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    UN Security Council reform again

    Posted by Sean at 22:19, September 15th, 2005

    Another reason to wonder what the PRC thinks about the Koizumi administration’s landslide last week is UN Security Council reform, which has been in the news less frequently than before but is still a current issue:

    Koizumi, fresh off a landslide victory for his Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, urged U.N. member nations to work toward a quick decision on an expanded council during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

    “Asia and Africa, once under the shackles of colonialism, are now significant players in our global economy. For the last 60 years, Japan has determinedly pursued a course of development as a peace-loving nation,” Koizumi said Thursday. “The composition of the Security Council must reflect these fundamental changes.”

    The Security Council currently has 15 members. Ten are elected for two-year terms and five permanent members–the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France–have veto power.

    Japan has argued that, as the second-largest U.N. contributor after the United States, it deserves a U.N. role more commensurate with its status as the world’s second-largest economy.

    Japan is contributing US$346.4 million (€281.31 million) this year, nearly 20 percent of the U.N. general budget.

    Japanese officials said Thursday they want to open talks next year on paying less–a move that could spur a drawn-out battle with fellow member states.

    I’m sure there are people with sincere, high-minded ideas about the “global community” who will find such thinking crass and utterly abominable. Personally, I find it crass and utterly understandable. Whatever you believe its role should ideally be, the UN of reality serves as an influence-peddling bureaucratic machine of globe-buggering dimensions. If Japan is disgorging enough money to cover 20% (20%!) of its general budget, why would it not expect to be in the choicest possible positions to take advantage of the action?

    *******

    Speaking of wastes of money, if you’re sick of the grandiloquent, undersubscribed industrial park you currently own, Osaka Prefecture may be in a position to help:

    A 65 billion-yen high-rise is being sold in the bargain basement-at a 93 percent discount.

    The 56-story Rinku Gate Town Building opened as a semi-public project in 1996 in southern Osaka Prefecture.

    After nine years of losses, it will be sold for a mere 4.5 billion yen, under a plan to rehabilitate its debt-laden operator, partly owned by Osaka Prefecture.

    The building was constructed in a waterfront development project that is directly connected by rail and roadway to Kansai International Airport on a manmade island in Osaka Bay.

    The office and hotel complex in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, will be sold to a consortium led by Shinsei Bank for 7 percent of its construction cost.

    That will leave a multibillion yen debt with the Osaka prefectural government and local corporate investors-shareholders of the building operator-as well as creditor banks.

    According to the rehabilitation plan, the failed Rinku Gate Tower Building Co. will ask creditor banks to forgive 39 billion yen in debt from construction costs.

    Osaka Prefecture will be asked to give up 2.2 billion yen it loaned for operating costs.

    When other costs are included, the bill for the prefectural government will likely total about 6 billion yen in the next decade.

    Oh, too bad. Shinsei Bank beat you to it. Well, at least you’re not the Osaka Prefectural Government. Or its taxpayers.

    Added: I guess I should point out, before someone does it for me, that that last line is a nice parting shot but is somewhat misleading. The government money that financed the building probably came partially from the Ministry of Construction (which doesn’t exist as an individual entity anymore) and may also have come partially from FILP, which was funded by postal savings and insurance deposits. In other words, not only didn’t it all come from Osaka, it probably didn’t all come from taxes–though, of course, the citizenry ended up paying for it somehow.


    I feel…happy!

    Posted by Sean at 22:03, September 15th, 2005

    These are the sorts of things that take on importance when you live in a society that (1) is aging rapidly and (2) is obsessed with bean counting:

    A 110-year-old woman who is ranked 19th on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s list of oldest people in the country, which was released Tuesday, may not be alive, although she is still registered with the Arakawa Ward Office in Tokyo.

    The ward office has not confirmed she is alive since at least 2002. A ward official admitted, “We automatically put her on the list submitted to the ministry.”

    The latest finding shocked the ministry because “the incident could shake the credibility of the list of the nation’s oldest people.” [Stop it! You’re killing me!–SRK]

    The ministry said it would consider asking the ward authorities to conduct a survey on the elderly in the ward in person.

    Soon, you won’t count as an elderly citizen without your official “Certified: Not Dead Yet!” badge from the MHLW.

    Now, there is a substantive issue lurking here: the possibility that someone is still drawing pension money for a family member who died and thus, obviously, no longer qualifies for it. What’s revealing–in addition to hilarious–is that the ministry seems more worried about whether its list of rankings is accurate than about the possibility of fraud, at least as quotations were selected by the Yomiuri. (I wonder, will there be a party in Number 20’s honor if she finds out she gets to move up?)


