Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ozawa Digs in, Complicating the DPJ’s Road to Victory

I had believed for some time that it was more likely than not that Ichiro Ozawa would bow out gracefully before the Lower House election. After all, the only DPJ Diet members speaking up for him were his diehard followers. Even faithful sidekick Yukio Hatoyama had been talking more like a captain going down with his ship than one who intended to bring it back to harbor. But I had forgotten what a contrarian Ozawa had always been; he’s the little boy who’ll do exactly the opposite of what you tell him to do. Now, the odds are surely better than even that he’ll do his damndest to stay the course. And what’s the reason for changing my mind? Because the DPJ put off the public opinion poll that the media had led the public to believe would—channeling Jason Todd—determine Ozawa’s fate.

The poll had already been postponed before in the wake of the indictment of Ozawa’s political aide in the Nishimatsu scandal—reasonable under the circumstances. Ozawa’s explanation this time around was essentially that all the media attention made a reliable poll all but impossible. Unfortunately for him, this all but guarantees that the media’s focus will pounce on the poll with increased fervor once the DPJ actually gets around to doing it. Trust me, someone in the DPJ is going to once again leak the event. Most important for the political game, it will help the LDP cast the Lower House election as a referendum on Ozawa.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

China’s Red Line on the Senkakus Drawn at the Hong Kong Border?

According to the Kyodo wire service, the Chinese authorities earlier this month stopped the China Diaoyutai Islands Defense Association (中国民間保釣連合会), a private organization of activists, from sailing a protest boat from Dalian to the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai Qundao to the non-Chinese world). According to the report, one of the activists was a “Chinese (華人)” living in Canada.

At this point, you might be thinking, there’s something funny about this story. First, Kyodo wires on China or North Korea can be a little dodgy, so ideally, you want a second source for the story. Second, Dalian is located on the Liaodong Peninsula, which is about as far away from the Senkakus as you can get in China and still have access to the sea. And that, if you look at a map, is a long, long way.

I can’t find a second source for this story, but there was an earlier, related Kyodo wire that cited a Hong Kong-headquartered Ming Pao Daily News report claiming that on January 10 Chinese authorities stopped that same China Diaoyutai Islands Defense Association from holding a conference in Changsha, the Hunan Provincial capital located hundreds of miles inland on a tributary of the Yangtze River. It seems to me that the Association is deliberately choosing locations where the authorities, not nearly as well coordinated across the vast Chinese expanse as Beijing would like, are least likely to notice.

From these two reports, as well as the Beijing silence (correct me if I’m wrong here; I’m writing from memory) on Hong Kong and Taiwanese activists attempting to land on the Senkakus, a picture emerges: It’s perfectly fine with the Chinese authorities to have people outside its jurisdiction forcibly dispute Japanese sovereignty over the islands; it’s another thing to have its own people do any freelancing, particularly with the Japanese Coast Guard now maintaining permanent vigil in the adjacent waters.

It’s the status quo Chinese leaders want to maintain; that must also be the explanation for the lack of further movement on “joint” development of the gas fields of the East China Sea.

ADD: Here’s another April 23 (22?) Kyodo story about a May 2 landing attempt. The Association will sail from Hong Kong, where the boat is registered. The crew will consist of five or six Hong Kong Chinese and four or five “Chinese (華人)” living in Canada. According to the Association, a Taiwanese organization with which it is coordinating the protest may be prevented by the Taiwanese authorities from taking similar action*.

Makes sense.

* I note that the current Taiwanese regime is very much pro-China and that the current Taiwanese President was something of a hardliner on the Senkaku issue as a legal scholar.

The Swine Flu Pan(dem)ic?

According to Mexican sources, as of Wednesday evening Japan Time, the number of suspected deaths from swine flu reached 149 (152?) out of 1,600 cases reported. Meanwhile, in the United States, 42 cases had been reported, only one of which required hospitalization. Other cases have been reported in Latin Ameerica, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, most notably in Spain, but story remains the same: no deaths outside of Mexico.

You wonder if God has anything against Mexicans. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I can think of four plausible causes:

a) Serious underreporting of nonlethal cases in Mexico.
b) Poor treatment in Mexico.
c) Misattribution of deaths to swine flu in Mexico.
d) Misattribution of illnesses to swine flu outside of Mexico.

There must be other, equally sensible if less probable explanations. What do you think? In the meantime, if you are interested, read this. And this.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Riding Out the Economic Storm in Singapore?

Is this guy trying to tell us that the Singaporean economy may contract by 9% in 2009, yet he doesn’t see any sign of a fall in consumption or housing demand? And the reason for this is Singapore’s public/private-sector social safety net that protects jobs and income?

There must be some truth to that idea. Social and legal norms do affect the way economies react in the face of an economic downturn. For example, it’s much easier to shed excess labor in the United States than it is in Japan; you only need to look at the statistics to see that. It’s probably the same thing in Singapore. But no visible change in consumer and household behavior? I’ll believe it when I see the numbers.

Incidentally, it’s interesting that writers tend to take a somewhat similar 5-6% (2009) downturn in the Japanese economy and criticize it for relying too much on exports. For those people, the parts of the Japanese economy that are not linked to exports are an inefficient, uncompetitive drag on the Japanese economy. Perhaps. But try telling that to Carrefour and Wal-Mart, whose forays into the Japanese retail sector have been less than a resounding success.

I’m not saying those critics are wrong. But they haven’t made their case either. I think they’re just doing a riff on a piece of conventional wisdom.

A Couple of Notes on the Chinese Fleet Review

I forgot to mention there that a Russian ship was also present. So, if North Korea was invited, it means that every member of the Six-Party Talks except Japan was represented by one or more naval vessels. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that the conservative-nationalist media and the tabloids haven’t picked up on this yet, to the best of my knowledge.

When I said that the frequency of incidents were likely to increase, I did not imply any ill will on the part of Chinese authorities. Instead, it’s a matter of simple arithmetic. Still, China must walk softly if it wants to carry a big stick.

A Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast?

Martin Fackler says in his NYT article entitled A Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast:
“If Marxism had ever produced a functional, prosperous society, it might have looked something like [Himejima,] this tiny southern Japanese island.”
Maybe…if massive subsidies from the central government were available and the person doing the looking were a tourist—Himejima does have a thriving tourism industry—who happened to snag an interview with the mayor and talked up a few other locals. But would you want to live there?

To the credit of Kumao and Akio Fujimoto, the father-and-son tag team who have presided as Himejima mayors for the last 49 years—uninterrupted, unlike the LDP—Himejima appears to have avoided the kind of ostentatious and/or risky building projects that have brought many a local government to grief and some to outright bankruptcy. (A statue is low-maintenance.) They also seem to have been good at milking the government subsidy cow, the right thing to do under the circumstances. And they’ve brought free cable to 97% of the island. And the weather is nice. And yet…

Paying public servants 30% less than the national average and using it to keep a few dozen more heads on the public payroll may be fine to people who are willing to settle for 30% less than the national average to become public servants, but that won’t do much for the hundreds of other people of working age not on the payroll. Unable to find gainful employment, they have to leave. And that is exactly what has happened on Himejima. For what the NYT report doesn’t tell us is that between 1975 to 2005, the Himejima population dropped 23.0%, from 3,207 to 2,469. The working-age group (15-65) fell 31.1%, from 2,027 to 1,397; while the remainder, the 0-14 age group, dropped more than half—58.4%—from 736 to 306.

By all accounts, Himejima is a nice place with nice mayors and nice people—fewer and fewer people, it turns out. Paradise obviously is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Pirates Are Losing to Cruise Ships

My experience with cruise ships is limited. And when I say limited, I mean limited. But I do have enough experience as a human being to know that lots of strangers with too much time on their hands on one hand and lots of booze on the other is a combustible combination. Imagine spring break for grownups. Without cops. On second thought, don’t. So, unlike a cargo ship, there must be a security team on board, and since this is not Japan, it will be armed.

But why are the pirates always losing? Two words: risk management. Pirates are businessmen, not soldiers. Their mission is to make money, not war. Taking life doesn’t make sense; losing it, even less. It is instructive that the revenge spree that some feared after the U.S. snipers shot three pirates never emerged.

DPJ Wins Nagoya Mayoral Election; Has the Tide Turned?

Not quite. The DPJ survived the 2006 Koizumi landslide to hold on to four out of the four-and-a-half Nagoya seats* in the Lower House. The DPJ also holds four out of the six Upper House seats allocated to Aichi Prefecture. Thus, fifth-term Lower House member Takashi Kawamura of the DPJ was not taking much of a risk to vacate his Aichi First District seat to run, successfully as it turned out, for mayor of Nagoya. The DPJ’s only worry was Ichiro Ozawa, whom it stashed away in the closet during the campaign.

I might have more to say after I see the final tally, but that’s what it is—nothing more, nothing less.

* The LDP has one seat that consists of two other cities and parts of Nagoya. For Aichi Prefecture as a whole, the LDP holds a nine to five edge in single-seat districts.

Italian Cruise Ship Repels Pirates with Gunfire

That’s what the NYT headline to this Reuters wire says. Now it quotes Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Programme, whoever and whatever that is:
”Having weapons on a passenger or merchant ship is dangerous. They should have used other means to shake off the pirates, like a loud acoustic device," said Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Programme.”

