Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't You Wish You Could Write Like This Guy?

I do. But I can't. So I'm going to continue doing my own thing.

The link comes by way of Mimi Smartypants' latest post.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Presidential Dressing Down: or, Emulating Success

Sarkozy Goes Dancing on 'Le Web', says CNN. Actually, the Sarkozy web site is not as damaging as the latest DPJ commercial. Beyond that, it's a matter of taste. But where did he get this new "tieless guy in suit" look from? The movie The Godfather?

(Copied from CNN web page; will drop on request from CNN)

Actually, no. As the son of an immigrant father and a native-born mother who is running for president, he is obviously channelling this guy:

(courtesy of flickr)

Barack Obama, of course, wasn't born not wearing a tie either. He, in turn, is copying this guy:

(courtesy of flickr)

But why is Mr. Obama taking a cue from Mahmoud Ahmadinjad of all people? The obvious answer: he's trying to dress successfully. Remember, Mr. Ahmadinejad scored a come-from-behind, upset victory in the Iranian presidential election. That is why he's doing it, or his middle name is Hussein; as Fox News will be quick to remind you.

So there you go. Who knows, in 2009, the world may have to deal with an Axis of Male Presidential Slobs. And they will all have nuclear weapons. Ségolène Royal or Hillary Clinton can do something about the first problem. Maybe Israel's popular Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will take over from the embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and take care of the second one.

Question of the day: Why doesn't Mr. Ahmadinejad wear a tie?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Simon Elegant's Story on Net Vigilantism in China Is an Oft-Told Tale. Get Him an Editor for Heaven's Sake.

I have been taking Public Interest's advice and leaving lonely old men alone. Instead, I have been doing my best to ingratiate myself with the MSM by gently reminding them that, exemplary as their work may be, they could do even better, if such a thing is conceivable.

Hang out in the blogosphere long enough, and sooner or later you will come across an incident where seemingly the whole blogging community comes down on a hapless victim, who may or may not be guilty as accused. Shisaku has already taken up this particular story. But anyway, according to Mr. Elegant:

"The furor was started by Rui Chenggang, an English-language news announcer on the government's China Central Television. Rui wrote in his blog last week complaining about the presence of the Starbucks inside the hallowed walls of the Forbidden City. The presence of the coffee chain there was 'eroding Chinese culture,' Rui wrote….
"The appeal to nationalism, predictably enough, brought an avalanche of outrage [on the Internet]."

So far, so good, though the underlying narrative of the awesome anonymous power of the Internet is an oft-told tale. So what new twist does Mr. Elegant bring to the table? Mr. Elegant, in fact, goes on to speculate about the motives of Mr. Rui, saying:

"Trotting out this lame duck (can ducks trot?) has certainly sparked a rush of internet traffic to Rui's blog, and gotten his post onto the front page of China's most popular blog aggregator,"

Yet he then skirts the issue, going on to make the seemingly unremarkable point that:

"Regardless of motives or the merits of the argument …… the incident is a disturbing reminder that emotive nationalist posturing can be dangerously amplified by the web, and even acquire a life of its own. In China, as everywhere else, events in the blogosphere may have a powerful impact beyond the virtual world — for better and for worse."

The oft-told tale again. But, in passing, he has tossed a accusation of "emotive nationalist posturing" at Mr. Rui, a charge about which, if he had read the aforementioned Shisaku link to an earlier article, Mr. Elegant would have had second thoughts. Mr. Rui, it seems, is a thoughtful man.

Mr. Elegant also takes the time to sneer at Mr. Rui's provincial ignorance when he writes:

"It would be like having a Starbucks in the Louvre or at the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, [Mr. Rui] later told a reporter. (There is a Starbucks next to the Louvre, though not actually inside the museum. And the reasons there aren't any Starbucks in Egypt or India are pretty obvious: no one can afford to buy the coffee)."

In fact, if Mr. Elegant had bothered to ask, he would have known that India's current lack of Starbucks has not much to do with poverty, and everything to do with government regulation. If fact, may I be allowed to indulge in a little insinuation myself by saying Mr. Elegant's error may not have been due merely to a lack of due diligence but a total ignorance of the story of India's rise as an emerging economy? Perhaps he should browse the TIME website from time to time, if you'll pardon the expression. He is right about Egypt to the extent that was no Starbucks there as of the end of 2006. But from news reports, the reasons for the delay of the rollout, first scheduled in 2006, does not seem to be "pretty obvious", nor that "no one can afford to buy the coffee". (Mr. Elegant seems to be ignorant of the workings of developing economies, as well as the cravings of Western ex-pat societies there.)

We still count on newspapers, TV and other mass outlets to find the villain of the week so that everyone can pile on him/her. (For a recent example of a "them", google "Duke"+"Niphong".) But here, as in so many other areas, the Internet is eating into MSM territory. (For a recent example of "other areas", go take a look at the 2008 US presidential candidates, who are forsaking the splashy news conference route and announcing their intent on their web sites.) In fact, nowhere is the tension between the two mediums more evident than in Mr. Elegant's article, which is perched on a TIME website, as of Jan. 29 right next to the TIME blogs, itself with a look somewhere between a blog entry and a real news piece. Indeed, the loose fact checking, the insinuations, the subjective feel of his piece are exactly the kind of stuff you would expect to see coming from a real blogger.

So I guess my question is, what happened to the Starbucks in the Forbidden City? It's been some time since the story broke, hasn't it? Are people picketing Starbucks? The Forbidden City? Is business down? Up, even? Have the authorities weighed in? Questions, questions. But I guess those are questions that real journalists are to ask, whose answers to know.

Impressive Stats for the US-Iraqi Joint Initiative. So What's the Score in the Shiia-Sunni Game?

This BBC article announces another bit hit for US and Iraqi troops with the headline "Iraq Clashes Kill 250 Militants". As I always try to do with such battle reports, I look to see what sect the casualties belong to. Sure enough, this is yet another big pile of Sunni insurgent bodies.

The US government made it clear that it intended to take on all sides, and al-Maliki, Iraq's embattled prime minister, was put on notice to go after al-Sadr's militia allies, the Mahdi Army. We did read that about 600 (out of several thousand) Mahdi members were taken into custody (that means, I think, alive) in an early sweep. Yet the deaths seem to be piling up mostly on the Sunni side. Is that because it is now only the Sunni insurgents who are engaged in wholesale attacks on their religious enemies? But then, you have to wonder what the Shiite militia are doing, and why.

Could it be that, as at least one report suggests, the Shiite militia are slipping away into the Iran sanctuary? It has become clear that the US, likely barring the case of hot pursuit, will not take the battle in Iraq into Iran territory. So, with the security forces mainly under Shiite control and heavily infiltrated by Shiite militia members, it makes sense for the rest of their members to leave town or otherwise lay low until the joint initiative takes down the Sunni insurgents.

I'm sure that the Iran leadership will be fine with that, but what will the Sunni Arab leaders in the region think about it? Are they also willing to tolerate what looks like an increasingly enduring Shiite ascendancy in whatever remains at the federal level in Iraq, as long as religious sentiments do not lead to total domination of Baghdad by Tehran? After all, there is a sliver lining to this thundercloud for the monarchies and other authoritarian governments, if the better part of the foreign allies of the Sunni insurgents are eliminated and are not able to maintain an Iraqi launching pad for subversive activities back in the rest of the Arab world. That's a big if, but with US unable to cast poxes on both houses, it may be the most they can hope for.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Joke Machine Rocks on, as Health Minister Yanagisawa Lobs One Down the Middle to Shisaku

Sadly, Shisaku is nowhere to be found, and I lack the skills to make this story any funnier.

Speaking of machines, though...

I Follow Intrepid NYT Correspondent Norimitsu Ohnishi to Yubari City in My Role as Gaijin Media Watchdogg, Yo!

In an act of post-modern meta-journalism, the Yomiuri expresses its amazement that Norimitsu Ohnishi makes the front page of the New York Times with his Jan. 27 article, Tokyo Cuts Aid, and Hinterland Withers in Japan, on the dire straits of Yubari, the Hokkaido (former) coal town. The NYT article does not quite due justice to a process that has been going on for a long time, in the case of coal towns for the last half century. Yubari's turn only came a little later than for the others. Still, Mr. Ohnishi's piece had true power, perhaps the reason for making the front page. It is no coincidence that the following piece, minus today's editing, had been sitting on my auxiliary hard disk since last night.

Norimitsu Ohnishi goes to Yubari and tell a story of its woes in the Jan. 27 NYT with "Tokyo Cuts Aid, and Hinterland Withers in Japan". The story portrays a former coal town that dug itself deep into a fiscal hole on generous, post-coal, government handouts, and is now cutting expenditures (e.g.. services, personnel, wages), (trying to) selling off municipal property (tourist facilities), and raising revenue (e.g. taxes, bus tokens, public onsen bath fees) to retire $500 million in public debt over the next 20 years.

Wondering what took Mr. Ohnishi to the middle of Hokkaido in the dead of winter, I follow him there. Unfortunately, I do not have a media outlet paying the bills. Besides, it's cold out there. So I take the easy way out, and visit the Yubari website… (Needless to say, the entire website is in Japanese.)

At the top of the page are: "Newly Arrived Information", "From Yubari City", "Fiscal Rehabilitation and Hospital Reform", "Recruitment Notice of Internal Medicine Doctors", and the "Invitation for Purchase of Municipal Tourism Facilities".

