Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Questions (Only) about the Future of the Liberal Democratic Party; and an Unrelated Notice

With little happening on the domestic front by way of headline-grabbing events and there being only so many ways to say that the economy is tanking, the media have turned its attention to pre-mortems of the LDP as we know it. There’s so much chatter from potential instigators—old-guard liberals Koichi Kato and Taku Yamazaki; pro-market reformists Hidenao Nakagawa, Yuriko Koike, Yasuhisa Shiozaki and Yoshimi Watanabe; and even conservative camel-nose Takeo Hiranuma come to mind—that it’s hard to shake the impression that it’s a matter of when, not whether, it will happen and what form it will take. Specifically, will the beginning of the end come before the Lower House election or after? Will it come as a series of small-bore defections, or one big bang? Will the process annihilate the LDP, or will it leave a smaller but more coherent political force in its wake? Will the realignment bug infect the DPJ, with its even greater potential for fractiousness held in bay only by prospects of the spoils of victory, as well as the rest of the opposition? Most important, What policy decisions will be made in the course of these events—or the lack thereof in the unlikely event that little of import happens—and how will they affect the course of the Japanese economy and its components as well as Japan’s relations with its allies, neighbors and the rest of the world?

So many questions, but no answers and few meaningful thoughts, at least from me. I hope to the find the coming months more informative for this blog. In the meantime, the kind people at Trans-Pacific Radio requests that I post the following message regarding an upcoming real-world blogfest. (Blog-con? Blorgy?) I have some scheduling problems for the Saturday event, but I’ll do my best to be there myself. For those of you who will not be in the Kanto area, wish you could be there. Happy holidays.
A gathering for bloggers and blog enthusiasts is being planned in Tokyo for the evening of January 17, and we would like to extend the invitation to any and all visitors who may wish to come. Bloggers from Observing Japan, Shisaku, Global Talk 21, Mutant Frog, Coming Anarchy, Trans-Pacific Radio and more will be amongst the crowd.

All of us are hoping to meet with other bloggers and readers for an evening of food an drink. If you would like to attend, please send an email to transpacificradio@gmail.com before January 8th. Please let us know how many folks you would like to bring along with you. Although we have a place in mind for the get-together, we will wait to see what the final numbers are like before confirming. We expect that the gathering will be held in either Shibuya or Shinjuku. After we have confirmed the numbers and location, we will send you an email letting you know exactly where and when (probably about 6pm) we will be meeting up on the 17th.

We hope to see you all on the 17th of January!

This is a New One

Yesterday, I received a message from “Gmail Customer Care” stating that my email account would be shut down unless I confirmed my intent to continue to use my account by logging in with information including my password. It got through my spam filter and has an official-looking layout and all so I thought that I’d mention it here. Not that I think anyone who reads my blog would be taken in by such a fishing attempt…

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Japan Provokes North Korea Threat to Resuscitate Yongbyon Reactors? Think Again.

If you read only this Reuters report, you might think that Japan’s refusal to provide heavy fuel oil under the 2007 October 3 Six-Parties Agreement is to blame for North Korea’s threat to stop dismantling its core nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. Not true. All the five powers had decided to suspend fuel shipments after the December Six-Party talks because North Korea would not agree to a verification protocol, as this State Department briefing notes (it is more carefully laid out in this VOA report), although Russia and China appears to have later denied agreeing to such a thing. Reuters obviously failed to factcheck the Kyodo wire report on which the report was based. Besides, the tab for the “Japanese” portion of the fuel aid was going to be picked up by Australia, with the understanding that Japan would shoulder a proportionately larger share of the burden further down the line.

Then why is North Korea blaming Japan weeks after the deed? If you could read the original Kyodo wire, you would find that the whole thing stemmed from a somewhat misleading press briefing that Yoshihiro Kawakami, a hardcore pro-North Korea parliamentarian gave in Beijing after talks with an North Korean Embassy official there. Kawakami essentially did the proverbial “awakening the sleeping baby”. As an enterprising Asahi reporter in Tokyo later found out by asking Kawakami himself, the North Korean official had told him that “it doesn’t matter if (Japan’s share of the assistance) is [coming from] another country, but if it doesn’t happen, (the disabling operation) will be to that extent suspended. ((日本の分の支援は)別の国でも構わないが、できなければ(無能力化作業は)その分だけ中断される。)”

Of course the North Korean official would have badmouthed the official Japanese line; he was talking to a sympathetic Japanese Diet member, who could be expected to follow suit. But even that Kawakami took note of the fact and duly reported that it was the fuel oil (or its equivalent) that counted, not the name on the CARE package. As an aside to this post but a matter very significant for the security situation in the region, I note that the North Korean official indicated a proportional suspension of disablement, not a reversal thereof. This may have been a slip of the tongue by the official (unlikely) or misunderstanding by Kawakami (possible), but if true, it would be signal from the North Korean side that, for the time being, a freeze of the status quo—North Korea retains strategic ambiguity regarding its nuclear capacity but makes no overt move to enhance it—that I predicted more than a year ago is in store, at least until President-Elect Obama has settled in and is ready to deal with the issue, not a sure thing during the first years of his administration.

The New York Times actually gets a lot of the facts right in its December 29 editorial, although it predictably manages to misrepresent the Japanese position on fuel aid. To quote:
Japan was already reneging on its commitment to supply fuel aid, and Australia, which had stepped into the breach, announced that it would withhold its contribution.
This is a gross misrepresentation of the Japanese position and shows a lack of understanding of the October 3 Six-Parties Agreement, which states:
The DPRK and Japan agreed to make “sincere efforts” to normalize their relations.
Although it requires heavy reading between the lines, this essentially meant that Japan would give North Korea upwards of a trillion yen if the latter came clean on the abductees. Like it or not, for Japan, this is part and parcel of its rights and obligations under the Six Parties Agreement. From the Japanese perspective, it is North Korea who has reneged. I know that Americans think that Japan is nuts for insisting on putting the abduction issue on the Six Parties agenda, and I have been critical of the Japanese government and media on this matter. But it’s a whole nuther thing to ignore it as a fact of life like the NYT editorial does.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hilzoy Does a Factcheck on WaPo

Here, on the Washington Monthly blog, Hilzoy takes a look at an article on the legal treatment of incest and rape in Mexico and finds it badly wrong in a way that sensationalizes the issue. Good to know that I am not alone.

They can’t claim simple negligence; it’s Spanish, for God’s sake.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

For Those of You Who Miss WaiWai

A reminder from someone whose name rhymes with Brett Hull (and who wishes he could score half as often) that although WaiWai may be dead, its spirit lives on in the Tokyo Reporter, here. Well, at least a part of it, as the link’s tag, Japanese-smut-portal tells us.

Actually, the online media outlet overall appears to be much broader in scope, somewhere between the pure-tabloid weeklies and the more legitimate, if boring, weekly offerings from the mainstream media. For those of you don’t want to go directly to Japanese-smut-portal, here’s the main Tokyo Reporter portal.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tokyo Confidential Is Officially Dead(?)

Tokyo Confidential, the Japan Times column that “summarizes articles appearing in vernacular tabloids”, had been caught up in the Mainichi’s WaiWai controversy. I argued at the time that Tokyo Confidential and WaiWai were very different animals and that the former would be safe from serious repercussions. So I was surprised to hear from PS that TC had been suspended pending “editorial review”. Much later, last Sunday, PS gave me information from an unimpeachable source stating that the Sunday JT would be carrying a notice that the Tokyo Confidential would be discontinued and that the notice would include an apology to the magazines for their unauthorized use. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the notice on the otherwise content-rich online JT, but I’ll take it on faith that it appeared on the realpaper version.

So much for my powers of prediction.

Now, the original source also claimed that some magazines were willing to let JT use summaries of their material but they attached such onerous conditions that JT decided that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. So my reasoning behind my optimism, that is, the distinction between the two features, still appears to stand. It would be interesting to know just what those conditions were, though, since there must be a level of paraphrasing and even direct quotes that would have enabled JT to clear the fair use threshold, with or without permission. Note that a not insignificant portion of international news in the mainstream dailies is generated by trawling the websites of CNN, NYT, WaPo, ad nauseum.

Here’s something that might shed some light on the weekly magazines’ concerns. You may be aware that Sankei’s Japanese-only website continues to carry many reports that would have belonged solidly in the now-defunct TC or even WaiWai, but nobody to the best of my knowledge is raising a ruckus. But Sankei, the relatively recent online affiliate of MNS, is an anomaly. The Sankei website is uncommonly rich in regard to content, including (from my perspective) verbatim reports of the Prime Minister’s press briefings, official and unofficial, in full. It also stands in stark contrast to the other dailies for its generosity regarding access to its archives. Asahi is at the other extreme, maltreating even its paid subscribers. Tabloids and weeklies guard their contents even more jealously. All this lends credence to the original source’s explanation for the TC’s demise. Still, it would be interesting to know just what those conditions were.

Friday, December 26, 2008

”No Buffer, No Resiliency”? Maybe. But What Does That Have to Do with the Current Economic Crisis?

On his blog for The Atlantic, James Fallows appears to be supporting “the argument that today's lean, hyper-efficient, ‘just in time’ economy was magnifying the effects of today's economic collapse.” Sounds plausible, but how does it stack up against statements from sages such as Alan Greenspan—okay, bad example—suggesting that lean production practices had the effect of smoothing out economic cycles? Let’s give the blame-lean-production theory a closer look, using the auto industry as an example.

Let’s say that a financial crisis leads to a credit crunch that deprives a cash-starved, lean-production auto company of adequate financing to maintain its production, distribution and sales operations. This process is repeated up and down the supply chain, causing overall auto production to plummet. The idea behind Fallows’ argument I suppose is that if this auto company (and its suppliers as well as its distribution chain) had maintained stocks of parts and components, it could continue producing autos even without financing until… until something happened to reduce the growing piles of unshipped autos on the company yard and docks and unsold autos on the dealer lots? And how does allowing that to happen ameliorate, rather than compound, the difficulties for the auto company? The current financial crisis, which has nothing to do with lean production, precipitated an economic downturn, which has nothing to do with lean production, that has lead to a dramatic fall in auto demand, which has nothing to do with lean production. The financial crisis exacerbates the precarious financial situation of the Detroit Three, which is connected to lean production only to the extent that they may have lagged behind their foreign competitors in adopting the practice.

