Monday, November 27, 2006

What Does Shimotsuke Shinbun Know That The Big Five Don't? And Are the Networks Carrying This?

Another wartime atrocity story.

The reason The Big Five (Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, Sankei, and Nikkei) didn't carry it on Nov. 25 though Tohoku, Shimotshuke, Chugoku, and all the other little guys carried it could be because it was a Kyodo Tsushin scoop.

Now it's up to the big boys to decide what to do with this, and I have no way of knowing whether this guy is telling the truth or is just out of his mind. (He does seem pretty credible on the face of it, and I have my own reasons for guessing that, genreally speaking, the Japanese military must have done pretty awful things back in the day.) But our politicians will do well to remember that, if much of the Japanese public remain oblivious to this, the part of the overseas public that give a damn about Japan one way or the other certainly will not be. (it is one of the most emailed stories on the BBC website.)

Yomiuri has done an admirable piece of work with their series on wartime responsiblities. Let's see what they do (or not) with this one.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mr. Blair Regrets

Government advisers had warned that a full apology could provoke claims for reparations, it said.

We've heard this story before.

Odds and Ends Quickie: Financing the Insurgency in Iraq; Japanese Governors; Hiranuma, and the Man Who Isn't There

Here's an article on the insurgents' finances. The media have usually called the Sunnis "insurgents" and the Shiites "militia". I assume this article is following this convention. So, if the Sunnis are raking in oil money and the Shiites are sitting on the bulk of Iraqi oil in the first place, then it'll be a long time before they run out of money. It sure looks like a long battle ahead. As if we didn't know.

I'd thought Iran and the gulf oil states were in charege of the finances. Tells you how much imagination I have. (Although it is surprising how little information there has been on the finances of the civil war.)

Last weekend, the media were telling us that the governor of Miyazaki Prefecture would be called in for questioning any time now. By this weekend, the news on hizzonner has trickled to… nothing. My guess is, Mr. Miyazaki Prefecture Number Three is refusing to talk.

Meanwhile, tucked away in a terse single-tier notice a couple of inches wide on page 2 of the Sunday Yomiuri is the news that the DPJ candidate in Wakayama had been withdrawn. The DPJ figured she had too little name recognition. I wrote somewhere that I know the LDP candidate, and that he has his share of assets. (CAVEAT REPEAT: He's a METI guy (METI has no end of these people), and I know him personally.) Interestingly, the head of the DPJ local is a former MOF official who ran unsuccessfully in last year's Lower House election in a Wakayama precinct. He'd better do something quick, or he could be on the outs himself in no time.

Speaking of last year's Upper House Elections, Takeo Hiranuma is looking good these days. In a Takura Ken, Tsuruta Koji (Watanabe Ken, in Last Samurai, for you gaijins who don't know these guys) sort of way. But still good, compared to The Man Who Isn’t There. Unfortunately, the DPJ is not in a shape to take advantage of this situation.

Friday, November 24, 2006

If We're Paying the Chinese to Send Troops to Wherever, Then We Don't Have Anyone to Blame But Ourselves. No, My Problem Is…

According to the Washington Post, China [is] Filling Void Left by West in U.N. Peacekeeping.

Now some of my more hawkish Japanese friends will say that this is just a cover for China's militaristic ambitions. Be it Lebanon, be it Somalia, they are mere training grounds for a much bigger prize. Yes, you guessed it: they are prepping to invade Japan.

After all, Japan has everything China doesn't have: lots and lots of fresh water, private-sector high tech, and those cool anime that we just can't seem to get the hang of. Yet. Never mind the 130 million Japanese; they'll fall into line once we knock some sense into them with our 3,000,000-or-so People's Liberation Army.


Except I won't. And do you know why? Because it's stupid, that's why.

Now, do you think the feeling is mutual?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brian Lara Strikes Again. Before Lunch

Maybe it's just me, but I think P.G. Wodehouse would have loved this sentence:

"Lara joined three Australians -- V.T. Trumper (1902), C.G. Macartney (1926) and Sir Don Bradman (1930) -- along with Pakistan's Majid Khan (1976) as the only other batsmen who scored centuries before lunch in test history."

If you're a cricket fan, you can read the entire article

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Few More Words on the Okinawa Gubernatorial Election; the Democratic party of Japan

Imagine if the DPJ candidate had won. After all, they did join hands with the Communist Party and embrace the get-the-US-troops-out-of-Okinawa candidate.

The DPJ-JCP GTUSTOOO demands are unlikely to be met in the forseeable future in any case. The national government would not agree to kick US troops out of Okinawa and perforce Japan. (Besides, the people of Okinawa themselves will have second thoughts if such a thing ever looked likely; the national government will be loathe to compensate Okinawa for the loss of economic and fiscal benefits currently flowing as the result of and in compensation for the US presence.)

But does that mean that the DPJ would have a free pass on national security, catering at no cost to popular sentiment, while the LDP suffered the brunt of US and local frustration? In fact, by way of their commitment to GTUSTOOO, the national DPJ would be seriously constrained in any national security debate. And any real influence they are able to exercise would in the long run have negative ramifications throughout the Japan-US security relationship and ultimately undermine it altogether.

The DPJ remains a grab bag of a wide variety of elements, ranging from the moderate wing of the old Socialist Party to youthful nationalists more in tune ideologically with their LDP counterparts. Nevertheless, in recent years, seeking to differentiate themselves from the LDP, they may have had no alternative but to position themselves to the left of Junichiro Koizumi and now Shinzo Abe. An absurdity like total agricultural self-sufficiency as an electoral campaign platform could be understood in this light as a throwaway line, and not to be taken seriously. But GTUSTOOO would have real-world consequences. It directly affects our security and diplomatic relationships with our major ally.

Perhaps it is just as well for the DPJ that it did not have to cross that bridge just yet, while they continue their struggle to figure out who they are.

The LDP Candidate Wins in Okinawa: My Immediate Thoughts

In the Okinawa gubernatorial election, the LDP candidate pulled through with a not uncomfortable 53-47 edge.. The Governor-elect, Hirokazu Nakaima's 24-year-old daughter, who accompanied him throughout his campaign, is considered to have been crucial to his electoral success.

Don't read too much into this in terms of national electoral trends
though. Okinawa is Okinawa, and the DPJ candidate won with a similar margin in the much-less heralded Fukuoka race for mayor. The city of Fukuoka has a larger population than Okinawa Prefecture.