“Only military ships should have weapons on board.”
Perhaps. But wasn’t that so...Italian? And before you have time to second-guess the captain’s decision, NYT goes on to note:
It is not the first time that pirates have tried to seize a cruise ship, but they have always been fended off.
It works. So who needs GeorgeStephen Seagal?

The real question, of course, is: What the hell are these cruise ships and private yachts doing here? This isn’t a Disneyland theme park.

Japan Gets Message from Chinese Naval Celebration

On April 23, 21 naval vessels from 14 countries including the United States, South Korea, and India were invited to the international fleet review staged by the PLA navy on its 60th Anniversary. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, however, was excluded from the show and had to content itself with watching from the wharves of Qindao Port through the eyes of its Deputy Chief of Staff Admiral Koji Kato. None of the media reports says anything about a North Korean vessel being there, but it’s hard to believe that they would have snubbed their most friendly neighbor.

I can think of two ways to understand this. First, the Chinese authorities fear that a Japanese gesture of amity and tribute—the presence of a Japanese military vessel—at a celebration of the Chinese military would infuriate a significant portion of the Chinese public. They face enough risks to China’s political stability as it is; they don’t need another irritant however minor it may be. The other possibility is that this is a probe, much like the PLA vessels popping up around Japanese waters. The Chinese authorities are pushing their Japanese counterparts to see if and how much they’ll push back. I think the first one is by far the dominant reason, though I’m sure that the second effect is not going unnoticed over there. And hardliners there would enjoy nothing more than to stick it to Japan just for the fun of it. The Chinese authorities are no more a monolith than, say, Japan’s own LDP.

The story is not without its bright side—the Chinese Communist Party may be authoritarian, but it shows that definitely not totalitarian—the constituency matters. But it does give the lie to any speculation that China will be able to pull Japan away from its alliance with the United States as the result of the pull from the Chinese economy. It does nothing to alleviate the Japanese anxiety over the steady but opaque Chinese military buildup, as well as the military incidents that seem to happen every once in a while in Japanese-controlled areas of disputed waters*.

* As the Chinese Navy grow, so will the frequency of those incidents. A goodwill gesture here, a goodwill gesture there would help build the kind of relationship that helps in minimizing the fallout. The Chinese authorities can’t be unaware of that. They just couldn’t afford the political risk.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Would a Preemptory Attack on the Rodong Arsenal Work?

Keiichiro Asao, Defense Minister for the DPJ’s “Next Cabinet” appeared on TV Asahi today and said something eminently sensible: “If all the [200 give or take a few dozen] Rodong Missiles that North Korea has came flying at us, we wouldn’t be able to shoot them down all of them.” So true. I suppose that is what the U.S. nuclear umbrella is there for: to act as a deterrent so that the North Korean authorities don’t start thinking that they could use the threat of a nuclear attack to wrest some serious concessions from Japan (and a nuclear Japan does not become anything more than a conservative nationalists’ pipe dream.) But then Asao went on to say: “We shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, but unless we have the capacity to strike at the other side’s bases, we won’t be able to hedge the risk.”

Now Rodongs are land-mobile , which means that they could be stationed anywhere in North Korea. Given their use of liquid fuel, they could have fixed-location fueling stations that could be vulnerable to attack. But do the Japanese or, more likely U.S., authorities know where they are? If not, then Asao is really talking about a Japanese retaliatory capacity.

It Looks Like the DPJ Is Setting the Stage for an Ozawa Step-Down

The four-member commission that the DPJ set up to look into the accountability of politicians, public prosecutors, and the media, as expected, is definitely not doing a whitewash job. Yesterday (April 24), Gerald Curtis reportedly gave the commission a grim assessment of the DPJ’s chances of winning with Ichiro Ozawa at the helm. This follows on the Greek chorus of the likes of Seiji Maekawa, Katsuya Okada and even the faithful deputy leader Yukio Hatayama, not to mention the lesser lights like Yoshihiko Noda and the numerous anonymous voices in the DPJ, ranging from assertions that Ozawa would do the right thing if the opinion polls told him that he would not be able to lead the DPJ to victory to outright claims that the DPJ was already in that spot.

But the real clincher for me is the latest gambit from the DPJ—more accurately the reform committee that Katsuya Okada is heading—prohibiting relatives within three degrees of a retiring DPJ Diet member from standing for election in the same electoral district as the incumbent, with the quite reasonable condition that the ban will only apply after the upcoming Lower House election. Now Ozawa has not yet determined which district he will seek election from, but as the September deadline for the election (which may be as early as sometime in June) approaches, given his Nishimatsu difficulties, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that he will be able to stand for election anywhere other than his home Iwate district that he has held in various forms for almost 40 years. The catch here is that if he does so, he will be unable to bequeath that seat to one of his sons. Perhaps more significant, the formidable political assets—both social and economic—that he has amassed over the years will leave the family. Ozawa’s son might skirt the ban by standing for election in the next year’s Upper House election, but that would require the DPJ incumbent to step down in his favor. In other words, the DPJ ban has all but set a deadline for Ozawa to pass on the family jewels.

Add to all this Ozawa’s well-documented aversion to the political limelight—none of the admittedly small group of journalists that I spoke yesterday believed that Ozawa would actually serve as Prime Minister—and I think we are witnessing the Ozawa endgame. If so, Ozawa’s loss will be the DPJ’s victory. At least that’s what the opinion polls tracked here are telling us.

Sorry for not responding to earlier comments, but I needed to get this off my chest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great Giin Senkyo Website

I’ve had too many things going on to post the last couple of days, or even to respond to comments. (Sorry). And I might not surface till the weekend. So instead, I’ll do something far more useful (if you can read Japanese) than inflict my thoughts on you and show you what I came across. It’s a no-frills website that has all sorts of useful data on Japanese politics. Sorry, it’s only in Japanese.

That’s all for now, folks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Know, Let’s Give Up Half the Northern Territories before We Begin Negotiations…

I’ve said before how stupid I think it is to make concessions before we’ve even begun to restart negotiating with Russia on the Northern Territories, especially since there is nothing to be gained from settling the dispute beyond whatever rights we get to subsidize the Russians living on those godforsaken islands. As the Aso administration unfolded and it became clear that the Prime Minister had a tendency to say out loud the first thing that popped up in his mind, I realized that the performance had been pretty much par for the course. Still, the mystery remained: Who, or what, had put that idea there in the first place? Well, now we know, it’s the former MOFA Vice-Minister, Shotaro Yachi who put the idea in his head, as this Mainichi report shows. Yachi and MOFA have issued denials regarding the Mainichi report, but it’s clear from the half-hearted nature of Yachi and MOFA’s efforts that he did say things more or less along the lines of what was reported.

What continues to astonish me is that there are people who should know better yet still think that a peace treaty with Russia by itself brings any benefits beyond the purely psychic.

It’s interesting to note that the three major political appointments that the Prime Minister has made with regard to non-politicians—the fifth and chief administrative secretary to the Prime Minister from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, and now this, the Special Envoy.

¿Quién Es la Política Más Linda del Mundo? Japanese Municipal Assemblyperson Yuri Fujikawa, That’s Quien!

I thank you all for taking to heart my exhortations and catapulting Japanese municipal assemblyperson Yuri Fujikawa to victory in the 20 Minutos online contest for “the most beautiful politician in the world”. Of course my natural modesty compels me to share some of the glory with the Japanese mass media—just because I’m a blogger doesn’t mean that I cannot give them credit where it is due—who took up the issue in print and on air, so much so that it became the subject of a 20 Minutos report just before the final results came in.

So the media (20 Minutos) begat news (the contest), the media (Japanese print and air) begat news (on media-sponsored contest), and the media (20 Minutos) begat news (on media reports on the media-sponsored contest). This cycle was completed when 20 Minutos announced the results of the contest—which in turn caused Japan to beget yet more news. There has always been an auto-generative side to the media, through sponsorship and even outright ownership of a wide variety of events and endeavors. Online contests provide a cheap and quick way to attract public attention. I wonder if Sankei, the most Internet-friendly among the major media outlets and not coincidentally giving the 20 Minutos contest the most attention, will take a cue from this.

The current example also highlights the difficulties of running online popularity contests.

One recurring stunt on The Colbert Report has the eponymous host of the comedy show encouraging viewers to vote in his name or some reasonable facsimile thereof—Stephen Colbeagle the Eagle being one such—for online naming contests including, and I am not making this up, a bridge in Hungary. Now, I suspect that the producers of the show get together with the sponsors of the contests beforehand to figure what to do if the Colbert entries wind up winning, as they usually do. That way, the show avoids trouble while the sponsors get a lot of free publicity.

But what if the attention is unwanted? To give a hypothetical example, if a marine park held a name-the-baby-dolphin contest, Greenpeace and PETA could hold a campaign to write in, say, “Free Me” and have a reasonable chance of succeeding. This will be just fine with animal-rights activists, but won’t exactly be what the marine park had hoped for.

Of course you could argue even from a value-neutral perspective that there is nothing wrong with this. To use the same example, if the public attention that the marine park receives as the result of the Greenpeace-PETA write-in campaign works against it in the court of public opinion instead of rebounding against the campaigning organizations, then maybe the marine park should admit that they do have a point. And so it goes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask the Un-Economist: Should You Be Afraid of Catching Cancer (and Heart Disease) in Japan?

