it is the workhorse of the air war in Afghanistan, carrying twice as many bombs and missiles as the aging B-52. The B-1 has dropped 60% of weapons in Afghanistan. Its speed, 900 mph at the top end, allows it to streak across the width of Afghanistan in 45 minutes, critical when troops battling insurgents need air support.

"We're killing bad guys there every day," says Capt. Erick Lord, executive officer for the 7th Bomb Wing.

At other times, Lord says, the B-1 flies close to the ground in a show of force that scares Taliban fighters.

Last year, the bomber dropped bombs in Libya in support of the NATO mission that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi. Two B-1s flew non-stop from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, attacked 45 targets with 2,000-pound bombs, landed, refueled, turned around and hit about as many on the way home.

Equipped with a pod packed with cameras and other sensors, the B-1 also provides high-quality video of insurgent activity on the ground. Its vast fuel tanks allow it to circle overhead for hours before it needs refueling.

With the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan scheduled to end in 2014, the Air Force has begun to focus training for action in the Pacific.

"We're shifting from flying over desert environments to over-water ranges," says Lt. Col. George Holland, commander of the Air Force's 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

The Air Force, Holland says, is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to outfit the B-1 with a long-range anti-ship missile. The bomber will be able to track ships at sea and launch the missiles from "hundreds of miles" away.

Pentagon budget records also show the B-1 is getting a series of modifications over the next few years to improve its capabilities.

With China becoming bolder and more aggressive in and around its territorial waters, the B-1 may have a role to play in the Pacific, says John Pike, a military analyst at, a defense policy website. "The South China Sea is the biggest security problem we have today, and it's only going to get worse," Pike says.

China and the Philippines are quarreling over possession of small islands and fishing rights in the sea, and the clashes could escalate. Moreover, critical shipping lanes cross the sea, and it contains oil and natural gas reserves. Pike notes that the Chinese navy recently added an amphibious-assault ship and a hospital ship to its fleet — ships that could be used if the Chinese seek to seize an island.

The Air Force, in a presentation on the bomber's capabilities, shows its range from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. Without refueling, the jet can hit targets across most of the South China Sea with 24 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM). Those weapons, cruise missiles that can change course in midflight, can hit moving targets, such as ships.

China's development of so-called anti-access, area-denial weapons, or long-range missiles that can destroy aircraft carriers or hit forward bases, could negate the U.S. military's advantages. The idea is to keep American military might at bay, operating from farther and farther away.

New training began earlier this year for B-1 fliers to use the stand-off missile in the Pacific, says Capt. Kyle Schlewinsky, assistant director of flying for the 28th Bomb Squadron. "That's the next fight that everybody's worried about," he says. "It's no secret that if you fight the U.S. straight up, you lose."

Seeking relevance

Part of the Air Force interest in trumpeting the B-1's capability might stem from a desire to emerge from the shadows cast by the Army and Marine Corps, which have done most of the fighting in the last decade, Pike says. "The Air Force would be very eager to bring the B-1 to the table to demonstrate that they are relevant," he says.

Just how relevant is open to question, says Barry Watts, a former fighter pilot and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a non-partisan military think tank in Washington.

The B-1 lacks the stealth of its more advanced, radar-eluding cousin, the B-2 bomber. Countries with stout air defenses would pose serious threats.

"It's not a stealthy air platform," Watts says. "Penetration of advanced air defenses would be a real problem."

Been, the colonel with decades of experience with the B-1, says its speed, ability to stay aloft for hours and payload of long-range missiles could be critical for missions in the Pacific. "Those could help kick down the doors," he says.

Financial Times - Chinese nationalists eye Okinawa

Tàu bi giờ muốn đòi cả quần đảo Ryukyu của Nhật!


BEIJING — For many observers, rising friction between China and Japan over a group of remote and uninhabited islands in the East China Sea is worrying enough.

But if some influential Chinese nationalist commentators have their way, the spat over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands — which Beijing calls the Diaoyu — could widen into a dispute over a much more important archipelago.

In a fiery editorial this month, the Global Times newspaper urged Beijing to consider challenging Japan’s control over its southern prefecture of Okinawa, an island chain with a population of 1.4 million people that bristles with U.S. military bases.

“China should not be afraid of engaging with Japan in a mutual undermining of territorial integrity,” the Communist Party-run paper declared.

Maj. Gen. Jin Yinan, head of the strategy research institute at China’s National Defense University, went even further. He told state-run radio that limiting discussion to the Diaoyu was “too narrow,” saying Beijing should question ownership of the whole Ryukyu archipelago, which by some definitions extends beyond Okinawa.