The results of the Okinawa race are much more favorable (than the alternative) for Prime Minister Abe to cut domestic deals on US (and Japanese) troops realignment. That could be an important factor for Mr. Abe in 2009 when he hopes to be seeking a second three-year term.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Cryptic Takes on Newsweek Editors and O.J., in That Order

A couple of low blows from The Cryptic.

The Cryptic Feels Old

His Cheapness sees West Side Story on basic cable and sheds tears for the good old days.

Europe and the Burqa-A Reminder of the Difficulties of Democracy in Dealing with the "Other"; Also, I Can Play the Iraq Blame Game Too

When it comes to Muslim headgear, the British are teenie weenies compared to the Dutch. The ruling party in The Hague has decided to win the next election on a platform banning burqas in public places. Then there's France banning scarves in public schools. Do Europeans think those Muslim terrorists and rioters are actually cross-dressing radical chicks? Or do they hope that the Muslim women, casting off their cultural inhibitions, would a la Lysistrata exercise their feminine charms so that their male kinfolk would lay down their arms?

Kidding. Of course those politicians believe nothing of the sort. In fact, if they did any thinking at all, they would realize that a dress code that attacks a minority of a minority (seriously, what is the percentage of second-generation Muslim women in the Low Country who wear burqas?) would only serve to exacerbate the situation. But of course that is the point. They are only giving their constituencies what they think they want.

Democracy --- popular rule, if you insist, is okay with me --- has a poor record of dealing with The Other. The enormity of the Holocaust has cloaked the rest of the wholesale ethnic cleansing that followed the double World Wars. The shattering of Yugoslavia is but a late echo of this. And it will be a while before Europeans can say with confidence that it is out of the woods on North Ireland and the Basque.

Say what you will of empires, they were one effective way of allowing a multitude of Otherness to coexist peacefully in a greater whole.

The Middle East is a place that has yet to sort out all sorts of Otherness that the destruction of the Muslim empires left behind. Post-Baathist Iraq shows the perils of unleashing those multi-layered forces. It mystifies me that Bernard Lewis, someone who recognizes so well The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, believed so strongly in the War on Iraq. Likewise, to a lesser extent, Condoleezza Rice, whose political science background and specific expertise as Sovietologist should have set off alarms in her head.

Blinded were the neoconservatives by their ideological devotion to the transformational powers of democracy, and the Christian fundamentalists by the hopes and fears of their apocalyptic visions. They have the excuse of ignorance (to which I myself must resort); if they bear the stigma of arrogance. And Colin Powell did what he does best, which is to follow.

President Bush is a genuinely likeable man; if this were not the case, he most likely would not have won in 2000, or even in 2004. But he is also a shallow man, if one of deep convictions; galvanized by 9.11 and flushed by the walk-over victory in Afghanistan, he did not know any better. The buck stops there, but the ones who knew, or should have known, better should also be held to account.



民主主義 --- 言葉が過ぎるとおっしゃるのであれば、大衆政治と置き換えていただいてかまいません --- は、「他者」との関係を処理するということにかけては、まずい成績を残しています。ホローコーストの巨悪は、二つの世界大戦に続いて起こったそれ以外の大量民族浄化の実態を覆い隠しました。ユーゴスラビア解体も、その遠い残鐘なのです。また、北アイルランドやバスク地方についてもう問題ないとヨーロッパ人達が自信を持て言えるようになるまでには、まだ間があるでしょう。


中東は、回教徒達の諸帝国が解体された結果残された様々な他者性の整理がまだついていない地域です。バース党支配後のイラクは、そうした様々な力を解き放つことの危険を見せてくれます。不思議なのは、その著書の一つのタイトルThe Multiple Identities of the Middle Eastが示すとおり、あれだけこの様々な力が存在していることを熟知しているバーナード・ルイスがあれほど熱心に対イラク戦争を支持したことです。程度の差はありますが、ライス国務長官(当時は国家安全担当補佐官)も、しかりで、政治学者としての背景及びソ連学者としての具体的知見が頭の中で警鐘を鳴らしていたはずです。



Friday, November 17, 2006

What’s Missing in the Education Un-Debate; Also, 3 for 47 Just Ain’t Good

One thing I didn’t mention about education when I posted this is that both sides of the Diet un-debate fail to address the central issue, which is that the whole twelve-year el-hi education system is driven by the January-March entrance-exam gateway to the universities and colleges. And that goes for the students and schools that have fallen through the cracks as well.

I have next to no ideas how to solve this problem. But any proposal that that fails to recognize this fundamental fact of life today, and make it the central element of the education debate, is bound to fail. That is why I give the DPJ an F as well.

Miyazaki Prefecture looks pretty scary too. That’s three governments (if not governors, though the media is beginning to beat up on Mr. Tadahiro Ando) out of 47. Have we already beaten the US record?

Stay the Course? And a Couple of Ugly Old Mugs Who Did

If Vice President Cheney had accompanied President Bush on his APEC tour…

U.S. President George W. Bush said Friday the United States' unsuccessful war in Vietnam three decades ago offered lessons for the American-led struggle in Iraq.

"We'll succeed unless we quit," Bush said shortly after arriving in this one-time war capital.

“No way to quit if you didn't go in the first place,” Vice President Dick Cheney chimed in.

“I certainly would have stayed away from your platoon, Dick, heh, heh.”

"My first reaction is history has a long march and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good," Bush said.

“But imagine if we hadn’t quit,” added Bush, as his Vietnamese minders winced.

In case anyone missed it, here are the real quotes. I was tempted to do a Pelosi, just to maintain political balance, but I couldn’t find a funny angle. Besides, it’s too early.

First, Jack Palance; now, Milton Friedman. Makes a guy feel old.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

DPJ Must Pick Right Issues in Confronting Abe, LDP

I am putting this up here for that one member of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism who did not hear the Voice this morning commanding jury members to go out and buy a copy of the Nov. 14 Daily Yomiuri, then immediately open to page 13.

And to all jury members, remember, vote early, vote often.

DPJ Must Pick Right Issues in Confronting Abe, LDP

The Liberal Democratic Party's by-election victories on Oct. 22 have given Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an electoral seal of approval and left the opposition Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa wondering how to resuscitate his badly damaged image and party.