Dear Un-Economist: I’m a permanent resident of Japan and I’m worried because more and more people are dying in Japan every year, and cancer death rates in particular are going through the roof. So I guess my question is: Should I go back to the EU and its socialized medicine・America with its guns, or should I try to brave it out here? I don’t want to give up my Charisma-man status.

Dear permanent resident: How old are you? I’m asking you this because Japan is a rapidly aging society and old people have a way of, you Know, dying. And the older you get, the more you tend to die from the inside out, with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and an assortment of organ failures as they break down; instead of from the outside, from (alcohol-fueled) car accidents and gunshot wounds (one thing we have little cause to worry about in Japan statistically speaking) and the like. So yes, death, and more specifically cancer and cardiovascular disease are on the up and up, both in absolute terms and relative to the overall population. But I’d still put my money on Japan if I were you. Fewer and fewer people are dying here in every age group since 1965, as this Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry table shows. I’m betting that cancer and heart disease deaths also went down from 2005 to 2007, the years for which the table displays annual figures.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

…and Then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Arrested Him…

Yesterday, Canada granted citizenship to some people who had lost their Canadian citizenship or never had had it in the first place. Watch this video clip, then get the details here, courtesy of Citizenship and Immigration Canada*. My heartfelt congratulations to the law-abiding readers of this blog who are the beneficiaries of this boon. After all, it’s not for nothing that they say, Canada is the United States…without the crime.

But speaking of crime, if you are a criminal and are living in or traveling to a country that has an extradition treaty with Canada, watch out. According to Article 4777.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, “[e]very person who commits an act or omission that, if it occurred in Canada, would be an offence under a federal law, within the meaning of section 2 of the Oceans Act, is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada if it is an act or omission…that is committed outside the territory of any state by a Canadian citizen.” And don’t think you can get out of it by renouncing your new-found Canadian citizenship. The website warns you that to be able to deny your new Mother Country’s gift, “you must…not be a threat to Canada’s security or part of a pattern of criminal activity”.

Now aren’t you glad you read this blog?

* In an apparent fit of attempted coolness, Canada took the Ministry out of all their ministries and renamed them XXX Canada.

Ask The Un-Economist: Waiting Lines in Hospitals

Dear Un-Economist: I am sick and tired of waiting three hours just to see the doctor for three minutes. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time.

Dear Sick and Tired: Perhaps you should use some of that time to make an appointment. That way, it’s probably a ten-minute wait at most for, say, five minutes of examination, prescription, and maybe a little doctorly advice. Still, sitting around in those dreary hospital lobbies with all those other harried, germy patients can be a real drag. But what if I told you that much of what looks like an interminable waiting line is a mirage, and that, more importantly, forcing patients to wait actually makes economic sense?

First of all, the line is usually not as long as it looks, since the patients waiting in a single lobby will be called into any one of many rooms that line the lobby and adjacent corridors, each room holding a doctor*. Divide the number of patients in the lobby by the number of active booths, and you get the true length of the average “waiting” line**. In short, it’s never as bad as it looks. With that, let’s move on to what I think is the more important part of my argument: waiting lines make economic sense.

Let’s say that a hospital doctor has an eight-hour working day. Of that, let’s say that she uses half that time for other chores and toilet breaks and whatnot, so she has four hours to actually treat patients. Let’s now assume that she takes ten minutes on average to treat a patient, five minutes of face time and five more to prepare and process the case. This means that she can treat 60÷10×4=24 patients per day. Now at one end, the hospital can have all the patients seeking treatment from her line up in the morning, let her go through as many as she can, then have her come back the next day and repeat the sequence, and so on. This would not pose much of a problem if the patients were like damaged autos brought in for repair, but they have a life. At the other end, the hospital could employ enough comparable doctors to ensure that no patient has to wait at any time, but that would leave many doctors idle for much if not most of the time, sending the cost of the treatment through the roof.

What hospitals (and individual doctors) can and apparently do is something that falls between those two extremes. They take appointments and squeeze in patients without appointments where sufficient slack arises. Another option would be to allocate certain hours to patients without an appointment on a first-come-first-served basis. Either way, waiting lines will not be eliminated for patients without an appointment. Moreover, given the variance in the time required to treat individual patients, even patients with appointments will often have to wait in line. But something or other along these lines should go a long ways in easing the waiting line problem, as this real-life example shows.

Now some patients will say, wait a minute, I’m a lawyer, my opportunity cost is $500 an hour, I can’t afford to wait. These people can take their business out of the public healthcare system (although they will still have to pay into one or other public healthcare system) by paying for the full cost of a pricey on-demand service. I suspect that this is the kind of clientele that those extravagant Ginza clinics cater to. And if you’re really, really wealthy, I suppose that you can employ a personal physician, or even furnish a personal clinic, if you wish. These are also perfectly sensible market solutions.

In sum, it is clear that the waiting line is an economically rational means that ordinary hospitals use to maximize efficiency on the supply side by imposing opportunity costs on the demand side, but that the opportunity costs can be reduced by using an appointment system. So is it functioning? Well, to the best of my knowledge, hospitals do manage to clear their waiting lines by the end of the working day. So I can’t say that it’s broken by any means.

* If you’re a guy and this reminds you of what I think it reminds you of, then I think you need to take a cold shower.
** Note that a large number of those patients may have already seen the doctor and are waiting for their documents to be processed. But this is the same waiting line problem being replicated at the administrative level, so it poses the same resource allocation issues. Accordingly, it can be left out of this particular argument without any significant loss.

Still can’t say that I’ve 100% nailed it, so it should be going to Globaltalk 21 Raw for more polishing, but what can you expect from an Un-Economist?

There is an oft-repeated argument that old people visiting hospitals because there is no place else to go. Some people believe that this problem has eased considerably since co-payment requirements were reintroduced for the elderly. I may come back to this point on a later occasion.

Defendant Tells Judge Where to Blow His Toke

A 20 year-old former tobishoku—a skilled construction worker somewhat similar to a “spiderman”—was brought before the Gifu District Court on charges of theft. The defendant was alleged to have gone on a two-day shoplifting spree, taking 229 manga comic books worth roughly 110,000 yen in order to repay loans and finance a marijuana habit. When the judge* asked, “Do you understand that marijuana is bad for your health?”, the defendant replied, “I don’t think it’s bad for my health. I did research on the Internet, and it said that marijuana was less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.” The judge responded to this in a voice that was audible to the three people who had come to watch the proceedings, “You’re being deceived, because you’re a fool (ばか).”

Leaving aside for the moment the undeniable fact that the defendant was a fool for challenging the judge, it is safe to say on the basis of 100% hearsay evidence—that marijuana is less harmful to the health of the user than tobacco and less harmful to everyone than alcohol—you rarely if ever hear of a marijuana-fueled shooting binge or a driver high on marijuana piling into a row of schoolchildren. I suspect that the Japanese media is aware that the defendant’s logic cannot be totally denied. It’s a debate that will start in earnest here in future years, as the U.S. and Western Europe gradually move towards further decriminalization. But I digress.

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei have seized on this incident, considering the matter noteworthy enough to post on their websites, unusual treatment for such a trivial case not involving policemen, prosecutors, judges, other public servants, and educators. For the moment, they appear to be focusing on the fact that the judge called the defendant a fool, presumably a breach of decorum and detrimental to the court’s dignity. As evidence of this interpretation, unusually for a criminal case, the name of the defendant—not a minor—(as well as the judge’s) have been withheld from publication.

However, if the language went beyond the narrow, acceptable boundaries of behavior that the Japanese media demands of the judiciary, the sentiment itself was not unexpected, coming as it did in a criminal case. Various memoirs by ex-judges as well as more impersonal reports indicate that the judiciary shares a common belief that the role of the courts goes beyond upholding the law itself to restoring and improving the moral rectitude of society at large and specifically criminal miscreants. Thus, it is not that unusual for judges during the course of proceedings to admonish, chastise, or even commiserate with defendants for their admitted behavior and/or their lack/expressions/of remorse. This behavior reaches its peak in a guilty verdict and the concomitant sentencing, where the judge apparently feels a professional obligation to offer what amounts to a lengthy sermon to the understandably pensive defender. The verdict itself is typically studded with judgmental, exhortatory, and emotive language, such as “coldblooded” and “utterly depraved” nature of the crime and the “utterly depraved”, as well as the ubiquitous reference to the defendant’s sense of remorse or lack thereof.

It is important in this context to note that the degree of remorse expressed by the defendant through the course of the proceedings can materially and explicitly affect the severity of the eventual sentence. Thus, the comportment of the defendant with regard to this point may be more the outcome of self-interested calculations than any genuine change of heart. This process is not limited to the judiciary, but extends to the prosecutors—remember the Public Prosecutors Office’s near unlimited discretion over the decision to pursue a case in court—and the police, where intimations of severe sentences have apparently led on rare occasions to suspects confessing to crimes that they did not actually commit.

All the more astounding then, to find the defendant in this case ambushing the judge on what was only a little more than a rhetorical question (as a clever schoolboy would have ambushed his schoolmaster upon being told that he would suffer brain damage if he continued to indulge himself). His rash action certainly did not help him in the criminal proceedings, but it did get him case (if not his name) in the papers.