While the Chinese government has offered no endorsement of such radical views, their open espousal by senior commentators is likely to be deeply unsettling both to Japan and other neighboring nations.

“Challenging Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyus would indeed be a break from the past,” says Taylor Fravel, a Chinese security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who contends that Beijing has tended to limit its territorial claims for the sake of clearly defined borders.

Chinese questioning of Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa is based on the prefecture’s roots in an independent state known as the Ryukyu Kingdom that won control of the archipelago in the 15th century. Ryukyu kings paid formal tribute to Chinese emperors, a practice allowing lucrative trade that continued even after the kingdom was conquered by a Japanese feudal domain in 1609. Okinawa only officially became part of Japan in 1879.

For some in China, this history is enough to render illegitimate Japanese rule over a strategically important archipelago seen as the biggest impediment to the expansion of Chinese naval power in the Pacific.

Tang Chunfeng, a former official at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, is one of those campaigning for China to rethink its acceptance of Japanese rule over Okinawa, saying past restraint has “done a lot of harm.”

“When I was in Japan, I didn’t even know that the Ryukyus were once ours,” says Tang, now a Japan specialist at a Commerce Ministry think tank.

But such arguments could be diplomatically incendiary.

“Once you start arguing that a tributary relationship at some point in history is the basis for a sovereignty claim in the 20th century, you start worrying a lot of people,” says June Teufel Dreyer, a China and Japan specialist at the University of Miami. “Many, many countries had tributary relationships with China.”

Some Chinese hawks stop short of saying Okinawa should be Chinese, suggesting it is enough to promote the idea that the archipelago should be independent from Japan. Such a gambit, they say, would make clear to Tokyo the cost of denying Chinese claims to the Diaoyu/Senkaku.

But Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, warns against such tactics.

“Using the Ryukyu sovereignty issue to resolve the Diaoyu dispute would destroy the basis of China-Japan relations,” Zhou says. “If this was considered, it would basically be the prelude to military action.”

Nor can Beijing expect much enthusiasm for independence among Okinawans. While many in the prefecture are unhappy with Japanese government policies — and with the presence of U.S. troops — separatist sentiment is muted. A pro-independence candidate who ran for governor in 2006 received only 6,220 votes.

Chinese questioning of Japan’s sovereignty over Okinawa would also invite comparisons with Beijing’s policy of suppressing pro-independence movements among its much more restive Tibetan, Mongolian and Uighur populations.

Yasukatsu Matsushima, a professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, is a strong advocate of Okinawan independence who believes Tokyo’s rule over the islands is illegal, but he notes that at least in Japan such views can be openly expressed.

It would be “strange” if China supported self-determination for Okinawans but continued to deny it to its own minorities, Matsushima says.

“We have to consider the background” to any Chinese support for independence, he says. “We can’t allow Ryukyu independence to be used as a tool.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

ST - Kishore Mahbubani: Is China Losing the Diplomatic Plot?

SINGAPORE - In 2016, China's share of the global economy will be larger than America's in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China's share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani was ranked on Foreign Policy magazine's list of the world's top 100 thinkers. He believes China is losing the diplomatic plot at a time when it needs it most. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

China's leaders would be naive and foolish to bank on their country's peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment.

Similarly, after North Korean shells killed innocent South Korean civilians in November 2010, China remained essentially silent. In a carefully calibrated response, South Korea sent its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo in December 2010.

China has also ruffled many Indian feathers by arbitrarily denying visas to senior officials. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao subsequently calmed the waters in meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but such unnecessary provocations left a residue of mistrust in India.

But all of these mistakes pale in comparison with what China did to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in July. For the first time in 45 years, the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) failed to agree to a joint communique, ostensibly because Asean's current chair, Cambodia, did not want the communique to refer to bilateral disputes in the South China Sea. But the whole world, including most Asean countries, perceived Cambodia's stance as the result of enormous Chinese pressure.

China's victory proved to be Pyrrhic. It won the battle of the comminique, but it may have lost 20 years of painstakingly accumulated goodwill, the result of efforts such as the Asean-China free-trade agreement, signed in November 2002. More importantly, China's previous leaders had calculated that a strong and unified Asean provided a valuable buffer against any possible US containment strategy. Now, by dividing Asean, China has provided America with its best possible geopolitical opportunity in the region. If Deng Xiaoping were alive, he would be deeply concerned.