Although the two by-elections were local races, they were really campaigns between Ozawa and his DPJ and Abe and his LDP. They were an opportunity for the DPJ to take full advantage of an as-yet undefined prime minister, an LDP without a clear post-Koizumi vision and a public uneasy with the dark side of the reform years of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Yet, it was Abe and the LDP that quickly and completely seized control of the messages that voters respond to.

The DPJ did not force Abe to play on his weak side, to outline his plans to deal with the domestic agenda; balance national finances, restore confidence in the public health care and welfare system, improve public education and address the kakusa (income disparity) issue. Instead, the DPJ allowed Abe to promote himself with impunity and gave him the opportunity to decide what issues were important and what issues were not.

It is true that Abe benefited from a near perfect set of events that may have been difficult to campaign against. His electrifying trip to Beijing and Seoul obscured a domestic agenda that was short in detail. Moreover, Kim Jong Il's nuclear test allowed Abe to cast his already dramatic visit in a even more positive light and enhance his image as a tough-talking leader, willing and able to ensure the security of his nation. He owned the media and he owned the issues. He had defused the Yasukuni Shrine issue, reached a measure of peace with Chinese and South Korean leaders, and had managed to make common cause against the North Korean nuclear program.

Ozawa was left with one last chance to redefine Abe in the public eye through his long-delayed first public face-off. That opportunity came in the Diet on Oct. 18, four days before the by-elections and already three weeks after Abe became prime minister.

And yet, Ozawa decided to attack him on two fronts: constitutional reform and the U.N. sanctions against North Korea--the two linchpins of the national security issue that Abe controlled and were now broadly supported by the public. Why couldn't Ozawa take Abe to task on growing economic kakusa, i.e. regional and personal disparities? That's one subject where he could have depicted Abe as the inheritor of a tainted legacy.

Then there's education. That's another issue where the blame for growing kakusa could be laid at the feet of a veteran cabinet member/chief aide and LDP policy head under the former prime minister. Ozawa chose to launch his critique with the wrong topics, asked the wrong questions and showed no sense of overall strategy. In politics, it is paramount to pick your messages and do everything possible to make them stick. All media, speeches, printed material and press activity must focus on promoting the messages that resonate with voters--not policy statements--but emotional ideas that force people to pay attention and excite passions. It is also about drawing attention to the opposition and its weaknesses. Abe has many weaknesses but the DPJ failed to act.

This is a pivotal moment for the DPJ. The party must pick up the pieces and devise a plan to give itself a fighting chance in the 2007 House of Councillors election.

The first step is to create an intelligent strategy that targets the right issues at the right time to the right audience. They must start now.

Turner is a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow in Japan and chief executive officer of DW Turner, Inc., a U.S.-based public affairs group. Okumura is a former Japanese government official and counselor with the Eurasia Group.

My Take on the Implications of the Gubernatorial Races; Also, a Line of DPJ Attack on the Public Pensions Issue

I will be blogging infrequently over the next month, since I will be doing a lot of for-real-money work under a tight schedule.

The Fukushima Prefecture gubernatorial election ended in a landslide victory for the DPJ candidate. The media though is downplaying national implications, much in the way that the JPD had done itself, and there will be few political reverberations outside Fukushima. Besides, the DPJ candidate was an old-style, strictly behind-the-scenes political operator with deep local roots who wound up getting the overwhelming support of the local construction industry, which was no small part of the problem in the first place. And Shinzo Abe, latest pride of the Meiji Restoration victor Choshu daimyo fiefdom, sensibly expended absolutely zero political capital in the old Aizu fiefdom, arguably the biggest loser in the Restoration.

Local politics being what they are, the Abe administration will brush off another likely gubernatorial loss in Okinawa (Okinawa just being Okinawa), and even a possible loss in Okayama, where DPJ undeniably shares the blame for a bipartisan ex-governor in disgrace. So, for Mr. Abe, everything will still hang on next year's general election in the Upper House. However, two more gubernatorial races lost to the DPJ will give the troops cause to grumble, while reminding them that the media will not hesitate to knock Mr. Abe down, after they'd set him up so willingly in accordance with the public mood of the times.

And Mr. Abe has not been showing much political muscle lately. If Mr. Abe is exerting deft leadership on his desire to bring back the eleven Diet member exiles and their ex-member allies, it is not showing. He has at times seemed to be at odds with his LDP right-hand man, Hidenao Nakagawa, and has generally let the debate play out in the open, with benefactors Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi chiming in publicly. Nor has he managed to placate a small but noisy handful of dissenters among the "assassins". The nuclear-debate debate must have also been doubly distressing to Mr. Abe, as Mr. Nakagawa and friends (Abe's friends?) kept talking in the face of public censure (including from the dovish wing of his own party) and also wound up damaging the cause of forward projection itself.

Always good at getting along, Mr. Abe has not shown that he can discipline the troops if need be. If he really can't, this will become a serious problem as the perception of a lack of domestic leadership begins to spread. It's too bad for the DPJ that they seem to lack the cohesion and coherence, as well as an articulate public face, to exploit such an opening.

For Mr. Abe, the Okinawa race will be important much more in the long run than for any immediate implications. A loss to the DPJ candidate will raise further obstacles before the long-delayed redeployment of US troops (as well as some Japanese ones). The downfall of Donald Rumsfeld will give the Abe administration a little breathing space. But it's highly unlikely that Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, will revisit the deal. Redeployment is not a winner for Mr. Abe, or any prime minister, for that matter. But he will be trapped between a rock and a hard place a year or two down the line if he must face a DPJ governor over the next four years, giving his enemies further material to attack his leadership with.

This bit of news, that fiscal conservative "Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa indicated Friday that it would be difficult for the government to meet its pledge that pension benefits would not fall below 50 percent of the take-home pay of the average male worker", could be exploited to the DPJ's benefit in a specific attack on the Abe administration. (There's potential for exploiting a rift within the LDP itself on the overall fiscal reform package. But let's stick to the public pension system…)

As I've written before, Mr. Abe is something of a policy wonk, and he talks at length in his Beautiful Japan (aside: it doesn't sound as flaky in Japanese) on the public pension system, and cites some numbers, and says there's no need to worry because the public pension system can't fail. I quote: "The pension will be received for sure, and is constructed so that it can't fail." But the argument that he offers to back that up is, and I again quote from the book: "If everyone covered by the pension system is determined that he/she "will not let it fail", then the pension system will not fail." Moreover, the calculations he provides to show us that the much-maligned National Pension (poor sister to the Welfare Pension) is worth your money completely ignores the difference in present value between the same nominal amounts of money you pay in now and money you receive 20-40 years down the line. His arguments seem an awful lot like clicking your heels together three times (if it doesn't work, you raise taxes or lower befits; simple ain't it?) and some bad arithmetic.