I start with the three items in the "Newly Arrived Information". First up is a Jan. 18 local traffic restriction of indefinite duration due to heavy snowfall. The second, dating back to Dec. 22, is an announcement of a 50% price hike and a cutback in hours, and a new one day a week closure at the local public bath house. Finally, there is a new link to the local fire department website, where I find that this year as of Jan. 17 it has responded to one fire, 27 emergencies (acute illness and the like) and one emergency rescue (falling into pond and the like).

The "From Yubari City" links yield the following information:

(Notice 2006 Mar. 14) The Sapporo Justice Department is closing its Sorachi East Office as of 2006 June 19. Thenceforth, Yubari citizens among other people would have to go to the Iwamizawa Office to take care of their legal affairs.
(Notice 2006 Nov. 11) The municipal government when making payments would no longer notify recipients by mail. As of 2007, you must keep an eye on your bank account statement.

But what's this "Fiscal Rehabilitation and Hospital Reform"? Why single out the municipal hospital? The reason becomes clear when I locate and scan a survey conducted by outside management consultants. The hospital is apparently a mess. It is understaffed by (according to locals) arrogant and incompetent - if underpaid (even at 12 million yen to 250 million yen plus free housing) - doctors, who are leaving if they can. The local people try to avoid it if they can. A part-time doctor last year did decide to go full time, bringing the contingency of residents to five, including a dentist. The rest of the staff is otherwise overstaffed and, compared to the rest of Japanese municipalities, overpaid. The municipal reform plan confirms Mr., Ohnishi's report that it will be downsized to a clinic (as of April, which is the beginning of the next fiscal year), yet the hospital website makes no mention of this fact. The link to the Sept. 6 announcement soliciting internal medicine doctors still remains on the hospital website. (Notice: You must be between 26 and 70, ruling out Doogie Howser and Dr. Ruth.)

And what's this? The plan says Yubari must retire 35.3 billion in 18 years. Apparently, Mr. Ohnishi was no longer in town on a Friday, when the pain was released on Jan. 26. The plan says Yubari has managed shorten the repayment period by two years, thanks to expected help from the Hokkaido prefecture government. Still, there's a huge discrepancy between Mr. Ohnishi's $500 million=60 billion yen and the plan's much smaller figure. Perhaps the Yubari government figures that it can carry a 25 billion yen load indefinitely. Or there's some so-called third sector, off-the-book debt lurking somewhere at least here beyond view. In any case, pain will be felt by public employees, whose numbers will be cut by more than half in three years (bringing them to national per capita levels; Yubari is definitely overstaffed, a carryover from its coal town heydays), and those remaining will see their salaries cut by an average of 40%. They will be encouraged to leave by a precipitous year-by-year drop in retirement benefits if they choose to remain. But at an average of 400 million yen per year, at least they will be doing better than the mayor, who will see his salary drop from 862, 000 per month to 259,000 (and his bonus cut by 80%).

Will this work? I hope so. But then, there's the demographics.

A breakdown of the Yubari population, available on the Yubari website for 1990, 1995 and 2000 (but not for 2005 nor with separate Internet addresses) shows that Yubari has a huge bulge (reflecting its glory coal years) for what would be the 65-74 age group in 2005, a somewhat smaller population at the 55-64 age group, but drops precipitously after that. Another tendency to be gathered from the data is that people tend to leave Yubari after high school, a small number of which come back after they have finished college, where I assume they'd replaced new retirees in the public sector and elsewhere. There is a gradual decline in all age cohort groups, and a somewhat greater decline among the older groups over and beyond what would be reasonably be attributed to natural causes. Presumably, a substantial portion of this decline means some retirees go to live with their children or at a retirement home outside of Yubari.

As a result, Yubari has continued to shrink, at about maybe 3% per year since the beginning of the 90s. It has also been aging steadily and surely, with those who can leave, leaving. The current 65-74 age group will begin dying off, but the 55-64 crowd will be joining it in retirement. This will surely erode the tax base over the years. And those who remain will have less money to spend. Surely the 121,828 residents of Yubari, a disproportionately large number of whom have the vote (courtesy of an aging population), realize this, as they go into the July Upper House election.

Unless the repayment plan has taken this demographic decline into consideration - and governments are notoriously poor at owning up to the fiscal implications of long-term demographic trends - it is hard to see how in the world Yubari will fulfill its revenue goals. And that's before we even begin to consider the financial risks the Yubari coffers will assume on the expenditure end with the twists and turns that the annual debt burden will take, as interest rates fluctuate. The younger residents of Yubari will not be blamed if they decide to vote more quickly than ever with their feet.

How the major political parties will appeal in July to the voters of Yubari, whose story is being replayed in a less dramatic fashion all over Japan, I know not. In the meantime, Rengo, (partly) public sector national trade union and DPJ supporter, chose to make a stand for wage earners Yubari, where the erstwhile bloated, overpaid bureaucracy was being forced to go down on that very day.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Other Day, I Did a Takedown of a DoD Study

I'd wondered then why the DoD had missed something that should have been so obvious to Americans.

Now, I know why. Turns out, they can't read.

Mr. Tsunoda Resigns as House of Councillors Veep But Leaves Much 'Splainin to Do. And Not Just by Him

This Yomiuri Jan. 27 article is likely as full a rendition of the Tsunoda resignation as Vice President of the Upper House (he submitted his resignation notice to Chikage Ohgi, the president, yesterday) as you will get in a non-Japanese medium.

The Japanese hard copy version carries seven articles (including sidebars), one at the top of page 1, plus an editorial. (The penurious Yomiuri translates only one of its customary two editorials per day, and has decided to go with Prime Minister Abe's policy speech to the Diet.) In case you want to know, Yomiuri thinks the Tsunoda case is more serious than the office expenses brouhaha that has dragged in a large number of LDP names and, among other people, Ichiro Ozawa. Taken in isolation, yes. But the pervasive use of "office expenses" as a bottomless sump for god knows what is a structural problem that further undermines public trust in the political system. The editorial makes no mention of this - what I think is more important - distinction.

The revelation-to-resignation process took so much time because, apparently, nobody in the DPJ had wanted to take charge of the situation. Not that this is not a bipartisan phenomenon, but it's particularly bad when you want to show that you have the potential to run the show if the electorate will only give you a chance.

One of the articles goes into some depth about the DPJ rift in Mr. Tsunoda's Gunma Prefecture between the old school Socialists and the conservatives, with latter coming to take over four of the five DPJ Diets seats in Gunma. Something I wrote about here. According to the article, the takeover led to the discovery of irregularities under the old leadership and their subsequent exposure. The rift, which is echoed, if much more weakly, in the party as a whole, is one very plausible reason for the DPJ leadership's initial reluctance to deal with problem.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Yomiuri Shinbun, You Are a Disgrace (Yuri Geller, Indeed)

The Yomiuri sports pages have long been recognized as the advertising vehicle for the Japanese baseball equivalent of the New York Knicks. Now, Yomiuri has thoroughly shamed itself in its Jan. 26 evening edition through what would be the styles section in a US newspaper with a near full-page hagiography of a third-rate magician who parlayed a parlor room trick into a full time career as a clairvoyant. It's page 19 in the Tama version. Yomiuri, you are disgusting. I've been taking down the foreign media, just for you, and this is what you do to me?

It's a double shame, too, because the same version also has two fine articles, one on the front page and the other in the "shakai" section, which tell the story of a man who in 2002 was wrongfully convicted of rape through a forced confession. The story first broke last week, when they found out he was innocent after a different man confessed to the crime. You know what, if I ever kill somebody (I can't imagine myself committing any other felony), I'll keep my mouth shut, and take my chances in court. I am not going to help those idiots.

Japan Schools to Rethink Beating Says BBC. Oh, Really?

"Japan Schools to Rethink Beating", says the headline of the
Jan. 24 BBC article. The top paragraph, in bold, reads: Japanese schools should rethink their decades-old ban on corporal punishment, a government-appointed panel has urged. And the main body of the report begins with the sentence: The report, submitted amid growing concern over bullying, stopped short of overtly backing beating, but suggested an end to a policy of leniency.

Now you would think that the report deals almost solely with bullying and that the Japanese authorities want to combat that with canings and lashings, but won't just yet come out and say so outright. If the BBC says so. But just to be sure, let's take a look at the publicly available records of the Education Rebuilding Council.

The important thing to note is that the rethinking on the measures in question mainly revolved around the maintenance of order in the classroom, and, in the initial discussions, was not discussed in relation to bullying. The issue was part of the discussions in a Nov. 29 subcommittee session. The member who led the discussions on this point was Hiroyuki Yoshiie, the charismatic but somewhat controversial ex-gangsta, teacher turned education expert, who recited the following rules on "taibatsu"="corporal punishment" issued in 1949 (The ERC secretariat had produced an earlier (1948) set of rules (my translation; words added in [ ]s to facilitate understanding), which were one of the main sources for the 1949 rules)]:

To not allow a student to go to the bathroom [during class hours] or to keep a student in the classroom past lunch hour [school lunches are typically served in the classroom] is corporal punishment since there is concomitant physical pain, and the violates the School Education Law.
A student who is late to class must be allowed in to the classroom. In compulsory education [ i.e. El-Hi 1-9], it is forbidden not to have the student receive education, even if it is for a short time.
It is forbidden to make a student leave the classroom even if the student is lax in his/her studies or making a commotion. The student may be required to stand in the classroom as being within the authority to punish, as long as the measure does not constitute corporal punishment.
A student may be required to remain in the classroom [after hours] as a form of punishment to the extent that it does not become a form of corporal punishment if the student has stolen or broken something belonging to someone else or committed other similar acts.
In the case of theft and the like, the student [presumably the suspect] and witnesses may be interrogated, but they must not be forced to confess or testify.
It is acceptable to increase the frequency of cleaning [the classroom, corridors, playground, and toilets
(yes, we had latrine duties in the old days; very progressive too, unisex, a la Ali McBeal) and the like [catering duties?] in the case of a student who has been late or is lax in his/her studies, but inappropriate discrimination or harsh treatment is forbidden.
Joint commuting to school is acceptable as a means to prevent lateness, but there is a need to be careful so that it does not take on military training qualities.
(This was, of course, 1949.)