* In Japan, there are no juries. Minor cases are presided over by a single judge; more serious cases require three judges, with a majority required to convict. Starting this July, laypersons will join the judge of judges in sitting on cases and deciding the verdict and sentence if required.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ozawa and the DPJ Stimulus Package

Ichiro Ozawa makes what would be a good debating point with regard to the DPJ emergency package in his latest press conference here and here. He is essentially claiming that the DPJ’s package is for the ages while the coalition is merely touting one-off expenditures that the bureaucracy has slapped together. He’s mostly sound bites, but then, Koizumi was even more so. One problem is, the media don’t seem ready to match the DPJ proposal up against the coalition package.

One reason for the media neglect is that—I know I’m repeating myself here—the DPJ package is basically a 21-trillion retread of the primary phase of its 2007 Manifesto plus—most of it is not really news. The proposal does suspend for the first year the cost-cutting measures that are supposed to accompany additional expenditures, so there would be genuine “freshwater”, or net fiscal outlay, at least for FY2009. Unfortunately, the media are simply consumed by the Ozawa/Nishimatsu Construction affair—it’s apparently hard to pay attention to two things at the same time. The media also do not think that the DPJ can win under Ozawa. So, for the economic and financial reporters who would normally be expected to report on the issue, the ruling coalition’s package is the only real game in town and the heavy lifting necessary to analyze the DPJ proposal and match them up isn’t worth the trouble.

As if that weren’t enough, the head of the Policy Research Council that put the package together is Yoshihito Sengoku, the eminence grise of Yukio Edano and other next-generation figures who can barely contain their contempt for the old-school ways of Ozawa and his people. So policy wonks who could serve as Ozawa’s surrogates on the substance—and help with the media—are not being lined up to do service. (I think I’ve touched on this before too—you don’t want to grow old.) Add to this Ozawa’s admission that the DPJ is unlikely to submit its own alternative bills to the Diet, and it’s hard to see the media finding reason to get worked up about the DPJ proposal.

All this is a shame, because—to repeat (again!)—the DPJ could say, We’ll stick with the program; the short-term fix will come from a one-year cost-cutting suspension; what have you guys got to say for yourself? That’s a debate that deserves to be heard.

On security issues, I find Ozawa’s press conference a little alarming with regard to U.S. troops in Japan, frivolous with regard to Somali pirates, and resigned with regard to Taepodong 2.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three Events to Watch Out for in Ozawa’s Immediate Future

Aso-LDP up, Ozawa-DPJ down in the polls, and the DPJ-favored candidate loses in both gubernatorial elections. The 15/55 trillion economic package is getting mixed results—some analysts think it’s too expensive, others think the money isn’t going to the right places—but at least the ruling coalition is playing the game and going long. Ozawa, unpopular with the electorate even during the best of times, has become an albatross around the DPJ’s neck, a The Other LDP hachimaki wrapped around the head. It is hard to avoid the impression that he could make even his strongest supporters very happy by resigning as party president and concentrating on what he purportedly does best, run the election campaign. In that respect, there are three events that I will be watching.

The first one is the public opinion poll that the DPJ will be taking between April 24-26. The fact that the DPJ has disclosed the event is in itself surprising. We only know of the existence of internal polls through fleeting references in the mainstream media; indeed, to announce it would defeat its purpose if an unbiased assessment had been what was being sought. Note that media polls consistently show a partisan bias—Asahi to the left, Yomiuri to the right—leading most observers to conclude that individually they are useful only for the trend lines. Since the DPJ poll will be a one-off event, it can only be assessed in the context of those media polls. In short, Ozawa and the DPJ will have to do substantially better than the most contemporary Asahi polls to be able to credibly claim that they’ve managed to turn the corner.

The second event is the report from the four-member outside experts commission that the DPJ has set up to look into the accountability of politicians, public prosecutors, and the media. The commission is supposed to issue its report a month from now, in the middle of May. Let me make some guesses about the report. First of all, it will be highly critical of the Public Prosecutors Office for manipulating the media and by extension public opinion by a series of leaks and will demand transparency and accountability. Closely connected to this point will be an indictment of the media for playing along with PPO and failing to discharge its public duty. It may also cast doubt at the legal underpinning of the prosecution’s case against Ozawa’s deputy, but in that case will stop short of explicitly accusing the PPO of bringing a weak case to court just to save face. The report will not spare the politicians, criticizing them for the ruse that they employ to contravene the spirit if not the letter of the law regulating corporate contributions. The brunt of the blow will, implicitly if not explicitly, fall on the LDP—a pox on both houses if you will, with the LDP living out of the much bigger one. Still, it will not sidestep the contrivances of the Ozawa camp; it will be an event that the Ozawa team will be more than happy to put behind…if it can. In any case, what will not be in the report is the kind of wholesale indictment of “the establishment”, i.e. the conspiracy allegations that come from Ozawa’s hardcore DPJ supporters.

The timing of the third event, or even whether it will occur at all, is unknown to the public. Namely, will someone from METI Minister Toshihiro Nikai’s camp be indicted, and if so, when? The mainstream media have been awfully quiet on this front lately; you have to go to the daily tabloids and the weeklies to get a Nikai fix these days. I still have a hard time believing that the PPO can fail to formally charge someone there; if it doesn’t, there is no way that the media will let the matter die quietly—the PPO will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. If one or more of Nikai’s people is indicted, Nikai’s resignation will soon follow. A Cabinet Minister serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Besides, there is no political upside for hanging on.

The first and third events, depending on how they turn out, can force Ozawa’s hand. The second event is unlikely to have that kind of force, but it will give Ozawa an opportunity to bow out gracefully in the interests of the Japanese public, the DPJ, and last but not least the greater cause of political change that he claims to serve.

In all this, it is interesting that the international front has all but disappeared from the political agenda. The North Korean missile launch and the administrative fumbling accompanying it and (to a lesser degree) the intricate Six-Party charades around the UN Security Council gave the media plenty of material, and the DPJ made some stabs at knocking the Aso administration for mismanagement. For the electorate, life basically went on as usual. It’s even more about simply going through the motions as far as Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels going up against Somali pirates are concerned, as the DPJ will only do the barest minimum to keep the skittish Social Democrats from bolting.

Finally, if anyone’s really interested, there’s Ozawa’s Ozawa’s 5:00PM press conference.

The DPJ’s four-member commission consisting of three lawyer and a sociologist, professors all, deserves a closer look. Nobuo Gohara, an ex-prosecutor and corporate compliance expert, has been critical of the Public Prosecutors Office with regard to the Nishimatsu scandal, claiming among other things that the PPO has stretched the letter of the law to cover a situation that it was not meant to cover and ringing the alarm at the political dangers of this self-appointed vigilante role that the PPO is assuming. He has also been highly critical of the media in the past for lies and cover-ups regarding its own fraudulent reporting. Takaaki Hattori is a sociologist specializing in media studies, and is also a strong critic of media cover-ups. He is something of an activist on free speech issues; as such he has not endeared himself to the nationalist-conservative elements of the LDP. However that may be, neither of the two appear to be partisan figures. They appear to be the farthest things from go-to guys for a DPJ whitewash job.

Similarly, I cannot find a way to challenge the integrity and independence of the chairman, Jun Iio. Iio is a prominent political scientist and strong advocate of political change, but far from a DPJ mouthpiece. He has taken a wait-and-see approach to Ozawa’s latest travails, and apparently feels that the LDP regime has run its course in its current reincarnation. However, Ozawa does not appear to be the kind of change that he is looking for. I have no thoughts about the fourth member, a CPA and attorney-at-law.

Guido Fawkes (Sort of) on Youtube

Wasn’t it you, Our Man in Abiko, who recommended Guido Fawkes as a U.K. political blog? Well here he is with a couple of journalists, engaging in some mutual sniping. I think the video clip illustrates beautifully the relationship between the mainstream media, blogs (there should be a better word than blogosphere, which has never been cool, like “cyberspace” used to be), and the news and its subjects. I think Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes had a few weak moments, but perhaps that’s the price you pay when you can’t edit your words before you go public. AndBut I suspect that even his supporters will find this version funny.

One of the journalists claimed that blogs were mostly commentary—the implication being that journalists, unlike bloggers, actually went to the sources for firsthand information. There’s some truth to that (although Paul Staines claimed to have his own sources), but it reminded me of a recent event where a freelance journalist told me that most of my points attacking a Newsweek report on the Nishimatsu scandal was commentary. That was particularly rich, since the main named sources that the Newsweek report cited also happened to be commentary—one a real live blogger! Incidentally, if anyone’s still interested, I’ve put my elaboration of several more of those points on my Globaltalk21 Raw blog. I’ll post them here after I edit them, though I’m not sure anymore whether the article and the accusations which prompted me to elaborate them is worthy of any more of my attention. Verily, England is the homeland of the snark.

Here’s another one about access to sources that implies that there may be something to be said for the kisha club cartel system, which provides at least some protection for reporters who fall afoul of their sources. You may also have noticed that Paul Staines—if it is indeed he—is wearing a wedding ring. So some bloggers do have a life…

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Happens in Costa Rica (Sort of) Stays in Costa Rica

I do not make it a habit of criticizing Tom Friedman. In fact, I try to avoid his columns altogether, which wouldn’t be a hard thing to do except they always seem to crop up in the “most popular” box on the NYT page and their titles are sometimes so eye-poppingly awful (I mean, (No) Drill, Baby, Drill?...please) that I can’t help taking a look—call it the Auto Accident Rubbernecking Syndrome.

