Thursday, November 30, 2006

Evidence of attitude problems

In a bit of fairy-light posting, I offer a short visual tour of the images of Murakami Yoshiaki plastered upon the fronts of the evening editions of the major daily newspapers.

Courtesy: The Nihon Keizai Shimbun

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

Courtesy: The Mainichi Shimbun

Why do I come away with the impression that the editors of these publications are encouraging a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion?

Murakami, by the way, has plead not guilty. Good for him!

Now if he can only beat that signed confession rap...

Congratulations are in store

Congratulations to Shisaku reader and media message master DT and his wife on the birth of their first child, a son.

Omedetō gozaimasu.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Cool Shades Game, Again

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

It was a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Beautiful day

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case

Photo Courtesy: The Prime Minister's Residence
Lyrics Courtesy (and with apologies to) U2

Thematic antecedents below and, more famously, here.

Later - I am so embarrassed. Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times makes the connection and steals away with the killer pun. I cannot believe I missed a play on words that scrumptious. I mean, it was staring at me straight in the face.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eleven of Twelve

So the Dirty 11, rather than the full Dirty Dozen, regain membership in Japan's least exclusive club.
Chapter closes in saga of LDP postal rebels
The Yomiuri Shimbun

With their readmission, the latest development in the saga of the Liberal Democratic Party's postal rebels can be considered the close of a chapter.

The 12 postal rebels were among those ousted last year by the LDP over their opposition to the party's postal privatization policy. The group, which includes former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, submitted a joint petition Monday, seeking to rejoin the party.

Of the 12, 11 also submitted written pledges to support postal privatization and reflect on their past antiparty conduct. The exception was Hiranuma who has not changed his stance of opposing the privatization of Japan Post. The 11 legislators are to be readmitted to the party.

While they had a difference of opinion with the party over the privatization of the postal services, the postal rebels share the party's views when it comes to political principles and basic policy issues such as national security, education and the Constitution.

As such, it was only reasonable for some to point out the absurdity of their being apart from the party.

Nonetheless, the turmoil within the party over the issue of readmitting the postal rebels has made it difficult for voters to understand the situation.
So Nakagawa Hideanao (I am toying with calling him Nakagawa the Good, differentiating him from the head of the policy research council, Nakagawa the Barking Mad) held his ground, saving the LDP's shreaded reputation from annihilation.

Good for him (bad for the Democrats).

That being said, what the [expletive deleted] is up with the Yomiuri Shimbun? Its editorial stance toward the Abe-led LDP has verged upon the fellatial.

Is the sycophancy an attempt to compensate for the massive fall in revenue resulting from the Giants having stunk so bad for so long (C'mon, they have just signed Ogasawara Michiro, an Amaterasudamned freak of nature. If they just put him, a pitcher, a shortstop and a catcher out there--that's a team) that even Nippon Terebi hesitates broadcasting Giants games anymore?

Seriously, even the Sankei Shimbun, which is in extasy over one of its own taking over the prime ministership, holds a less Panglossian view of the goings on in Nagata-chō.

Monday, November 27, 2006

About that parliamentary democracy...thing... seems that for the first time a newspaper that is not called The Asahi Shimbun has found support for the Abe Cabinet falling into the fifties:

Support rating for Abe Cabinet plummets to 53 percent
Mainichi Interactive

The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plummeted 14 percent from the previous poll to 53 percent, according to the results of a Mainichi Shimbun survey.

Behind the decline appears to be the government's slow response to the rise in suicides by schoolchildren after they were bullied at school and other problems related to education, as well as the LDP's move to allow rebellious legislators to rejoin the party, observers said.

Some experts pointed out that the public has been disappointed with Abe's lack of leadership, which has caused a split within the governing party.

A lack of leadership? Well, maybe.

Perhaps less a lack of leadership than a lack of understanding.

Abe wishes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, concentrating power and decision making in the Kantei to form a pseudo-presidential office.

However, Abe is missing a huge piece of the puzzle. The celebrated Mr. K understood either instinctively or through shrewd observation of the political process that if you wanted to be a president, you had to run for president--and not just of the ruling party. Without a real presidential election in Japan, where the voters choose their leader, the man who wishes to be president of Japan has to conjure up a direct line between himself and the voters EVERY SINGLE DAY. Koizumi gekijō, the political theater Koizumi put on before the voters to remind them that "I am your guy. Without your support I would have never been able to do this"--was the pass key to the vast increase of the prime minister's authority during Mr. K's five years in office.

Abe is trying to accrete power without doing the groundwork. After winning the party presidency in a walkover election thanks the support of party bigwigs and ideological fellow travelers, he has forgotten the public, except in his administration's nearly bottomless faith the motivational power of abductee issue. He does not reach out to the public as the source of his authority. Instead, he seems to believe that power is inherent in the position of Prime Minister (Somebody send him a biography of Benjamin Disraeli, quick!).

Abe has also become remarkably cavalier about the policy freelancing and loose tongues of his ministers, again because he believes the aura about the office of prime minister trumps all.

Can someone please put on a videotape of Kanemaru Shin telling the then Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi to go up the karaoke machine and sing something for everyone?

That'll show just about anyone watching exactly how much "aura" the office of PM has.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wow, is this going to ever be expensive...

...if it can be fixed at all. A ding like this looks like something with the potential to permanently screw up a submarine's noise- and friction-suppressing countours.

For once, it may be a good thing Japan retires its oldest subs at absurdly young ages, well before the end of their effective service lives. Whichever submarine was scheduled to be the next forced into premature retirement may have just won itself a few years a reprieve from the cutting torch.

Later: It seems that francophone minds think alike.


Does anyone understand how these persons were chosen to discuss what it is they are purported to be discussing?

Courtesy: Yahoo Japan News

Japan needs a more robust advisory body on national security at the prime minister's left elbow. However, membership in such a body cannot be just a reward for past glories and recent episodes of multiple aggravations of top bureaucrats.