    新会派

    Posted by Sean at 21:31, September 15th, 2005

    Some of the opponents of Japan Post privatization are forming their own faction in the Diet, or at least proposing doing so:

    Legislators who were dropped by the LDP after voting against Japan Post privatization in the ordinary Diet session but managed to win reelection as unaffiliated candidates have begun working toward the formation of a new faction. Takeo Hiranuma stated to the press on 15 September, “If unaffiliated people of the same way of thinking get together, they can form a single new faction.” There are, however, those among the unaffiliated legislators who are making moves toward uniting forming a united faction with the People’s New Party, so responses may be divided.

    Hiranuma is a former Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, BTW. Not a man of mean power and influence.


    Camp Zama to house joint US-Japan counter-terrorism center

    Posted by Sean at 09:49, September 15th, 2005

    Ooh, we like the sound of this:

    The Japanese and US governments have begun to coordinate efforts to establish the command center for a “Central Rapid Response Team,” a division of the Ground Self-Defense Forces to be newly established in 2006 for the purposes of responding to domestic terrorism and contributing to international missions, on the grounds of the US military base Camp Zama (Kanagawa Prefecture). The plan is to rotate the US Army’s First Corps command center from US soil to Camp Zama as part of the restructuring of US military deployments. Japan-US military integration looks poised to progress one more step due to the move, in which command functions brought together at Zama will be used to for the counter-terrorism measures of both countries both domestically and in contributing to international efforts.

    I’ll be interested to see what more we learn about this. Last year, there was the news that the Japanese federal government was asking Israel for help with its domestic counter-terrorism measures. I haven’t seen anything about it since then.


    SDF Iraq deployment likely to be extended

    Posted by Sean at 21:37, September 14th, 2005

    The Iraqi foreign minister is formally asking Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura to extend the deployment of non-combat SDF personnel in Iraq:

    On 14 September, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura and Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Zebari met at the United Nations headquarters in New York; al-Zebari officially requested an extension of the term of the SDF deployment, which ends in December. Machimura responded that Japan will make its decision based on a comprehensive assessment of the status of Iraq’s reconstruction. Also, both foreign ministers were in accord about [the need for] close cooperation toward the goal of stability in Iraq.

    The Nikkei says that this is the first official request for such an extension made at a meeting, but Koizumi was reporting a few weeks ago that he’d received such a request (by letter, presumably). His response was almost exactly the same as Machimura’s, too. It’s not clear how much more time al-Zebari asked for. (This year’s deployment is already an extension of last year’s, BTW.) Of course, in return, Japan has extracted a promise from Iraq to support its bid for permanent membership on the UN Security Council.


    Uncle Sam wants you (for now)

    Posted by Sean at 09:06, September 14th, 2005

    Michael posts about this interesting item:

    Scholars studying military personnel policy have found a controversial regulation halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that are about to be mobilized. The document is significant because of longstanding Pentagon denials that the military requires gays to serve during wartime, only to fire them once peacetime returns. According to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gays and lesbians must be discharged whether or not the country is at war.

    The regulation, contained in a 1999 “Reserve Component Unit Commander’s Handbook” and still in effect, states that if a discharge for homosexual conduct is requested “prior to the unit’s receipt of alert notification, discharge isn’t authorized. Member will enter AD [active duty] with the unit.” The 1999 document was obtained by researchers at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM), a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara during research for an ABC Nightline story.

    The source certainly looks legit, though I can’t judge conclusively. If it’s correct, it’s very strange. The main argument people use in defending the ban on open gays in the military is unit cohesion. Does that criterion magically become less important when the unit is actually going to go into combat? A friend who’s a military guy commented here last year to the effect that DADT is enforced inconsistently and has become a cheap out for some soldiers. I don’t have any first-hand experience, but it doesn’t seem hard to believe when you see stuff like this.


    Nikkei poll with predictable results

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, September 13th, 2005

    Results of the Nikkei‘s latest web-based poll (insert the usual SLOPs caveats here):

    On 12 and 13 September, in the wake of the ruling coalition’s crushing victory, the Nippon Keizai Shimbun Corporation conducted its fourth Internet poll on the election. Support for the cabinet stands at 54%, 4 points higher than during the last poll just before election day. Support for the LDP is at 45%, an increase of 5 points. Support for the DPJ is reined in at 29% (a 1-point drop). The proportion saying they look forward to the Koizumi administration’s tackling the job of improving relations with the PRC, ROK, and other neighboring states reached 69%.