In fact, what began as another HAHA-gotcha rant evolved into something quite different.
…Costa Rica hugely invested in hydro-electric power, wind and geo-thermal, and today it gets more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables. In 1985, it was 50 percent hydro, 50 percent oil. More interesting, Costa Rica discovered its own oil five years ago but decided to ban drilling — so as not to pollute its politics or environment! What country bans oil drilling?
There are many things to admire about Costa Rica. In a region where democracy has had a spotty track record, it has an uninterrupted 60 year record of twelve presidential elections generally regarded as fair and transparent. It has a constitutional ban on a military and actually means it. And, as Tom Friedman marvels, it has an eco-friendly national policy that only Greenpeace could find fault with. But getting “more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables” is not one of them. That claim of his is, at best, literally a half-truth.

According to the IEA’s 2006 Energy Balance for Costa Rica, it produced 568 thousand tons of oil equivalent in hydroelectricity, 1068 TOEs in geothermal, etc., and 709 TOEs in combustible renewable and waste. But it also imported 43 TOEs coal and peat, 673 TOEs crude oil, 1635 TOEs petroleum products (exports 111 TOEs), and 13 TOEs electricity (exports 5 TOEs)*. In other words, Costa Rica satisfies half of its energy requirements with fossil fuels, which is all imported. In other words, nothing has changed in relative terms since 1985. By Friedman’s standards, Japan also produces “more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables” (a literally incredible achievement, since, by the same criteria, I’m reasonably confident that Japan got more than half of its energy from fossil fuels in the 1950s), but no one thanks us for that, and rightfully so.

But renewables come with their own issues. For one thing, they are finite. There is only so much hydro and geothermal potential on this planet, and is often inconveniently located. Costa Rica’s success story is not scalable, nor easily transferrable. Moreover, they carry environmental costs of their own, particularly hydropower dams, which can have climate-altering consequences. Biomass comes with its own constraints. It is telling that in Costa Rica today, the end user simply burns wood for its heat. Cellulosic ethanol as a commercial undertaking is a thing of the future, and for Costa Rica, that will mean replacing some of its tropical rainforests with fast-growing mono-crop trees that come with their own ecological and environmental tolls. I do not know if grassy plant sources will work on a commercial scale in Costa Rica—the people there are looking into it—but they will compete with food for planting space. I suppose Costa Rica can import ethanol from Brazil, but that merely shifts the problems to the global stage.

To repeat, Costa Rica’s ways with regard to renewables are not easily replicable elsewhere. For example, I looked into China’s Three Gorges Dam in the mid-90s when it was still in the early stages of construction. I remember learning that for all its size, the electricity that would be produced upon its completion would be barely enough to meet one year’s increase in electricity demand—and remember, this was in the mid-90s—and thinking, is that all? And China cut down most of its forests thousands of years ago. Costa Rica itself will bump up against constraints of its own in its quest to become a carbon-neutral society as it increases its energy consumption to, say, OECD levels. So imagine the constraints and pressures that China, with its 1.3 billion people and domestic resource profile heavily weighted towards coal faces.

This is not to belittle Costa Rica’s achievements nor belittle its goal of carbon-neutrality. And to be fair to Friedman, he does not ignore fossil fuels. In fact, he mentions a 3.5% carbon tax whose proceeds go among other things to protecting forests. This appears to be working, as Costa Rican forests have grown in dramatic contrast to the ongoing deforestation in so much of what we used to call the Third World, yet another testament to Costa Rica’s success. But Japan for example imposes heavy taxes on fossil fuels** and still winds up consuming far more fossil fuels per capita than Costa Rica. Unusual among OECD member countries, it is two-thirds covered by forest, but that has nothing to do with its energy tax regime.

In short, Costa Rica’s strategy may be working for Costa Rica, but there’s no assurance that it will continue to do so; even if it does, it will not be the answer to the global question. So if global warming is a serious problem that requires more than a token net emission-limitation strategy, there is a need to:
1) accept the limitations of renewables while continuing R&D;
2) expand nuclear power while making lifecycle management (for both fuel and plant) a top priority;
3) implement a heavy, balanced carbon tax regime that works on the global level***; and
4) put serious money into research on more exotic long-shot technologies such as carbon capture and nuclear fusion.
It is also helpful to limit population growth. I think that the fact that Costa Rica’s total fertility rate is 2.14 children born per woman, or just enough for the long-term maintenance of its population, helps it in comparison to more growth-oriented nations. But even with all this, we may wind up having to make dramatic and painful cuts in energy consumption, a subject that I have yet to see Friedman address****. The alternative to all this is a mitigation-centric strategy (another unpalatable option not addressed by Friedman****), which actually makes more sense to Japan—given its natural geography and long-term demographics—in comparison to most other countries than is generally realized.

Incidentally, there’s a lesson here that goes well beyond the environment, and that is the value of good governance—what 60 years of uninterrupted representative democracy can give its people. That is where Costa Rica stands out from most, if not all, of its Latin American neighbors. In that sense, it reminds me of Botswana in Africa than anyplace else. Let’s hope that South Africa does not go in the wrong direction, where the stakes are much higher.

* Crude oil stock rose 11 TOEs while petroleum products stock fell 30 TOEs.
** A pure carbon tax would require major rebalancing, which I may go into on another occasion.
*** Without a global undertaking, carbon-intensive production will shift even more decisively to countries such as China, Brazil, and (to a lesser degree) India.
**** I’ll be happy if someone can point to an online source to the contrary.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet the Coping-with-Pirates Force

On Thursday (April 9), the DPJ decided that it would let the Maritimes Self-Defense Force protect merchant ships—including non-Japanese interests—against Somali pirates if the ruling coalition agrees to put it under the Prime Minister’s Command, give the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister veto power over its dispatch, and rename the escort vessels and its crew the Coping-with-Pirates Force.

Okay, it’s not as bad as it sounds; the Prime Minister can dismiss an uncooperative MILT Minister, and Coping-with-Pirates Force doesn’t sound like something in a Neverland sequel when it’s spelled out in Japanese (海賊対処隊). Still, it’s amazing when you remember that this is exactly the kind of situation to put the Self-Defense Force on the line of duty that Ichiro Ozawa has been dreaming of. It complies with an unambiguous UN resolution, and it’s only a policing action. Moreover, opinion polls say that the Japanese public is in favor of the dispatch two to one—this is not the war in Iraq, or even the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean.

So why bother?

The decision is obviously a sop to the Social Democrats, whose cerebellums keep telling them to oppose anything regarding any activities that take the Self-Defense Force beyond Japanese waters. Frankly, the JSD is nuts, but the DPJ needs it in the Upper House, so it is flipping a political fig leaf to its (prospective) coalition partner.

Depends on What You Mean by Japanese, Economy, and Energy-Efficient

Policy statements, op-eds, you name it, they keep saying this so often, you can almost believe it. And it goes like this…
1) The Japanese economy is twice/ten times as energy-efficient as the U.S./Chinese economy.
2) Therefore, Japan should help the United States/China/the developing world become more energy-efficient. These statements are usually accompanied by nice words about leadership and global responsibility.
The first statement is not really about energy efficiency, since all we are doing there is dividing energy consumption by GDP and comparing the quotients. Actually, few if any industrial products match those figures. To take one example that seems to be coming up recently with regard to the United States, a Toyota SUV manufactured in Japan is not noticeably more energy-efficient than a Toyota SUV manufactured in the United States. A Toyota SUV is not noticeably more energy-efficient than a GM SUV manufactured in the United States. And other things being the same, an SUV in Japan gets more or less the same mileage as an SUV in the United States. There may be more of a difference in energy consumption per SUV between the manufacturing processes, but I’m pretty sure that production facilities of similar vintage consume energy at similar rates. Take the fluorescent lamp, or any other industrial product for that matter, and we should come up with a similar story.

The key phrases are “other things being the same” and, on a more specific point, “similar vintage”. Of course, other things are not the same. History and geography have dictated different social and political choices that have, among other things, created different economies. Now history cannot be undone, nor geography altered, but the U.S. public can make the kind of social and political choices to change energy consumption patterns. However, there is not much that Japan can do to influence those choices; they are very much the product of a domestic debate. Private firms will follow those choices, and some of those firms will belong to industrial groups headquartered in Japan. But it is not the role of governments to force their business decisions.

Things are really no different with China, although modern history and the wide gulf in per capita income tend to obscure the realities. Baoshan steel, built with technical assistance from Nippon Steel, is one of the most energy-efficient integrated steel mills of its generation. Now it is likely that Nippon Steel went over and beyond purely commercial interests there—Nippon Steel is/was Nippon Steel—but it certainly did not lose money, and in any case is unlikely in today’s environment that it will look beyond the bottom line to help Chinese or any other steel mills anywhere. There are plenty of inefficient steel mills in China, and some of them may profit from upgrading (while others will simply be replaced as environmental charges and energy prices rise). But that’s a business decision to be made by the owners and operators of those mills.