Mr. Yoshiie said that changing circumstances have made it impossible for teachers to maintain order and that the ERC, while not supporting corporal punishment, should put forth how to deal with these rules [the implication being that a new set of rules should be issued] as part of normal education activities. This was followed with some chatter about how in those days such rules were routinely ignored by teachers, back from the war, who would often beat students with their hands (reminding people today what Japanese military life was often like).

At the Dec. 8 session of the subcommittee, the rules did come up in the context of bullying. Mr. Yoshiie, again is at the center of the talks with a recitation of the rules, adding brief comments to each one. But the talk is not necessarily limited to bullying. Anyway, almost all the talk is about suspension (which would be an infraction of above mentioned rule no 1). There remains the need to provide education, i.e. separate classes, for even these egregious cases. In this context of taking disruptive students out of the classroom, Yoshiyuki Kasai, another ERC member and chairman of JR Tokai and conservative commentator, expands on an earlier (Nov. 29) idea of his and suggests special classes for the egregious cases featuring [lots of] judo and kendo as part of its curriculum, and this idea is briefly discussed. This comes up as an intermediate solution before calling in the cops, which in its own way takes up a fairly good portion of the talks.

So, what does this all add up to? The ERC members did come out in favor of revising a nearly sixty year old set of rules on taibatsu. But the taibatsu that has been covered by those rules goes beyond what is commonly understood as "corporal punishment". Admittedly, the judo/kendo classes can lead, in excess, to physical pain in the name of physical education (in fact, there will be at least some pain in any case, or you are slacking off). If that idea is taken up. But to tie that brief exchange of to a rethinking of beating requires a substantial measure of investigative journalism. Not that I am suggesting that BBC was even aware of this exchange.

In any case, not only did the ERC not "overtly backing beatings", beatings were the farthest thing from the minds of most, perhaps all, of the ERC members. And something clearly was lost in translation from taibatsu to corporal punishment.

Not, actually. Because, you see, BBC evidently did not bother to read anything but other news reports before writing up this article and slapping on the headline "Japan Schools to Rethink Beating" and posting it, much less the publicly available documents.

This is a fine meme that BBC has unleashed on an unsuspecting foreign language public, tabloid sensationalism at best, misleading at worst.

C'mon, BBC, you can do better than this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Before I call It a Day, a Fascinating Link on Japan-China Relations Unearthed by Shisaku

Rui Chenggang's post sheds light on the developments in the bilateral relation ship. Read, then follow this post.

Mr. Tsunoda's Political Financing Woes Reveal Deep Fissure in the Democratic Party of Japan

Giichi Tsunoda, DPJ veteran and Upper House Deputy Chairman (the post by convention goes to a member of the party with the second largest number of seats), has been embroiled in a political financing controversy. His election campaign headquarters is accused of failing to report 22.5 million yen in donations. Moreover, some of the money, albeit a small amount, is purported to have come from one or more North Korean entities, an accusation first revealed in the Yomiuri. (Asahi initially referred to "foreign parties".) So far, Mr. Tsunoda is refusing to resign, denying any knowledge of such funds and claiming his campaign HQ has no record of any such contributions. Mr. Tsunoda, though, looks increasingly embattled, because Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ Secretary-General, in a DPJ internal meeting, has reportedly come out in favor of resignation. The DPJ would definitely like to get this out of the way as quickly as possible before the Diet begins in earnest, and I assume it will get its way. But the manner, in which the controversy surfaced, as well as the alleged involvement of North Korea, reveals a deep fissure within the DPJ that has hobbled its efforts to carve out a distinct identity in the minds of the electorate.

Mr. Tsunoda was one of the moderates in the Socialist Party (now the Social Democratic Party) who broke away to directly join the DPJ in 1997. Thus, there were serious ideological and personal differences, both local and national, between the erstwhile Socialists and the rest of the party, who for the most part came from conservative, largely LDP, backgrounds. Apparently, the gap was poorly bridged in Gunma Prefecture, Mr. Tsunoda's electoral district, because disgruntled local party members allegedly passed on to the Yomiuri some campaign finance documents that included entries of donations that were not accounted for in the official submissions to MICA. This is different from the exposure of the other political financial disclosure issue, which, whatever the origins of the investigation, involves publicly available records and good-old fashioned questioning from reporters. But, lumped together with Mr. Ozawa's case, it will make it very difficult for the DPJ to press the LDP on the main event.

Mr. Tsunoda does not have allies among DPJ leaders either. Mr. Hatoyama, who is reportedly seeking Mr. Tsunoda's resignation, like Ichiro Ozawa, hails from the LDP. Naoto Kan, the other member of the LDP triumvirate, got his start in the Diet through Shakaiminshu Rengo, a breakaway group of moderates from the Socialist Party, and came to DPJ by way of Shinto Sakigake, whose origins are traceable to the LDP.

Allegation of a North Korea connection is particularly painful to Mr. Tsunoda. The Socialist Party was not only decidedly unsympathetic, even denying, to the families of the abductees when they turned to it for help; many people believe that it caused the death of an abductee when it turned over to North Korea a copy of a letter that the abductee had smuggled out. Given where the prime minister stands on this issue and the public animosity that has built up against North Korea, the LDP can exploit this angle to its advantage in the Diet sessions if need be.

It's hard to see how Mr. Tsunoda can stay on indefinitely, if intra-party push comes to shove. But history has given Mr. Tsunoda an independent power base, and possibly some resentment toward the direction the party is tacking under its relatively conservative leaders. I have no idea how many more days or hours the DPJ can take this before they are forced to take a wrenching, institutionally damaging step to cut Mr. Tsunoda and, possibly, his supporters, off.

US DoD Pays Good Money for Abrupt Global Cooling Report and Fails to Mention Coal

Shisaku reports here on a climate change report (this and other links available on the Shisaku post) commissioned by the US Department of Defense. DoD, perhaps feeling the need to get in on the new-found White House interest on the issue, focuses in this report on a crises-driving, abrupt global cooling scenario.

Where does Japan fit into this picture? This is what the report has to say in the main text:

"Picture Japan, suffering from flooding along its coastal cities and contamination of its fresh water supply, eying Russia's Sakhalin Island oil and gas reserves as an energy source to power desalination plants and energy-intensive agricultural processes."

But wait a minute. Most of our reservoirs are fairly well above current sea levels. Makes sense too. Maybe a few communities here and there will have problems, but eyeing Russian gas and oil to fuel desalination plants?

But among other things, crops will fail around the world. And Japan will be cooler too. So Japan having a need for more "energy-intensive" greenhouse/hydroponic agriculture is not out of the question. As long as the Pacific Ocean and Japan Sea don't dry up, we'll have water on the archipelago, but there will very likely be less of it if the climate cools down. Who knows, you could probably make some assumptions, then do some calculations, and figure out at what point a water deficit would kick in that would be sufficient to require substantial desalination.

In any case, the report says we'll have a "[s]trategic agreement between Japan and Russia for Siberia and Sakhalin energy resources" in 2015. So, what, me worry? (Which reminds me, readers, of a question I've always wanted to ask you, which head of state when he smiles most resembles Alfred E. Newman?) Actually, we will have a problem because in 2030, there will be "[t]ension growing between China and Japan over Russian energy”. In which case, the "projection capability" we begin developing in 2012 in the face of "regional instability" will come in handy.

So, according to the scenario, we're the good guys, the Chinese are the bad guys, so building up our military capabilities is a good thing, as a sort of no-regrets policy for global cooling. Nice. However, perhaps unintentionally, the report overlooks the obvious point that we, and even more the Chinese, indeed the whole planet, would feel much less reluctant to burn coal. Which would spoil the entire scenario. There would be substantial pressure from the other side, which would point to the likely long-term consequences of putting even more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it would be a very attractive short-term response that would kill two birds (and perhaps the environment as we know it) with one lump.

In fact, the word "coal" appears not once in this entire report. Senator Byrd (D), Senator Rockefeller (D) will be disappointed.

This must have been fun. Did they actually get paid to write this report? How do I get in on this racket?