    It’s helpful to remember that the Nikkei serves a readership that’s…well, a lot like me: pro-markets and suspicious of big government. Even within those boundaries, though, I would have been interested to hear what specific China and Korea policies it supported.


    It’s been 40 days / Since I stopped counting the days

    Posted by Sean at 07:53, September 13th, 2005

    New Bonnie Raitt album out today. I like it, but then I expected to; the woman’s quality control over the last fifteen years has been something to behold. I’m sure my mother’s ecstatic. She’s a MAJOR Bonnie devotee. You know, like, she not only owns even the mid-period albums that are 95% crap–Home Plate, anyone?–she also listens to them. She and a friend of hers from Michigan have traveled to see her perform countless times, they get backstage passes through the fan club and stuff, the whole bit. For a solid year when Nick of Time came out, she listened to nothing else. NOTHING. EVER. She’ll try to put it over on you that in, like, December 1989 she listened to Revolver once, but she’s full of it; it was Dad who put it on the stereo and she just happened to be in the room.

    Bear in mind, this was when the album came out–before all the publicity around the Grammy nominations brought Raitt into prominence and made all the Baby Boomer yuppies in America be like, “Oh, wow! It’s like, this is totally my story. Well, except for the dropping out of Radcliffe part–who would do that?–but, you know, not finding your true love until hubby number three, and crying when you think about your biological clock ticking, and having this life that’s a total journey, and all that is so me!”…and turn their fabled Purchasing Power to the task of making it googol platinum. (Okay, that’s not very nice of me. It wasn’t really the people who bought it that drove me nuts; it was the press that fell all over itself to treat it as an event of Great Significance when an album made by a 39-year-old appealed to other 39-year-olds.)

    Of course, no expansive personality is truly interesting without a major-big-time flaw, and Bonnie’s is that she’s a sucker for every lame-o liberal activist project IN THE WORLD. You know, No Nukes and Never Kill a Tree and stuff. She’s like (sting)bono. On the other hand, I’ve always been impressed by her involvement in the push for benefits and royalty reform on behalf of aging R&B pioneers whose innovations made them no money but proved lucrative springboards for later rock-era artists. She’s also very modest when she shares a stage with one of her heroes. I was lucky enough to see her with Charles Brown and Ruth Brown on the Longing in Their Hearts tour. We were unlucky enough to see it at the Mann Music Center, which has worse acoustics than the average bedroom closet, but the show itself was a blast.

    Speaking of performances, I think she does a big show in New Orleans every year; given her predilection for benefit concerts, I wonder whether she’ll turn it into one next go-round. (Happily, she’s a celebrity I haven’t heard bloviating about the failures of the federal government to play Big Daddy and make everything better after the hurricane, though I can’t imagine she’s not thinking along those lines.) Anyway, I’m guessing Mom will be pleased with the new album, which is good.


    What does the PRC think about Koizumi’s victory?

    Posted by Sean at 00:38, September 13th, 2005

    Something interesting I haven’t seen given much play: how did the PRC react to Koizumi’s big win on Sunday? I’ve been looking and Googling, but I haven’t found anything substantive. There’s this from Kyodo about a story in a Singaporean newspaper–which is at least part of the Chinese-speaking world. It says the obvious:

    The Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao said Koizumi is expected to become even more powerful after this election and could easily win wide support for his views on controversial issues such as his recurring visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine. The controversial shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with 2.47 million war dead.

    There’s also a translated Xinhua editorial at The People’s Daily, but it’s pretty muffled, too:

    In terms of foreign policies, the LDP noted the need to improve ties with Asian neighbors. Yet, the points was rarely mentioned in Koizumi’s campaign speeches.

    After the voting, the premier stopped short of dismissing the possibility of paying a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine when he was answering questions on a live program of the public broadcaster NHK.

    His repeated visits to the war criminal-enshrining facility was the major stumbling block in relations with China and South Korea.

    The Yasukuni Shrine issue causes the greatest number of public snits, but there are more important things to think about, trade and energy policy chief among them. It will be interesting to see, and I’m sure we will after everyone’s finished gawking at the numbers and talking about Japan Post privatization.

    Just for a sense of perspective, here’s the section of the DPJ party platform about Japan-China relations; I have no doubt that strategists in Beijing read it:

    The restructuring of Japan-China relations is one of the most important tasks for Japanese diplomacy. [Japan should] build a relationship of trust between the leaders of the two nations, and on that basis, systematize and deepen policy dialogue in fields such as the economy, finance, currency, energy, the environment, maritime activities, and security.