These examples highlight two points. First, the relevant technology is mostly in the hands of the private sector. Governments can talk all they want about partnerships and G-to-G cooperation, but they must understand that their role is mostly limited to making the political and administrative decisions—say, subsidize public transportation—that create the conditions that push social and economic activities in a more energy-efficient direction—say, drive less—and that those decisions are in principle domestic. The ultimate choice is a business decision.

Second, there are few if any significant discrete “energy-efficiency enhancement” technologies—there is no silver bullet, an energy-efficiency Viagra. Instead, energy efficiency in any specific instant is a relative concept involving multiple technologies that have a purpose independent of energy efficiency and whose choice will usually entail consequences beyond energy-efficiency considerations. Note that even a simple fluorescent lamp requires replacing one technology—incandescent light bulbs—with another, both of which share a common objective—illumination—for which energy-efficiency is only one of several practical considerations. Moreover, these technologies in turn function within more complex systems, some of which are business decisions left to the individual users while others are made within broader social and political and social domains. Either way, there is little room for the kind of G-to-G involvement that we see on national, regional, and global security issues.

There is no end to talk about sho-ene taikoku (energy-conservation great power) Japan taking the lead in promoting energy-efficiency. A noble cause, I’m sure, but it is no replacement for the fulfillment of a sovereign state’s international obligations—maintaining the peace and order that is the backdrop drop for all international exchange, commercial or otherwise—particularly since the role of government is severely limited beyond national borders.

Newspaper Editorials Lining Up on the Biggest, Baddest Economic Package Ever

Asahi, Mainichi; waste of money.
Yomiuri, Sankei; don’t waste the money.
Nikkei gives the closest thing to a line-item critique.

Who would have guessed?

I’ve copied the editorials (and their translations where available here are the editorials, since most media websites don’t keep them around very long

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gaijin Media Reaction to the Economic Package

Out of curiosity, I looked around to see what some of the main actors were saying; here’s my report. I should look at FT, The Economist, and the magazines, but not tonght.

WaPo does by far the best job—there’s some real depth here—though it suffers from what I think is an overreliance on pro-government sources. I trust the headline comes from the copy desk, and not the writer(s).

NYT provides some color on the details of the latest package.

No obvious mistakes by BBC, and the headline is matter-of-fact. It’s not print journalism, so I’m not going to complain.

CNN shows what happens when you look at the box-and-arrow diagrams on the government pdf document, then go out and interview a few analysts from securities firms to put together a report.

A Couple of Political Points, Plus One Digression, on the Latest Economic Package

The latest economic package announced by the LDP-New Komeito coalition on Friday identifies two crises precipitated by the global financial and economic crises—the short-term risk that the Japanese economy will collapse and the structural weakness of an export-reliant economy—and proposes a three-step recovery process aimed at avoiding economic collapse (~FY2009 Q3-4), securing an economic recovery (FY2009 Q3-4~FY2010 Q3-4), and putting Japan on a new growth trajectory (FY2010Q3-4~). To that end, the coalition proposes to inject 56.8 trillion yen into the Japanese including yet another supplementary budget with 15.4 trillion yen in “freshwater”, or new money. I have little to say about the economics; the economic analysts themselves are all over the place on that and I’ve seen at least one that appears to be what we in Japan call “cherry blossom”—more on cherry blossoms on a later blog—so why bother adding more noise? Instead, I’ll raise a couple of points on the political side that are sure to be passed over by the media.

Before I do that though, I fail to resist this one digression, a repetition, actually. There is little attention being paid to the 56.8 trillion yen for the overall package of which \41.8 trillion yen belongs to the financial sector, mainly financing for working capital. The authorities themselves have for some time stopped touting the total figures for stimulus packages because the media have tended to criticize them—sometimes rightfully—for inflating the true value of the package and focus on the “freshwater” instead. However, in the current situation, there is a real danger of the business sector being hit by a giant credit crunch as the result of a shrinking cash flow caused by plummeting production and a lending squeeze by skittish banks anxious to avoid the kind of financial crisis that the rest of the “West” is going through. As a measure of how potentially serious the situation is, the authorities have already opened access to “small and medium” enterprise lending facilities to 100% subsidiaries of big businesses—the banks are not, to the best of my knowledge, complaining about the competition. So this time around, the 56.8 trillion yen, or 41.8 trillion yen if you prefer, does means something.

Now, to the politics. The package itself has been put forth as a joint ruling-party/government decision, with the full document available here on the LDP websiteand here on the Prime Minister’s Office website. One point in the full document that is unlikely to be picked up in the media is that the PKO (price-keeping operations for the Japanese stock market) provisions* leave the necessary legislation for consideration by the ruling parties. Now, few legislative bills of substance—that is, bills that have immediate budgetary consequences—that pass into law are submitted by Diet members; instead, most come from the sitting Cabinet, drafted by the ministerial bureaucracy and vetted by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. Rarely if ever has a bill that is part of a government policy package been left in the hands of Diet members. The ruling coalition may indeed submit the requisite bills on its own; more likely, it is may only be a political trophy being claimed by the group of stock market-friendly LDP politicians—it is to be noted that the historical relationship between the market and LDP politicians has not always been a wholesome one—pushing this idea, who will toss back a prearranged outline back to the bureaucracy to fill out the details for Cabinet approval and submission. Either way, it surely reflects a genuine reluctance on the part of the ministerial authorities—the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and possibly MOF—who fear contaminating the stock market through politically motivated interventions, and likely signals a subtle shift in power between the political and the bureaucratic. The overall change has been going on for some time now, so the significance of this particular incident should not be exaggerated. Still, (what I believe to be) its formal recognition is notable, and should be recorded as such.

Another point of note and of more political consequence is the fact that it is indeed an economic package of historical proportions, particularly as it comes on the heels of two other stimulus packages and the new regular budget that came into effect a little more than a week ago. Discussion of its appropriateness and adequacy I leave to more learned if divided sources, but I cannot deny the sense of a genuine effort in size and scope to rise to an historical occasion, while the DPJ response is visibly lacking in this sense of political drama. I am, to repeat, incapable of passing economic judgment on its choice; I am quite sure, though, that this will hurt it come the Lower House election.

Incidentally, I’ve asserted that the DPJ’s relative lack of response to the economic crisis can be traced to Ichiro Ozawa’s indifference to policy issues. The latest initiative from the LDP-New Komeito coalition also highlights the enormous gap in policymaking expertise. If DPJ leaders think that a DPJ-led administration can better push its agenda by placing one hundred Diet members into the ministries—effectively doubling the number of political appointees—they are in for an unpleasant surprise.

* ○Utilizing the Bank Shareholdings Purchase Corporation
Preferred shares (preferred capital investment securities), ETF and J-REIT owned by financial institutions and preferred shares (preferred capital investment securities) of financial institutions held by business-operating juridical persons [think non-financial corporation] shall be added to the shares eligible for purchase by the BSPC (necessary legislation to be considered by the ruling parties).
○Responding to the Stock Market
A mechanism for government-related institutions to purchase shares, etc. from the market as extraordinary and exceptional measure shall be established in order to prepare for an exceptional case such as one where a situation continues of a serious obstruction of the price-discovery function of the market (necessary legislation to be considered by the ruling parties). Necessary budgetary measures, such as a \50 trillion yen government guarantee tranche for purchases—shall be taken.
○ 銀行等保有株式取得機構の活用
○ 株式市場への対応

My snarking on the Newsweek article to be continued.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

DOJ Has “New” Economic Package—Does the DPJ Read My Blog or What?

I complained before that the DPJ was essentially ceding the ground to the LDP on the economy. Maybe they’re reading my blog because, yesterday, the DPJ came up with a two-year plan with 21 trillion yen in freshwater—that is, additional fiscal expenditures.

Okay, it’s still mostly taken from the DPJ manifesto 2.0, but I do like the idea that 14.1 trillion goes to households as cash. I’ve become increasingly convinced that constructing stuff that has no assurance of raising productivity while waiting for global consumption patterns to recoalesce and reach a new equilibrium is a huge risk. Never give people gifts that they can’t eat or give away—unless you really, really love them. It’s the same thing.

I don’t think the media is going to really pick up on it though. And I’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the DPJ really get behind it, though I would bet against it. I’m half convinced that Ozawa is totally indifferent to it all. That’s another reason that the DPJ won’t look good going into the Lower House election with Ozawa.

Incidentally, by that same definition, little if any of the new money that IMF has available for lending to illiquid emerging market economy governments is freshwater. Which reminds me that the Japanese media overemphasize the value of freshwater and seriously misunderestimate the value (and forgets the cost) of the official lending facilities. Frankly, I think that they are stupid.