The potential flaw in lean production lies in its logistics, not economics. Supply chains can indeed be disrupted, sometimes with dire consequences. That is why, for example, states and energy producers hold large, expensive, but immediately accessible reserve stocks. That is why manufacturers maintain multiple sources. Both these needs, of course, are balanced against costs. Auto companies are in less of a spot than providers of products whose supplies must not allowed to be disrupted, though they did encounter serious problems when the Niigata Earthquake damaged the production facilities of the major supplier for a vital component. Even then, the industry as a whole coped remarkably well, with what wound up being a mere blip in production—nobody noticed anything unusual at the retail level.

On a final note, the assertion that “’Just-In-Time,’ is based upon ... a wholly unjustified wager that the economy and its supporting systems will always remain stable and never experience disruption” and that it has anything meaningful to do with the current economic difficulties just doesn’t hold water; the whole thing is a straw man that was set up to justify an unfounded argument. Nobody is making such assumptions save the author of the essay for which Fallows uncharacteristically fell without bothering to match it up against reality.


ADD: I urge those of you who usually don’t read the comments to click to see what Janne has to say. I hope that my response is as interesting.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blue, Bluer, Bluest Christmas

Are you one of those sad sacks who got nothing but lumps of coal in your stocking? Well, you can console yourself with the thought that, as bad as it is, you could be worse off. For example, you could be:

Uriel, the alleged gang member;

Cynthia, the misguided investment banker; or, worst of all,

Issac Robert Toussie, the...... real estate developer.

Meli kalikimaka, y'all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sanctioning a General, Hazing, and Other Matters

I placed a comment on the Shisaku blog regarding sanctions (or lack thereof) on General Tamogami, the hazing deaths in a sumo stable and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and other matters. Since it’s a pretty long one and some thought went into writing it, I’ll let it double as my post of the day and spend the rest of the day celebrating the good fortune of being a longtime Celtics fan.

I do have something more to say about Ret. General Tamogami, but it’s fairly trivial. Rather, one of these days, I’ll try to write up my thoughts on an aspect of the intellectual comportment of Prime Minister Aso before it becomes irrelevant. But not today. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TIMETakes on Renewable Energy in Japan, Shows How Mainstream Media Fails Us

From TIME, December 22, by Coco Masters, A Japanese Town That Kicked the Oil Habit:
In resource-poor Japan, which imports 90% of its fuel, Kuzumaki is a marvel of energy self-sufficiency. Signs of the town's comprehensive focus on environmental sustainability are visible from its mountaintops to the pens of the dairy cows that once were the bedrock of local commerce. Atop Mt. Kamisodegawa, the 12 wind turbines, each 305 feet (93 m) tall, have the capacity to convert mountain gusts into 21,000 KW of electricity — more than enough to meet the needs of the town's residents. The excess is sold to neighboring communities.

Of course, the wind doesn't always blow. At Kuzumaki Highland Farm, 200 dairy cows share the power load. Their manure is processed into fertilizer and methane gas, the latter used as fuel for an electrical generator at the town's biomass facility. Nearby, a three-year project sponsored by Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's New Energy Development Organization (NEDO) uses wood chips from larch trees to create gas that powers the farm's milk and cheese operations. The bark of other trees is also made into pellets for heating stoves used throughout the community. A local winery, for instance, has two such stoves, and Kuzumaki pays residents up to 50,000 yen ($490) toward the cost of installing one. All told, clean energy generated 161% of Kuzumaki's electricity last year.
Wait, so is “gas that powers the farm's milk and cheese operations” being used to generate electricity? The “heating stoves” that burn tree-bark pellets? Masters thinks so, or doesn’t know how to write. Further on in the article, Masters is pessimistic about wind, sun, and bio because “[i]nvestment in the town's projects — paid for by local tax revenues, private investors and the prefectural and central governments — totals $50 million. That's about $6,000 per resident, an amount that would pay the electricity bill for an average Tokyo family of four for more than seven years.” If this really meant that a family of four can recoup its investment in seven-eight years, it would make all the sense in the world to invest in these energy sources at once. Besides, that $50 million investment is producing 161% of Kumazaki’s electricity requirements, which provides for 14,500 people, not just the 9,000 Kumazaki residents? And wouldn’t that make the investment more like $3,450, which should be recoverable in four-five years?

Of course it doesn’t work like that, since there are such things as running costs. In fact, these numbers only make sense within a broader range of data that Masters appears to be totally ignorant of. This is symptomatic of the entire article, where Masters belches forth a scattershot array of disconnected factoids that fail to make a meaningful connection to our energy future.

The entire article is nothing more than preconceptions and anecdotes loosely strung together. And that’s par course for the course where mainstream reporting on Japan is concerned. At this rate, all we’ll be left with will be the wire services.

ADD (December 24): In fact, what I thought was Masters’ greatest error appears to be… but let me explain. Note that the $6,000 investment is per resident while the “average Tokyo household” that the it is debited to has four members. So I was off by a factor of four? Stupid me? Not so fast. The $50 million total investment most likely includes non-electricity items (heating stoves?), and the average (2005) has only 2.94 members. So wouldn’t all that make the investment recoverable in twelve-fifteen years, not a great bargain, but not that unreasonable as a long-term investment, particularly given the prospects for energy prices. It all depends on maintenance and other running costs and the life expectancy of the fixed investments. We also don’t know what the economies of scale will look like if these projects could be replicated on an industrial scale or alternatively mass produced. But such speculation only brings up the next question: Why haven’t the authorities been able to give this all an effective nudge by judiciously applied subsidies?

Going through these questions one by one, fact-checking, consulting experts, etc., is what we expect professional journalists to do. Failing to do so sends this article to the limbo where reports that aren’t even wrong are condemned.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

At Least Our Emperor Comes Out to Give the Answers Himself

A Kennedy spokesman drafted seven written answers to the eight questions submitted by Politico to the 51-year-old attorney, author and electoral novice.
Well, as an heirloom celebrity, this blog supposes she’s inherited the right to refer to herself in the third person.

I’llThis blog’ll believe Kotaro Koizumi will be elected to the Lower House if Caroline Kennedy is appointed to the Senate. I think This blog thinks it's a bad idea for Governor Paterson though.


ADD: Incidentally, the TIME headline reads: Caroline Kennedy Takes Questions. No, TIME, she doesn’t.

They Say Every Shark Has Its Suckerfish

Or they should. Anyhow, at least Madoff worked his ass off doing his grift. But this Jacob Merkin? Basically, he passed his clients’ money along to Madoff and skimmed off 1.5% for doing nothing. In fact, he does not appear to be the only one doing so. Amazing how easily trust can be exploited.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Re the Donkey-to-DPJ Suck-Up (Not)

I finally got around to reading the hardcopy Yomiuri, and waddya know, it has a story headlined “U.S. Democratic Party Approaches DPJ”.

A couple of interesting points. First, the Yomiuri does not mention John Kerry at all; instead, James Kelly, President Bush’s political appointee to the East Asia and Pacific portfolio in the State Department. (Before that, he was…president of the Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Honolulu. Big surprise, right?) So, what are the odds that Sankei got the name wrong? Second, and vastly more important, Yomiuri being Yomiuri, the focus of the story is the worry expressed by Nye over the DPJ’s insistence on pulling out of the JMSDF refueling activities in the Indian Ocean and opposition to relocating the US Marines air station in Futenma to Ginowan. To quote:
If [the DPJ] suddenly throws those things at the Obama administration, it will not be received as an intent to maintain the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
The Nye Team (what else to call it, in the absence of Kerry?) came to issue a warning. That, dear readers, is the real story.

DPJ Leaders and National Security Figures from US Democratic Party Hold Talks with an Eye on Administration Transitions

That is the headline for this Sankei report. According to the article, Naoto Kan, Yukio Hatoyama, Katsuya Okada, Seiji Maehara—the DPJ’s four ex-leaders—and other DPJ members met national security figures from the Democratic Party yesterday at a hotel in Tokyo. Hatoyama even held a press conference, where he explained, “We received a valuable piece of indication that it is important to deepen exchanges between the U.S> Democratic Party and the DPJ.”

So who were these Democratic figures? Senator John Kerry okay, Joseph Nye okay, though he did support Hillary Clinton throughout the primaries, John Hamre wait, is this the same John Hamre that Robert Gates, the low-key Republican, brought in to chair the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee when he became Defense Secretary?, and Michael Green hey, he’s a Republican, who served in the Bush White House and most recently worked for John McCain’s presidential campaign

The common thread running through these men, or at least the last three, is the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the determinedly non-partisan go-to think tank for the Washington establishment. Nye is a trustee, Hamre is the president, and Green is the Japan Chair. Green played a significant role in putting together the Nye-Armitage Reports, the first of which served as a bipartisan roadmap for the United States’ strategic relations with Japan under George Bush and Junichiro Koizumi. The same three could have served at least as well as an emissary for John McCain.

So where does Kerry fit into this picture? Well, we are talking about a Democratic administration, and he didn’t get a cabinet post, so why not? Actually, there’s a personal link here. During the 2004 presidential campaign, then-DPJ party leader Okada pointedly visited John Kerry but not Bush, professing a DPJ affinity with its U.S. namesake, with the war in Iraq, always unpopular in Japan, hovering in the background. Which reminds us, doesn’t it, that friend-of-Bush Tom Shieffer’s days are numbered either way?


In fact, a deeper look into the overall picture reveals that the meeting was merely an episode, albeit a significant one, of a greater effort by the unchanging, bipartisan foreign policy and national security establishment in Washington to use the opportunity of a staged event in its bipartisan political program—the U.S.-Japan Strategic Leadership Program for Japanese Diet Members—to reaffirm its interlocutory prerogatives as the United States goes through its own political transition. Indeed the LDP Prime Minister Aso himself delivered the words of greetings at the reception for the event. The meeting with DPJ members held on the side of the event was decidedly not the D-to-D hugfest of Hatoyama’s imagination. (Sankei to my surprise bit—didn’t have time to call Yoshihisa Komori in Washington I suppose—so you could say it worked.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Kimster Appears to Be Well Enough to Make the Rounds. But It’s Probably Not What You Think It Is

I say this picture is for real. Why? Because the picture says he has thermoregulatory problems. And his face looks visibly aged. I am now convinced that he did have a stroke, and that it shows. You may ask, don’t the North Koreans know how to photoshop the Dear Leader? Of course they do.