An example of what I am talking about?

While not the most egregious appointment by any means, I cannot imagine what Sassa Atsuyuki will be bringing to this power conference. I love Sassa-sensei as much as anybody (How could people not think you the bees knees after all the accolades, not the least which is having Yakusho Kōji play you in a motion picture?).

Sassa-sensei, however, has been outside the mainline the security apparat for two decades. The years, furthermore, have also not been kind to him: he struggles to get around with a cane. Advising the prime minister on national security and steering him away from really dumb ideas of some of the panel's more irrepressible hawks will require tremendous reserves of energy--particularly with this Prime Minister, who is as slippery as an elver.

I just do not see that fire in Sassa-sensei anymore, nor in Ishihara Nobuo either.

However, what we have here may be only another example of Abe's love of showy commissions with numbing non-mandates.

See if you can spot the subtle lack of connection between the first and second paragraphs of yesterday's Yomiuri editorial:

Creating 'Japanese NSC' requires Abe to take lead
The Yomiuri Shimbun

China's growing military power, North Korea's nuclear test and other factors have drastically altered the security environment surrounding Japan, making it extremely important for this country to create a unified organ within the government that can pursue a strategic security policy and deal with a national emergency.

An advisory panel chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was launched Wednesday to enhance the functions of the Prime Minister's Office concerning national security.

When Japan is challenged by looming immediate threats, threats demanding the establishment of an advisory body coordinating the various parts of the government charged with the maintenance of Japan's security--wouldn't a person of normal intellect establish that advisory body?

However, from the account above, the new advisory body on Japanese National Security is not that body.

Instead the new advisory body on national security policy is considering the establishment of a future National Security Council, one which they hope will replace the existing National Security Council, which has proven to be no more than rubber stamp (I'm quoting Yomiuri here) of decisions made elsewhere.

Has no one been thinking about the nuts and bolts of the upgraded "Japanese NSC"--so that all we get now is a group considering the options?

Finally, this week's winner of the Bonehead of Obliviousness Award goes to the author(s) of the op-ed, for this stunning bit of insight.

Sectionalism ties govt's hands

Both the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency have been unwilling to help the Prime Minister's Office strengthen its authority over foreign and security affairs, apparently worried that their authorities in these fields could be undermined.

Oh, have they, "apparently"?


* = "Yet Another Right Wing Icon Employment Vanity Project"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hey Democrats!

Yeah, I would hesitate to enter this establishment too.

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun

Honestly, these should be days of wine and roses for the Democratic Party. The government is reeling from student suicides and letters to the Minister of Education & Everything Else threatening student suicides (even if some of the letters are coming from adults); the Ministry has been paying ringers to pretend to be disinterested members of the public asking pro-reform questions at "talk straight to the Minister" town hall meetings; and hundreds of high schools in the country are caught redhanded falsefying the attendance records of their pupils in an effort to fulfill national education requirements.

And the government's legal remedy for these crises: exhortations to love one's country and home district.

Why all the glum faces Dems? So you lost in Okinawa because of rank stupidity on the part of your leadership (Hatoyama Yukio on the election: "We thought the bases problem would be the battleground but the power of business interests was made vividly apparent." The LDP-supported candidate was a former MITI bureaucrat and the former president of Okinawa Power. Did Hatoyama think the Okinawa Chamber of Commerce was going to remain neutral? Iiiiiddiiootttt!)

Anyway, strip away your inhibitions and get in there! Score some cheap and easy points in the House of Councillors debate on this odious bit of legislative fluff! Get on television! Go crazy!

You really have nothing to lose.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More shipping news

A lumpy, little-heralded but steady increase of anti-missile capabilities....

USS McCampbell to replace USS Gary at Yokosuka
Stars and Stripes Pacific edition

Sunday, November 19, 2006 - The guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell will replace the USS Gary at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, the Navy announced Friday.

The Arleigh Burke-class McCampbell, currently based at San Diego, is scheduled to arrive at Yokosuka in June.

After a turn-over of duties, the Gary will return to the United States, the Navy said.
So the Aegis-equipped McCampbell (DDG-85) (9,217 tons, 153.9 m) replaces the guided missile frigate Gary (4,100 tons, 135.9 m).

This brings the total of Aegis-equipped vessels in the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk Strike Group to seven. Kyōdō, however, is claiming the number of Aegis-equipped USN vessels at Yokosuka will rise to nine.

A Carrier Strike Group with seven Arleigh Burke class destroyers?

Well, whatever the number, let us hope they bring along some much-needed anti-submarine warfare capabilities...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sailing! Sailing! O'er the Bounding Main!

Ah, the Okinawans!

Campaigning with their hearts, voting with their pocketbooks...

Ruling bloc-backed candidate wins election seen as test for US military move

A candidate backed by the ruling coalition won Sunday's closely watched gubernatorial election in Okinawa, where thousands of U.S. forces are based, electoral officials announced.

Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, a bureaucrat-turned-former utility president with support from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition, collected 347,303 votes, narrowly beating Keiko Itokazu by just over 37,000 votes, said prefectural election board official Maiko Tashiro.

A close race had been expected between the two main candidates, who hold opposite views on Tokyo's plans to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps airstrip to another site on the island.

Itokazu, 59, a former lawmaker backed by opposition parties, opposes the relocation plan and wants the airstrip moved off the island.

"I am happy the candidate we supported won," Abe told reporters in Hanoi, where he was on a state visit after attending a Pacific Rim summit. "We want to continue to lend our ears to the voices of the people of Okinawa."

[For the record, that last sentence in full was: "Futan keigen o nentō ni, jimoto no setsujitsu na koe ni mimi o katamukete susumetai" = "With the thought in my mind of reducing their burdens, I wish to go forward with the inclining of my ear to the compelling voices of the local area."]