The Newsweek Leaves Japan, Leaving Behind… Chronicles (3)

Are “[t]he Democrats are a ragbag of independents, socialists and former LDP members set adrift after the last big bang in Japanese politics, in the mid-1990s, when the ruling party lost power for 10 months?” It’s interesting to note that Observing Japan’s Tobias Harris, who is cited as a major source in the story, disagrees with that overall assessment implicit in words like “ragbag” and “set adrift” and believes that the significance of the internal differences has been blown up beyond reasonable proportions. In fact, the bulk of the opposition had coalesced by 1998, after the first post-1955 non-LDP administration (1993-94) and the unholy LDP-Socialist union (1994-96) into two major opposition parties, one of them under Ozawa’s control, which merged in 2003 to form the current DPJ. That’s eleven years of coherence fighting three Lower House and four Upper House elections, including six years of unity and two Lower House and Upper House elections each. This also means that a large number of DPJ members, particularly in the admittedly less powerful Upper House, know national political life only under the DPJ banner or its other, Ozawa-led antecedent’s. I probably disagree with Tobias (yes, he’s a friend) on the degree of institutional solidity that the DPJ has achieved. But it surely has more ideological coherence than its American namesake and almost as much as that of the LDP, especially if you throw in the latter’s long-time coalition partner New Komeito; at a minimum, to suggest that its members still remain the products of the political big bang is a misrepresentation of the state of the DPJ.

As for people calling Ozawa a “socialist”, I was genuinely mystified. I googled and found one column and a small number of bloggers who claim that the party policy under Ozawa has turned socialist. That’s not something you would think is worth referring to, is it? Moreover, none of the accusations that I found had been hurled at Ozawa personally—which supports a claim that I made about him recently, though that’s beside the point here. But, as I said, I stand ready to be corrected on this one.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Did the North Korean Go Exactly as Planned? (2)

A real pro asking the same question and giving us technical information indicating that the answer is yes, likely.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Newsweek Leaves Japan, Leaving Behind… Chronicles (2)

Do “Ozawa supporters insist the scandal was cooked up as a last-ditch attempt by the old order to protect itself”?

Yes. But note that there is a difference between such accusations—coming most prominently from Ozawa’s faithful if not completely trusted deputy Yukio Hatoyama—and Ozawa’s more modest claims aimed at the Public Prosecutors Office. The first implies a vast conspiracy theory that is at odds with my understanding of the PPO’s role and intentions (about which I have blogged recently), which happens to be consonant to a great degree with Ozawa’s. The difference here is that my conclusions are based on a few testimonies and some observation while Ozawa’s determination appears to be rooted in painful experience. Specifically, the PPO took down his two mentors, Kakuei Tanaka and Shin Kanemaru, two of the most powerful men in the LDP at the time, for taking funny money (Tanaka died while appealing his more serious bribery conviction), and the construction industry relationship that he inherited from the two has come to roost for him.

Note also that an embarrassing (for me, probably not for most of you) number of Administrative Vice-Ministers (a neat criminological double entendre here) have received criminal sentences and gone to jail to jail over the years, as have a much greater number of lesser government officials.

It’s hard to doubt from these and any number of political scandals that have ended up in criminal cases that, like it or not, the PPO pursues its own agenda at a minimum largely independent of the administration and the rest of the bureaucracy. Ozawa’s claims, circumspect in scope, indicate that he understands that only too well.

You may still prefer to subscribe to the view that this is “a last-ditch attempt by the old order to protect itself” and deny that this is “proof that he suffers from the corruption and cronyism that has long poisoned Tokyo politics.” Now Ozawa’s supporters may say that and many of them may actually believe it and it may be true (though I think not), but is it one or the other? Are they the only opinions in play? And don’t Ozawa’s own expressed views figure into this, since this is, after all, an issue in which he has a personal interest and about which he has spoken up himself?

Where’s Nikai?

Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP faction leader and current METI Minister, had been looking like the yin to Ichiro Ozawa’s yang, Chip to Ozawa’s Dale, in the Nishimatsu scandal. But he seems to have dropped out of the media’s sights, even before the weekend frenzy over the North Korean “satellite” launch. (Incidentally, I think that the press coverage was disproportionate to the public’s interest n the subject. Life mostly went on, unless a reporter stuck a mike in front of your face. This contrasts strongly with the abduction issues, where I believe that the public and the media did more feeding on each other.) His story appears to have been relegated to the back pages of a few tabloids. The Nikai side ain’t talkin’; in return, the Public Prosecutors Office has stopped leaking. Or have I missed something?

If someone in his camp is not indicted, it’ll fuel a lot of conspiracy theories. The PPO will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. Just sayin’.

Did the North Korean Launch Go Exactly as Planned?

The North Korean authorities have told their people that they successfully launched a satellite into orbit with their two-stage rocket Unha 2 (That’s “Milky Way 2” for you kanji-illiterates); the rest of the world says no, that the payload never separated from the second stage, which fell well short of North Korean projections as transmitted to the signatories of the Outer Space Treaty. So, did this venture end up somewhere between “mission accomplished” and a catastrophic crash into metropolitan Tokyo? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I mean, what if they got exactly what they had planned for?

North Korea does not need a communications satellite. They don’t plan on giving their public a lot of bandwidth any time soon, and Kim Jong Il’s quite satisfied with basic cable, thank you. If they’re thinking of selling communications satellites, their surely very primitive technology will face stiff competition; we’re not talking about no-questions-asked nuclear weapons or ballistic missile technologies. So there was never much incentive for North Korea to put a satellite on top of that rocket. In fact, it would have been a waste of time and resources that the regime could ill afford.

Looked at as a pure two-stage, long-distance, ballistic missile test though, and the whole affair makes sense. There are only two things that really matter: the launch, and separation between the first and second stages—the test cleared them both. And the distance that the second stage flies can easily be controlled by the amount of fuel loaded onto the rocket. As corroborating evidence that the North Korean authorities knew exactly what they were doing, they never bothered to inform the international telecommunications authorities of the details regarding their intentions, which they would have had to do before putting a communications satellite into orbit. (It’s getting crowded out there.)

There’s the nasty little matter of the Americans and the Japanese telling the rest of world that your rocket failed its mission. But hey, politics, like history, is always local, and you can—did—tell your people what you want them to hear. Meanwhile, your military is happy, the Iranians are happy. So you have all your constituencies covered.

Okay, I can’t prove any of this. But it must make as much sense as any explanation that you’re going to hear in the coming days.

Will this kind of analysis do?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Some Thoughts around the North Korean Missile/Projectile/Rocket Launch

I am watching Sunday Project, a one-hour, forty-five minute news show; this week it’s the Taepodon 2 launch, from start to finish. Among other things, they’re showing an estimate based on known facts that the rocket will reach Japanese territory within two minutes of launch and leaves it within four of it. Moments later (or so I remember) the regular news room breaks in with the announcement that the Taepodon 2 has launched successfully at 11:30. (Good thing I changed my mind about the likely launching schedule.) I look at the clock; it’s 11:35, going on 11:36. And it’s a good clock. So, by the time the information reached the Japanese public, the projectile was already on its way over presumably safer international waters. That wasn’t a warning call; it was for all practical purposes an all-clear.

Experts gave a variety of explanations for North Korea’s insistence on actions: a) a deterrent—against the U.S., on both offense and defense; b) negotiation tactics—like the 2006 “nuclear” test that led to the bilateral negotiations (which the Bush administration had been resisting fiercely; c) (on a related point) getting the United States to pay attention—the Obama administration has been putting “Asia” on the backburners; d) cash cow—as in $1.5 billion in annual missile sales including what looks like a joint-venture relationship with Iran; and e) domestic politics—impressing the masses and placating the military. Though there’s no way of knowing what goes on in the individual and collective minds of the North Korean leadership from Kim Jong Il down, each explanation seemed to me to have a measure of truth to it. All in all, they reinforce my conviction that there is little short of regime change that would induce them to give this up, or the nuclear weapons program.

This does not directly impact Japan in terms of national security; our main concerns are the smaller, mobile, rapid-fire Rodongs—all 200 of them with nowhere to aim at except Japan. However, this does change the game for the United States, as I’ve mentioned before, and that impacts Japan. There has been an underlying tension between the two allies regarding North Korea’s nuclear program; to grossly simplify the situation, Japan fears an attack while the United States fears proliferation. From Japan’s point of view, taking North Korea off the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors did nothing, but it at least bought time for the United States.

Incidentally, we don’t hear about their drugs and counterfeiting operations anymore. What gives?

The Newsweek Leaves Japan, Leaving Behind… Chronicles (1)

Here is my first installment of what I promised yesterday. You will see when I am finished with it all that if the narrative in the Newsweek report (annotated version here) makes sense, it is only by way of accident. Janne has already demonstrated with his powers of logic (and a deadly dose of sarcasm) that the narrative itself is nearly devoid of meaning.

“Who said Japanese politics are boring? There's an electoral earthquake looming this fall, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party looks set to be turfed out for the first time (with one brief exception) since the Eisenhower administration. Waiting to take over is the Democratic Party of Japan, led by Ichiro Ozawa, a legendary political scrapper known as "the Destroyer." Ozawa promises nothing less than to turn Japan into a true two-party democracy, revolutionize its government and send most U.S. troops packing*. Boring? Hardly.”

* It depends on the definition of “most”, but they are already getting ready to leave Japan, if only the DPJ will let them. But who wants to know?
Are “most” of the U.S. Forces getting ready to leave Japan? Actually, this turns out to be my weakest argument. I should have checked the numbers, because I was seriously off the mark. The Marines in Okinawa, most of whom are slated to relocate to Guam, comprise less than half (about 43%, actually) of the U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. Their departure may be delayed somewhat though, because the DPJ is not satisfied with the golden handshake that the Japanese government has agreed to give the US—the bilateral agreement is currently up for ratification in the Diet if I remember correctly—and intends to revisit the matter after it takes power.