My guess is, the North Korean regime is preparing its subjects for the inevitable by uploading images of the beginning of the end of Kim Jong I

Is This Michael Lind an Idiot or What? And Some Thoughts on Barack Obama and His Christian Beliefs

The most shocking thing about the alliance between the Southern states and America's friendly but earnest economic rivals to destroy America's most important industry is the fact that so few people find it shocking.
Statements like that give liberalism a bad name. Maybe the Democratic left has gone berserk, what with Barack Obama’s s choice of Rick Warren to replace Jeremiah Wright as his favorite pastor.

Speaking of which, did you know that Obama is personally opposed to same-sex marriage and is uncomfortable with the idea of abortion? As Christians come, he is relatively conservative. He is much closer to George Bush than you imagine. Or is it the other way around?

South Korea’s Opposition Lawmakers Takes Sledgehammer to FTA and the Blog Waxes Nostalgic

Perhaps a sledgehammer is taking it a little bit too far, but it is not beyond living memory in Japan as well that lawmakers would routinely resort to brute force when they didn’t have the numbers. And we Japanese might have similarly adopted the post-dictatorship South Korea’s habit of criminally prosecuting the outgoing president and/or his family, friends and/or acquaintances had our prime ministers not always hailed from the same political party.

A democracy needs time to grow into its mores, manners, customs and morals, it seems. In the meantime, though, I cannot help avoid a sense of envy at the youthful recklessness with which the South Koreans pursue politics as a blood sport. But you know what I think of our current political leadership and their understudies.

Incidentally, Martin Fackler of designer vending machines fame is reporting this story out of Tokyo. Didn’t NYT have a Seoul Bureau? I’m going to start saving their articles that I refer to on my posts, just in case the Grey Lady decides to raise revenue by retreating behind a pay-to-play wall. Or heaven forbid, go six feet under, taking all its servers with it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is It the End of AP as We Know It ?

I’d always had great respect for wire services. In my dealings with the foreign press in the early ‘90s, I found their writers to be civil and free of preconceptions and other agenda that some mainstream correspondents were guilty of in their search for the big score. But now, there’s this, as well as this and other complaints against its reports out of Washington. Yes, it’s the liberals who are complaining, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Does it all boil down to money?

Is AP a Propaganda Machine for the Tamil Tigers?

Krishan Francis is the AP correspondent in Sri Lanka, and had been tagging every dispatch with the following lines:
The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Mos recently, Francis has switched to a new coda:
Authorities have vowed to crush the rebels and end their 25-year campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Now there’s a very good case to be made that the political and social excesses of Sinhalese nationalists gave rise to Tamil dissent that has since mutated into the murderous insurgency that is the Tamil Tigers. But I wonder if Francis believes that the Tamil Tigers have the support of the Tamil public in Sri Lanka. Specifically, does Francis believe that the Tamil Tigers would win a fair in Tamil-majority regions in Sri Lanka? And if Francis believes that, can Francis explain why the Tamil Tigers don’t want a democratic resolution to the decades-long war of attrition? And if Francis can’t, why is AP allowing the use of Francis’s place of employment as a propaganda tool?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Totalitarianism Is Bad for Efficiency and Other Unspeakable Matters

Read this post on the Daily NK. It’s a reminder that as bad as the market economy can be, it could be worse.

Speaking of North Korea, did you know that a tenured academic gave a talk at an institution of education that should have known better than to give it a platform? It claimed that all the problems that the rest of the world has with North Korea would go away if only Japan sincerely apologized for its war crimes. At that point, I walked out, so I don’t know what more it had to say about North Korea—its main claim to fame is its eloquent defense of the Khmer Rouge back in the day, so go figure—but let me know if you were there. On second thought, don’t.

Then there’s the academic who claimed intimate knowledge of Barack Obama, then went on to vent its hate of the President-Elect. The funny thing was, the only facts it could come up with were a rehash of the two books that Obama had written. It also managed to slander the University of Michigan Law School on the occasion. Mind you, this is such a slimy character that it refused to speak on the record, although there was no such notice on the announcement of the event.

These two things are the best argument against tenure. Or allowing academics to speak out beyond their professed area of expertise.

Update on the LDP Dissenters; Plus, Why the DPJ Isn’t Winning

It’s looking increasingly difficult for the LDP to survive the upcoming general election in the Lower House and face the next general election—the next Upper House election takes place in 2010, but may be preceded by yet another Lower House election if the results of the upcoming one does not work out politically—in its current shape. Fifty-something would-be leaders are increasingly vocal in their opposition to the status quo; now, a couple of sexagenarian heavyweights, former top PM candidate Koichi Kato and eponymous faction leader Taku Yamazaki, are openly consorting with the enemy—Post Office exile Shizuka Kamei and DPJ number two/three Naoto Kan—all but endorsing realignment after the Lower House election. Hidenao Nakagawa, Junichiro Koizumi’s party deputy during the latter’s PR days, is another sexagenarian who is bucking the party’s tattered establishment. Other faction leaders—Bunmei Ibuki, Makoto Koga and Nobutaka Machimura—have put aside their differences to rail against the voices of the insurgency, and the still-influential ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has also lent his voice to the orthodoxy with angry calls for one for all and all for one. But

Now, for the sake of argument, a case could be made that the dissent is merely tactical; having distanced themselves from the embarrassing string of feckless PMs, the objectors may be hoping to first use that to their personal advantage in the Lower House election, then sweep in to take the reins of party power in the aftermath. After all, PM Koizumi successfully used that run-against-your-own-party trick on a massive scale in the 2005 Lower House general election. But that’s most unlikely. Either the LDP-New Komeito coalition maintains the majority, which leaves dissenters with the choice between remaining a minority voice in the status quo and breaking out to pursue realignment; or it is relegated to minority status, and bitter recriminations break out both ways. Either way, I think that they must pursue their complaints to their logical conclusion, which leads to the exit.

If there’s anything that gives hope to the ruling coalition, though, it’s the fact that even as the LDP is losing, the DPJ is not winning either. In fact, it’s quite possible that neither the ruling coalition nor the DPJ will be able to muster a majority, leaving the door open to a variety of coalitions, realignments, and other permutations that make the ultimate outcome of the next Lower House election the most difficult one to speculate about since the 1955 political big bang that created the LDP (and the now-almost defunct for all practical purposes Socialist Party).

Incidentally, I’ve tended to blame the unpopularity of the DPJ on the public antipathy towards its mostly unappealing leader Ichiro Ozawa. There’s that, but more fundamentally, it has failed to come up with a plausible alternative in the face of the financial meltdown that has mutated into a full-blown, global economic crisis. The lack of technocratic expertise on the part of Ozawa and his confidantes and the lack of ideological coherence on the part of the party as a whole are making it difficult for them show much flexibility beyond the items in the preprogrammed manifesto-plus or to push the agenda when it does, as in the case of its thoughtful if somewhat wonkish financial-sector stabilization package evidenced here as part of its November economic rescue kit. The DPJ is not creating separation between itself and the shopworn LDP, and it shows in the polls.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Woe Canada!

Dear sister of mine, This.Man.Must.Be.Stopped.
…the last was so awful that after failing out of the N.F.L. he ended up failing out of the Canadian Football League as well.
And to think, I bought his book...

A new Post on My Japanese-Language Blog

On Israel and the Islam World, Japan and China.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dynasty: Across the U.S. Political Spectrum

Glen Greenwald at his righteous best. Of all the anger-driven journalists that I'm aware of, he's the only one that doesn't appear to manipulate it for commercial gain.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Even as LDP Loses DPJ Fails to Win…

Briefly; the rumbling and grumbling in the LDP only seems to grow as media poll after media poll recorded an breathtaking drop in support for the beleaguered Prime Minister, his Cabinet, and, to a lesser degree his party. Future prospects do not look too good for them either, Aso appears to have botched, possibly irreparably, the launch of his second-tranche stimulus package and the global economic woes will surely extend beyond the next year. Short of successfully repelling a major terrorist attack with his skeet rifle, there does not seem to be anything on the horizon that Aso can seize on to improve electoral fortunes before the expiration date arrives next September for the current batch of Lower House members.

All is not lost for the Ins, however. Even as the LDP appears to be slip-sliding away, the DPJ have not exactly been tearing ahead either. The fact of the matter is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 2/3rds of the responders to public opinion polls still do not support the DPJ, and skepticism about Ichiro Ozawa’s character and his ability and willingness to serve if elected remains strong. On the other hand, the likelihood is increasing that the DPJ doesn’t have to win a majority; that it only has to beat the LDP and look to batches of defector to emerge in the aftermath of the election to enable it to create a working majority. Defections in the other direction would be far less likely, and fewer even if they do occur.

So I guess my question is, will the LDP throw up another, prettier, face to replace Aso and fight the Lower House election before the novelty wears off? If so, how can they fit tranche II and the regular budget bill and the related legislative bills and the LDP presidential election into the political calendar? And the July Tokyo Prefectural Assembly election that has junior coalition partner New Komeito worried?

Dynasty: Heirloom Candidates as a Function of Party Discipline

This is a follow-up to a dialogue between Janne and me on this post. I thought it merited a posting on its own because it puts forth an idea about the reasons for the heirloom politicians and their relative prevalence that I think makes sense. Such thoughts are always followed in my case by an uh-oh, did I just reinvent the wheel again moment. Let me know if you know any work along my line of reasoning.
In democracies, where the power of the political parties over the electoral process (choice of candidates, campaign funding, etc.) is strong, politicians will be chosen on the basis of merit rather than heritage. Where the political parties are weak and individual start-up politicians are expected to act as political venture business, that is, do his own financing, marketing, sales, after-service, etc., then this places newly-minted challengers at a substantial disadvantage against established incumbents. That is not all. Many of the assets that a lifelong politician has amassed over the years such as contacts and fundraising networks and even a measure of personal loyalty (if the successor has worked closely with the incumbent over the years) can be passed on in the form of political goodwill to an anointed successor. This is particularly effective in the case of a close relative who shares the surname, since that individual can inherit the family brand intact as an heirloom candidate. (I prefer the word heirloom over alternatives such as heritage because it conjures the image of heirloom turkeys, providing me with a most pleasurable sensation when I think of politics.)