Every time the Okinawans vote this way--and as economic dependents of the mainland's ministries, they vote this way a lot--they say to themselves, "Surely, THIS TIME the government will not stiff us."

And just as surely, the government does.

The game continues, round after round, governor after governor, mayor after mayor...because the Hondo government and the Okinawans know that if the Okinawans do not vote the LDP line, they get absolutely nothing.

So there's no change in the wind for the hard right (starboard?) course of the Abe Cabinet.

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Blogging Wilbur and Orville

For anyone following the Song-class submarine's pop up near the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, defense technology blogger Noah Schachtman and the commentators at Defense Tech present a compilation of wonk's eye views.

Humble military blogger Murdoc and former intelligence agent Spook86 provide more links and discussion of the incident.

The long dark mornings of the soul

Monday is shaping up to be one of the most interesting days in a long while for the LDP.

Yesterday, the government rammed the draft of the new Basic Law on Education through the House of Representatives despite the opposition boycott of the session (or should I say because of the opposition boycott of the session?)

Though I have no polls to consult, Sunday's Okinawa gubernatorial election looks like it's going to be a disheartening slog for the LDP-backed candidate.

The rancor over the readmission of the postal rebels is hardening.

Now if the LDP candidate loses on Sunday, what will Nakagawa Hidenao do? He specifically postponed the readmission of the rebels so that it would not interfere with the Okinawa election. If the LDP should still lose in Okinawa anyway, will Nakagawa have to consider postponing readmission until after a Wakayama special election?

On the 9th in the evening, the Nikkei Shimbun published a long article asking what the big deal is about the rebels anyway. The article pointed out that a number of the party's senior members are returnees and that Nikai Toshihiro, Kono Yōhei, Ōgi Chikage have even led opposition parties. It also notes that, like it or not, the LDP is Abe Shinzo's party now--and the rebels were, until their departure, among Abe's closest ideological soulmates. If he wants them back in--well, that's his business, isn't it?

On the other side, a lot of editorialists have railed at the readmission of the postal rebels as being a betrayal of public promises made by the LDP. I, idiot that I am, cannot remember the LDP saying the rebels will forever remain outside the party. So how is their readmission a betrayal of promises made to the people?

What has been amazing is how the obvious, or what I think is obvious, has slipped the notice of the commentariat.

Readmitting the postal rebels, even after they have voted for the postal reform legislation and Abe in the Diet prime ministerial selection, remains a serious political blunder. Not because they cannot deliver the single seat victories in their home prefectures--maybe they can. Not because the public was told that the rebels would never be readmitted--they weren't.


It is because -- and I fail to see why this is so difficult to grasp--the rebels did not leave the party--THEY WERE EXPELLED.

They did not leave the LDP in disgust at the party's clientalism and collusion--they were kicked out because they symbolized clientalism and collusion!

So, when Monday comes around, and Nakagawa visits the PM to report on the repercussions from the Okinawa election--upon the U.S.-Japan alliance, upon the push to include patriotism in the curriculum, upon the Prime Minister's popularity--will he also have something to say about the readmission of the Dirty 11?

What may he say?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Step 1) Insert Hand in Cookie Jar

New endangered species discovered in Japan: the unindicted prefectural governor.

Wakayama Governor Kimura faces arrest
The Asahi Shimbun

11/16/2006--OSAKA--Prosecutors on Wednesday obtained an arrest warrant for Wakayama Governor Yoshiki Kimura, who faces the dubious distinction of becoming Japan's first incumbent governor arrested for suspected involvement in bid-rigging.

Kimura, 54, on Nov. 2 expressed his intention to resign to take responsibility for confusion in the Wakayama prefectural government related to the suspected collusion. He is expected to step down Dec. 2.
I wonder if Kimura is not feeling at least a little spark of pride at being the first in something.

Honestly, it really requires a special level of ineptitude to get yourself arrested for dangō offenses committed in 2004. I mean, it has been less than a year since the four major construction companies took the plunge and swore they would give up illegal bid-rigging.

Is that all you got, Shinzō?

O.K . folks, this is starting to get grotesque:
APECで拉致も提起=安倍首相 (no link)

If and when Prime Minister Abe makes mention of the horrible injustice visited upon the citizens of his nation, I hope Hun Sen passes a note to Susilo Yudhoyono, "This guy is kidding, right?"

Seriously, does every single act undertaken by the Abe government have to have an abductee angle?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What's Up with That?

From the screaming headlines of today's morning papers, one would think that the habit of speaking very freely in English language interviews had infected the top of the political classes:


Sadly, the quote is a manufactured one. Here is the actual passage from The Washington Post article:
Japanese Premier Plans to Fortify U.S. Ties in Meeting With Bush
Washington Post

By Anthony Faiola -- TOKYO, Nov. 14 -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday outlined a vision for a stronger Japan and vowed to fortify the U.S.-Japan security alliance during his first official meeting with President Bush in Hanoi this weekend.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post, Abe, who succeeded Junichiro Koizumi in September, also said he would push to redraft Japan's pacifist constitution.

In the current charter, which was drafted by the United States during its occupation of Japan following World War II, Tokyo effectively renounces the use of virtually any form of aggression. Abe, saying he hoped to foster a "new spirit" in Japan, said he would seek a new constitution within six years -- referring to the maximum time a prime minister can serve in office.

Few postwar Japanese leaders have secured such long terms. Given new threats facing Japan -- most notably a nuclear North Korea -- Abe suggested that his administration could take the interim step of reinterpreting the existing constitution to increase defensive capabilities.

Abe noted that it is unclear whether Tokyo is permitted under its own constitution to shoot down a ballistic missile flying over Japanese territory en route to the United States. Rules of engagement for Japanese troops on overseas peacekeeping missions are also severely limited by the constitution. Under current interpretations, for instance, Japanese troops are not permitted to defend themselves -- or U.S. or other allied troops -- unless directly fired upon.