With that out of the way, let’s go to Ozawa’s intentions. If you go and actually read his initial statement, you will find that it was closer to an observation than a statement of policy intent on the case in point and that the real takeaway was his reaffirmation of his insistence on equal footing and dialogue. But the media did draw the logical conclusion that the U.S. Air force personnel, who comprise about 40% of the total, would have to leave if Japan became a port of call for the 7th fleet and little more. Everyone in the DPJ speaking out on the matter including Ozawa almost immediately disassociated themselves from this extrapolation, and that has been that; this is a matter of fact, not opinion. The writer either missed this—ignorance, or knew it but chose to ignore it in order to jazz up the story—deceit. Now I’m actually sure that Ozawa does want “most” of the U.S. troops to leave Japan. But then, so, I assume, do most Japanese. Few people want foreign troops on their soil if they can help it. This requires one of two things though: a) Japan foots the total bill for its national defense; or b) the Koreas, China and Russia do not, will not, pose any threats to Japan’s national security. I suspect that deep in his heart, Ozawa does want to do a), but that’s just a guess. Compared to his oft-stated desire to “turn Japan into a true two-party democracy [and] revolutionize its government”, it is at best a pipe dream, as the Ozawa/DPJ rapid backpedaling demonstrated.

* Incidentally, we saw this same phenomenon regarding Ozawa’s initial statement regarding a supposed proposal to ban all corporate money from political financing. I admit that I was initially taken in by the media’s exaggerations on that occasion.

Request regarding New Komeito

Do you have recommendations for reading and/or insights on Komeito/New Komeito? Particularly welcome is anything that helps understand how and when it gets what it wants and when it doesn't as the LDP’s junior coalition partner. Both Japanese and English texts are welcome. This will be a key element of a book that a friend of mine is co-writing. The scholar comes to this blog fairly frequently (thanks), so please post any leads here. If for any reason you prefer not to post it here, please email: For offline material, please indicate, if possible, the title of the book/magazine/monograph and the names of the author and publisher.

Thank you.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Some of My Best My Friends Are Italians

Well, one of them, anyway. Now look, Hu Jintao I can understand—no, we Japanese aren’t happy, but we get it, okay? And Gordon Brown, the host, sure. And the Saudi guy, whoever he is, we need his money too…

So I guess my question is, why does this photo remind me of that old German joke:
Ex-soldiers from the Third Reich, the Imperial Army, and Mussolini’s troops are having a drink, talkin’ about the old times, when the German guy, now very drunk, leans over to the Japanese guy and whispers, “Next time we go to war, no Italians”.
You tell me. And it’s a good reminder that you don’t have to look like Stephen Colbert to look like Stephen Colbert.

And the Queen is not amused either.

ADD April 5: Can we say trifecta? Yes we can!

The Real Issues at Stake with Regard to the North Korean Rocket Launch

There’s a small but non-negligible chance that the North Korean projectile will fall on Japanese territory, causing damage, and the Japanese media and political establishment are up in arms about that. This means that the most important issues are being given short shrift. They are:
1) A successful launch will have little impact on Japan’s national security profile. Most of the fallout, as it were, will come down on the United States.
2) A failed launch followed by a failed MD intercept, as Matt Dioguardi casually intimated in a comment to my earlier post, will significantly harm the defense system’s deterrent effect.
The first, most likely outcome—after all, North Korea must have a lot of confidence in its rocket to launch it to such fanfare; the Iranian connection must be bringing clear, tangible benefits—is the most favorable one for Japan if you limit considerations to security issues in an actual sense (that is, the abduction issue is treated as a social interest story). It brings U.S. national interests more closely in line with Japan’s, and that can’t be bad for the latter. (I’ve commented before on the Japan-U.S. gap regarding North Korea’s nuclear program and its consequences.) The second outcome is the most damaging one for both allies, though Japan’s ruling coalition has far more to lose in terms of domestic politics. There are other failed launch scenarios, but I don’t think it’s worth the time to go over them.

Finally, I think the launch will come later, rather than sooner. North Korea has the world as a stage; that hasn’t happened in a while, and they’re going to hold onto the karaoke mike as long as they can.*

* ADD April 5: I take this back. North Korea will launch at the first technically viable chance, since the window of opportunity is short.

Michelle Obama You’re Not Supposed to Touch the Queen

By jove, no. She’s supposed to touch us.

In case you have too much time on your hands and too little to do with them, remember that Wikipedia does not have an entry on the Royal Touch. Yet.

The Parable of Taro Aso, Cub Reporter; and an Announcement

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a parable as “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.”
So after two years at Stanford, the young Taro Aso walks into the Asahi Shinbun bureau in Los Angeles and asks for a job. He’s hired on the spot. The next day, his boss asks him, What’s in the news today? and Aso gives him a rundown on what he’s seen on the three networks—there’s no CNN, no Fox, actually, no cable TV yet—and his boss says, Great, so what have you got in the LA Times and Aso says, I dunno, man, I can’t read English”.

And that’s how Aso came to give up journalism and go into politics…
Kidding. Actually, it was his Japanese language skills that got him fired.

Kidding again. Actually, it can be done. Back in the day, when I handled foreign press relations for METI, I would read articles on Japan in The Economist and think, Holy Sh!t, these guys are more reliable than the Japanese media, and I’ve never met a journalist there, then, and since, who can really read Japanese. The wire services generally do a credible job, and I don’t think they exclusively assign Japanese-language experts to their Japan desks either.

It’s easy to see what these people have going for them. They have Japanese staffs to help them, and individual journalists can focus on specific areas, building up contacts and a body of expertise. Without these things to help you, you have to rely on whatever you can find in the English-language media on the subject and experts who are willing to talk to you. That means that you are relying on stories and the conventional wisdom in the English-language media. They usually have at least a measure of credibility to themselves—Observing Japan, for example, is an excellent blog, far more informative on Japanese politics than mine; and yes, the national bureaucracy in Japan has long been a more powerful force than its U.S. counterparts (but likely not compared to the French, yet we never hear about France, Inc.…)—but given limited language skills and expertise, which moreover conspire with time constraints, the narrative tends to illustrate, not illuminate, the theme of your report. So the thrust of your report may be correct, but your facts may be wrong and assessments off the mark, in which case you’re no better than the proverbial broken clock (must google to find the proverb of the broken clock)…

Finally, remember that President Truman used to mispronounce words, and he’s considered one of the better Presidents that the United States has had.

Now, the stupid stuff out of the way, I’m sure there are many people out there who disagree with what I wrote in Globaltalk 21 Raw, are not sure, or can’t figure out what I’m talking about in the first place. So I’m going to use some of my spare time to go over them in the coming days as independent posts. Some of those points I’ve no doubt covered one way or another. Hopefully, my efforts will yield something beyond mere deconstruction—which Shisaku has already discouraged.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Still Waiting for an Apology…

I’ve had second thoughts. I mean, am I being too cruel to half a vegetable? Should I have demanded an apology from a non-sentient being in the first place? The answers are: no, and no. So, I leave it to you to decide who has the better case. I think he’s insulted me, besmirched my character, then tried to talk his way out of it without even taking it back by turning it into a demand. Nice try, but see if that works during working hours. In the meantime, to let the rest of you know that I did read the article carefully before I came to any conclusions, I’ve put my notes out here in anticipation. I’ll be happy to elaborate on the notes therein and other points in an appropriate forum. People who have followed my blog know that I do my best to avoid making assertions when I don’t have plenty of back up—my leaps of faith are marked by words like “think” and “guess”—and am quick to apologize when I err.

A word of caution: Be careful when you go on the (counter)attack, because you never know what the other guy has up his sleeve. Trust me, I’ve been on both ends of that stick.

What Should We Do with the North Korean Projectile?

If the rocket or any of its major components go on a trajectory that would likely cause it to fall somewhere on Japanese land, then it wouldn’t make sense not to try to intercept it. The North Korean authorities appear to be making threats in this regard, but they’re leaving themselves enough room to talk their way out of having to make a counterattack without losing face by claiming that the Japanese actions did not turn out to be an attack. Besides, what can the North Korean authorities do? Impose a trade embargo? What’s more intriguing is this: Will the U.S. Aegis destroyers in the area also fire their missiles at a falling (or about-to-fall) projectile? I’m not sure that point has been adequately addressed publicly. I assume they will; if they don’t, that will surely unsettle the Japanese public and seriously impact the bilateral security relationship. Either way, it’s a matter that cannot be tabled until the occasion actually arises.

But why shoot it down if it’s likely to fall into the sea, even if it’ happens to be our territorial waters? Even in Tokyo Bay, the chances of a hit causing damage should be lower than getting a hit on your number in a turn of roulette—not that I would recommend taking that chance, but still. Shouldn’t we take the claims of the North Korean authorities at face value and retrieve it for them, check the device to make sure that it was indeed a satellite launch, then hand it over in the spirit of neighborliness…after, of course, they reimburse us for costs incurred?

Incidentally, the English-language media is calling it both a “missile” and a “rocket”. It appears to hang on the whim of the reporter (or the copy desk). The Japanese media, except for that one example that I referred to, consistently calls it “misairu”, or “missile”.