This could explain the difference between, say the U.K. and Germany on the one hand and the United States on the other, The much greater prevalence of heirloom politicians in Japan is likely to be attributable to reinforcement by the much stronger social pressure to keep up the family “business” in contrast to the American, sell-out-and-move-to-the-Keys mentality.

To be sure, you must do a far more comprehensive, country-by-country study. But I do think it’s a potentially powerful hypothesis. I’m sure, in fact, that scholars must have done this kind of comparative study already.

Shinseki Nomination Sends Message to Japan (and We Like It)

Nearly seventy years ago today, "a date which will live in infamy," our harbor was bombed in Hawaii, and our troops went off to war. And after that war was over, after we reclaimed a continent from a madman and beat back danger in the Pacific, those troops came home to a grateful nation – a nation that welcomed them with a GI Bill and a chance to live out in peace the dreams they had fought for, and so many died for, on the battlefield. We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation – not just with words, but with deeds.
7 December 2008, from President-Elect Obama’s announcement of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Barack Obama chose the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy to announce his selection of the third-generation Japanese-American Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veteran Affairs, an event that is being widely covered in the Japanese media for obvious reasons. The Japanese is taking note of the fact that Obama did not mention Japan (or Germany) by name, and interpreting the whole affair as a demonstration of his “forward-looking posture”, as we would say in Japanese. Note also that Obama uses the terms danger for Japan and madman for Germany. One is a faceless menace; the other, Hitler. This is in keeping with the United States’ original decision not to try the Emperor as a war criminal, and it would have been unthinkable to do otherwise. Still, it is reassuring to see the Obama team’s skill and knowing tact in action in the use of the appointment—normally a very minor cabinet post but with great political significance for the incoming administration—to also send Japan a positive message. This is particularly important when Obama’s election has raised specters—wrongly in my view—of the turbulent Clinton years among the Japanese political and business establishment.

The Obama team does have a highly capable set of Japan hands on board—perhaps it helps in this instance that Japan studies, unlike Russia studies for example, tend to attract liberals, hence Democrats and it shows here. The Japan hands are unlikely to hold high-profile posts like Richard Armitage and Michael Green did during the Bush administration—Japan is not a source of trouble—but I’m sure that they will continue to make their presence felt where such positive, reinforcing touches are concerned. Their services will be particularly useful to the Obama administration, given the growing turbulence on the Japanese political scene.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Taro Aso: Framed by His Own Hands?

Michael Reimer provides some interesting and illuminating information in his comments to this post on the recent prorogation of the Canadian Parliament. Seriously, did the person who read out the prorogation (I’m going to keep repeating this word until I get it out of my system) wear a tricorn hat, or a bicorn one?

An article to which Michael linked, The Framing of Dion (a good if not quite spectacular read if you are interested in Canadian politics), reminded me of the travails of the home front, where the ruling coalition is in deep trouble despite holding a supermajority in the more powerful Lower House. I think Aso has been framed, or rather mostly framed himself, as a rambling, bumbling figure that commands little respect from his own party members.

A leader with limited competence presiding over a party suffering from institutional fatigue meets the mother of economic crises; the planets appear to be aligned for the reordering of our corner of the political universe.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dynasty: The Kennedys

Now, Edward Kennedy may pass the torch to Caroline Kennedy. Who next, David Eisenhower? I cannot believe my eyes. But Robert Kennedy Jr. may have popped the bubble with this:
Robert Kennedy said his extended family would come out en masse for her if she does get the appointment and has to run for election in 2010.

"If she runs, you will see more Kennedys than you have ever seen in your life," he said.
It’s at least as bad as Bill Clinton’s’ two for the price of one. But maybe I underestimate the Americans’ love of royalty and court intrigue.

Is This What Happens When Minority Governments Rule?

Whoa, Canada! Indeed.

Sentences I Like: Lev Grossman Reviews J.K. Rowling’s Latest Offering

Also [the heart] had gotten hairy. Rowling doesn't tell us the why of the hair, and no plot points turn on it; it's just there — one of those creepy, evocative details that participate in a logic deeper and stranger than that of plot and moral.
TIME, 5 December 2008
I know I can’t explain the unexplainable—the difference between art and artifice, I suspect—so succinctly.

Comment for Previous U.S. Auto Post

The blog refuses to let my comment go through. So here’s a response to Martin’s latest comment on this post:
Yes, the impact on the entire industry, including suppliers, is noted by US media, but I havn't been able to find anyone talking specifically about the effect on the other car manufacturers, including Nissan, Hyundai, VW etc. with plants in the US.

The "shift" is towards Asian and European cars, which are smaller, smarter (eg. more fuel efficient), but require a new way of thinking. The US is also going to need massive investments in public transportation, when the economy no longer can support the two-cars-per-family lifestyle. Instead of bailing out the Big 3, it would make sense to debate that. Obama is talking about "green jobs" and a new green deal, that has been noted here in Japan as well:

http://eco.nikkei.co.jp/column/iida/article.aspx?id=MMECcm000010112008&page=2
Martin: You can be sure that the Japanese automakers are doing their best to blend into the background and avoid becoming part of the story. They’ve always been careful to act humble while playing the part of the perfect guest for their host states. Now, an American lawyer who is aware of the political score recently suggested that “Japan”—I think that he was being purposely vague—could gain a lot of political points by helping out the Big Three. So I put the question to a friend who is deeply involved in the Japanese auto industry: If the Detroit Three could restructure its legacy costs and existing labor arrangements and commit to product lineups more befitting future market prospects, would Japanese manufacturers be willing to be take over one or more of them? The answer: The factories have to be looked over one by one; some of them won’t be worth the trouble.

Now, GM says that it is going to do all that, if the U.S. government helps out with the financing, including an unspecified amount in the form of preferred stock. If Congress authorizes something along those lines, the political implications—billions of dollars in public funds just so Japanese manufacturers can skim the cream off the top?—and the business considerations—who wants the U.S. government as a business partner and watchdog that will often fail to speak with one voice?—are such that takeovers, or any kind of capital injection for that matter, by non-D3 manufacturers will become pretty much unthinkable. I suspect that even the opportunities for deeper R&D cooperation in hybrids and other next-generation autos will become complicated if the U.S. government becomes involved as a major creditor-equity holder at the other end.

You raise the broader question of the need to reorient the overall transport system to meet environmental and energy-related challenges. Note that it is not just a matter of the public transport system and the overall infrastructure. At issue is the entire U.S. political geography that has evolved around the automobile and the airplane. How are you going to redo Los Angeles and its suburbs? Montana? Because of the enormity of the challenge, I do not think that America is going to “end its dependence” on Middle East oil in ten years or any time soon—ten years is surely sooner than soon where a 300 million-strong nation’s energy profile is concerned—and clean up the environment even if President-elect Obama were everything his staunchest supporters hoped he would be. And I do not think that the American public is ready either. There will be progress. But my guess is that it will be painfully incremental unless there are dramatic technological breakthroughs, or a willingness to rely on nuclear power to an extent that isn’t there yet in the specific.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The 50-Somethings Are Restless; But CanThey Make the Move?

First, it was Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Yoshimi Watanabe, and Toshimitsu Motegi fronting the “Association of Volunteer Diet Members Who Seek Rapid Realization of Policies (Sumiyaka na Seisaku Jitsugen wo Motomeru Giin no Kai)”—yes, something is lost in translation—being uppity and demanding that the Aso administration submit the second tranche of the economic stimulus package that Taro Aso had been telegraphing even before his elevation by the unexpected resignation of his predecessor as Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. Even as faction leaders dumped on the dissenters, the loquacious rocker MHC Ichita Yamamoto reinforced their message. These men have continued to take potshots at the regime, the no-holds-barred Watanabe (sort of) daring the powers-that-be to kick him out of the party. Today, Nobuteru Ishhara added his voice to the fray, gaving a talk in which he claimed that “70 to 80% of LDP Diet member have doubts as to whether we can fight an election and stay in power under the Aso administration. We are looking into an abyss politically and economically.” The Prime Minister in his newly chastened soft-talk mode tried to laugh it off.

These men have much in common. They are all in their early to mid-fifties, charter members of the Policy New Breed (Seiasku Shinjinrui), who drew first blood in the 1998 Financial (Reform) Diet. They have had their share of glory over the next decade, but have chafed at the bit as their more powerful elders, dyed hair and all, flat out refuse to leave center stage. Now, there’s a real possibility that the brass ring will be grabbed away before they can even touch it by the DPJ, such are fortunes of the Aso administration and the LDP. No wonder then, that they are increasingly fearless of the consequences of the wrath of their betters.

Fighting an election under the current regime is a high-risk, low-return proposition for the LDP, but turning the reins over to his cohorts such as, say, Kaoru Yosano or Sdakazu Tanigaki does not appear to improve the odds much. There’s a good case to be made, then, for replacing the party leadership with the tail-end baby boomers if the LDP is to stay in power. But do the elders have the grace to yield, or more vitally the young ‘uns the gall to push them aside? To be continued.

Our Different Trumans

Americans, what do you think of when you see the name Harry Truman? Got it? Now, let me translate a recent Kyodo wire for you.
U.S. President Bush, Disapproval Rate Post-WW II High

U.S. President Bush’s “disapproval rate” reached 76%, the highest post-WW II level, according to a public opinion poll counduted by CNN TV and others and announced on [November] 10.

The highest up till now had been 67% recorded in 1952 by President Truman, who made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by 66% in 1974 for President Nixon, who resigned as the result of the Watergate Incident (ah, the magic word “incidents”, a translation into which some Western liberals read too much meaning where modern history is concerned). According to CNN, President Bush’s disapproval rate has climbed above 70% three times this year; his unpopularity is heads and shoulders above everyone else’s.
Is Kyodo expressing its disapproval of Truman when it juxtaposes Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Watergate. No, surely. But for better or worse, Truman is remembered as the guy who dropped the bomb on us. And not remembered in a nice way. We cannot help that, and we cannot help that it colors our view of history in a way that is different from yours, more generally a useful perspective as your thoughts cross borders.

Some Thoughts on Patrick Smith’s Takedown of Malcolm Gladwell

You’ve already heard me complain about articles in the general-purpose media that dress up unfounded, sometimes downright false, assertions with one-sided vignettes and quotes, expert and non- to sell a story. In fact, the media both good and bad always rely heavily on the anecdotal approach to reach the general public. This is not an ideal situation, but there is no way to get around this, short of rendering the news on any given subject inaccessible to all but the truly initiated. Thus, we rely on the journalists to get the underlying story correct even as they entertain, and on experts both pro and amateur to call them to task when they don’t.