Demographics dictate that the DPJ doesn't have a good plan of its own either. Still, coupled with his unwillingness to confront the fiscal burden head on, this could provide an opening for attack for which there is a receptive public.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Separated at Birth: Charles Krauthammer and Anne Coulter?

Read these two op-eds, one from Charles Krauthammer, and another from Anne Coulter. Soak the new conventional wisdom in Canadian phlegm, and you get gravitas; drip venom, wrap it around with a short miniskirt, and it becomes a right-wing screed. Admittedly, Ms. Coulter is somewhat subdued this time around.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a Democratic analog?

(Note) Anne Coulter's piece will go into her archives after a week, if you don't read it by then.

Does Everybody Think the Democrat's (Razor-Thin) Sweep Is Bad for the Global Economy?

I touched on US protectionism here. And here is an op-ed by Harold Myerson that counts heads and names names. And Thomas Friedman is, till Nov. 12, busy being the usual Friedman.

Why the J-League Disappeared from Today's Yomiuri

With five games left in the J-League regular season, last year's runner-up Urawa Reds are barely three points, or just one win, ahead of last year's champions (by a single point) Osaka Gamba and four points (a win and a tie) ahead of the upstart Kawasaki Frontale. Reds fans pay good money routinely pack the 63,700-capacity Saitama Stadium, where the Reds play the bulk of its home games, and make away games in the Kanto area look like home games. The Gamba and Frontale do not come close in terms of fan base, but recent successes are bringing more fans to their games as well.

So, it looks like yet another thrilling finish to the J-League season, and today being game day…

there is absolutely nothing in the Yomiuri, not even the standings, nothing, except a small chart giving information on the national soccer numbers game. Headlining the sports pages instead are yesterday's second round baseball games in the three-nation plus one-region (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China) Konami Cup Asia Series. One game, which pitted the Japanese champion Nippon Ham Fighters against Taiwan's La New Tigers, drew an officially announced crowd of 11,038; the other, where the South Korean champion beat up on a Chinese all-star team, drew 2,024. Almost as much space (but with a black-and-white photo) was given to the prospective sale of negotiating rights to a Japanese pitcher (and no, not Matsuzaka) to the highest major league bidder under Japanese baseball's so-called posting system.

So why the attention to a bunch of poorly-attended exhibition matches, and to what is basically a baseball non-event? (The pitcher in question is a star, but does not begin to match the superstar glitter of an Ichiro, Matsui (the Yankee one) and Matsuzaka, or even the androgynous, great-glove, weak-bat Shinjo.)

The Yomiuri sports pages have traditionally been an advertisement vehicle for the enormously profitable Yomiuri Giants. The Yomiuri newspaper, not to mention its daily virtual Giants fanzine Houchi, and the Giants grew together as circulation fed the fan base and vice versa. Success bred success as top money, top exposure brought the top players to the Giants fold. Unfortunately, the Giants have fallen on hard times in recent years, and their sell-out announcements are beginning to have that New York Knicks, yeah, right, feel to them. The Giants troubles are being compounded by Japanese stars and not-so-stars taking advantage of the relatively recent free agency system to play the peak years of their careers in the major leagues, sometimes at substantial financial sacrifice. TV ratings are down, and the Yomiuri-affiliate TV network that broadcasts Giants home games, Nihon Terebi is in a tizzy. So, anything that draws attention to baseball is welcome. Yomiuri, tellingly, sponsors the Asia Series.

Why the total neglect of soccer, though, the arguably second most popular spectator sport in Japan? Actually, Yomiuri owned the first truly professional soccer club in Japan, and early J-League powerhouse, Verdy. However, Yomiuri clashed with the J-League leadership. Yomiuri saw the J-League as a vehicle to promote its soccer team, most likely in a desire to build it up to the Giants of soccer. But to the J-League, Verdy was just one team in a league with a vision of its own. Yomiuri lost the tussle, lost interest, and sold the club to its affiliate. Verdy now languishes in the second division, eleven-team J-2.

There's news, there's, um, then there's sports news. So, next time you read the sports pages, try reading between the lines, or, in some cases, between the pages

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Odds and Ends from the Democrats' Sweep: Rumsfeld, Japan…

President Bush: "Our military has experienced an enormous amount of change and reform during the last five years while fighting the war on terror; one of the most consequential wars in our nation's history.

"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war."

Is this his way of giving Mr. Rumsfeld an A for force transformation (where grading can be subjective), and a C for the War on Iraq? I mean Terror? We'll doubtless hear kinder words during the handover to Robert Gates, but, in the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld does not seem to be getting the warmest of sendoffs. Understandable under the circumstances. I was always a little disconcerted by Mr. Rumsfeld's habit, exhibited even before they moved in on Iraq, of insisting that he was following the recommendations of the generals, that he gave them what they asked for, etc. That line certainly rang true with Mr. Bush and, for all we know, Mr. Rumsfeld was telling the truth too. But, as someone who had never been self-employed until recently, I can tell you that the quickest way for a leader to lose the confidence of his troops is to go around telling people that it's not his responsibility, it's "theirs". Especially if that boss by all accounts comes across except to the most stouthearted as an unremitting bully.

Do you think Mr. Rumsfeld was doomed regardless?


On the more practical side, what does this all mean for Japan?
Specifically, I am at a loss as to what it means, if anything, re North Korea. I suspect that Kim Jong-il will prefer to play a quiet stalling game, to wait out the last two years of the Bush administration. But otherwise, I'll assume there will be little change from a Democratic Congress; they'll be too busy with Iraq, not to mention getting their act together while they find out what caucusing with Joe Lieberman means in the Middle East.

Realignment of US troops? I am not competent to hazard even a guess. But the course has been set for some time, and Mr. Bush has given Mr. Rumsfeld an A on transformation.