    I looked–pretty carefully, I think–but I didn’t see anything concrete about the big Japan-PRC sticking points. By contrast, the LDP manifesto contained a blandishment or two about mutual prosperity, but there was also this item among its 120 pledges:

    Concerning the Hoppo and Takeshima Islands, we will assiduously pursue a resolution. Further, we will secure the maritime interests of our nation, such as the promotion of the development of natural resources in the East China Sea and surveying of the continental shelf.

    I’m sure the Chinese got that message. The Koizumi administration’s China policy has, after all, not only included refusal to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine but also threats to do exploratory drilling in disputed undersea oil and gas fields.

    Added over cold coffee: I asked Simon whether he’d seen anything in the Chinese media, and this is his answer: Why, no, not much. He also notes that such mention as there has been has focused on the Yasukuni Shrine issue.


    開いた口が(まだ)ふさがらない

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, September 12th, 2005

    Koizumi is still saying that he will play by the rules and step down as Prime Minister in 2006, but there are noises about extending his tenure:

    On Sunday, Koizumi reiterated he would step down in September 2006, when his term as LDP president expires, but more and more members of the ruling coalition have floated the idea of possibly extending his term beyond next September.

    “That’s an important matter we have to think about,” LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe said Sunday night about the possible extension.

    “The LDP’s rule [that Koizumi’s term expires next September] is one thing, but on the other hand there’s the question of how we should interpret the people’s will expressed [in the landslide victory] in this election,” said LDP Acting Secretary General Shinzo Abe, who is frequently cited as a possible successor to Koizumi.

    New Komeito representative Takenori Kanzaki also hinted his support for extending Koizumi’s term. “I’ll be speaking about [term extension] on various occasions from now on. Winning this many seats also comes with a certain responsibility for the prime minister,” Kanzaki said Sunday.

    Yeah, Koizumi has a “certain responsibility,” all right. Having finally returned the LDP to complete and utter domination, he’s going to have the party leadership anxious to squeeze whatever remaining gains from him it can. It seems to me that, overall, it would be good for him to groom a successor over the next year and leave office as planned. If Koizumi gets through a few more key policy changes and is able to say, next year around this time, “Thank you, Japan, for giving me the opportunity to do my job. It’s finished. Time to move on to [say, Abe],” it would help to counter the LDP’s image as a party full of people who seek the greatest amount of power they can amass and then keep a death-grip on it well into their dotage.

    Speaking of which, people are already starting to say that it’s scary that the LDP won so many seats because now it’s going to turn into some big, scary juggernaut. Maybe. Let’s remember a few things, though: a lot of government power rests in the appointed officials in the federal ministries, and the elected officials know it. And some of the key public employees don’t even work for the federal ministries. Recall that one of the toughest parts about getting Japan Post privatization through was the resistance of the postal workers’ unions, which threatened not to use their rural outposts to drum up the support of voters for LDP candidates. Koizumi rode into office on a wave of popularity the first time, too; but we all saw soon enough that that wasn’t enough for him to get everything he wanted by a long shot.

    Hell, the Japan Post privatization package itself has already been watered down considerably; in fact, the watering down started quite a while ago. (Once again, the analogy is not perfect, but check the potential parallels with the California power privatization fiasco.) Koizumi’s next project is said to be the integration of the government’s two pension systems: the one for civil servants and the one for the rest of us salaried types. Worryingly, he’s been quoted as saying, “It will necessary to listen to a variety of opinions while formulating the plan.” Sound familiar?

    In any case, it is true that the LDP focused hard on Japan Post privatization during the run-up to the election. It’s ridiculous, though, to say that that means that voters, in practice, were voting on that single issue and thus can’t be said to have expressed support for Koizumi’s overall policy platform. Note that, if it’s the DPJ we’re talking about, its opposition to the LDP’s Japan Post scheme was very well-conceived.

    No, the Japanese public has not lost its ambivalence toward the SDF deployment in Iraq or the possible amendment of the constitution to allow for combat participation in collective-defense missions. But please. The other parties were all over those issues. They had plenty of opportunities to make their case. Japanese voters, in turn, had the opportunity to, say, vote in a lot of LDP candidates in single-seat districts but “balance” them with more proportional-representation seats from the opposition. They failed to do so. They failed to do so in a big, bad way. They failed to do so even in Tokyo, which is not generally an LDP stronghold. They failed to do so in such a big, bad, Tokyo-included way that it’s hard to interpret the election results in any way but that the electorate wants Koizumi and his crew of upstarts to do what they say they’re going to do.