It may be unfair to blame China's leaders for the Asean debacle. More likely than not, over-zealous junior officials pushed a hard line on the South China Sea, whereas no Chinese leader, if given the choice, would have opted to wreck the AMM Communique. But the fact that it happened reveals the scope of China's recent poor decision-making.

The 'nine-dotted line' that China has drawn over the South China Sea may prove to be nothing but a big geopolitical millstone around China's neck. It was unwise to attach the map in a note verbale responding to a joint submission by Vietnam and Malaysia to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009. This was the first time that China had included the map in an official communication to the UN, and it caused great concern among some Asean members.

The geopolitical opportunity implied by inclusion of the map has not been lost on America, which is why the US, somewhat unusually, has made another effort to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. Having tabled the nine-dotted line at the UN, China walked into a no-win situation, owing to the difficulty of defending the map under international law. Indeed, as the eminent historian Wang Gungwu has pointed out, the first maps to claim the South China Sea were Japanese, and were inherited by Nationalist China.

Domestically, too, the nine-dotted line may cause problems for the government by presenting critics with a useful weapon. Any hint of compromise will expose officials politically. In other words, a few rocks in the South China Sea have put China between a rock and a hard place.

There is no doubt that China will have to find a way to compromise over the nine-dotted line. In private, it has begun to do so. Even though the line covers the waters northeast of the Indonesian-owned Natuna Islands, the Chinese government has given Indonesia categorical assurances that China does not claim the Natuna Islands or their Exclusive Economic Zone.

These private assurances calmed relations with Indonesia. So why not make similar overtures to other Asean states?

The legacies of Deng and his predecessor, Mao Zedong, are very different. But the People's Republic's two most important leaders did agree in one area: both bent over backwards to make territorial concessions to resolve border disputes. This explains why China was so generous to Russia, for example, in its border settlements.

Mao and Deng could do this because both provided China with strong leadership. The challenge for the world now is that China has become politically pluralistic: no leader is strong enough to make wise unilateral concessions.

Nothing will happen in China until the leadership transition is completed in November. The new administration of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will need some time to settle in. But America is waking up. So, too, will the rest of the world in 2016. The big question then will be: Is China as geopolitically competent as number one as it was when it was number two?

Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and author of the forthcoming book The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

RT - US missile shield to encircle Chinese economic tiger

Published: 22 July, 2012, 17:03

American plans to develop a missile shield in Asia have alarmed Beijing. With 250 million Chinese officially considered poor, spending billions to challenge the US military could sink China’s economy without firing a single shot.

The Chinese military has voiced concern that the US missile shield plans to destabilize the military balance on the continent.

In March the Pentagon revealed plans to deploy elements of its global antiballistic missile defense system in Asia and the Middle East. Such a shield would include deployable ship-based interceptors and land-based missile interceptors located in the United States’ western territories. 

To maintain a credible deterrence, China might have to modernize its nuclear arsenal to correspond properly to the realities of modern warfare. 

"It undermines strategic stability," acknowledged Major General Zhu Chenghu of China's National Defense University. The General first became internationally known in 2005 when he declared that China might use nuclear weapons if the US intervened militarily in a Chinese conflict with Taiwan.

Now the General says that “Beijing will have to improve its capabilities of survival, penetration … otherwise it is very difficult for us to maintain the credibility of nuclear deterrence."

The US Department of Defense estimates China’s nuclear arsenal in about 130-195 deployed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. The scattered estimate shows that American intelligence data on China’s nuclear arsenal is far from exact. The Chinese military has not specified so far what exact modernizations its nuclear arsenal is expected to undergo to successfully counter America’s future nuclear shield in the region.

Does China have enough clout to defy America?

Though China is considered the world’s second largest economy, its financial capability to cope with American economical might is far from certain. 

In some ways, modern day China resembles the Soviet Union. Just like in the last days of the USSR, billions from the country’s budget are being spent on military needs. And despite apparent economic prosperity, the gap between the rich and the poor is astonishing.

In the last year alone, the number of poor in China has hit a quarter of a billion. But instead of addressing daunting poverty issues, Beijing has had to buy new weaponry and invest billions into producing its own.

China’s (arms budget) is now second largest in the world at $106 billion,” international journalist Dr. Conn Hallinan explained to RT. “This is an enormous expenditure of wealth at a time when diverting that could make a real impact on poverty. And it also happens at a time when there’s an economic slowdown that is happening in Asia,” he recalled.

The same applies to India, which last year was the world’s leading weapon importer, including an eye-watering $20 billion worth of French fighter jets.