Trade and investment is another matter. Any Eurasia Group clients reading this blog will know that EG has been focusing for a while on protectionist tendencies in the US as a serious political risk for investors, say, since last year, when the Unocal controversy broke out. Now, "economic nationalism" (finally, the "nationalist"tag pasted on something un-Japanese) threatens to become a buzzword, here, and here. When a Slate editor and Pat Buchanan on Real Clear Politics agree on something, that's a two-man national consensus.

As Jacob Weisberg, the Slate editor, points out, it's China and Mexico, not Japan, this time around. But the Doha Round looks even more deader than before. And one wrong turn in incidents like undocumented US cow parts could flare up very quickly in the charged US atmosphere. Japan may not be one of the main theaters of action, but we should be as forthcoming as possible to avoid becoming, if not roadkill, collateral damage.

China Thwarts Japan's UN Ambitions. (Again.) Let's Look at the Silver Lining Though.

On November 8, 2006, the World Health Organization elected Margaret Chan, a Chinese doctor from Hong Kong, as its new Director-General. This dashed the hopes of Shigeru Omi, the Japanese candidate on the short list. This was a setback to the Japanese government, which needs election successes to justify the disproportionately large amount of money it shells out annually to the UN system as part of its Kokuren-chushin gaiko (UN-centered diplomacy). It must be particularly galling to have lost out to the Chinese, who have vehemently opposed Japan's long-held desire and more recent bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council (Not to mention the non-UN defeat of Osaka by Beijing for the 2012 Olympics).

Of more immediate interest is: how will Dr. Chan handle the Taiwan question? During the SARS crisis, one of the thorny issues that came up in the face of China's extreme reluctance to share information was its adamant refusal to allow Taiwan to be involved in any way with WHO efforts to cope with the outbreak. Disease and crime have no respect for national borders and sovereignty. China must be willing to cooperate with any and all parties, since yesterday. It will be too late if we still are squabbling over the rudiments of information exchange when Asian flu finally breaks out in a global pandemic. It is not as if Taiwan is seriously seeking full membership, as in the case of the World Trade Organization, or the admittedly non-UN Asia Development Bank.

Somewhat analogous to this situation from the Japanese point of view is the elevation of Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean Foreign Minister, to succeed Kofi Anan. The Japanese leadership (likely) gritted their collective teeth and voted for this colorless bureaucrat. Indeed, many Japanese openly wonder if Mr. Ban will not seek to bend UN resources in favor of South Korea's Sunshine Policy, still going strong, if largely unrequited, to the displeasure of the hard-line Japanese majority.


I for one welcome these turns of events. It is good to have these East Asians assume positions of responsibility within the international system. For one, they are an important, and peaceful, boost to their national egos. With the growing self-esteem that comes with these victories, things like inopportune remarks of individual politicians, undesirable passages in one history textbook or two will seem less significant, and their sense of national pride will rely less on humiliating Japanese political leaders who step out of line.

On a broader level, they will have to shoulder more of the international burden, some financial, some political, that traditional donor countries have often unwillingly carried. Some people worry about the growing Chinese influence, in Africa, for instance. To them, the most recent Beijing bash that the Chinese government hosted for some 48 African heads of state forebodes the rapacious exploitation of their resources, destruction of the environment, encouragement of political corruption, backsliding on democracy and human rights, and what have you. Some of will undoubtedly prove true. But, leaving aside the point that Western donors haven't done much of a job either on helping Africans manage the never-ending post-colonial transition, this exposes China to all the governance-related difficulties of the region that we have had to deal with. Chinese businesses and oil workers are already becoming the target of local militias and criminal elements. It will surely be a painful learning process, a maturing process, for them.

If, in the meantime, these South Korean and Chinese leaders attempt to twist their institutions to conform to national ends, there will surely be ample opportunities to call them on the transgressions. And if other nations decline to follow our lead in this, perhaps we should rethink our own views on the vexatious question of the moment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One Down and One to Go for the Dems

The We-Are-Not-The-Republican Party appears to be headed nearthe higher end of reasonable expectations. The DPJ must be wishing that they had so many juicy issues to define themselves against, or, alternatively, that they had as many issues to define themselves with. With both sides lacking definition, the incumbent here enjoys a persistent edge.

Some people see a silver lining for the Republicans: they can slough off some of the blame for the next two years for hardship on the Democrats. I don't believe that. As Shinzo Abe must have thought when he politely rejected Yoshiro Mori's suggestion that he give this one to faction sempai Yasuo Fukuda, a win is a win, take it when you can get it.

For me, Charlie Crist running away from George Bush was the defining moment of this election: another example of, win now, worry later. Al-Maliki? He's scrambling.

YouTube, MySpace: Not So Fast

What follows is my first venture into unfamiliar territory. If you think I'm wrong, odds are, you're right.

The wholesale takedown of Japanese proprietary content (largely anime, but plenty of variety show and drama clips) was the one negative piece of news that cast a shadow on the YouTube purchase by Google. Less noticed is the huge drop off in sports, talk show and other non-Japanese content. Today, as I write, the most-viewed list consists mostly of more or less the same clip of Faith Hill losing out as CMA top female vocalist. You wonder how the volume of hits on the popular site is faring these days.

I'm guessing, based on casual observation, that at least some of those eyeballs have shifted to smaller, less patrolled sites. We'll see what happens in this cat-and-mouse game, but Google must be worried. Only so many people will want to watch Lonely Girl 15.

MySpace comes to Japan. I read somewhere that the MySpace demographics has shifted dramatically upwards in the last year or so, leading some to speculate that it is turning into a place where older men… well, you get the idea. So maybe it's time they marketed the brand before it became so yesterday.

They'll be coming up against a lot of local competition though. Japanese networks are reportedly much smaller, but they got there first, and that counts for a lot. (Ebay Japan got clobbered by a far more primitive Yahoo auction.) A telling scene from the BBC studio in New York, where a geeky but glib commentator tried to show some enthusiasm for the launch: The commentator told his story of how he listed himself on MySpace and the first profile he came across listed Jack Johnson as favorite musician. He thought that was fascinating; I think it means that MySpace has a long, long way to go before it can claim to have made a dent in the Japanese networking market.