Seriously, an abrupt global cooling process is a possible event (it has happened before), so somebody should be thinking about it. But perhaps the more significant message of this DoD report from the administration's point of view could be the following reiteration of a fairly well-regarded outlook on the regional effects of global warming:

"Climatically, the gradual change view of the future assumes that agriculture will continue to thrive and growing seasons will lengthen. Northern Europe, Russia, and North America will prosper agriculturally while southern Europe, Africa, and Central and South America will suffer from increased dryness, heat, water shortages, and reduced production. Overall, global food production under many typical climate scenarios increases."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Blogosphere Is Not a Good Place for the Fainthearted, the Thin of Skin; as TIME Swampland Blogger Jay Carney Shows Us

In this post, Jay Carney, a blogger for a TIME website, suggested that President Bush in his State of the Union address would copy Clinton, who "[i]n late 1994 and early 1995…was in free fall." That is, according to leaked previews, Mr. Bush would not "spend much time tonight [Jan. 23rd] talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror. Instead, he'll put forward what for him will be progressive and bold policy proposals on health care, the environment and immigration reform." This tactic was based on the premise that "Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them."

Unfortunately, President Clinton's numbers were well above the 40s by the time 1994 rolled around, and in the high fifties during the darkest days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which he also refers to. Moreover, the improvement in the economy, which I assume was the unstated "distraction" behind the purported poll numbers, was behind the improvement in Mr. Clinton's fortunes. In addition, he made an unfortunate, if (in that particular State of the Union speech context) inconsequential, error, in forgetting that it was the Vice President (Al Gore), not the Majority Leader (Robert Dole), who was the President of the Senate.

The comments begin with predictable comments unfavorable to Mr. Bush. But some readers wrote in to point to Mr. Carney's mistakes, in kind and, more often than not, not so kind words. Moreover, many of the subsequent comments turned into accusations against Mr. Carney not only of incompetence, but also of dissing Clinton to help the Bush adminstration. The two threads of thought, that is Mr. Carney's errors and Mr. Bush's sins, had bled into each other in the minds of many of the subsequent posters.

Now Mr. Carney never made any claims that he himself believed that the Iraq War was another one of those "enormous distractions". In fact, at the end of his post, he states that Mr. Bush's "plight is so dire, and his fate so inextricably tied to [the Iraq] issue, that no matter what he proposes tonight, he is unlikely to lighten the public's sour mood, about him or the state of the union he governs." So, what he did was, he thanked the people, particularly the ones who did so in a civil manner, to point out his errors and, and that he regretted the fact that his errors blinded so many Clinton fans to the fact that he did not believe that the Bush administration's analogy worked and that he thus concluded that the ploy would not work. Not.

In fact, with an aptitude for hole-digging propensity that only a true Keynesian (or fellow journalist, let's fact it) could love, he lambasted (this word never fails to conjure an image of a whole lamb, turning slowly on a pit while someone slathers gooey BBQ sauce on it; remind me not to fact check, lest I spoil this delectable image) his critics as " the left…full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land". Truthy, but as for the points that the more sober commentators raised, all he has to say is that "[o]ne (italics mine) commenter was correct in noting that when Clinton delivered his 1995 State of the Union, his approval ratings were not 'mired in the 30s' but had risen into the 40s. What is true, however, is that Clinton's first-term approval rating did drop into the 30s, with a low of 37% in June 1993. And his disapproval rose to 54% in September 1994 as he headed into the mid-terms that delivered the GOP the House and Senate." But that was clearly not what he was saying in his original post. So, instead of graciously acknowledging his misstatements, apologizing and then and only then going on to addressing the bloggers who failed to read his entire comment and attacked him personally (it is important to note that not a few of the negative comments, in criticizing Mr. Bush, ignore Mr. Carney completely), he chooses to spin his comment without acknowledging the fact, then lump his critics and Mr. Bush's together and attack them en masse. This is not a good way to endear himself to his more thoughtful readers.

I have no idea how Mr. Carney will ultimately wind up handling this. Most mainstream journalists are not used to being the subject of the story. They have notoriously thin skins. (For an example of collective loss of nerve, google "white house correspondents association rich little stephen colbert"; for institutional failure, see Kansai TV hiding from the rest of the Japanese media by faxing it in, a point which the English Yomiuri does not mention.)

How about this blog? Unfortunately, I do not have as many readers as Mr. Carney. Even less fortunately, I am not being paid to blog. But these circumstances surely conspire to shelter me from much public embarrassment, as well as responsibility.

Speaking of being paid, does anyone want to pay me to do that long-awaited book review on Shinzo Abe's "Utsukushii Kuni (Beautiful Country)"?

Just sayin'; 's all.

In the Choice for the Lesser of Two Banalities, the Ruling Coalition Has the Upper Hand

This Asahi op-ed by Tetsuya Watanabe calls down a pox on both houses, while laying an MIA charge against the DPJ. He claims that "Sonomanma Higashi's victory in the Miyazaki gubernatorial race Sunday could symbolize a new voter trend--and bad news for both the ruling and opposition parties". I'll use it as a prop, since it is a prototypical JMSM response. And there is much truth in what he says. Though I wonder how Tetsuya Watanabe would explain the Wakayama Prefecture gubernatorial, where the LDP candidate ran virtually unopposed. Or the other two candidates who walked into governor's mansions after the Sunday elections. But I digress.

Mr. Watanabe says that independents are being disillusioned by the two major parties. But is that really bad news for the ruling coalition in July? The Upper House election is a party affair. A small number of well-known, true independents (as opposed to those who do so only out of convenience) may conceivably be elected. But that is a far cry from a gubernatorial or mayoral election, where by definition the winner takes all. Come July, there will be few if any Sonomanmas to turn to.

So, will the voters turn to the Communists? The Socialists? And will anyone take the Kokumin Shinto seriously, a party whose only significant message seems to be that they will caucus with the higher bidder? Luckily (or not, depending on your perspective) for Japanese voters, voting is optional. And that will help the LDP, but most of all Komeito, whose supporters neither rain nor sleet nor political scandals will deter.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Vote: Waseda University Maintains Stranglehold on Comedy and Politics Combo

Someone asked me why I am not blogging on Sonomanma Higashi (excuse me, Toshio Higashikokubaru) and his victory in the Miyazaki Prefecture gubernatorial race.

Okay then, here goes nothing…

The LDP, with support from independents, managed to work both the win-loss ends of the [three (Jan. 23 reedit)] gubernatorials. The DPJ was mostly MIA. If it wants to be taken seriously and not just be a poor man's LDP/rich man's Shakaito, they should forget about July and focus on building a party organization. Figure out a way to get volunteers to make a long-term commitment of some of their time and, hopefully, money. And go out there and do it.

But seriously, Tetsuji Mochinaga became the first ex-METI official to lose a gubernatorial race. Word. Toshio Higashikokubaru lapped him and then some (with a little help form the other conservative candidate), maintaining a perfect record for comedians. That's right, folks, comedians are now hitting three for three: Yukio Aoshima (Tokyo, 1994-99), Knock Yokoyama (Osaka, 1995-2000), and now Mr. Higashikokubaru.

Some of you will claim that Mr. Aoshima was a radio and TV writer. True. But the Japanese public knew him better as a performer in his own right on the immensely popular "Shabondama Holiday" (think Lawrence Welk meets Ed Sullivan meets SNL) and as the nasty old woman in "Ijiwaru Baasan (Nasty Old Woman)", an immensely popular situation comedy of the sixties, seventies and eighties. (Those are Lucy Ricardo numbers. BTW, did you know that The Locomotion was a No. 1 US hit in the sixties, seventies and eighties? Get well soon, Kylie!)

Mr. Higashikokubaru and Mr. Aoshima have another thing in common: they both went to Waseda University. In fact, Waseda has a well-earned reputation as a prime source of comedians, comedy writers and humorists, as well as politicians. (Keio is famous for its New York restaurateur alumni.) And some have done both. Akiyuki Nosaka and Chinpei Nozue, started out as a stand-up comic, manzai duo, Waseda Rakudai (flunked) and Chutai (dropped out), before going on to become successful writers and serving in the Diet.

Mr. Higashikokubaru (this is about as painful to type as Ahmadinejad, though easier to pronounce) adds a new twist, since he went to Waseda after a successful career as a comedian.

Good luck... oh, what the heck... Mr. Higashi.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Carried Away by the Natto Craze

What started out as a brief piece about "The Japanese Are Funny" stories that foreign correspondents resort to from time to time is beginning to spawn a JMSM story. I'm not committing myself to doing it, but I have collected the relevant online articles, just in case. In the meantime, someone needs to get a life.

As of now (Jan. 21, 1605), Mainichi has nine fake natto diet articles on its website. It is piling it on.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"The Japanese Are Funny" Journalism

The latest installment of "The Japanese Are Funny" journalism, a riff on the natto diet mania, has been superceded on the same day by a Japanese language story in the Asahi that shows that the data that were used on the Kansai TV program to support the claims for the natto diet was completely false, conjured out of thin air. There also are no data to support the contention that the fact that TV Asahi happens to belong to the same media group as Asahi the newspaper and that Kansai TV belongs to the Fuji-Sankei Group, which publishes among other things Sankei Shinbun (the only major daily that has dispensed with the evening edition), has anything to do with the fact that the news was breached in the Asahi and not the Sankei.

Competition: works every time. Makes it hard to maintain cartels, except where institutional support is available.

PS: Sankei Sports did write up the bad news. As has Mainichi. And Kansai TV has issued a real, honest-to-goodness apology.