In the past, the general public only became aware of the lie when the clamor from the experts became loud enough to past through the filter of the mass media. The Internet has changed this, as it unleashes, unites, massive hordes of online Mavens—to use a term popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller The Tipping Point—who gleefully expose the lie. Much of this activity takes place on blogs and in chat rooms, filtered by online debates and by what I’ll call super-Mavens, experts who play the role of arbitrators in the cyberspace market of ideas. From the consumer’s perspective, online magazines can be seen as filters that save the general public the time and effort of identifying these super-Mavens. From the experts’ point of view, they may not pay much, but keep plugging away, and more munificent deals for deadwood publications and personal appearances will (hopefully) come their way, analogous to what is happening in the indie music world with open-sourced outlets and gigs and recording deals.

And that is a long way of coming to my main point, which is the latest from Patrick Smith, an airline pilot by trade and most entertaining and informative writer of Ask the Pilot, as he takes down—politely, unlike this blog—that same Malcolm Gladwell for his claim that “[t]he single most important variable in determining whether a plane crashes is not the plane, it's not the maintenance, it's not the weather, it's the culture the pilot comes from”. I gather from what Smith says in his essay (I have to take it on faith that he’s not playing with the facts as well) that when Gladwell talks about “culture” as the cause of more accidents, he is talking about “hierarchical” cultures that he see in places like Columbia/Latin America and South Korea/Asia.

Gladwell’s mistake was that he did not bother to check the facts. He created a nice story involving culture, found some cases to fit the facts or labeled the facts to fit the story—does anyone have an operative definition of “hierarchical” cultures and a scale to measure them?—and just winged it the rest of the way. But a quick check of the facts by Smith shows that he was in essence just making it up.

Smith is careful not to knock Gladwell’s work entirely; he dispassionately stays within his competence; that is another measure of his particular value as a super-Maven. I myself am reading The Tipping Point now, for the second time. Galdwell clearly the knack of taking good, innovative thinking and making it easily accessible to the general public. Thomas Friedman is another such, if far less skilled, writer. But at the end of the day, they are journalists; it is hard for them sometimes to let such simple things as facts get in the way of the story. This is where super-Mavens such as Patrick Smith and the intellectual filters such as Salon (as long as you stay aware of its liberal leanings where political issues are concerned) come in for people e like me, who find more specialized publications such as Nature often above my head.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

As America Prepares to Rescue the “U.S.” Auto Industry…

Post-WW II Japan has the distinction of being the main target of U.S. attempts at protecting its manufacturers from the predations of their Japanese counterparts in four sectors: textiles, steel, automobiles, and semiconductors. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but off the top of my head:
Textiles: Some niche manufacturers remain, but most of the manufacturing has been outsourced.
Steel: Micro mills emerged to claw back U.S. share from Japanese manufacturers and away from U.S. blast furnaces.
Semiconductors: Intel became an industrial leader by moving out of commodity memories and dominating the microprocessor market.
I think there’s a lesson here somewhere for the U.S. Congress and the Obama Adminstration-Elect.

Fareed Zakaria Proof Not Every Indian Math Whizz

For the past two decades, for example, China has grown at approximately 9 percent a year and the United States at 3 percent. For the next few years, American growth will likely be 1 percent and China's, by the most conservative estimates, 5 percent. So, China was growing three times as fast as the United States but will now grow five times as fast, which only brings closer the date when the Chinese economy will equal in size that of the United States.
Fareed Zakaria,Wanted: A New Grand Strategy, TIME
What’s wrong with this logic?

Hint: If China were growing by 0.05% and the United States were growing by 0.01%, it would bring “closer the date when the Chinese economy will equal in size that of the United States.” NOT.

Next hint: 00005% vs. 00001%. NOT.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ya Miss Bombay, Blame Thackeray (Yo)

When did Bombay become Mumbai?

Officially, in 1995. That year, the right-wing Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won elections in the state of Maharashtra and presided over a coalition that took control of the state assembly. After the election, the party announced that the port city had been renamed after the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi, the city's patron deity. Federal agencies, local businesses, and newspapers were ordered to adopt the change.

Christopher Beam, on Slate
The name of the Shiv Sena leader at the time? Bal Thackeray.

ADD (December 4): The argument continues on The Daily Dish. Andrew Sullivan obviously trusted the wrong Christopher. By the way, Sullivan has this annoying habit of labeling them all "dissent". Some of them reflect mere differences in opinion, but others are corrections. I think you should acknowledge your mistake, particularly when you've gone ahead and said "the Dish will refer to Mumbai by its previous name.

Another Clinton, Junior Senator from New York?

One nutty op-ed in the Washington Post, and CNN headlines a post with: Bill Clinton mentioned for wife's Senate seat. Not that it’s likely, and if it did, guess what happens the first time “Senator” Bill Clinton second-guesses the administration or—heaven forbid—decides to vote against it? We’re not talking about a Mary Matalin-James Carville rerun. In fact, it’ll make the Bill Clinton Foundation look like small change. The very existence of the CNN headline is proof of what a bad idea it is.

Actually, what I really wanted to blog about was a different headline on the CNN website that had caught my eye at the same time. But I read the Clinton article first, and when I went back, the headline was gone. I know I wasn’t imagining things because I can find the headline in the description for the link to the CNN main page when I google it. Unfortunately, whatever article there was has disappeared from the CNN website altogether. If you are wondering, I was going to write about bikini waxing. Honest. The headline? Why Santa's sack is skimpy this year.

So I’m settling for Bill Clinton, the best available headliner. It was his fault anyway.

ADD: Wait, it is available, on CNN TV. My bad. But I won't watch it, lest it ruin the spell.

More Thoughts on the Immediate Future of the LDP

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post and was inspired by the anonymous comment there.
I had imagined that it would take at least another couple of elections before the post-1955 LDP era ended for good. Now, I’m less sure. Where there’s a fatal external shock to an institution, the endgame tends to happen very quickly, and the DPJ is a greater shock than anything that has ever happened to the LDP. I am not ready to predict the demise of the LDP just yet, but it certainly looks like the LDP as we know it is spent. Here are some of the signs of the end of times:

First, party discipline is down. Diet members, even Cabinet Ministers, increasingly express their dissent with the Prime Minister even after the party and the Cabinet have made the decisions.

Second, the factions look spent. The heads are caretakers, not leaders, and few if any are Prime Minister candidates. I already wrote about Aso’s situation. Sadakazu Tanigaki no longer heads a faction and has dropped out of contention in any case. The habatsu have devolved into intramural pickup teams.

Third, the younger generation is not stepping up. And when I say younger, I’m willing to concede the entire demographics up to 60. Is that weird or what? Look around the rest of the world where they hold meaningful elections/have term limits to see how unusual that is; try to hang on beyond kanreki elsewhere and you’re more likely than not to get the bum’s rush. If the LDP were an NBA team, all its starters would be 35 or older.

Fourth, it’s losing its support base. The rural population is declining and not that rural anymore anyway. And what remains rural is old, older and oldest. The post office crowd and the construction industry, the most conspicuous foot soldiers and moneybags, have been alienated/diminished.

Fifth, the vote-DPJ alternative has replaced the vote-Socialist Party protest as the main expression of dissent. Finally, there’s real competition.

No doubt other people will come up with bigger, better lists. In any case, my point is that something must happen and happen soon with regard to something like the first four issues—reverse entropy if you will—or the fifth point will bury the LDP under the rubble of history, sooner, rather than later.

It’s an odd sensation, because the DPJ isn’t exactly capturing the Japanese public’s hearts and minds either. But perhaps it doesn’t really have to win. Too much inbreeding and parthenogenesis as well as excessive reliance on a declining food chain may have pushed the LDP beyond the threshold. Let’s hope that, whatever happens, there will be two men standing in the aftermath.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Can the LDP Recall Yet Another Prime Minister? Or Has It Reached the End of the Line?

In a little over two months since his inauguration, Prime Minister Aso has managed to achieve the unthinkable. He has slipped below DPJ chief and pretender to his throne, the unloved Ichiro Ozawa, in the public opinion poll taken on by conservative media group Sankei-FNN 31.5% to 32.5% in the choice between the two for the next Prime Minister. (That a full one-third is unwilling to take a punt on either one speaks volumes by itself, but that’s another story.) The public clearly sees this as a choice between the lesser of two evils; in the most desirable choice for Prime Minister, Ozawa at an anemic 11.4% failed yet to overtake the still-popular Junichiro Koizumi—despite announcing his retirement and leaving his seat (hopefully) to his son—with 11.5% of the votes, but did manage to beat out Aso at 8.8%. Needless to say, the approval rate for the Aso Cabinet has fallen to an end-of-the-line, Bushian, 27.5%, with 58.3% disapproving.

It is not difficult to identify the travails that are taking down the beleaguered Prime Minister so swiftly. They mostly revolve around the economy, both the policy and the political aspects.

On the policy side, the issues may be different, but the basic plotline is becoming depressingly familiar. The Prime Minister puts forth a proposal, then goes on to blurt out a series of poorly thought out ideas that tend to obscure, more than flesh out, whatever he may have intended in the first place. LDP leaders and not-so leaders chime in as the loyal internal opposition, adding to the confusion. By some natural law of self-organization, the ruling coalition appears to come to a conclusion. But that is not the end of it, as dissenting party members continue to pipe up.

The most god-awful goings-on have been seen around the tax credit that the New Komeito foisted on an unwilling LDP that has since metastasized into a publicly unpopular two trillion-yen giveaway using surplus funds from the Fiscal Investment and Loans Special Budget. The Prime Minister’s 1 trillion yen payoff to local governments in exchange for taking away their current share of the gasoline tax surcharge revenue—which now goes to build roads to somewhere—that would be merged into the general-purpose funds has also suffered similar, if less spectacular, twists and turns. In the process, the Prime Minister has looked shallow, distracted, indecisive, and diminished, a would-be-leader who has lost control of the operation, like a teacher who has lost his classroom.