The Japanese Education Authorities Are in a Tizzy

I think that this is a hoax. Why? Well, unless two groups of kids, unbeknownst to each other, have come up with the same ideas to bully the victims (always a possibility), the writer of the letter is merely repeating what he (no, it's not a she) saw in the media. (BBC does not mention the specifics of the bullying methods that have been quoted in the Japanese media.)

The real tragedy is that the education authorities have no clue as to what's going on out there, in the classrooms and schoolyards. Why else would they have to take it so seriously?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Cryptic, Exhausted From a Busy Day, Picks Low-Hanging Fruit

Saddam Hussein, and John Kerry. Hey, it's Sunday, give him a break.

The Habatsu Is Alive and Well in the Upper House and the Komeito. This Will Force Mr. Abe's Hand as He Pushes His Agenda.

For many decades since the 1955 merger of the two conservative parties that created it, the liberal Democratic Party faced no serious opposition within the Diet. Thus, for the media, it was the LDP habatsu, i.e. factions, that served as the main building blocs of national politics. The habatsu leaders were as medieval warlords, making and breaking truces and alliances, in a ceaseless competition with each other for money, power, and, of course, the ultimate prize, the prime minister's chair. Although some habatsu were seen to be dominated by ex-bureaucrat leadership ad others not, and some tended to have more dovish members than others, the differences were minimal, and membership and inter-habatsu alliances and enmity were dominated by personal relationships, chance, and simple greed.

However, for reasons over which there is dispute (there is the prevalent argument that the 1993 switch from the multimember, single-entry electoral district system to the single-member-district-cum-proportional-representation system was the main cause, while others argue that change in voter behavior itself was the root cause), elections have taken on a stronger policy orientation, and parties have increasingly come to be identified with their leaders.

For the LDP, this came to a head in 2001, when Mori-ha member Junichiro Koizumi beat out the overwhelmingly favored Ryutaro Hashimoto, head of his own powerful habatsu, on the basis of the LDP rank-and-file popular vote, which the delegates to the main vote felt unable to ignore. Prime Minister Koizumi would go on to demonstrate time and time again during his regime that he could bypass the wishes of the habatsu chieftains and appeal directly to the people. In fact, Mr. Koizumi's most lasting legacy may turn out to be not his work-in-progress structural reforms, but the political changes by which he adopted a personalized leadership based on national goals to replace habatsu power politics as the key to national and hence party dominance. Tellingly, of the three main candidates (four if you include the ultimately undeclared dove-favorite Yasuo Fukuda) to succeed Mr. Koizumi, only Mr. Tanigaki was a habatsu leader, and he had so few habatsu members that he was obliged to reach out to other factions to collect the twenty Diet member signatures required to second his candidacy.

Koizumi favorite and the ultimate winner, Prime Minister Abe, showed a little less overt disdain for the habatsu than Mr. Koizumi. Still, his cabinet appointments, with a few exceptions, tended to straightforwardly reward the individuals who helped bring their colleagues on board, more often than not on lines that crossed habatsu lines. In particular, the key political appointees to the Cabinet Office paid no respect whatsoever to habatsu lines, and indicated his desire to seek a presidential model of government.

However, the spirit of the habatsu is alive and well in two places: the Upper House LDP, and the eight-year junior coalition partner Komeito. Needles to say, those were the exceptions to Mr. Abe's relatively faction-free cabinet appointments. And they will become serious problems for Mr. Abe as he tries to realize his political agenda. This is why:

Komeito is the political arm of the Sokagakkai, the laic organization of an offshoot Nichiren-Buddhism sect that boasts an 8.21-million-household membership (2003). As such, it can deliver a given number of votes for itself and its coalition partner, the LDP. The LDP cannot dispense with the Komeito, not only during the election for the Sokagakkai votes, but also for the Upper House, where it needs the Komeito Councilors for a simple majority. In a nation where party discipline is strong and Diet members rarely cross party lines (LDP members in particular will have been chastened after last year's Lower House general election ignited by the Postal Office reform vote), the LDP is unable to pass laws without the Komeito's help.

Typical members of the Sokagakkai are apolitical shopkeepers and other small businessmen and their employees. They are social conservatives, non-socialists but desirous of social justice. They are institutional doves, a clear legacy of the persecution they suffered domestically along side other religions and sects during the Showa War. These party and constituency profiles fit in very nicely with the urban, dovish wing of the LDP. So it is no wonder that the Komeito has fit in so seamlessly within the coalition. And it's religious cohesion allows it to maintain indefinitely an distinct virtual-habatsu identity within the coalition.

This did not cause serious problems during the Koizumi administration. As hated by the Chinese leadership and President Roh Moo-hyun as he was, Mr. Koizumi actually belonged to the bad War, bad Class A War Criminal side of Yasukuni-goers. Thus, he had an underlying affinity with the Komeito-Sokagakkai, which identified itself as yet one victim of the Japanese Establishment during the Showa War.

This is in sharp contrast to the Abe administration. Mr. Abe identifies himself with the post-Restoration modern Japanese Establishment, putting him at stark odds with the ruling party doves. The presidential-styled governance that Mr. Abe is pursuing is also troubling to Komeito, since it undermines the power of the one .cabinet minister that it is entitled to, a quota strongly reminiscent of the habatsu of old. (The Upper House LDP also receives a quota of two ministers, whose choices were ultimately conceded in line with custom to the head of the LDP Upper House members.) Akihiro Ota, the new Komeito head was acutely aware of this, and public went on record in seeking a seat for his party in the Cabinet Office inner circle.

Mr. Ota's efforts have so far been in vain. No Komeito member has been allowed to penetrate Mr. Abe's inner circle. This comes as no surprise when nobody in the LDP proper has been able to do so either. Nevertheless, the Komeito was alarmed when it was shut out of Mr. Abe's Education Regeneration Council, and ultimately wound up with the joint-coalition, political-level, Education Regeneration Consideration Commission. Komeito got a chance to flex its muscle when the high school curriculum scandal broke. The LDP and the Education Ministry brokered a deal under which the students lacking the required credits would be required to take a maximum of 70 classes (50 minutes each), beyond which reports and means would suffice. Komeito, however, decided to step in and nix the deal, which led to a compromise that reduced minimum requirements to 50 classes.