PPS: Apology to Fuji-Sankei Group: In fact, Sankei did report the matter on its website yesterday, after Kansai TV made its public apology. I am sorry, folks, though I do hope that you have more in the hardcopy version than a brief summary of the facts, because the other websites are doing much more. The Asahi website now carries four separate articles on the issue. The Yomiuri site carries three articles, two of which are summaries of the hard copy version. (One of the two stories in the hard copy Yomiuri has two sidebars.) Mainichi has four independent articles on the issue. Yomiuri and Mainichi also offer an indictment of sorts of the entire TV industry, i.e. cost-cutting pressures and lack of controls that led to this incident. Mainichi digs into the background of the offending indpendent production company to unearth similar deception behavior two years ago working for TV Tokyo. Everyone except Sankei makes it clear that Kansai TV belongs to the national Fuji-Sankei network and that the program was broadcast on that network.

Mainichi, incidentally, has the weakeset ties to the TV industries among the major dailies. (Jan. 21, 15:14)

Speaking of “The Japanese Are Funny" journalism, TIME weighs in on the butler café. The article identifies their clientele as otome, which it identifies as the feminine analog of the masculine (actually more gender-free; but I quibble) otaku. But why does the article leave out the fourth dimension of this neck of the cultural woods? It certainly would have given the article more depth.

Anthony Faiola weighed in a week ago with a "Funny" cum "Charisma-Man", trans-genre piece on US stars slumming in Japanese ads. I'll leave that for another day though. The problem here is chronological, and will require some 'splainin'. On a date to be announced.

A source says that Mr. Faiola's problem is that Norimitsu Ohnishi has more assistants and knows the language. Is that right?

So I guess my question is, why don't they just point you to this, and this?

"Doherty from Mamas and Papas Dies"

"Michelle Phillips is the only surviving member of the Mamas and the Papas."

Does anybody else feel old too?

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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

To the Defense, of Sorts, of the Hapless Dr. Watson Re Hiranuma Cerebral Infarction

Dear Shirley (or Joseph, as I used to know you in our years of innocence),

It is good to see that you are up and about after all these years. But what is this recent obsession with that poor sidekick of yours? Is he even still alive? Why, if I didn't know you for the nerveless sleuth that you are, I would have to say that he has struck a raw nerve with you.

Besides, you misunderstand him completely. He has never claimed that the JMSM never manipulates the news. As I understand it, he was merely arguing that there was another, more than plausible reason for a certain case to be followed by the MSM in a certain way, that the origins of the information and the intent of the first journalist to go after it was now trivial, and that there was a very easy, if time-consuming, way to go through the records to see if there was any initial manipulation. The Yomiuri has, in fact, sifted through all the records, asked questions, as I had insisted, and has used the results in its Jan. 17 morning edition. (One of the articles is available on its website in condensed form. You may wish to claim the omission of Shizuka (no pun intended) Kamei as proof of manipulation. Feel free to argue this matter with Dr. Watson.) As an aside, Ichiro Ozawa's case did not fit the original narrative, but may turn out to be very damaging to the DPJ.

Now as for hiding illnesses, poor Watson, as a practicing medical doctor, would be the first to remind you that this is a common phenomenon in Japan. Public figures are allowed wide leeway in deciding how much of their physical condition to disclose. As I remember, there was next to nothing in the JMSM media about the deteriorating health of Shintaro Abe or Michio Watanabe. More recently, the Japanese public found out that Kaoru Yosano had taken ill only when he decided to finally take leave from the LDP Tax Council chairmanship. Why the secrecy?

Part of the reason is that custom dies hard; remember, until recently, most Japanese had been shielded from their own terminal illnesses. Prime Minister Ikeda, for example, reportedly never was told that he had cancer. And yes, all this would not be possible without some sense of community between the politicians and the media.

Call this manipulation if you will. After all, a wholesale exemption on public disclosure is being afforded to politicians and other public figures. In that respect, it is the same thing as excusing US politicians from disclosure of their sexual activities (unto death, as Nelson Rockefeller discovered, or would have discovered if there is an afterlife) used to be, until Gary Hart blew a hole in the façade, and subsequent changes in US morals in the public sphere rendered the question trivial (unless the sexual activity is of the sort your specific constituency frowns upon).

Is this state of affairs re medical conditions desirable? No. The physical health of a leading political figure is as much a concern of an informed public as the sate of his moral fiber. Will it last forever? Unlikely. There is too much information floating around within easy reach of the non-MSM to ignore. It is instructive that the Hiranuma story had been breached by two tabloids the day before the major dailies reported on it. I assume that the tabloids got their news off some other news source, since it is improbable that two would simultaneously come across the same front-page scoop. (Similar, yet utterly unlike, the way that TIME and Newsweek used to mysteriously come up with simultaneous, say, Michael Jackson, cover feature stories that had no immediate reason to be there, except that the other magazine was carrying it as well.)

But to put the Hiranuma story up as proof that the JMSM often reflects specific policy agendas, personal feelings and the like (which I am sure happens) and moreover that some sinister force have effected to release information concerning office expenses of certain politicians following a preordained scenario is not worthy of your lofty intellect, inferior as it is to that of your dear brothers, natal and adopted. Surely (again no pun intended), you can, you do, do better than that.

I had intended to allow that fellow to make the case himself. But you and I know, don't we, that he could not write a simple story unless it were dictated to him? Thus, I have taken pity on poor old Watson, and undertake a little family chat with my little brother, as it were. Have I made myself clear?

A final word of caution: take care; after all, you are no longer young, and this is the 21 Century. The time has come, finally, to lay down that pipe of yours. If not for your health, then at least take heed; opium is illegal where you live, so you could be arrested, imprisoned, then summarily deported. And criminal elements there have every reason to inform on you to get you out of the way. Make no mistake; I shall look you up one of these days to see that you have taken this friendly advice from your brother and steadfast friend. And if you do return to London, I have a just the job for you in the family firm. In the meantime, I am

Yours sincerely,

New UN Secretary-General Opposes Permanent Membership for Japan. I Try to Tell Asahi, the Right, How to Follow Up

Ban Ki-moon, the new UN Secretary-General met President Bush for the first time yesterday (Jan. 16) and the main dailies are reporting it on their websites (details to follow in the evening edition?) The Asahi, however, is the only newspaper to tie the event to Japan. Of sorts. You see, the Asahi followed Mr. Ban to the CSIS, where he, according to the news report, showed a cautious attitude towards the bid on the part of Japan and other states to become permanent members of the UN Security Council, saying: "I understand their desires quite well, but other nations hope to make the UNSC more representative and democratic, rather than to give permanent seats to a small number of states". (My translation. You can see/hear the event on the CSIS portal, and transcripts should be soon available.)

I expect the Japanese right-wing media to weigh in on this. I won't mention names, but I suspect the story will be that we should have opposed the guy when we could, and that they told you so. I say, forget about it. Once the UNSC permanent members decided he would be okay, given the circumstances, there would have been no way to stop him. Taro Aso could be UNSG, and he would not be able to anything that the US didn't want to happen, and the US would not be able to do anything that China and Russia would not let happen. There may be occasions on which Mr. Ban may be able to exercise his charm and powers of moral suasion to alter the course of events, but at the end of the day, he is just another bureaucrat, albeit an extremely high profile one. Rather, satisfy yourself with this thought: the UNSG has always come, always will, from states of inconsequence. Canada has a reputation for the caliber of its international civil servants (in fact, I could tell you a story… but I digress), but it dares not risk its seat at the table with the G-7, G-8, in order to make a bid for the big prize. No, South Korea's success, and the joy that broke out there at Mr. Ban's selection, is an admission that this is as good as it is going to get for them. Let them have their day in the sun. Be satisfied with fact that South Korea has admitted that they are not in the same league with us. (Now unification under a single, democratic regime would change the equation, but that remains hidden in the shrouds of future history.)

Why Asahi chose to carry the UNSC-related comment I do not know. But I would not be surprised to see an editorial, or op-ed of sorts, there; stating that Japanese insensitivity towards the Koreas is the reason for Mr. Ban coming out against Japan. Hello (actually, I'm being forced to say this to my thumb, since the people at Asahi, to the best of my knowledge, do not read my blog), South Korea is one of the "other nations". Italy opposes Germany, Pakistan opposes India, Argentina and Mexico oppose Brazil, and a big reason why our bid failed was because the Africans (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa…?) could not get their act together. Think, derby match. And no amount of sucking up to the UNSG would change that, even if he/she happened to hail from the Newly Independent State of Shimane.

Having said this, a word of caution: This is not the first time he has staked out a position at odds with Kofi Anan, or at least where his predecessor remained uncommitted. He has shown understanding for the death penalty (South Korea, like Japan, has the death penalty), stated that we would like to visit North Korea as the Secretary-General (I'm sure the Bush adminstration disabused him of that thought, so he's probably waiting for a Bill Richardson to be in the White House or its environs in 2009 and beyond), and now he's come out against permanent membership for Japan (a no-no for South Korea). These are all bits and peices of the South Korean agenda.

I believe that this is something to keep an eye on. After all, he is human; and he has friends and family in South Korea, and, unlike Mr. Anan, will surely settle in his home country when he retires. I trust the Japanese government will keep track, and interject when it sees the UNSG going in a direction against Japanese interests, as the authorities (not necessarily I) perceive them to be. But that would be expected of our government vis-à-vis any Secretary-General.