This is why Washington’s return-to-Asia policy – from selling weapons to holding joint war games in the region – is deeply troubling Asian countries, especially China.

Renato Reyes, a political activist who heads the Bayan Coalition in Manila, Philippines, told RT that “the US wants full spectrum dominance in the region. It wants to project its military power to everyone concerned, especially China. The US may not be headed for a direct military confrontation with China at the moment, but the US wants to contain China, wants to encircle China and keep its subservient to US dictates.

This situation has drawn historic parallels with the Cold War. Many experts are still sure that the huge arms race in the 1960s between the United States and the USSR was Washington’s tactic to sabotage the Soviet economy.

When it became more of an economic race, it continued an armed race that weakened the economy of the Soviet Union. It is a stupid game and it has been going on ever since the 1950's, unfortunately, and Russians were the victims and I think China will to some extent be the victim too,” former Australian diplomat Gregory Clark argues. 

It remains to be seen if the Asian giants China and India can continue growing their military muscle without risking political and social instability in the process.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Time - Which Advanced Economy Has the Most Debt?

The Most Indebted Countries

May 18, 2012
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Athens, Greece

With all the talk of Greece’s impending exit from the euro zone, debt is once again in the headlines. Greece’s massive public sector debt, coupled with its inability to devalue its currency, has put the country at risk of default. But the global economy is straining under the weight of more than just public sector debt. In the developed world, consumers, financial institutions, and other corporations have each accumulated unprecedented levels of debt — and how that total debt is managed will ultimately determine the economic fate of the global economy going forward. The following is a look at the total debt of the world’s largest mature economies — in ascending order of indebtedness — drawn from a recent presentation by Jeffery Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Funds.

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Toronto, Canada

With an unemployment rate of 7.3% and a projected federal budget deficit of just 1.5%, Canada is avoiding many of the economic headaches that have plagued other nations. Fiscally conservative leadership combined with robust regulations have kept Canadian banks from melting down during the crisis that crippled many American and European firms. Those factors, combined with low public debt levels, allowed a nimble response to the crisis from the Canadian government. Still, observers are worried that low interest rates and high levels of household debt are now putting the country at risk of an American-style real estate bubble. As McLean’s wrote in February, “pry through the pocketbooks and bank accounts of the average Canadian and the country looks remarkably like the America of 2005—or even worse by some measures—complete with record house prices and unprecedented debt.”

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 276%

Household: 91%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 53%

Financial Institutions: 63%

Government: 69%

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Sydney, Australia

Australia’s booming natural-resources industry and proximity to fast growing economies like China helped it weather much of the financial crisis. Australia has also done a good job of reigning in its public debt – with the federal government promising a budget surplus this year of $1.52 billion. Such fiscal restraint has helped Australia achieve the lowest public debt-to-GDP ratio of any country on our list, but the island nation is not without its own challenges. A potential hard landing in China could damage Australia’s export economy, and large consumer and financial institution debt means neither the average citizen nor the country’s large banks have much of a cushion to withstand another global economic downturn.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 277%

Household: 105%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 59%

Financial Institutions: 91 %

Government: 21%

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Berlin, Germany

Germany has been in the headlines for its hardline support of austerity measures for Europe’s peripheral economies. With low unemployment and a growing economy, Germany is in a position to make demands – although many observers are arguing that it should do more to stimulate the rest of the euro zone. At the very least, German policy makers seem to be tolerating more domestic inflation to help peripheral euro zone members become more competitive.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 278%

Household: 49%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 87%

Financial Institutions: 87 %

Government: 83%

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New York, USA

Debt has dominated the national debate since the U.S. escaped economic free-fall in early 2009. Conventional wisdom suggests that America has been particularly profligate, but in fact American consumers and institutions aren’t worse off than their counterparts in other developed nations.  The most striking aspect of these numbers is the small amount of debt that American financial institutions have relative to U.S. GDP. This could ultimately be a weakness for the financial system, however, as the debt of U.S.-based financial institutions isn’t low in absolute terms, only in comparison to America’s very large GDP. The large size of the American economy (and the proportionate financial capacity of the American government) has served to reinforce the market’s belief that too-big-to-fail banks will always get bailed out.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 279%

