Saturday, January 20, 2007

Smackdown in Taiwan Legislature: Ah Sweet Memory… (and a False Conviction)

For some godforsaken reason I know not what, the WaPo website, as of Jan. 9:24 PM ET, the WaPo website featured the 9:20 AM photo and video accompanied by an article headlined Taiwan Legislature Dissolves Into Chaos. The article reports that "the scenes were reminiscent of past Taiwanese legislative brawls, and represented another low point in the island's sometimes stormy transition from dictatorship to democracy." Reminds me of the good old days of post-war Japan.

Relax, Taiwan. You've only been doing this democracy thing for twenty years. I assure you, in another ten years, you'll graduate to the "cowwalk". Been there, done that. No, the "cowwalk" is not a Depression-era dance fad. It is basically a slow-down tactic in the Japanese Diet, where the opposition calls for a recorded vote, then takes as much time as possible in walking up to the dais and actually casting the ballot. BTW, a filibuster is almost impossible in the Japanese Diet, since proceedings can be brought to an end by way of a simple majority.

The Japanese economy may have had its "lost decade (more like a baker's dozen)", but the "flying geese" pattern is alive and well in politics. Which reminds me, haven't they had a good free-for-all in South Korea recently?

Of course this earthshaking event was totally ignored by the Yomiuri, whose Jan. 20 morning edition didn't even bother to remind us of the incident on the international pages. Instead, the Japanese nation woke up to a huge headline cum photo front-page article on three accidental carbon monoxide deaths in Hokkaido. (Yomiuri also gives it a two-page, full-coverage treatment in the "society" section. A gas pipeline leak, it scares the bejeezus out of people living in residential areas.) The rest of the front page not reserved for regular features (most prominently the third installment of a series on North Korean nuclear threat) went to an article on the discovery that a taxi driver had confessed to and served three years of a rape he had not committed. (The taxi driver maintained his confession throughout the judicial proceedings, served his term, got out, but now cannot be located by the authorities. They want to apologize. The "society" section also gives it about a fifth of the space that the Hokkaido gas leaks got there.)

The main story in the international pages was the arrest of Moktada al-Sadr's right-hand man, in an article almost exactly the size and shape of the YomiuriBarzan al-Tikriti (and One) obituary with the decapitation incident tacked on at the end. But Thai's deposed ex-Prime Minister Taksin gets a lot of air too. Why? Because he's in Tokyo (though God knows what he's doing here).

Two things here. First, the JMSM is a business, and, like any business, the consumer is king. And the consumer wants domestic news, domestic news that hits you personally. Second, the false conviction makes a strong foundation for a case against the death penalty, and more broadly reminds us of long-standing questions about criminal procedures in Japan.

These points are relevant to what I think is a useful dialogue that I am engaged in elsewhere. I hope to let you know how it comes out soon.

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