(Sidebar: I have problems with words like "representative" and "democratic" being indiscriminately and unqualifiedly used in justifying this or that position concerning the management of relations between sovereign states. I am tempted to say that such usage is less than useless; if it were only limited to these two words. For, to be consistent, I would have to call for the rewriting of a very significant portion, perhaps even the majority, of what passes for public discourse today, including my own, I fear. But I digress.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Turning and Turning in the Widening Gyre: Let's Face It, Politics Costs Money

The political expenses controversy continues to spread beyond the Office Expenses 6 to implicate more politicians, this time the Deputy Speaker of the House of Councilors and DPJ faithful Yoshikazu Tsunoda. Apparently, his electoral campaign headquarters had neglected to report \25.2M in political contribution receipts.

Now neither the I'm-not-going-to-give-you-the-details-because-the-law-says-I-don't-have-to from Mr. Matsuoka nor the hither-and-yonder meanderings from Mr. Ibuki, the cabinet ministers who have been sucked in to the scandal, are very convincing, and the controversies surrounding them promise to linger well into the Diet session and beyond. Thus, I understand that it is tempting to suggest that there are sinister forces behind the appearance of the names of DPJ worthies like Mr. Tsunoda, Mr. Ogawa and Mr. Matsumoto. But it would be absurd to think that the JMSM would not go to the publicly available records and do what any self-respecting journalist would do under the circumstances. So why not go with the simple explanation? Now, someone may have tipped off some reporter, somewhere, sometime. But that is trivial, now that the wolf packs are on the loose.

If I were the DPJ, I would conduct a through investigation of its finances, then go all in with a disclosure hand when the Diet session begins, regardless of the consequences to individual politicians. That includes Mr. Ozawa. The DPJ cannot be seen as a co-conspirator in a cover up. It may suffer casualties of its own, but it needs to seize this issue. The LDP has the money; the DPJ should not lose the debate.

Ultimately though, the public must recognize that politics is expensive. We must bring it aboveboard.

Now It's Mr. Ozawa's Turn to Take the Heat: He'd Better Have a Good Explanation for Building a \23M Dorm on \340M, 440㎡ Land for His Aide

Mr. Ozawa, on the second day of the DPJ national convention (he seemed to have skipped the first day), told the party faithful that he would clarify the matter when he conducts the party leader questioning of the prime minister in the upcoming Diet session. And this, according to the Yomiuri, is what he said:

"It is regrettable that this is being seen in the same vein as the matters that are being debated (such as the office expenses of the cabinet members). I will stand for the party leader questioning of the prime minister at the ordinary session of the Diet and clarify matters." (07.01.16; my translation)

(Note: The Asahi website is not too illuminating, either. His words there essentially boil down to; don't worry, there are no false reports.)

Hello, you are supposed to be taking the prime minister to task at the party leader questioning, not the other way around. You are the prosecutor, the DPJ advocate; not the attorney for the defense.

Moreover, if you don't want people to think the JPD is just another protest vote party, you also want to promote a distinct, attractive DPJ agenda. The last thing you want to do is to use your allotted time to defend your political finances. That is why you want to have the matter laid to rest now. Surely you can do that; can't you, Mr. Ozawa?

My guess is that Mr. Ozawa built his top aide a decidedly middle-class house on a (for urban Tokyo Japan) vast, decidedly upper-class tract of land, to use as long as he continued to serve him. This is likely no more than an effort to reward a long-serving, faithful, top aide. An admirable sentiment. I would be tempted to do Mr. Ozawa's every bidding too, if I could live, rent-free, on a 440 square meter tract of land smack dab in the middle of Tokyo. (Even if the house itself, sadly, seems to be cheaper than even mine.)

Without incurring tax consequences, that is. Because if the tax authorities ever decide to look into the matter, the value of the imputed income to the aide above what would be considered reasonable as a non-taxable expense for the Ozawa office could be quite a tidy sum. It will not be a comfortable feeling to have the tax authorities hovering over him all the while, when he makes his pitch to the public.

Moreover, the house itself should be covering no more than a third of the land even if it were built as a one-story house; in every which way an extravagant luxury in that neighborhood. This should have political repercussions on the DPJ's efforts to portray the LDP as an uncaring, neo-Darwinist enemy of the poor and downtrodden.

Good thing his buddies are standing behind him).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Disclosure: Mssrs. Matsumoto and Ibuki Show Us How, How Not, to Do It

Takeaki Matsumoto, the head of the DPJ Policy Research Council, shows you how to do it. He gave an itemized account of the "expenses", so that should be that. Fumiaki Ibuki, on the other hand, hasn't been as forthcoming, but that has not stopped "sources", including his aides, from holding out tidbits as the Asahi keeps combing public records and talking to them, then writing it up. That does not look like a good way to deal with it. Is it foolishness? Or is it a rock and hard place dilemma?

Cutting losses, in this case by resigning, is another option, but Fujiya management shows you how difficult that is. Fujiya, Yukijirushi; more or less same business, exactly the same, out-of-date milk, possibly the same results. What's even more amazing about this was that the problem had come to light as part of a look-over by outside consultants to look around and tell it what to do.

Of course if none of this is illegal, the LDP leadership may decide that the slow hemorrhage of credibility is preferable to a double amputation on the heels of the Sada resignation, and hope that the media will tire of the issue and go away. Katsutoshi Matsuoka has his share of flaws, but he's learned his craft well under Muneo Suzuki, and will not go gently into the night.

This is a real shame for the prime minister, who has been making further headway with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts in Sebu.

Now that I've Gotten The Donald to Agree with Me (on Condoleezza Rice!), Do You Think He'll Give Me a Job?

I've wondered aloud to everyone who'll listen that it's truly odd that Condoleezza Rice, who is tighter with George Bush than Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Laura Bush put together, has received little criticism in the media for her role in the War on Terror/Iraq as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. I've attributed that to her extremely high likeability.

But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Donald Trump was listening to me

Money quote: I think she's a very nice woman, but I don't want a nice woman. I want someone that's not necessarily nice.
(Hmm, that explains some other things…)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I Like Bush; Always Have

I have a confession to make: I like George W. Bush, always have.

Mr. Bush is a good man. He is faithful to his wife, and devoted to his children, his family. His daughters have often taken beatings from the tabloids and not so tabloid Slate, but they have turned out all right. In fact, even the Slate piece inadvertently underscores the rarely acknowledged point that they have shown at least as much, if not far more, inclination towards public service than better regarded presidential offspring. He has had issues with his dad; but then, who hasn't?

He is also good to his friends, from the 'hood, as it were. He still hangs out with his buddies from the early days, and they have tended to stick with him too. No celebrity chaser he. All that is a good sign. And he does not seem to see color, if his cabinet choices are any indication.

He is a born-again Christian. But although I am not a religious person myself, I won't hold his religiosity against him. Thank God he is not a follower of one of those natty, apocalyptic, money-grubbing televangelists. Despite his beliefs, or perhaps because of them, he has one of the gayest administrations that I am aware of. Strong beliefs, and an accepting outlook: I like that.

All in all, a family man in good standing, commanding the allegiance of long-standing friends, God-loving, yet inclusive: what more can you ask for in a next-door neighbor?

On the other hand, Americans, would you want your next-door neighbor to be president? Because that is what you, Americans, chose, and that is what he remains. The unchanging, unchangeable, Somebody-up-there-helped-me-win-this-game America; that is the one that took you to Iraq, and looks to keep you there.

I also like Richard M. Nixon. But that's another story.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Language Qs: Am I Imagining Things; or Has Most Lost Its Mostiness?

On January 13, 2007, the CNN website (last update 0350 GMT) carried the headline Most Americans 'oppose Bush plan' as one of its top stories. The article itself has a somewhat different headline, i.e. Poll: Two-thirds of Americans oppose more troops in Iraq. And when you click through to the actual poll results, you find that the score is 66% to 33%, with what seems to be an unusually low 3% without an opinion. That's 2 to 1, an overwhelming majority, sure, but "most"?

I am not accusing CNN of doing what the Fox News fans accuse them of doing. In fact, this particular usage has become quite common. The word "most" seems to have lost what I think is its orginal meaning, and is being used in cases where there seem to be nothing more than clear majorities.

So, when and how did this happen? Is this part of a larger phenomenon? How much do you think is "most"? Or am I just imagining things?

(Note: Two points of interest to me are:
1) The more specific it gets, the more it becomes evident that there is still a sizeable minority after all this that believes that sending in 21,500 more troops is a good idea.
2) The people who favor Mr. Bush's plan are relatively evenly divided between those who "moderately favor" (13%) and "strongly oppose" (19%), but the antis "mostly" (50% to 13%) oppose it strongly. In other words, the support is lukewarm, while the opposition is adamant. This should be instructive in gauging public response in the US to any further deterioration in the situation on the ground, and ultimately voter behavior in 2008.

Friday, January 12, 2007

From Slate, Yakuza Photos

Here are some photos of yakuza from the late 1990s. The caption says "Members of the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, are some of the country’s top corporate earners ". Maybe so, but the photos tell a story of at best a lower middle class existence for the rank and file, reminding you of the story about "Why ... Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms". They "model their appearance on American gangsters of the 1950s" because, frankly, US movies depict the American gangsters of the 50s. Their affectation is secondhand, evoking images of Palestinian rap groups.

For the more glamorous and lurid side of the yakuza world in the post-war years, turn to Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld.

Incidentally, George Abe, the "celebrity writer" in a couple of the photos, is one of two yakuzas who became genuine celebrities, the other being Noboru Ando. Of course all entertainers had to make nice with the local yakuzas, since there was no way they would be able to put on their shows at the local night club, cabaret, or theaters near you without their "help". Then there's the hardcore por… but I digress.