But leading Japanese scholars have said policy changes to address such issues may not require the adoption of a new constitution, and could instead be made through official clarifications issued by the cabinet. While declining to provide a timetable for declaring new security protocols, Abe called for options to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

"We need to take up each individual example and study whether they . . . infringe upon the constitution," he said.

Neat how the ellipsis in the English matches up with the parenthesis in the Japanese.

Even though this looks like a false alarm, last week I recall one of the dailies chiding a government official for saying to The Financial Times things he would never say in the Diet or in an interview with a Japanese news source.

Ever since Abe became Prime Minister, an atypical commensal relationship seems to have developed between the worthies of Japanese politics and the British stalwarts of business reporting (the FT and The Economist). The worthies say something straddling the border between pedestrian and self-evident. The papers use their reputation of probity and rigor to amplify the utterance from statement to revelation.

What's atypical is the reliance on the British papers, rather than the NYT, the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post.

What's up with that?

The Following is Not News

I wish I could understand the ifs and whens of not-news making the quantum leap to newsworthiness:

Japan says its constitution would allow nukes for defense
The Associated Press

TOKYO — Japan's new government said today the country's pacifist constitution allows it to own nuclear weapons for self-defense, a news report said...

And for those of us not paying attention, this has been the official Japanese government position since 1958.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Down is the New Up

Just when the view of the countryside looked grim, the boys and girls of the statistics bureaux post up some upbeat news:

Japan's Economy Expands at Twice Expected Annual Pace

By Lily Nonomiya -- Nov. 14 -- Japan's economy grew twice as fast as expected in the third quarter, spurring gains in the yen on speculation the central bank will raise interest rates next month to cool surging corporate spending.

Gross domestic product in the three months ended Sept. 30 grew an annualized 2 percent, the Cabinet Office said in Tokyo today. Second-quarter growth was revised to 1.5 percent from 1 percent.

Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui said last week the central bank needs to act ``in advance'' to prevent the lowest interest rates among major economies from triggering excessive capital investment. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average jumped today on expectations the longest expansion since World War II will increase profits.

``We're seeing an increasing possibility that the Bank of Japan will raise rates'' as soon as December, said Ryutaro Kono, chief economist at BNP Paribas in Tokyo. Confirmation a slump in consumer spending was temporary and a quarterly Tankan business confidence survey that improves would be among factor that may influence sway a decision, he said.

The yen rose to 117.68 per dollar at 10:59 a.m. in Tokyo from 118.04 before the report. The Nikkei 225 advanced 1.6 percent, the biggest gain in more than five weeks. The yield on five-year notes rose 6.5 basis points to 1.225 percent.

Growth May Slow

The median forecast of 33 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for the economy to expand at an annual rate of 1 percent. The economy expanded 0.5 percent from the previous quarter, above the 0.2 percent forecast.

Since the end of the quarter, some data have shown that the pace of Japan's growth may be cooling. Bank lending slowed for a third straight month in October, and machinery orders, an indicator of future capital spending plans, had their biggest drop on record in the third quarter.

Capital spending in the quarter surged 2.9 percent, more than three times the 0.9 percent gain expected. Mizuho Financial Group Inc., Japan's second-largest bank by market value, and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the nation's biggest power company, announced plans this month to invest as the economy grows.

The gain in business spending more than offset a 0.7 percent decline in outlays by consumers, twice as much as the 0.3 percent drop expected. Expenditure slid amid a spell of bad weather that kept shoppers at home and as wages growth stalled.

First of all, that capital spending number really bothers me. If it is correct (and the authors of these numbers now say that GDP growth in the second quarter was half again as large as their original estimate--which is means they missed growth in economic output equivalent to the economic output of Sri Lanka during that period[measured on an exchange rate basis]) then producers must be thinking they will be able to work out their long-term profitability problems by ramping up production capacity, cutting prices and forcing out the weakest of their competitors.

Great plan...except, of course, it never works out that way. If the competitors are Japanese firms, they are bailed out by their keiretsu cousins. If the competitors are non-Japanese firms, they are bailed out by their home governments.

So the wheel of overinvestment keeps turning...

Secondly, is it possible we do not feel that the economy growing because it is shrinking?

The figures in the article above are for growth in "real GDP"...which, as we know, is a product of the deflator.

When one compares the "real" with the nominal GDP, the actual number of yen moving through the economy, one is hit with a bit of a shock:

in billions of yen

Real GDP:

05 Q3 134827
05 Q4 140745
06 Q1 135751
06 Q2 135968
06 Q3 138517

Nominal GDP:

05 Q3 123153
05 Q4 133037
06 Q1 123511.
06 Q2 127182
06 Q3 125490

Amaterasu! Please don't tell me they're fiddling with the GDP deflator again!

In the "real" figures, where somebody tries to guess the relative value of different products in addition plugging in the inflation rate, output increased by 2.6 trillion yen over the last quarter.

However, in the nominal world, that is to say the real world without the quotation marks, the value of output fell by 1.7 trillion yen.

OK, OK, OK--so these are not the seasonally adjusted figures...but still, a drop is a drop...unless you are in the "real" world I guess.

Jaundiced view

When Indian quants do not like the numbers you are tossing have a problem.
Is history repeating itself in Japan?
Despite the compelling case to be optimistic about Japan, there is also evidence to the contrary
The Financial Express

V Anantha Nageswaran - When Mr Abe took over as the Prime Minister of Japan, he had to contend with North Korean missiles. Now, he has to contend with Japanese machinery orders—an indication of industrial production. Orders dropped 7.4% year-on-year in September, though the consensus forecast called for a rise of 1.8%. Putting on a brave face, Mr Toshihiko Fukui, the governor of the Bank of Japan (BoJ), had said he expected interest rates to rise “soon.” The short-rate in Japan stands at a paltry 0.25%. Interest rate futures show that the market expects this rate to be around 0.75% by end-2007. That reflects expectations of modest growth and a very slow exit out of deflation in Japan. Mr Fukui obviously does not concur with the market’s assessment. He is concerned about the risks of keeping rates too low rather than the risk of raising them too prematurely. Is he right?