All this has taken a toll on Aso in the political game. Most seriously, he has lost his nerve and taken an early snap election off the table. The best bet now is that it will happen no earlier than April and probably later. In the process, he has had to table his second tranche of the economic stimulus package, claiming in last week’s Aso-Ozawa faceoff that the first tranche was would be enough to tide small businesses over the year’s end financial crunch (plausible as an excuse if not completely reassuring) and that he couldn’t trust the DPJ to act swiftly (implausible as an explanation since a near-two month delay as the result of pushing the deliberation of the package to the beginning of the regular Diet session in early January would delay the adoption of the second tranche even further). Needless to say, everyone agreed that he lost the debate, not that easy to do in public against Ozawa.

Is a new LDP Prime Minster in the works then? Not quite. If once is a tragedy and twice is a farce, it hard to see a third act in the works. The public seems to sense this, as the last three Prime Ministers have consistently come in at a higher lower initial approval level than his predecessors (and as noted already gone downhill from there). And it’s been only a little over two months; at least the last two each lasted a year. It is more likely that the Aso administration will linger until the spring, with little hope of improving the ruling coalition’s electoral prospects.

So the question is, is this string of failed/failing administrations just bad luck for the LDP? Or are there greater forces at work?

The three Prime Ministers that the LDP has put forth have several things in common. They are all heirloom politicians. None of them has a track record of political leadership. Aso is the only faction leader among the three, and he only recently inherited, in his late sixties, from his predecessor Yohei Kono (he of the Kono Statement) a twenty-member remnant of a much larger group. As for the other two—Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda—they appeared to be fulfilling a family duty rather than a personal ambition. What makes the LDP throw up these people? Well, the factions themselves are becoming more of a clearing house for information and low-level political appointment in the ministries than a tight-knit launching pad for the political ambitions of their respective leaders for the ultimate prize. The faction leaders tend to be inoffensive caretaker types who can keep his peers’ egos from pushing them to take turns at whacking each other. This is not an environment that encourages new leaders to emerge.

Is the LDP ready to implode, as Ross wonders? Or is the LDP is like an old, moldy football, the air seeping out, the panels beginning to fall off as its frayed seams slowly rot away? Do not imagine that an LDP-New Komeito loss is a sure thing; there’s plenty of inertia, and the DPJ could do much, much more to assure us that it is ready. But it looks increasingly like an institution that is suffering from multiple structural failures.

More to come on this blog, hopefully,

Note: The poll was taken on November 29-30, right after the long-awaited party leaders’ debate the previous day which everyone (including me) agreed that Ozawa had won hands down, so there is likely to be some clawback by Aso. But not much, is my guess.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Obama's Steady Ship

The following is an excerpt, somewhat edited, from an email I sent to a friend in Manhattan who strongly supported John McCain but has since warmed somewhat to the idea of an Obama administration as the president-elect has rolled out his team. I know I am inflicting this on mainly people who are interested in the Japanese scene, its politics in particular. Sorry about that; I’ll try to come back to that, to find out if I think I have anything meaningful to say.
The people Obama is naming to administrative oversight positions are to the best of my knowledge all even-keeled, steady figures. True, Clinton lurched from one pitch to another toward the end of her campaign, but she made the switches perfectly, like a polished actor. (So did Romney, in a reprogrammable robot sort of way. McCain on the other hand was visibly uncomfortable when he had to say things he didn't believe in.)

That—plus competence—appears to be what the no-drama Obama has been looking for. That is surely a big reason why Robert Gates is an odds-on favorite to stay on, at least for awhile, as Defense Secretary. Note that Obama made the notorious Rahm Emanuel Chief of Staff and the brilliant but gauche Larry Summers the National Economic Council chief instead of Treasury Secretary. These two don't have to run bureaucracies; they run (more politely, coordinate) the people who run them—on behalf of Obama. I also like the way Obama has been rolling out his team.

The thing about Obama is, when people compare him to JFK, they mention his intelligence and wit, youth, physical grace, attractive family, and breaking the political barrier (his race to Kennedy's Catholicism), but they don't talk about the aura of detachment and the pragmatic ruthlessness that the two have in common. But how else could he have severed his ties with his church after Rev. Wright had retired? Of course Kennedy took horrible chances—apparently it runs in the family—whereas Obama is cautious—until he makes up his mind—and methodical.

All in all, I think Obama's going to be as effective as anyone else can be, given the circumstances. But he's going to need some luck to be a two-term president, and a lot of luck to be remembered as a great one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Is an Obama Presidency Good for Japan?

I give it a qualified yes, but I doubt our loveable Governor Ishihara was happy to hear the news.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talk about Lincolnesque “Team of Rivals” Is Just That—Talk

This “Team of Rivals” talk has its roots in a January interview, where Barack Obama told Katie Couric:
“Doris Kearns Goodwin's book ‘Team of Rivals. It was a biography of Lincoln. And she talks about Lincoln's capacity to bring opponents of his and people who have run against him in his cabinet. And he was confident enough to be willing to have these dissenting voices and confident enough to listen to the American people and push them outside of their comfort zone. And I think that part of what I want to do as president is push Americans a little bit outside of their comfort zone. It's a remarkable study in leadership.”
It caught fire when it appeared that he had reached out to primary foe Hillary Clinton with an offer to consider her as a serious candidate for Secretary of State.

Excuse me, but didn’t Hillary—as well as, near the end of the campaign, Bill for that matter—Clinton jump wholeheartedly into the Obama campaign and go all out for his election? Before that, hadn’t Senator Clinton shown herself to be a consummate team player who could work effectively with her colleagues across the aisle to their surprise? These are grownups we are talking about. Compared to her and the other non-Obama team nominations so far, the Lincoln cabinet members were a virtual madhouse of huge egos, some contemptuous of President Lincoln and/or unable to stand each other. Obama is not going to bring in a Rudy Giuliani or a Mike Huckabee. (Although in the unlikely event that they were asked and agreed to serve, I’m sure they would at least be far more civil than Lincoln’s contentious appointees, who were only a few decades removed from the times when public figures routinely had settled their differences by duel and were destined to fight a most uncivil war to determine the fate of the nation.)

Not to deny that these are momentous times, but, like the comparisons with FDR, the media are overplaying the historical import of the Obama administration. Does the press think the public to be so dumb that it can only understand politics as some kind of a soap opera?

One more thing: If Bill Clinton speaks out of turn, I’m sure a President Obama will drop a load on him, to make sure there’s no repeat performance. Obama has spent his whole life getting here—the media ridiculed what they saw as the Clinton campaign’s attempt to ridicule Obama’s pre-school presidential ambitions by way of his kindergarten essay, but the Clinton website had shown with Obama’s own words that the flames of his ambition had continued to burn through grade school, high school and college—and he is not going to let anyone undermine his authority if he can help it. A man who is willing to leave his church of twenty-some years—after the offending pastor had retired—to further his political agenda is not going to wilt in the face of disobedience.

You Are There: How The Pilgrims Came to Stuff the Thanksgiving Turkey

It happened almost by accident, really. Remember, in those days, they had no electricity, no gas, no running water, and no undocumented aliens to do the dishes, so doing a Thanksgiving dinner was an even bigger chore than it is now. So by the time Mr. Allerton came home after "fooling around with the Indians" (Mrs. Allerton's words), turkey in tow, it was like… But see for yourself…
Fear honey, I'm home! I got the turkey!”
“Well, Isaac Allerton, it's about time, I've only got four hours… whatthef@ckit'sstillalive! And I smell tobacco on thy breath, thou hast been smoking again, that's a f@cking sin!”
“…But I didn't inhale.”
“I don't care, get the f@ck outta here, kill that f@cking bird, pluck it f@cking clean, then bring it back ASAP, or it's thy f@cking neck I shall be wringing!”

…Thirty minutes later, Mrs. Allerton is getting ready to finish dressing the turkey…

“Stupid Issac *grumble grumble* Stupid bird *mutter mutter*... Hey stupid turkey! Isaac turkey! Yeah, thee! I'm talkin' about thee! Thou canst not even ‘dress’ thyself HAHA, canst thee? What hast thou got to say for thyself, buck naked HAHA in front of a lady HAHAHA! Won't answer, huh? Well I have half a mind to take that stupid head of thine and stick it where the sun dost not… W-a-a-a-i-t a minute, I've got an idea…”
True story. You can read the full transcript on the History Channel website. Note that Mrs. Allerton never takes the name of the Lord in vain. Very authentic.

And please, Rondo, no taunting, we’re the Celtics.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On Aging

Paul Simon, American Tune, live.

Live performances of old signature songs can be disappointing; mannerisms creep in, the voice deteriorates. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Art Garfunkel sing at a benefit concert. His upper register had coarsened; it was sad. As for Linda Ronstadt… But then, here’s Carole King, as powerful as ever, if not more so.

We all age differently. It is strange.

Travel Tip for Guys Considering Trip to Japan

Fashion guide, from this amateur trendspotter.

It was late afternoon, and a gaggle of teenage girls in their school uniforms, heading home or to other less determinate destinations, had entered the train car when one of them caught my eye. (Presumably, there was a troop of schoolboys as well, but for some reason it escaped my attention.) For an instant, I wondered why, but then I realized: the hem of that one girl’s skirt was longer than those of the others, though it still had a long way to go before it would reach her knees. In fact, all the other girls were wearing their skirts more or less to the same length; that was why the one girl had stood out.

Trend-watchers, the schoolgirl’s skirt has reached the upper limits of decency in the context of stairs and escalators, and there is now no other way to go but down. And go down it will—the hem that is. For if there’s any mortal who pays greater attention to how a schoolgirl looks than a guy, it’s another schoolgirl. And if there’s anything anyone hates more than being “different”, it’s being like everyone else.

So there you have it: short, short schoolgirl uniforms will go the way of the loose socks, the now-mercifully extinct, baggy polar-bear stockings—a reminder to guys trying to make up their minds about a trip to Japan this winter.



Incidentally, I believe that the miniskirt look for schoolgirl uniforms apparently began with Michiru Yamana, one of the main characters in BØY, a very popular manga that ran in Shonen Jump between 1992-99. I remember reading it and thinking, they can’t get away with that. And in the early 90s, they couldn’t. But in fiction, she could.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Note on “New US President and Next Leader in Japanese Politics”

It turned out the Glocom event went off the scenario from get-go NTTIAWWT, so I never got to make most of my points. If you can read Japanese, please take a look here, where I’ve posted my talking notes. If I manage to translate it, I’ll post it here.

History’s Obamas—How about Japan?