James Auer Claims Japanese Soldiers in Iraq Quid Pro Quo for US Help on North Korea

James Auer, former US Navy intel officer and Director of the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, weighed in on Japan's security issues in the print version of the Jan. 12 Yomiuri. Ranging far and wide, his interview happened to touch on a question that is being completely overlooked in the great debate in Japan: What the heck is Japan sticking with the US in Iraq now? After all, we're still providing logistics support.

And this is what Jim, in his inimitable bluntness, had to say:

… But Mr. Koizumi understood the threat of North Korea correctly, and sent the Self-Defense Land Forces to Iraq in order to ensure that the United States would assist Japan on the North Korean issue. He was very wise.

Many people here claimed at the time that the troops were just a cover for the expansionist ambitions of right-wing militants. Swallowing the China/South Korea trope, they failed to see Prime Minister Koizumi as a member of the post-war, Nevermore Generation. Now, Mr. Koizumi is gone, only to be replaced by his ideological opposite, the conservative Shinzo Abe. Yet China issues nary a peep, unless talk touches third-rail Taiwan. And President Roh has more urgent matters to tend to.

Those people must be horrified at the thought of Mr. Abe heeding Mr. Auer's following thoughts:

…China says it "can't control North Korea", but that's unbelievable. Prime Minister Abe should use the "Japan card". He should say to China, "You don't want Japan to have nuclear weapons, do you? Me too. But as long as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, the debate over possession of nuclear weapons in Japan will continue. So let's stop North Korea's nuclear program together." The US will gladly support this strategy.

He does talk to the prime minister.

I doubt that Mr. Abe will come right out and say so, but, rest assured, that is what is on our collective minds. If North Korea ever acquires a deliverable WMD system, all bets are off. That will make it easier for Taiwan too. And Beijing surely knows.

My Apologies to the Education Rebuilding Council/Cabinet Office

The summary for the 12.21 session of the Education Rebuilding Council has finally come out. So much for my misgivings. And it beats C-Span. These people are taking it seriously. I'm looking forward to the extended, director's cut.

Prime Minister Abe has a few words at the end. I report. You decide.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

U.S. Warns about Canadian Spy Coins

Yahoo has kindly inserted an image of a Canadian spy coin so that it can be identified easily.

Mr. Abe Looking Bad? Take the Easy Way Out, and Blame the Media

MTC wonders why "scandals involving shady political fund reports" are surfacing now, and thinks maybe someone has it in for the prime minister. I, as usual, blame it on the media. But it's still bad for the incumbent.

A Word of Appreciation for George W. Bush

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."

Thank you, Mr. Bush, for accepting responsibility for my mistakes. And they have been legion. So could you, sir, please tell me where to send the bill?

Otherwise, sir, you continue to be remarkably consistent.

That is all I have to say, sir.

The Cabinet Office Is Not Forthcoming on the Education Rebuilding Council

Three weeks since the Education Rebuilding Council last met, and they have yet to release even a summary of the proceedings on the Cabinet Office website. I assume that a lot of nemawashi is going on in anticipation of the release of the first Council report later this month, and I can understand the desire to keep the issue out of the media for the time being. But what will the Council members say when the report does come out?

Shinzo Abe is not the first Japanese prime minister to try his hand at Kantei-driven governance, and it looks more and more likely that it will turn out to be yet another noble experiment, but not much more.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Komeito Leader Is Go-Between for Mr. Abe and Mr. Hu

Akihiro Ohta, the head of Komeito, has been visiting Beijing, and is getting the royal treatment, including a 45-minute's face time with Hu Jintao. Moreover, Mr. Hu accepted Prime Minister Abe's invitation to visit Japan that Ohta was carrying (this also happens to be a political convention that comes in handy when heads of state receive non-heads of state political figures), together with some very warm words for the Japan-China bilateral relationship. Also significant is the fact that the Komeito, the all-dove, junior member of the ruling coalition, served as the go-between, and that Mr. Hu did not respond to the suggestion that he visit as early as this June. Wen Jiabao is coming in April (as reconfirmed by State Council member (senior minister rank) Tang Jiaxuan to Mr. Ohta), and we will continue to be on notice after that.

Add to this the sharp Chinese response to news reports about Japan-US collaboration talks on Taiwan, brought to you courtesy of Shisaku and their highly measured response to the inauguration of the Ministry of Defense (did you notice that more than meets the casual eye has been changed in the English Translation?), and you get the picture: don't disturb our constituency with Yasukuni, don't mess with Taiwan; otherwise, we can be on the same page.

(Sidebar: Unfortunately for Mr. Abe (and Mr. Ohta of course), this bit of good news was pushed off the front page of the Yomiuri by this, which, unlike this and this, but somewhat like this, is very likely to linger.)

Anyway, here is my translation of the summary of the talks, as it appeared in the Yomiuri:

(Japan-China Relations)
Ohta: About 100 days have gone by since the Abe cabinet was inaugurated, and particularly important was the improvement in Japan-China relations. Prime Minister Abe himself is pleased that his visit to China has been highly regarded. The prime minister is determined to improve relations with China, and desires that you, President Hu, visit Japan soon. For example, we would be happy if you would come in June.
Hu: Improving and developing the relationship between China and Japan not only benefits the people of our two countries, but also promotes peace, stability and development in Asia and the world as a whole. I will gladly accept the invitation, and wish to visit Japan at a time when it is convenient for both parties.

(North Korea; is something missing in this picture?)
Ohta: The abductees issue is important to Japan. We would like to have the matter taken up in the six-party talks. We would like to request your support. This will dramatically change the sentiment of the Japanese people to China.
Hu: We would like to communicate closely with Japan and play a constructive role. I understand that the Japanese people are concerned over the abductees issue.

A Reminder about Democracy, from Leonard Pitts

I am posting this, from my favorite columnist, because it reminded me of the ultra-rightwing fringe here who would bomb Tanaka (MOFA), torch Koichi Kato's (LDP), just because they don't like what these people stand for.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reply to Ross's Comments on My Assessment of Mr. Abe's Prospects Re Upper House General Election

Ross's arguments are, as usual, very powerful, very convincing. Thus, I'm doing this as a new post mainly to draw the attention of any Dear Bloggers who do not always read the comments. And speaking of comments, I'm going to restart eliminating indiscriminate, drive-by, blogspam. If you see any comments that have been discarded by yours truly, that's what's going on.

Happy New Year, Ross. How were your winter holidays? Were the mistletoe gods kind to you?

As usual, you are convincing. And I confess that I slipped that piece in about the coalition maintaining a majority so matter-of-factly and without any explanation precisely because I hoped that you would rebuke me publicly. But here's my argument:

Shinzo Abe made a spectacular debut with his trip to Beijing and Seoul, but since then has not been able to distinguish himself in the public eye. He has not followed them with further high-profile diplomatic coups, and his domestic achievements have not come to grips with issues in a way that addresses the real concerns of the public. And he seems to be missing in action when party discipline becomes an issue. That is, on a personal basis, an unfair perception; he has a strong sense of personal loyalty as well as a stubborn streak that manifested themselves most clearly when he brought back the Penitent 11 into the LDP fold. (That it was also about the Firm should not cloud the fact that he genuinely wanted to undo what his predecessor had done.)

For better or worse, there is no reason to think that this situation will change between now and, say, July. . He is what he is, and he is neither smart enough nor dumb enough not to do it his way. So, given the daunting numbers, what makes me think that the Abe administration can hold onto its Upper House majority and consequently the Kantei? Three letters: DPJ.

The DPJ is essentially the LDP writ small, the latter's right-wing fringe replaced by left-wing residuals. In fact, I have reason to believe a large number of DPJ politicians would have just as readily stood from the LDP if they had had the chance. Thus, the DPJ has eventually gone along with each major policy initiative from the LDP. If that is too harsh an assessment, let me put it this way: the DPJ has not been able to achieve separation, that is, create the public perception that there is any significant difference between the LDP proposals and whatever thoughts they themselves are eventually able to come up with.

As for party leader, Ichiro Ozawa has been more than Mr. Abe's match in failing to meet false expectations. And he is also what he is, so don't expect him to amend his ways either. (As is Naoto Kan, unfortunately for the DPJ in these circumstances.)

More importantly, the LDP is taking the Upper House general election seriously. Mr. Abe has been able to force one weak incumbent to pull out, and continues to work on a few others. The LDP is taking the selection of the candidates, confirmed and unconfirmed, seriously. The DPJ is also taking its time determining its candidates, but very much for a different reason. I believe they cannot find the horses. Part of it may be just rumor, but the problems they have had and continue to have fielding candidates in local election are telling. Most DPJ Diet members would fit in quite comfortably in the LDP ideological and policy spectrums, first-time candidates even more so. The reluctance to stand means that political aspirants do not see the DPJ as a viable career option in the immediate future. This also exposes the fact that the DPJ still does not have the battle-tested rank-and-file local militias that are the core of any sustained political campaign. Instead, it relies on the "floating voters", the kind of people who vote in inexperienced comedians to governors' mansions and sustains charismatic prime ministers, to swing their way. Nothing that they have done so far, are likely to do, will make this happen. The ex-Socialist Party does not look to be in better shape; the Communist Party is what it is.