Small change, you say? After all, you don't expect the high school students to forego their naps during those classes, or that the schools would not go out of their way to ensure that such students will not fail to pass (and graduate). Sure, but think of the muscles Komeito is going to flex when education reform gets into high gear. And the problems there could pale in comparison to the situation when the substance of constitutional amendment becomes the center of political attention? Then there's tax reform. The last time they raised the consumption tax, Komeito demanded, and got, a 20,000-yen payoff to every 15-and-under and indigent 65-and-over. And will Komeito sit idle as friends of Abe concoct the bill to balance the national pension and healthcare systems comes around.

Although the Komeito is for all practical purposes an LDP habatsu, it has a religious and temperamental cohesion that traditional habatsu never enjoyed in its heydays. Unlike the real habatsu, it can secede en masse. Under current political alignments, Mr. Abe needs the Komeito,, yet he may not be willing or able to pay the price for their consent. His only alternative at that point may be to reach beyond the coalition and attempt to join hands with sympathetic members of the opposition, thus precipitating yet another realignment of the Japanese body politic.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Cryptic Ponders the Latest Republican Gay Sex Scandal

But he comes up with a question for Japan. (And yes, I know it isn't a Republican Party scandal.)

Sanctions: What Will Happen if North Korea Cuts a Deal That Doesn't Include the Abductees Issue?

Prime Minister Abe Declares: "Sanctions Will Continue until The Abductees Issue Is Resolved". Or so Yomiuri claims. But did he? This is what Asahi had to say: Prime Minister Abe: Sanctions Will Not Lifted until It Ends Nuclear Activities.

Actually, if you read the articles, you will see that Mr. Abe talked about two sanctions; one, the UNSC Resolution 1718 sanctions focused on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs (sidebar: Japanese authorities point to the passage "Underlining the importance that the DPRK respond to other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community" in the UNSC Resolution 1718 –preamble as recognition of the abductees issue); and the other, the stronger Japanese sanctions imposed after the July missile test and the more recent nuclear test. However, Yomiuri chose to start the article with the Japan's non-UN sanctions, while Asahi led off with the UN sanctions. You wonder which came first, since they clearly came from the same burasagari shuzai, i.e., (literally) "hanging-onto(-the-briefer) press briefing" that Mr. Abe himself does once a day (sidebar: It is much more accommodating, if less entertaining than the Bush administration's Tom Snow Comedy Central).

Though both articles e roughly the same in content, and made clear distinction between these two sets of sanctions, they decided to lead with different parts of Mr. Abe's press briefing. making the articles spin off in different directions.

This becomes even more obvious if you look at what Mr. Abe actually said about the Japanese sanctions. According to Yomiuri, Mr. Abe said, "We have imposed sanctions because North Korea has not responded with sincerity on the missile test, nuclear test, and abductees issues" and declared that the sanctions would be continued unless there was progress, including the abductees issue. Asahi has Mr. Abe saying more or less the same thing, but the important thing here is that Mr. Abe apparently mentioned all three issues, in sequence. Moreover, the more serious sanctions have been imposed on the occasion of the missile and nuclear tests. So, it is logical to assume that easing of sanctions will also be sequential, and Mr. Abe has said nothing to rule that possibility out. Indeed, it would be difficult for Japan, just because there is no progress on the abductees issue, to keep its own (mostly) missile- and nuclear- test sanctions in place if the rest of the Five, as well as other nations agree to ease up.

What Yomiuri tells us about Mr. Abe's briefing is not untrue. But there is a tinge of truthiness to it. I don't see much beyond a North Korean standstill plus easing of US financial sanctions (quid pro quo for North Korea ceasing and desisting on its criminal activities) that can be done without a drastic change in outlook for the Kim Jong-il regime. But if something beyond such a limited deal develops and there is no progress in sight on the abductees issue, it could turn out that Yomiuri will have positioned itself so that it has no choice but to question the inevitable decisions whatever administration at that point will be making. And if the prime minister making those decisions turns out to be Mr. Abe (if he lasts that long and North Korea bends earlier than I dare hope for), he will be hard put to maintain the sympathies that propelled him to the highest office.

Note: The foreign media seems not to have reported this at all. The BBC merely reported on Foreign Minister Aso's press briefing, which seems to have made no mention of the abductees issue in regard to sanctions. This is clear indication that Mr. Abe's briefing came from the burasagari shuzai, i.e., and not a formal press conference. There should be nothing in principle that keeps foreign correspondents out of Mr. Abe's burasagari, but even the New York Times would be hard put to assign somebody to follow him around all day. Perhaps the foreign media should pitch in and jointly finance a stringer to do that.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Marginalia Americana 6: Our Fates Lie in the Hands of These People Too

I just found out that the Cryptic had mistakenly posted here. What the heck, let him stay. Nov. 03, 2006, 4:38 PM.

Wyoming elects one House member and two Senators. (Go figure.). Barbara Cubin, the Republican incumbent in this overwhelmingly Republican state is fighting for dear life to hold on to her seat against the no-name Democratic candidate, Gary Trauner. (Okay, he does have a name.). No, this has nothing to do with the Bush administration, and everything to do with Cubin's in-your-face threat to bitchslap the wheelchair-bound Libertarian (yes Libertarian) candidate, an MS patient. In a last-ditch stab at negative campaigning:

"The guy's from New York. It's not a good fit. He's too liberal. He's just not familiar with Wyoming's issues," said Cubin spokesman Joe Milczewski.
"For example, in New York City, you don't have a wolf problem. We have a big wolf problem in Wyoming." (New York Daily News, 01 Nov. 06)

I suppose the takeaway here is that the wolf problem in Wyoming is a federal issue.

John Kerry has done it again. I take his word for it that he meant President Bush, not high school dropouts who join the Army and ship out to Iraq. His demonstration of a total lack of a funny bone and his initial rage at the rest of the world for misunderstanding him were vintage Kerry.

He is the latest in a long, bipartisan line of public figures going back from Al Gore (inventing the Internet) to Howard Dean (the Scream) to Edmund Muskie (the New Hampshire meltdown) to Richard Nixon (uh…) who never fail to elicit the media's enmity. Then there are the people who seem to get a free pass (Condoleezza Rice, in contrast to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, comes to mind). Likeability is an important factor in determining which way the media will spin a story that can break in either direction

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More on the Three/Six: Will a Side Deal Lead to a More Stable Equilibrium?