The question is whether the BoJ is about to repeat its policy errors of the past. The Lex column of The Financial Times last Thursday expressed scepticism on the Japanese recovery story, and for good reason. Mr Takenaka, the former financial services minister has questioned the actions of the BoJ in mopping up money supply and liquidity too quickly from the economy. He blames that action for the economic slowdown.

Our belief in the Japanese economic recovery this time is based on the following: (a) It is driven by the private sector; (b) It is coming on the back of a genuine cleanup in the banking sector; (c) It is based on a classical recovery pattern seen in the US in the ’90s with investment spending and corporate profits recovery; and (d) it is based on a firming of land and property prices.

Yet, recent data has created a noise of slowdown so loud it is hard to ignore. Bank lending growth has slowed for the second month in a row. The Economy Watchers’ Survey indicates a softening of the optimism on current conditions. The chart shows that the level of optimism has crested twice at 55 and has been unable to break above that level. It is just above break even now. The October survey is not available yet in English and the details would be as important, if not more, as the headline index reading.
The BOJ would have an easier time in conducting monetary policy if it knew which metric it should be following.

Consumer prices and average wages? They are being held down by globalization-- i.e. the great shift of world manufacturing to China and now India.

Producer prices? Rising due to globalization, as the two Asian giants rapidly increase their demand for the world's commodities and intermediate goods.

Wages at the low end of the scale and unemployment? In the services base wages are rising thanks to the economic recovery and the shrinking of the labor force--but surreptitious immigration (globalization again) may be setting a ceiling on the rise, throwing a wrench in the reallocation of members of the workforce from manufacturing or unemployment to services.

Housing starts? The BOJ's super low interest rates are encouraging vast borrowing by general construction companies, who have kept their businesses going by throwing up gigantic apartment complexes in the former industrial areas of bayside Tokyo.

Investment in Japan? With the government on line to once again reduce spending on public works by 3% in the coming fiscal year and the current lull in capital investment, how could the BOJ get away with raising the cost of borrowing?

The international value of the yen? The BOJ's super low rates are encouraging the carry trade, the selling of yen on international markets for U.S. dollars, New Zealand bonds--anything that can earn a decent rate of return. The yen stays cheap and the world's markets remain flooded with liquidity, inflating and exacerbating investment bubbles in the U.S. bonds, in Shanghai real estate, in Australian commodities--just about everything everywhere.

What's a good central banker to do? What about an evil one?


If there is one item in the Socialist Party's and Communist Party's electoral bag of tricks that really puts me off, its their song and dance about the dangers posed by the readmission of American beef.

Food safety? In Japan? Ha!

Japan reports 30th mad cow case

A 5-year and 4-month-old female cow, which died last week in northern Japan, has tested positive for mad cow disease, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Monday.

This is the 30th case of confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Japan, according to a release of the ministry.

The cow was born on a farm in Chitose, Hokkaido in June 2001 before the implementation of a ban on meat-and-bone meal suspected of being a cause of the brain-wasting disease, the ministry said.


Of course, in Japan, no one ever hides embarrassing or incriminating information.

The most hilarious part...well perhaps not so hilarious to the individuals who will die of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease because they ate Japanese beef rather than U.S. that the LDP cannot call the Socialists and the Communists out on their biased stupidity...because, of course, pointing out the glaring difference in the number of BSE cases in Japan and the United States, both in actual and relative terms, would so upset the voters in the farming constiuencies.


Bah twice!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Schadenfraude in Hanguk

Well, we know how the news of last week is playing Seoul, at least:

Comfort women bill likely to get another chance in Pelosi-led House

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12-- A U.S. congressional bill holding Japan accountable for sexual enslavement during World War II has a renewed chance of going to the House floor for a full vote next year if Rep. Nancy Pelosi is elected House speaker as expected, close sources said Sunday.

The U.S. House Committee on International Relations passed a resolution in September demanding Japan acknowledge and accept responsibility for enslaving young women, known as "comfort women." This is the first bill to be passed by a U.S. legislature on the issue but is not likely to reach the House in the current session.

"(If Pelosi becomes the House speaker,) she is more likely to bring it to the floor," a source close to Congress told Yonhap News Agency. Pelosi is characterized as a human rights advocate, and is especially outspoken on women's and China issues.

Hundreds of thousands of women, mostly Koreans, were coerced or lured to serve Japanese soldiers at frontline brothels during World War II when Korea was colonized by Japan. Tokyo has admitted to the existence of comfort women, but denies its imperial government was directly involved in operating the brothels.

Two previous House resolutions on comfort women, submitted in 2001 and last year, were shelved, due mainly to Japanese lobbying.

Which begs the question--who inside Japan's cohort in Washington has any credibility with the old guard of the Democratic Party?

Ambassador Katō?

And who on the American side speaks for Japan's interest?


Well then, Prime Minister Abe can look forward to a nice juicy resolution coming of the House International Relations Committee just before the summer break in 2008. Maybe more than one.

It's a presidential election year...a time for dramatic gestures and naked pandering.

Oh, how the members of the Washington Corps fell over each other in a rush to whisper sweet nothings in Republican ears, even unto the eve of last week's election! Oh, how they now must rue their misspent youth! Like the cherries of the Tidal Basin, how bereft of cover and barren the scene in the sudden chill!