In Slate, David Berreby shows that American exceptionalism is not warranted where outsiders assuming power is concerned. He gives Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon Bonaparte and other well-known examples to prove his point. To explain how this happens in Berreby’s own words:
For one thing, self-made, boundary-crossing leaders generally arise in times of upheaval, when it's clear familiar ways aren't working.

About their atypical and unprivileged status, boundary-breaking leaders have, like Obama, usually been open, not shy—a second trait they often share. They make a loud, clear show of the fact that they aren't hiding or trimming their origins.

When charges of subterfuge fail to stick to a minority candidate, it is often because the target has made them ridiculous by showing a strong, sincere strain of don't-rock-the-boat conservatism.

The lesson to be gleaned, then, from the hardly new success of "outsider'' leaders is that, in troubled times, people want leaderly reassurance. But it's not necessarily ethnic/religious/one-of-us reassurance. Rather, they want something new and brave to address their fears, without effacing what they love most about their country. In other words, they want society to be new and old, changed and restored, familiar and unfamiliar. Anyone can say the right things about those contradictory desires, but it's much more convincing to elect a person who by birth embodies them.
The obvious question for Japan, given its long term structural problems, economic, demographic and otherwise: What are the prospects for a Japanese Obama? What are the chances of an outsider becoming Prime Minister?

Of course if you go far enough back in Japanese history, literally everyone can claim foreign ancestry. In fact, when the current Emperor visited South Korea as Crown Prince, he spoke of his probable Korean origin—an allusion to the Horse Rider Theory, which states that horse-riding nomads from Korea conquered Japan around 300AD and established the unbroken imperial line—which generated much goodwill among Koreans. But that’s probably not what we are looking for here. Let’s narrow the search a little.

Currently, three naturalized Japanese citizens serve in the Diet. They are:
(MURATA) Renho (Taiwanese) http://www.renho.jp/
HAKU Shinkun (South Korean) http://haku-s.media-trust.com/index.html
Marutei TSURUNEN (Finn!) http://homepage2.nifty.com/yugatsuru/index.html
That’s three out of 739 (479 Lower House, 242 Upper House), not a high percentage, an indication less of discrimination than a more general reluctance to accept immigrants. There is no quick and easy way to figure out how many others have non-Japanese parents or grandparents.

Renho is probably the most promising of the three, although I’ve never heard her being talked up as an up-and-coming political leader. It may interest people who are looking for change, any change, though, that They all belong to the DPJ, which, of course, does not have to field so many heirloom candidates. Some years back, ARAI Shokei, a naturalized (North) Korean-Japanese, was a promising, up-and-coming LDP Diet member who had made the jump from the Ministry of Finance to politics, but committed suicide under suspicion of shady financial dealings.

How do other “outsiders” fare in politics? There has been one Ainu Diet member, SUGANO Shigeru, who also belonged to the DPJ for a couple of years before retirement. There have been a number of burakumin Diet members, usually standing from the opposition parties. But NONAKA Hiromu, who has long acknowledged his burakumin origins, was a powerful LDP kingmaker. Osaka's enormously popular (and right-wing) governor Toru Hashimoto has stated that he grew up in the Dowa regions, although he has not explicitly acknowledged burakumin ancestry. The DPJ fielded an openly lesbian candidate, Kanako Otsuji, in the 2007 Upper House election. In balance, the DPJ currently appears to be more progressive than the LDP where non-traditional candidates are concerned,.

More generally, the recent record suggests that we are quite receptive to non-traditional leaders. In soccer, six of the seven (eight if you count repeater Takeshi Okada twice) head coaches of the national team during the J-League era have been foreigners, and six out of eighteen and two out of fifteen in the J-League First and Second Divisions respectively. Gaijins have been making inroads in the more insular professional baseball as well, where four of the twelve managers in 2008 were non-Japanese. (The number dropped to two as two resigned for purely personal reasons.) In the business world, Carlos Ghosn became a national hero when he nursed the near-bankrupt auto manufacturer Nissan back to health.

Come to think of it, we the Japanese people have always been receptive to, even venerating, foreign teachers. That goes back to the beginning of our known history. It appears, though, that we have a harder time accepting outsiders as pure equals. If that is true, then it is food for thought, and I’m sure those culturalists will have a ready explanation. But I’m not a culturalist, so this is as good a place as any to end this post.

ADD (Nov. 21): My heartfelt thanks to James (see comments), who has kindly linked to this Newsweek article. The visit actually never materialized. I’ve managed to totally misremember the whole event, though the point remains the same. It was something I’d believed in so strongly that I hadn’t bothered to fact-check.

Note: the Emperor’s talk came in 2002. The following year, the South Korean soap opera Winter Sonata became a megahit on Japanese TV and Korean drama and Korean celebrities exploded on the Japanese entertainment scene.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Open-Source Appeal on “New US President and Next Leader in Japanese Politics” Seminar

Those of you who can read Japanese, I request your help. Any comments, hopefully constructive, in Japanese, English, or Portuguese, on the following answers are welcome. I will be joining the panel at this GLOCOM-TUJ event. I’ve been working out my comments in advance since I’m not a good extemporaneous speaker. Each panelist has five minutes for the answers to questions 1) and 4) and ten minutes for 2) and 3). For 1) and 2), I’m up to about five-six minutes depending on how quickly I speak 1). I hardly have anything on 3) and 4). I’ll be adding to and otherwise editing them as I go along; for now, I’m signing off. I thank you for your cooperation.

Please write to okumurajun@gmail.com.

Or if you prefer, you are welcome to post them as comments.

1)次期米国のオバマ政権はどのような政権になるか。

 一言で言うと、これは、たぶん Robert Dujarricが最初に言ったのではないかと思いますが、Commander-in-ChiefでなくJanitor-in-Chiefだ、つまり、少なくとも一期目は、「後始末政権」であって、経済の立て直しを図りながら、イラクからの撤収とアフガニスタンへの増派を進めるというのが、圧倒的に最優先課題だと思います。それ以外の点については、閣僚等の政治任命も含め、ブッシュ政権と違い、イデオロギー色をできるだけ薄めながら、比較的慎重にことを進めていくだろうと予想します。というわけで、内外で絶大な期待を寄せられていることが―CNNの最新の国内世論調査では、オバマへの支持率が75%、チェンジに期待できるとする回答が2/3近く、4年後には米国の状況が良くなっているとする回答が76%です-それが現実との落差拡大という形でかえって重荷になる危険もあるわけです。

 経済の立て直しについては、金融パニックは、今の7000億ドルの救済パッケージでとりあえず小康を得ているので、それをブッシュ政権から引き継ぎながら、並行して、相当規模の景気・経済対策を民主党が多数を占める議会と一緒に組み立て、実行していくということになります。その中で、1)オバマ流のユニバーサル・ヘルスケア実現への手掛かりを作り、2)教育改革にも手をつけようとするものと予想します。それに、ちょっとミスリーディングな表現でありますが、3)所得減税もやるでしょう。さらに、4)エネルギー・環境対策も重視していて、自動車業界救済策も、その枠組みの中に位置付けられていくでしょう。この4点というか、それらがオバマのチェンジの中身の核になるでしょう。それで2年後の中間選挙を経て、どこかの国は、全治4年だそうですが、その4年後までに景気回復が進んでいれば、オバマの再選がきわめて有力になってくる、というシナリオを想定して見守っていくことにしています。

 イラク、アフガニスタンについては、それぞれ情勢次第ですが、いずれも大変難題で、しかも、不確実性に満ちています。イラクは、治安、経済ともに改善されつつあるが、宗派間、民族間、党派間の安定的均衡を可能にする政治的条件が整う見通しが立ちません。ただ、イラクの国内事情もあり、遅かれ早かれ米軍が主役の座を降りることは、マケインの場合でも大差なかったでしょう。アフガニスタンは、治安が徐々にではあるが着実に悪化しており、出口が見えません。ただ、これまたテロとの戦いの主戦場で状況が対応を形作っていくことに変わりありません。
 外交面のほかの大所では、パレスチナ問題、イランの核開発計画をはじめとする中東問題、北朝鮮の大量破壊兵器・弾道ミサイル開発問題については、いずれも、ブッシュ政権後期の対話路線を続けていくでしょう。オバマは、パレスチナ問題を解決に向けて大きく進めるだけの国内政治上のレバレッジを持っていません。イランの核開発計画については、経済制裁(特に投資規制が効いている)に原油価格の低下が当分続けば、多少希望が持てるでしょう。ただし、米政権交代の合間を縫ってイスラエルが核施設攻撃を行う可能性が若干あることに留意すべきでしょう。北朝鮮については、金正日政権としては、とりあえず取るものは取ったので、核兵器(?)、貯蔵プルトニウムの提出といった、対米国交正常化につながっていくような措置に進むことは、当面考えられないと思います。そのほか私が気になってしょうがなかったのが、対ロシア関係です。実は、私は、マケインのロシアに対する敵対的姿勢について大きな懸念を持っていて、これが両候補の対外政策上の最大の違いだと思っていました。オバマの下で、とりあえずミニ冷戦は回避できたのかなと思っています。
 なお、経済、外交の双方にまたがるものとしてFTAの見直しがありますが、これは、実質的な影響があまりないと予想していますのが、話が長くなるので、とりあえず省略します。
 他に米国内で重要なのは、連邦裁判官の指名権です。今、最高裁がリベラル派、保守派それぞれ4名ずつに中道派が1名、という構成になっていて、向こう4年の間、つまり新大統領の任期中にリベラル派裁判官が2名退任するものと予想されています。民主党議会の承認が必要だといっても、大統領の意向に対する抵抗には一定の限界があります。また、最高裁が取り上げる事件数に限りがあるので、広く連邦下級法廷の裁判官の指名権があることも、とても大事です。

 こうしてみると、後期ブッシュと比べてたいして変わり映えしない、どこにチェンジがあるのだ、とおっしゃるかもしれません。確かにそうですが、もともとオバマの「チェンジ」は、政治、社会のプロセスそのものを変えて国民の統合を深めていこう、というところに重点があって、その結果、具体的な措置そのものは、必然的に現実的、プラグマティックなものになっていくのです。しかも、内外情勢が極めて厳しく、独自の工夫を凝らす余地が乏しくなっている、誰がやっても同じようなことになっている、ブッシュ大統領の変身がその何よりの証拠だ、というわけです。
 ただ、オバマにあってマケインにも米国のほかのどの主立った政治家にもないものがあります。つまり、世界中から圧倒的な好意で迎えられていることが、とても大きなポリティカル・キャピタル、国際的グッドウィル、オバマの持ち札になっているわけです。というわけで、期待値が高いのは大変だが、限界的なところでは、これが確実に効いてくるし、より一般的には、米国に対する好意へとつながっていくことも大事でしょう。
 