Household: 87%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 72%

Financial Institutions: 40 %

Government: 80%

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Seoul, South Korea

It is a truism that every crisis is also an opportunity, and South Korea used the financial panic of 2008 as a means to solidify its status as one of the world’s leading economies. While the won, South Korea’s currency, took a pounding in 2009, this only buttressed the country’s export and tourism markets, which powered the nation back to solid growth in 2010. All the while, the world’s 15th largest economy has maintained low budget deficits and government debt. Of course, it is not immune to the same headwinds that other mature economies face. South Korea is rapidly aging, which will put pressure on government budgets going forward. It is also dominated by a few large conglomerates like the world-famous Samsung, which are dealing with high debt levels and must prove their ability to innovate as world markets continue to become more competitive.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 314%

Household: 81%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 107%

Financial Institutions: 93%

Government: 33%

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Rome, Italy

Since the ouster of former Primer Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has receded from the headlines as extra-squeaky wheels Greece and Spain get the media grease. But the world’s 8th largest economy is still perilously close to bond yields that would render its public-debt burden unmanageable. Though Italians have low amounts of household debt, generous welfare-state provisions and strict labor laws have contributed to bloated government budgets and an uncompetitive economy. Technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti is seeking to reform the Italian economy and bring government debt under control – and he’s hoping bond markets cooperate long enough for him to be successful.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 314%

Household: 45%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 82%

Financial Institutions: 76%

Government: 111%

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Paris, France

Though the bond markets have yet to turn on the second most powerful member of the euro zone, a look at France’s debt figures show why some are worried they might. The French government and corporations are stretched to their limits debt-wise, and though newly elected French President Francois Hollande won his post on a campaign to fight austerity, he’s still sticking to an EU commitment to cut France’s deficit to 3% of GDP by 2013. And while France hasn’t had a balanced budget in forty years, Hollande seeks to match revenues and expenses by 2017.  The new President indeed has a tough row to hoe as he works toward the seemingly opposing goals of reigning in budgets and promoting growth, but perhaps the debt levels below are just the motivation he and his countrymen need to get the job done.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 346%

Household: 48%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 111%

Financial Institutions: 97%

Government: 90%

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Madrid, Spain

Spain has by some measures superseded Greece and Italy as Europe’s most troubled economy. But Spain took a much different path to perdition than it’s Mediterranean neighbors. Spain’s troubles were caused by a housing bubble that rivaled and possibly exceeded the real estate bubble in the U.S. From 1998 to 2006, housing prices in Spain increased 150%, with housing stock doubling in that same time period. When the bubble burst, demands of the welfare state and bank bailouts caused  government debt to balloon.

All the while, this bubble masked competitiveness problems that had been mounting in Spain over the past several decades. The result is an economy that is up to its eyeballs in debt and suffering from depression-level unemployment. But efforts on the part of the Spanish government and financial institutions to reduce debt have only sunk the economy deeper in trouble. As my TIME colleague Michael Schuman wrote last month, “Whatever numbers you look at, Spain is in a death spiral, a self-defeating circle of recession and austerity that is sending one of Europe’s most important members into an economic dark ages. Spain today represents all of the failings of the monetary union, from its misconceived inception to its misguided approach to the debt crisis.”

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 363%

Household: 82%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 134%

Financial Institutions: 76%

Government: 71%

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London, England

The United Kingdom has recently entered a double-dip recession, due to the double-whammy of the euro zone crisis — which is endangering its biggest trading partners — and an aggressive austerity program instigated by the conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron. But the British economy may have been able to survive Europe and austerity if its corporations and households weren’t leveraged to the hilt as well. Consumers, businesses and especially financial institutions are unable to spend freely given their current debt levels. You might think U.S. banks were irresponsible, but by most measures British banks fared much worse during the financial crisis, requiring bigger bailouts by the U.K. government — especially when compared to the size of its home country.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 507%

Household: 98%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 109%

Financial Institutions: 219%

Government: 81%

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Tokyo, Japan

By the first three measures of debt on our list, Japan is no worse off than its developed peers, but Japan’s government debt comes in at a whopping 226% of GDP. Japan’s rapidly declining population is increasing in the ratio of retirees drawing benefits to workers paying for them, and causing government debt to skyrocket as a result. The slowing of population growth is occuring all over the developed world, but in Japan it’s happening at breakneck speed. The Associated Press reports that the Japanese population will shrink by one-third by 2060, and as the country adjusts to these demographic shifts, it will have to decrease benefits and raise taxes, too. (Luckily for the Japanese, they are starting with the lowest tax burden in the OECD — just 17% of GDP.) Meanwhile, the ratings agencies aren’t particularly confident that the country will find the political will to enact changes that could begin fixing its debt problem.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 512%

Household: 67%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 99%

Financial Institutions: 120%

Government: 226%

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