Sins of Commission

Well, it seems you cannot win them all through butterfly kissing the Chinese and the South Koreans:
DPJ Gains Momentum With Victory In Fukushima Governors Race
Nikkei Net
(English behind the subscription wall, free 日本語 here)

TOKYO--The Democratic Party of Japan is expected to step up its confrontational stance toward the ruling parties during the remaining month of the Diet session, emboldened by the Nov. 12 victory of the Fukushima Prefecture gubernatorial election by a candidate it supported.

It seems the people in the chihō are as ticked off about graft and corruption as them sophisticated city folks we so often hear about.

A victory by 102,000 votes in a multiparty election in Fukushima is a slaughter...and did I ever say anything about the significance of turnout for the Democratic Party?

On what was arguably one of the prettiest Sundays (albeit a bit windy and cold) in recent memory, right after a Saturday of dismal, incessant rain, 59% of eligible voters turned out for a by-election!

(Cue the Dragnet theme music)

And wouldn't you know it, the Okinawa gubernatorial election is next weekend, pitting a well-coiffed former member of the House of Councillors (59 - female) supported by all the opposition parties against the diminutive former president of Okinawa Electric Power and political novice (67 - male) supported by the LDP and the Komeitō.


(Cue the Dragnet theme music again).

Aaahh, lookey here. Here's a Japan Times article on the Fukushima outcome (Link rot warning: JT links usually go dead within 48 hours)

Sins of Omission

An advisory council to the Ambassador from Mangaland Minister of Foreign Affairs has come to what some might call a foregone conclusion:

Pop culture key to foreign relations, new report says
The Yomiuri Shimbun

An advisory panel to Foreign Minister Taro Aso that was established to improve cooperation and understanding between Japan and other countries has drawn up a report proposing the use of Japanese pop culture, including comics and anime, as a diplomatic tool, sources said Saturday.

According to the report by the Council on the Movement of People Across Borders, Japanese pop culture has become enormously popular with young people overseas.
The report goes on to say that to help related industries expand their business opportunities abroad, it is important that cultural events in other countries are properly promoted, and that the government urge foreign leaders to take adequate measures against pirated products.

The council also proposed the establishment of a so-called ambassador of anime culture--a person who would introduce contemporary Japanese artwork to other countries--as well as a Japan comic award targeting overseas cartoonists. It also called for the creation of a pop culture study group consisting of ministries, agencies and industries related to the field.
Oh, surely it is not worth the Yomiuri's while to mention somewhere in the article that our current Minister of Foreign Affairs--the Minister of Foreign Affairs--finds the time to sit down and read through 7-8 manga books every bloody week --for, as we know, the personal proclivities of ministers in the Abe Cabinet have nothing to do with the findings published by their advisory committees*.

Ambassador of anime culture? Will she be allowed to wear her colorful native garb?

* In a recent post, I opined about Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Suga Yoshihide's ordering NHK to publicize stories regarding the DPRK abductees in shortwave radio broadcasts. It turns out the plan to use NHK in this way dates from March of this year, when the then Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Comminications Suga asked around whether any loopholes existed in the Broadcasting Law that could be exploited to facilitate such an order. The idea indeed became known in in the Ministry as "The Senior Vice Minister's Proposition."

Friday, November 10, 2006

This is pragmatism?

Heck of a front page this morning for the Asahi Shimbun, eh?

Three of the Four Horsemen of what could turn out the July 2007 Apocalypse.

On the left, the controversy over Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Suga Yoshihide's ordering NHK shortwave and international TV broadcasts to give special emphasis to the story of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Because, of course, the world has heard far too little about these abductions and is clammoring to hear more.

Strangely, the rubber stamp Radio Regulatory Council rubber stamped Suga's proposal because:
"...the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put priority on resolving the abduction issue. "

Well shucks, that is a good reason.

Oh, wait, there is a caveat? Do tell:

However, the council also asked Suga to continue to take NHK's editorial freedom into consideration, even while working within the framework of the Broadcast Law.

"Since I also had concerns about editorial freedom, we asked the minister to take that into consideration," council chairman Mitsutoshi Hatori told reporters after the council's meeting.

"The abduction issue is one that is in progress. While it may be important to consider various opinions (through public hearings), we also felt it was important to reach a decision quickly."

Asahi Shimbun, November 9, 2006. "Council OKs plan to make NHK focus on abductions"

Haste makes waste, me hearties.

Seriously, does anyone doubt that establishing a precedent of telling NHK what it should report will not in time transmogrify into telling NHK what it should not report?

One hopes that the folks at NHK have the brains to point out if NHK can plausibly be criticized for being a platform for government propaganda (not that anyone would ever believe that anything as hamhanded and unconvincing as the present iteration of the 9 p.m. news is anything but government propaganda--and bad government propaganda at that*) it is possible that even more citizens might refuse to pay their yearly dues, further deepening NHK's budget woes.

One hopes...

Next, in the middle, the announcement that 11 of the postal rebels will be readmitted to the LDP by the end of the year.

Now all of the dirty 11 sucked it up, abandoned all principle and, spitting in the face of their supporters all the way, voted for the postal reform legislation after the election. They further demonstrated their abnegation and self-loathing by casting ballots for Abe Shinzo in the Diet prime ministerial election.

Still, readmitting them to the party seems a really, really bad idea.

Nakagawa Hidenao realizes how bad this idea is and has already once postponed the immaculate reaccession of the forces of resistance. Lest the readmission of the 11 paint the LDP as a tawdry party of numbers, not principles (Gosh, who could have imagine that?) he has pushed the readmission date into the blur that is late December.

Way, way past the Okinawa gubernatorial election.

I have to go over the numbers but I would venture that the number of rural prefuctural seats the 11 might conceivably help the LDP keep or gain are far fewer than the number of at-large seats, suburban seats or urban seats the party could lose through the inevitable tarnishing of its reformist image.