2)民主党政権になるとアジア政策(特に対日と対中)がどう変わるか。

 アジアは、北東はロシアから南西はイエメンまで続いているので、「アジア」について議論をする人は、その都度、国、地域、そして課題をはっきりさせる義務があると思っています。という前置きで、対日本、対中国に絞ってお話しします。オバマ政権になったから変わるということは、基本的にはないと思います。変わることがあるとすれば、それは、米国の政権交代の結果ではなく、状況の変化の結果としてのことです。具体的な問題に沿ってご説明しましょう。

 対日関係のほうがわかりやすい。
 日本の政財官のリーダーたちの間では、マケインのほうがいい、というのが圧倒的な声だったように思います。それは、ひとつには、共和党が自由貿易主義、民主党が保護主義という印象、イメージが強いこと、それに加えて、共和党の両ブッシュ大統領の日本に対する気配りが手厚かったのに対して、民主党のクリントン大統領の下で、経済摩擦の激化に加えて、中国優先のジャパンパッシングがあった、という印象が強いことが背景になっています。さらに、マケインがアジア・太平洋地域において、同盟国としての日本を最も重視する考えをはっきりと打ち出したことが、好感を呼んだようです。
 だが、まず、安全保障問題について言うと、安全保障条約の下での日米同盟のあり方ないし米軍再編についての米国の方針が変わることがありうると感じさせるものは、オバマの場合にもありません。北朝鮮については、すでに述べたとおりですが、拉致問題についても、オバマ政権だからと言って特に期待できると思わせられる動きが一切なく、また、期待する理由もありません。マケインのほうがより気配りをしてくれることになったかもしれませんが、いずれにしても、テロ支援国家の再指定があるとすれば、それは大量破壊兵器がらみであって、拉致問題の成り行きによって左右されるものでありません。
 経済問題について言うと、レーガンからブッシュ・シニアの時代にも、貿易摩擦がありました。ただ、クリントン大統領が就任したのは、米国経済が悪化したのを受けてブッシュ大統領の再選を阻止したうえでのことであり、時あたかも日本の経済バブルが頂点に達しようとしていました。いわば状況が経済摩擦の激化を招いたのであって、その大きな原因が民主、共和の違いにあったと断定するのにはかなり無理があります。また、ここだけのことで言えば、ブッシュ・ジュニアの時代にも、ドーハ・ラウンドを中心に、ロバート・ゼリックのジャパン・パッシングも相当なものだったように思います。いずれにせよ、二国間で言えば、ブッシュ時代と同様、単発的事件を除けば、比較的無風状態が続くのだと思います。それがジャパン・パッシング、ジャパン・ナッシングだと言うのなら、それも悪くありません。

 中国については、断言できるほど自分で考えていませんが、基本的は変わらないだろうと見ています。外交・安全保障では、引き続き協力できるところは協力していくだろうし、特に北朝鮮の核問題が暴発しないようにするためには、中国の協力が最も大切です。アフリカその他の地域では、できるだけ責任ある対応を求めており、中国当局も、米国政府の不満が爆発しないよう引き続きそこそこな手を打っていくでしょう。民主党およびその支持者の間で、チベットをはじめとする人権問題について強硬姿勢を求める向きも多いでしょうが、オバマ政権下での人権問題の実質的な優先度は、意外に低いでしょう。ブッシュ政権が11月11日にビルマ特使として毎度おなじみマイケル・グリーンを任命したが、これが仮にオバマ陣営の了解を得たうえでのことでなかったとしても、オバマ政権でも、人権問題については、手をつけやすいところから手をつけていく、ということでしょう。エネルギー・環境問題については、気候変動条約の枠組みに戻り―ただし、京都プロトコールに調印するとは、私の知る限り言っていない―京都プロトコール後の体制に取り組みたいと言っているので、一国家としては温室効果ガスの最大排出源である中国に対する働きかけも活発化していくということはあるでしょう。
 経済問題については、ポールソン財務長官主導の「経済戦略対話」がそろそろ息が切れ始めていたので、金融危機への対応策、そして景気対策が一段落したところで仕切り直す、ちょうどいい区切りができたのだろうと思います。といっても、対中要求事項は、知的所有権の保護、外資いじめの阻止、そしてマクロ的には人民元の切り上げを含め経済成長における内需の役割拡大などと、ブッシュ時代とあまり変わり映えがしないでしょう。その際念頭に置いておくべきことは、単純化していえば、日本の場合、日本企業が主として米国企業と競合する製品を輸出したのに対し、中国の場合、完全子会社から委託生産まで形態はまちまちだが、米国企業のサプライ・チェーンの中に組み込まれた製品が輸出されているという違いも、当面変わりないだろうということでしょう。

 最後に一言、米国における対日関係の優先度は、低いのだが、それを不幸中の幸いと受け止めるべきです。北東アジアは、平和である。中国、韓国は、ともにステータス・クオ・パワー、現状維持勢力、北朝鮮も別の意味でそう、そして、ロシアも、極東では差し迫った脅威になっていない。

3)オバマ政権とうまく協力していくために日本は何をすべきか。

 できたらいいなあと思うことはいろいろあるのですが、できるかもしれないと思うことに絞ってお話しましょう。また、国内の景気回復および経済化改革の推進は、当たり前のこととして省略します。そこで、日本がすべきことは、端的に言うと、グローバル・インフラの維持・強化の国際的肩代わりが進んでいくだろう中で出来るだけ大きな役割をはたすようにしていくことです。米国の相対的国力の低下は、歴史的な趨勢です。それは、ブッシュ政権後期のありかたにも反映されていますが、オバマ政権こそは、国際協調、国際協力をはっきりと前面に押し出していくことになります。その中で、日本は、市場経済および自由主義を基本とする民主国家です。また、資源ネット輸入国でもあります。グローバル・インフラについての利害関係について、従ってその将来の方向性についても、基本的に一致しているはずです。


4)日本を正しい方向に導く次期政治リーダーは誰か。

 米国との関係だけで言えば、極端なことを言えば、誰でもいいのです。もっと言えば、アジア・太平洋における米国の兵力の前方展開のプラットフォームとしての役割を果たし続けることに反対するような政治リーダーがいないのだから、後は、日本の都合ですべて決めてもさしたる不具合がない、ということです。というわけで、この先は、床屋政談だと思って聞いてください。

Tokyo Confidential under “Editorial Review”

I posted on the WaiWai incident here, where I claimed that Tokyo Confidential, the biweekly Japan Times column also featuring articles from weekly publications (albeit including more upscale magazines) was different. PS has alerted me to the fact that the Tokyo Confidential columns are no longer accessible. I reproduce the JT notice in its entirety in the hopes that it will consider it to be an example of fair use:
fd20080831t1.html

This article cannot be displayed because it is currently under
editorial review. We apologize for any inconvenience.
For media- and tech-related stories.
The last Tokyo Confidential column was published on August 31. Let’s hope JT provides an explanation later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Abu Aardvark, on the Internets and Al Qaeda

The world needs more of this kind of thinking. I'm not just talking about AQ. This could spawn a whole new academic discipline, if it hasn't already.

DPJ Puts Out for Small Business

The 2007 Upper House election manifesto has finally disappeared from the DPJ website but has yet to be replaced by the new package that is estimated to cost 20.5 trillion yen when it goes into full force in FY2012. Instead, there are the Five Promises, which I translate in full for you (the Promises, not the entire flash display):
It is your life that will change.
Five Promises that will create a new life:
1. Wasteful spending: We will eliminate the “Decent from Heaven” and take tax revenues back into the people’s hands.
Thorough rearrangement of the total 212 trillion-yen national budget.
We will produce the fiscal funds to reconstruct the people’s lives.

2. Pensions and medical care: We will eliminate anxieties over pensions, medical care and nursing care, and stabilize your lives.
“Pension Passbooks”, and pensions that do not disappear.
We will abolish the Late-term Elderly Medical Care System.

3. Raising children: We will eliminate worries over raising children, and create educational opportunities for everyone.
We will distribute a 26,000 yen/month per child “Children’s Allowance”.

4. Working: We will eliminate inequality in employment so that people who put in honest work will be rewarded.
Non-permanent workers also to be treated equally.
We will ban temporary assignment labor of two months or less.

5. Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery: We will eliminate worries over the livelihood of people in the agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, and regenerate food and local communities.

This is the best economic policy.
The Democratic party of Japan
The DPJ appears to have concluded that the 20.5 trillion yen package is not a good sell. The items, if not the price tag, lives on though, in its November 5 economic package (which also incorporates the October 15 financial crisis measures, a detailed, wonkish package that unfortunately received scant attention in the media). I’d like to highlight a couple of little-noticed items in the new package, since they are significant enough to deserve mention as a Sixth Promise, to small business owners and their families:
We will cut corporate income tax rates for small and medium enterprises in half for the time being.

…We will raise the target sum under the Government and Other Public Procurement Act for procurement contracts with small and medium enterprises by ten percentage points.
The corporate income tax rate is 30% of taxable income. Corporations capitalized at 100 million yen or less get a tax break on taxable income up to 8 million yen, which is subject to a 22% tax rate; any amount above that is taxed at the normal 30% rate. I don’t think giving tax breaks to businesses making money during a recession makes sense a s small business policy, and it’s bad employment policy to give incentives to cut expenditures during a recession (although cutting taxes in general would make sense form a macroeconomic point of view). Raising the public procurement target is even more troubling. The government procurement target has been raised to the best of my knowledge every single year since its incipience in 1966, to 50% for FY2008; a ten-percent hike has the potential to create huge distortions in the procurement process, leading to more waste. So there you are; the ultimate DPJ giveaway to small business.

Is this yet another case of the DPJ out-LDPing the LDP? Yes. Is Ichiro Ozawa the symbol of the DPJ’s LDPness? Yes. Have they been counted when tallying the 20.5 trillion price tag? Who knows. Is this the change the Japanese public wants? No. Is this the change the Japanese public will take regardless? Maybe; the Japanese public is mindful of the alternative.