South Korea is the nation that will foot the bill for most of the long-term costs when the North Korean regime fails. South Korea, together with China, will also determine how far in the future that event will come to pass. Japan does not have such a direct role to play, particularly since it already has played most of its economic chips. But no solution, final or interim, can be pursued without taking into consideration the regional security implications of Japan's very strong concerns over the dangers of a North Korea with viable WMDs.

Still, North Korea, China and the United States are the ones with the most chips at the table, and they were the ones who resurrected the Six-Party Talks. Let's take stock of where they stand.

North Korea now can make a plausible claim to have a tested nuclear explosive device in hand, and enough weapons-grade plutonium to create several nuclear explosive devices. It has gained more strategic chips. It has decided that it is time to come to the table to play its survival game.

China has demonstrated that it is willing to play the economic card. It even discreetly shut the oil valve in September, if, of course, circumstantial evidence is to be believed. Even that, if it happened, proved futile (and we do not know yet what more China did in October on oil supplies), but China did further raise the stakes in taking surprisingly stern measures after the nuclear test. China will use every reasonable means to stave off regime change in North Korea, and it has bought more time to do so by coaxing North Korea back to the table.. In any case, China has come a long, long way since it was dragged kicking and biting into hosting the Six-Party talks.

The number one priority of the United States is to stop nuclear proliferation. For them, the sky has not fallen just because North Korea conducted a nuclear test. A distant second must be stopping North Korea from engaging in counterfeiting, drug traffic, and other illicit activities. Regime change must be high on the Christmas wish list of the Bush administration, but North Korea and China (as well as South Korea) are in no hurry to oblige the US.

Going back to the other three, South Korea is welded to the status quo, its shift along the nuclear yardstick notwithstanding. Its economic chips are substantial, but they are on loan to the North. Japan may wish for regime change, but it has already played most of its economic chips. The nuclear threat is not without its silver lining for some of our "normal nation" advocates, who can use a prolonged crisis on the peninsula to press their security agenda. Russia is the closest thing to a bystander here.

The Six are not on the same page, and never will be; our interests diverge too much for that, even between Japan and the US. (In addition to the proliferation vs. suicide attack difference in emphasis on WMDs/missiles, the abductees issue continues to haunt us.) However, we all seem to be reading from the same book that brings the characters together in an uneasy equilibrium. We'll know soon if this can lead to a more stable situation in which Kim Jong-il's regime can gain a little more breathing room, while the rest of us can feel a measure of assurance that we need not fear an escalation of the North Korean WMD/missiles program nor the insidious consequences of North Korea's counterfeit, drugs and other illicit moneymaking schemes.

Intriguingly, the US has some loose change to play. The bulk of its financial sanctions were imposed against the counterfeit and other criminal activities of the Kim regime. Thus, the US can pull them back without explicitly rewarding North Korea for something a little less than a commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible WMD disarmament. Indeed, the Three have agreed to a subsidiary working group on the financial sanctions. There are news reports from Beijing, albeit iffy, that North Korea is willing to acknowledge some non-state responsibility for counterfeit activities. If any nuclear deals are going to be cut, this is where it's likely to be.

Why Is Comedy Central Posting the Entire Daily Show and Colbert Report on Its Website?

The Cryptic's very brief take on this pressing issue is here.

Consumer Lending: Will the Populist Interest Rate Cap Create More Problems Than It Solves?

The Abe cabinet agreed on Oct. 31 to submit a Diet bill that would abolish the difference between the maximum interests a lender can charge (29.2% per year) and the maximum interest that the lender has legal recourse to recover (15-20%). The measure will be fully implemented over three years after the enactment of the amendment, so the nation will have time to adjust. Still, the transition will prove to be wrenching one, fraught with uncertainties. Here's the reason why I'm scared:

I've always worried about many of the borrowers abandoned by consumer credit companies being forced to resort to even more usurious and dangerous underground sources of financing. Well, according to the Federation of Credit Research Bureaus (you'll have to trust the Nov. 1 Yomiuri on this; good luck trying to find the information on the FCRB website), there were 2.5 million multiple-debtors (defined as people who owe money to 5 or more consumer credit companies) as of last May. Surely this figure is inflated by the huge number of no-fee, incentive-laden credit cards that every department store or supermarket chain and every other retail outfit give away like tissue paper. Still, it is sobering that, even by an estimate from the business side, which has every incentive to downplay the danger, roughly one out of every 50 Japanese, including babies and centenarians, a multiple-debtor.

How about the actual interest these businesses are charging? According to a study group in the Tokyo University of Information Sciences the seven major consumer lending companies were lending money to more than 90% of their customers at rates above the 20% limit. Again, we'll have to take Yomiuri's word for it (you can apparently ask this guy about it), but eye-balling a highly unsatisfactory bar chart (I hate all charts that do not have actual numbers in them) tells me roughly 80% of the customers are being charged upwards of 25%, and the overall average probably comes in around 26%. So, if I'm guessing correctly, other things being the same, over the next three years, the consumer lending companies will have to absorb the equivalent of a 23% percentage point drop in revenue.

That's at a time when they are borrowing at 1-3% interest from the banks. (So that's what the banks have been doing with my 0.1% interest-rate deposits. But I digress.) That still looks like a lucrative 17-19% margin. But remember, it's a very high-overhead, high-default business with cutthroat competition, and the number of consumer lending companies have been falling precipitously since their 1999 peak. (For English language stats, look here.) Imagine how the businesses will be squeezed when interest rates go up.

As lenders adopt ever more sophisticated lending methods and technologies, some borrowers will undoubtedly reap the benefits of a lower maximum interest rate, but others will not be considered creditworthy at the new rates. Many of the latter will hopefully repent and borrow no more, but the remainder will turn to less desirable, less legitimate sources. The government as well as NGOs will surely step in to help the overburdened. But, even if they see only a small proportion of the one-in-50 multiple borrowers falling through the cracks, they will have their hands more than full as they step in between hapless spendthrifts and the by-definition criminal elements.

Three-Party Talks Produce Six-Party Talks

I am flabberghasted. But not so surprised that the Three begat the Six.

How recently was it that the US had to move heaven and earth to get China to agree to host the Six? The Asia Cup debacle, for instance, showed that China could be very hamhanded But they learn quickly. And once they learn, they can be relentless.

Which we should thank them for.