I do not often compliment Ozawa Ichirō for his smarts. Here, however, he played a cool hand.

He very openly sought the cooperation of the rebels throughout the summer, declaring he will work with anyone intent on toppling the LDP.

Should his efforts to seduce the rebels fail, he saddles the LDP with all their baggage, and revives the ancient, hated image of the LDP as the party of unscrupulous powermongering.

If, by contrast, the LDP stiffs the rebels--something Abe has to consider, now that Mori Yoshirō has once again demonstrated all those blows to the head he absorbed in his many years of rubgy playing were not in vain:




Way to go, Scrumsfeld! Way really tick off duly elected members of the Diet and your party's projected future stars!

Anyway...where was I? Oh yes! Abe seriously has to think about calling the whole thing off in order to preserve the Koizumi shift. If Abe does stiff the postal rebels, then Ozawa wins the their cooperation in prefectures where the Democrats have traditionally been slaughtered ("Dreams of Gif--with you...")

Finally, on the left, in the biggest juiciest font of all, the ringer controversy involving the town hall meetings organized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

(Does anyone else share my conviction that The Mikado solution-- "And the Ministry of Everything Else"--applies here?)

It seems the Monkashō bureaucracy was disastisfied with the opinions that the people were expressing at town meetings it was organizing around the country. Now while these meetings were, for many, the one chance an individual might have to put a question directly to a minister, the Monkashō bureaucrats felt they needed to "improve the quality of the discussion". So they planting their own representatives in the audience in predetermined locations to ask the minister questions.

Questions exhibiting an oddly detailed knowledge and an unexpectedly positive view of the government's draft of the Basic Law on Education.

It turns out that the Monkashō has been salting the audiences with ringers-a lot of them--for a long time.

Now I must confess I know former Monkashō Minister Kosaka Kenji. I find it heartbreaking to think he might have been party to such dishonest stage managing.

Bizarrely, I find myself in complete agreement with an Asahi Shimbun editorial. It is outrageous--an outrageous abuse of the taxpayer.

Now the Mainichi Shimbun, not willing to let go of past gripes, screams, "Well, what did you expect? It wasn't called 'Koizumi Gekijō' for nothing."

Still, one would have thought that bureaucrats whose job it is to guard against cheating, against presenting another's work as your own, against plagiarism or falsification of records, that such individuals might get a bit queasy about having phoney citizens plying the panel with predetermined questions.

One would have thought...

It is a long time from now until July--but if Abe cannot get a grip on his party's image, on the perception that bureaucrats running amok and his ministers (to whom he owes big, big favors) are embarking on ideological crusades --the he is going to have a heck of problem convincing the people that reform is still alive...and worth voting LDP for.


* Seriously, who is the producer of NHK's 9 p.m. newscast? It is an insult to television's evolution--as if we were suddenly warped into an ugly alternate universe where Kume Hiroshi had never clipped on a microphone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

De Re Today

It is clear Amaterasu hates me, but in a nice way:

米中間選挙の開票進む 下院で民主党勝利

2006.11.08 - 米中間選挙は7日に投票が行われ、投票が先に締め切られた東部各州から開票が始まった。民主党が共和党の上下両院支配に終止符を打つかが焦点で、同党が上院で現在の議席数に6議席、下院で15議席をそれぞれ上積みすれば過半数の議席を獲得するが、下院では12年ぶりに民主党支配が確実となった。

I am a registered Democrat AND I do not I guess tonight I'll just have to go wild and order TWO oolong cha's.

That buzzing in the air you hear? Ahhh, methinks t'is the unseemly hum of 100,000 shredders shredding.

With the certainty that a herd of Democratic Party dinosaurs, many with antediluvian and decidedly less-than-flattering views about Japan, will be getting their hands on the gavels of the various committees of the House of Representatives...

Yes, I am talking about you, Representative Tom Lantos! The only Holocaust survivor in Congress and the senior Democrat on the House Committee on International Relations! Congressman "How do you say, 'Chinese and Korean slave laborers, mistreated POWs and comfort women in blunt Japanese?'"

... how long does Nakagawa Hidenao dare wait before sucking it up, rubbishing diplomatic protocol and calling in to congratulate the Madame Speaker-Elect?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Prelude to a Betrayal

Why is it that I feel a cold hand of fear clutching at my spine as I read about the Japanese government's sudden flood of solicitude for these people?

Abductees' relatives 'satisfied' with U.N. visit

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Family members of Japanese abducted by North Korea wound up a weeklong stay in New York on Friday saying they were pleased with the outcome of their efforts to obtain cooperation from the U.N. on the rescue of abduction victims.

Shigeo Iizuka, 68, one of the group members, described the trip as "a satisfactory visit" during a news conference at the headquarters of Japan's U.N. mission.

The group met envoys and senior diplomats from 13 countries, including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

Besides Iizuka, the entourage included Teruaki Masumoto, 51, along with Tsutomu Nishioka and Yoichi Shimada, both deputy representatives of a group supporting people whose relatives have been kidnapped by North Korea.

Expressing satisfaction with the Japanese government for their U.S. trip, Nishioka told the news conference that Japan's position of never compromising over the abduction issue helps ensure the safety of abductees in North Korea.

After meeting with the family members on Tuesday, Bolton told reporters, "The abducting of innocent civilians by a regime like that tells you about the character of the regime and it's obviously both an act of terrorism and a gross abuse of human rights."

"The abducting of innocent civilians by a regime like mine," Bolton continued, "is by contrast prudent, desirable and neither terrorism nor a gross abuse of human rights. Comprendo, mi amigo?"

Sorry, I could not help myself on that one. Hearing Ambassador Bolton lecturing others on detentions and abductions leads inevitably and irreversably to a snorting of miso shiru out of the nostrils and a spewing of rice grains all over the fish plate.

Beyond the physical response to the Ambassador's gross violation of the No Irony In Government Act, the article fills me with a certain amount of dread.