As for the other ex-LDP rebels, I confess that I haven't given much thought to them. But it is unlikely that they will matter, unless the coalition ends up with a razor-thin minority. So, if it's about not losing, I would cover my ass with a side bet on a three-way coalition that includes the Watanuki crowd. Sans Mr. Abe, of course. But I think I have a much better than even chance of winning without it.

Mr. Abe does have one big hurdle, though, when the initial report from Education Rebuilding Council comes out later this month. To show you how serious I think the situation is, it's been more than two weeks since feathers flew at the last ERC session, and they haven't even released the summary, let alone the full record, of the proceedings yet. Whatever the contents of the report, it will create some negative publicity, and that should cost the Abe adminstration a couple or percentage points or so in the polls. But the public will not turn to the DPJ for the answers.

So there you have it. Many of the undecideds will sit it out, with nowhere to go, unless something completely unforeseen lights their fire, baby, between now and then. (Say, early summer criminal proceedings against a sitting cabinet minister?) Thus, the superior party and church machines of the coalition will prevail. The coalition will win by not losing.

I agree with you that a foreign policy bump will be very helpful to the coalition's prospects. And I just don't see anything compelling down the line. Nothing good is going to happen on happen on the Korean Peninsula, and Mr. Abe probably wants the Japanese public to keep forgetting that we do provide logistic support to the US in Iraq. And money for other trouble spots in the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine) buys you slightly better photo-ops than the annual face time with the new Sakura Queen. He'll go slow on nuclear sales to India for obvious reasons. But, as you can see, I believe he can win regardless, as long as he keeps avoiding serious errors.

And now, back to work.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mr. Abe Sees Cabinet Members Only. But He Makes Exceptions for Foreign and Security Policies

In principle, bureaucrats do not get face time with Prime Minister Abe unless they are accompanying their respective ministers, or at least one of the other political appointees. One major exception to this rule is career diplomats, with whom Mr. Abe spends a very large amount of time. Defense Ministry bureaucrats also sometimes see him without adult supervision; likewise the Chief Cabinet Intelligence Officer, a career police department official. Compared to these bureaucrats, many ministers do not seem to have many occasions to talk to him beyond the twice-weekly cabinet meetings, where official business is conducted. Is this telling us where his heart is?

Keep an eye on page 2 of the major dailies, which faithfully reports the prime minister's itinerary for the previous day.

Ise, Meiji Okay; But Not Yasukuni

Ise Jingu, Meiji Jingu Okay; But Not Yasukuni Jinja
On January 4th, Prime Minister Abe paid his respects at the Ise Jingu, the shrine of the imperial household. On the 6th, he visited the Meiji Jingu, where the Meiji Emperor and Empress are enshrined. Interestingly, Junichiro Koizumi never visited the Meiji Jingu during his five-year tenure. Of course, nobody knows if or when Mr. Abe is going, and he's not going to tell us either. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, will most likely be visiting Japan in March. The Big Kahuna will be on hold for another year.

In the meantime, the joint history commission has been rolled out, and calm waters prevail over the East China Sea gas fields. (Mssrs. Abe and Aso talked joint development with their counterparts at the November APEC Summit in Hanoi, and that was it). Nary a peep except a Chinese complaint over what Shisaku thinks is a red herring.

Hisahiko Okazaki, Mr. Abe's foreign policy guru, insists that Mr. Abe will go to Yasukuni. I continue to believe that there is a tacit deal. In any case, it's the undecided vote Mr. Abe needs in the Upper House general election later in the year, and mismanagement of external relations is a distraction that he cannot afford. After the election, he will be holding on to a diminished coalition majority, and the Komeito doves will become even more valuable to the LDP. My money is definitely on no Yasukuni visit during the Abe administration, and Hu in Tokyo in 2008.

Speaking of Yasukuni, I hope somebody bothered to snap photos at the exhibits before they changed the captions. No matter where you stand on the issues, the captions themselves had historical value. Not that the changes address Chinese complaints, if I have been informed correctly.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Media Keeping Busy During the Winter Holidays with Mr. Matsuoka's Office's Indiscretion

To say that Toshikatsu Matsuoka, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is not popular with the Japanese bureaucracy is like saying that the New York Yankees does not have many fans in Boston, or that Moktada al-Sadr is unwelcome in Tikrit, or… but you get the idea. So if I were Shisaku, I would be very, very suspicious about the entire MSM somehow getting hold of an "internal document" from the Cabinet Office and impounded by the police that shows Mr. Matsuoka had been edulous investors may have pretended to believe FAC, but the market did not. FAC failed to maintain its payments, and now faces criminal charges and multiple civil lawsuits. If you think that this looks like a fairly typical Ponzi scheme, I won't disagree with you.

FAC, for purposes I can only guess at, also set up “World Business Expert Forum", a "volunteer" NPO that was apparently in the business of holding seminars. Now, WBEF may have been a non-profit organization, but it was not yet, legally speaking, an NPO. And there must have been some problems with the application, filed with the Cabinet Office, or FAC must have been in a mighty hurry, because it secured the services of a Hirohide Uozumi, an LDP Upper House member, to lobby the Cabinet Office on the WBEF's behalf. To show its appreciation for this and/or other services rendered, to demonstrate its unalloyed affection for the Diet member, or because it was plain stupid, it purchased through the Indian Culture Study Association (don't ask) a set of I-Go board and stones for 20,000,000 Yen. (Note: A very good set will set you back maybe 500,000. The very rich may be willing to shell out 2,000,000-300,000,000.)

Thus, last September, when FAC keeled over and the scandal broke, it was mostly about Mr. Uozumi. Mr. Matsuoka was a peripheral figure, who had neglected to record in his mandatory annual political finances report a 1,000,000 Yen donation from FAC (in the form of party ticket purchases). He did manage to steal the show though, because he was a cabinet member, and the first to cause a negative buzz beyond the usual foot-in-mouth nonsense. A clerical error, surely, though; it did not affect his appointment.

But the world turns, and New Year's Day comes along. Now, between December 28, when we knock off work and go out to get drunk, and January 4, when we crawl back to our office or other places of work, nothing much happens to keep reporters busy except accidents, murders and wardrobe malfunctions. And that is when a lot of why-now stuff makes it onto the politics and business pages during that period. Asahi broke this one first, on its website. Despite Mr. Matsuoka's denials at the time, his secretary had in fact contacted the Cabinet Office regarding the WBEF application, and it was clear that Asahi had access to the document itself.

Ministers come and go, and there is no reason to believe that, barring further disclosures, Mr. Matsuoka will go the way of Genichiro Sada. (Among other things, he is made of sterner stuff.) He himself apparently did not contact the Cabinet Office, and there does not seem to be enough evidence to show that illegal pressure was brought to bear on the Cabinet Office. But it is yet another embarrassment for the Abe administration, which, if truth be told, knew that it was not availing itself of the most delectable of political treats when it included Mr. Matsuoka in its ranks.

And now that I've reached the end of this narrative, at least until the DPJ has the chance to take a few hacks at Mssrs. Abe and Matsuoka when the Diet convenes, let me close with Mr. Abe's response, yesterday, during a reportedly lengthy Q&A with by reporters on his new Year's pilgrimage to the Ise Jingu Shrine. Predictably, he answers in his typically fit-for-Diet-Q&A, technically correct and minimalist response mode:

"I was briefed by Minister Matsuoka that he had never exerted influence or requested the Cabinet Office (to do the favor)," Abe said. "The Cabinet Office also gave me a similar report."

A bureaucrat in a political bind gets an E for evasion. But not the decider. Too bad the DPJ… but I digress.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Saddam Snuff Pix Nixed? Too Late.

In an Abe-adminstrationly belated, as well as half-hearted (or –assed, as WS would say), attempt to contain political fallout, the US administration has been putting out word that they opposed the Eid ul-Adha (or eve thereof, depending on where and who you are) execution and sought a delay, and the Iraqi government has been trying to give the impression that an inquiry is being started. I can understand the Shiites overdoing the victory parade; there wasn't much downside to pissing off the Sunnis by dissing Saddam, if only because there isn't much downside left after all that has happened over the past three years and a half. But the US could have taken the Geneva Convention and… oh, I forgot; America doesn't care about the Geneva Convention.

Okay, that was a cheep shot, smearing the whole US of A with the charge of disrespecting international law. I have to admit, though; it is exhilarating to use slanderous generalizations to smear whole nations with whatever pet peeve of the day a body is nursing at any given time. So is that why they do it to us? Or maybe that's the way you get yourself published. But I digress.

Almost two months after the US midterm election, what's truly astonishing is that people aren't astonished that the whole world is still left guessing what George Bush is going to do in Iraq, including Mr. Bush himself. It isn't as if the situation has changed measurably in the last six months, let alone two, except further entrenchment of well-armed, well-funded sectarian and, apparently, intra-Shiite violence. He should have made up his mind a long time ago, at worst no later than the day he fired Donald Rumsfeld. Instead, we are treated to the months-long drip drip drip spectacle of media figures and purportedly inside sources telling us which way he's leaning at any given time, and what the military's take on it is. Talk about "slow children playing", Mr. GHWB.

Maybe we just get used to these things, in the same way that US military casualties have become not much more than a numbers game in the US as well. Here at least, the Bush administration has been remarkably successful.

I had intended to save these thoughts for the two-month anniversary. But I'm guessing lot's of other people will be doing the same that day. And where's the fun in jumping on the bandwagon?

Rant over. Now, I hope to go back to more rational thoughts, hopefully on Japan-related themes.