Just as the various right wing causes celèbres, including the annual August 15 visit to Yasukuni, have been put on the shelf for the national interest, I am fairly sure the Cabinet's current coddling of the families of the abducted will diminish dramatically in the weeks following the July 2007 House of Councillors election.

Just a hunch.

My favorite misanthrope at Global Talk 21 has a more expansive and sophisticated reading of the abduction tea leaves.

The Northern Koreans Likee the Monee

This article disturbed me so much I emailed my friend at the LA Times, asking him where I should go to vent my spleen about such naive stenography of bucknaked propaganda.

Squeeze on North Korea's money supply yields results
Cash crunch seems to have helped bring nation back to talks.
Los Angeles Times

By Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writer - November 2, 2006

Washington — For three years, the Bush administration has waged a campaign to choke off North Korea's access to the world's financial system, where U.S. officials say the nation launders money from criminal enterprises to fuel its trade in missile technology and its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

That effort has started to pay off.

U.S. pressure forced Macao this year to freeze North Korean assets in one of its banks, then foiled North Korea's panicky attempts to find friendly bankers in Vietnam, Mongolia, Singapore and Europe. And after North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, China ordered some of its major banks to cease financial transactions with the country.

The cash crunch appears to have played a key role in North Korea's decision Tuesday to return to six-nation talks over its nuclear ambitions. North Korean officials said that as part of the talks, they wanted to raise the issue of lifting financial sanctions.

"They're not coming back because they want to give up nuclear weapons," said David L. Asher, the U.S. State Department's point man on North Korea until last year. "They are feeling the financial pressure and the cutoff from the international financial system, so they are trying to make nice."

But the U.S. effort still faces two enormous obstacles: Russia and China.

North Korea continues to have access to banks in both countries, according to current and former U.S. officials who say that without those nations' cooperation, the U.S. effort will be largely ineffective.

Both major powers have historically been more concerned about protecting their strategic interests than in joining U.S. efforts to sanction their neighbor.

Stuart Levey, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary in charge of investigating terrorist financial webs, has traveled to Russia and China, including a trip to Moscow last week. Levey said he had "constructive discussions" with his Russian counterparts, but declined to say whether they would act. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said they had "agreed to further cooperation."

U.S. officials believe that both countries will continue to resist American appeals for a further crackdown in part because of their "historic ties to North Korea," said a senior counter-terrorism official, who spoke about the U.S. campaign on condition of anonymity.

Evidence gathered over the decades by Washington indicates that North Korea has become what some U.S. officials call a "Soprano state." The government in Pyongyang used its embassies to coordinate illegal activities, its ships to move heroin and other contraband, and its factories to make counterfeit $100 bills and bogus brand-name cigarettes, U.S. officials say.

Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, used the profits to fund his nuclear program, U.S. officials say, but also to import Mercedes-Benzes, pricey cognacs and other luxury items to buy loyalty.

Washington fears that North Korea could decide to use its well-worn trafficking networks to sell Iran or others the hardware or know-how to make weapons of mass destruction.

So administration officials decided in 2003 to attack by unconventional means. They created the Illicit Activities Initiative, a classified, multi-agency effort aimed at curbing North Korea's black-market networks.

A year ago, the United States moved on one of North Korea's bankers, officially designating the small Banco Delta Asia in Macao as a "primary money-laundering concern" under the Patriot Act.

Pyongyang, U.S. authorities found, banked much of its criminal proceeds in the former Portuguese colony, a freewheeling gambling haven, which became an autonomously governed Chinese territory in 1999.

"Banco Delta was just a thumbtack against their skin," said Asher, who headed the Illicit Activities Initiative. "We knew that behind the skin was a central artery. When we pricked it, blood was going to start coming out fast."

The Treasury action created a run on Banco Delta, which lost a third of its deposits in six days, and forced the government to seize control, sending an unmistakable message to bankers about the consequences of dealing with the North Koreans...

Oh, golly this has it all doesn't it?

Dissing of the Russians and the Chinese. The anonymous source within the government casting aspersions. The pop culture reference. The mis-association of goods smuggling and nuclear sales. The chest thumping by the former Bush official, now at the Heritage Foundation.


Read the whole article. You may find it surprising that the writing of an exposé on how a U.S. policy affects Northeast Asian security and politics does not require talking to an actual Northeast Asian.

How about calling up a Japanese, since the denizens of the Land of the Rising Sun are ostensibly on "our" side in every which way that counts?

And where is the other shoe? Where is the little boy in the crowd, noting the Emperor's distinct lack of dress?

Did the author never even think of asking:

"Gee, did the financial sanctions pressure the North Koreans into walking out of the Six Party Talks, fire off their missiles, including a prototype ICBM, in July and test a nuclear device in October?"

Oh, I know, the North Koreans may have planned to do these things all along--but is there anyone who does not now believe that the financial sanctions pushed the Dear Leader to accelerate the timetable, just a little?

I frequently give the Japanese press a hard time for printing outright falsehoods and flightless trial balloons . However, the ink-stained wretches of Japan have an excuse: the "balance" requirement in the Press Law makes it hard for their editors to state "what this person is saying is a blatant, transparent lie." Instead, they print the lie, hoping that the story will either sink into the muck of its own absurdity or a reputable person will come forth to deny the story.

The author and editors of this article ostensibly labor under no such constraints.

To print an uncritical regurgitation of a self-absolution ("Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press: the Operation was a Success. The Patient, Unfortunately, Unaccountably, Died.") is a dereliction of intellectual duty.

If the financial sanctions program is to be counted a feather in the Bush Administration's cap, Amaterasu help us Northeast Asia residents from a Bush Administration failure.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Okutama on Culture Day

Tochiyori Falls
Okutama Town, Tokyo Metropolitan District. November 3, 2006.