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    Posted by Sean at 20:03, August 21st, 2010

    The Japanese federal government is adding an agency for food safety:

    On 21 August, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries began a study to the possible end of establishing an “agency for food-product safety,” with centralized oversight of the safety of food products, as early as autumn 2011. The new organization would merge an arm of MAFF’s Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s Food Department of Food Safety, and the plan most likely [to be enacted] is to establish it as an external agency to MAFF. The goal is to submit proposed revisions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Establishment Act during the regular Diet session next year.

    A system will be created that, by merging functions and eliminating the deleterious effects of vertically segregated administration, will enable rapid response even when problems such as fraudulent labeling of origin or ingredients arise.

    The issues that most stick in the Japanese memory, naturally, seem to involve sources of foreign food products: Starlink and BSE, for example. Whether those actually exposed Japanese consumers to potential harm has been seriously questioned. The more frequent practice of altering use-by dates.

    I don’t mean to make Japan sound like some sort of food-contamination horror show. It’s not. Society is advanced and runs well, and particularly in cities such as Tokyo, your complaint is likely to be that the produce and meat are so disturbingly perfect that they seem to have been developed for a magazine shoot rather than for human consumption. But problems do crop up, and the government does need to step in and protect citizens from being victimized.

    I’m not sure that shuffling around some agencies is going to work, though. Tokyo already tried that in 2001, with it’s vaunted major overhaul of the federal ministry system, when MHLW itself was created through the mergers of the previous ministries of labor and of health and welfare. MAFF wasn’t reconstituted, but I think it had an agency or two added to it? Anyway, all that was supposed to be the big move that eliminated the deleterious effects of having the same function siloed off in several random places. It hasn’t been a conspicuous success, though I don’t think Japan’s any worse off than it was with the old system. It doesn’t seem likely that a new agency will really do better at ensuring the the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) is enforced, but it will probably sound like good news to consumers.

    Some Japan stuff

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, April 18th, 2010

    If the plane-grounding Icelandic ash cloud hasn’t been sufficient reminder of how vulnerable we are to nature’s vagaries (and how fortunate that we have such an extensive technological arsenal to protect ourselves), check out this story about Japan’s vegetable shortages:

    The government is calling on farmers to speed up vegetable deliveries after cold weather and lack of sunlight led to a poor spring crop and spiking vegetable prices.

    “The vegetables prices may remain high for the foreseeable future. We’d like to ask farmers to bring forward their shipments in a bid to stabilize retail prices,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told a news conference following a regular Cabinet meeting Friday morning.

    Also on Friday, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations to bring forward vegetable shipments. Consumer organizations as well as the ministry have also asked farmers to ship malformed vegetables that are usually discarded.

    However, noting the measure will have only limited effects, government sources say they fear vegetable prices are unlikely to decline until May or later, and farmers pointed out that complying with demands for early shipment is difficult.

    “We harvested lettuce and other vegetables earlier than usual in response to an increase in demand from the restaurant industry during the spring vacation period. Even if we are asked to bring forward shipments, it’s difficult to comply,” said an official of the Ibaraki Prefecture chapter of the agricultural federation.

    Shredded lettuce and cabbage come with nearly everything in Japan: you walk into a little restaurant, and the waitress plunks down a small bowl of shredded cabbage and carrots with ginger dressing as your o-tooshi-mono. That there would be a shortage of them is really unsettling. Of course, Japan isn’t facing a famine—you’ll notice that one proposal for making up the difference is just not rejecting too many misshapen cabbages, which is a problem the DPRK would have loved to have around a decade ago. Still, the story is a good reminder of how intricate our supply and distribution systems are. (Of course, you could also take the opportunity to bring up Japan’s insane agricultural-subsidy system, but I’m feeling generous today.)


    It’s a few days old, but the Asahi English site had a good rundown of what’s led up to the current confusion—impasse doesn’t seem to be quite the best word—over the relocation of the Futenma facility in Okinawa:

    U.S. officials certainly have no intention of jeopardizing the decades-long alliance with Japan, but there is growing concern and frustration at the lack of a meeting of minds on such important matters of mutual concern.

    Hatoyama broached the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture during a short meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the U.S. capital on Monday. Neither Japan nor the United States explained how Obama responded.

    What did come across, however, is that the meeting did not change the U.S. government’s position, which is that the best solution to the Futenma issue lies with a 2006 agreement reached by the two nations to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

    Behind this extremely defensive and careful approach of the U.S. government is its resolve not to make the same mistake of 2005, when Washington compromised and accepted current Henoko option.

    During those negotiations, U.S. officials for a long time advocated a plan to construct a replacement facility on a landfill off the south coast of Henoko, Nago city. This plan was commonly known as “Nago Light.” However, during the final stage of the talks, U.S. officials abandoned it and accepted instead the Japanese proposal to build the new facility on the coastline of Camp Schwab at Henoko point.

    Richard Lawless, who negotiated the agreement for the United States as deputy undersecretary of defense, recalled his decision to go along with his Japanese counterparts.

    “They guaranteed that they can implement the proposal,” Lawless said. “I made sure about this point with several people in charge (in the Japanese government) a number of times.”

    Four years after the agreement was reached, the Japanese government has done an about-turn and told Washington the Henoko option cannot be implemented. Japan’s turnaround frustrated not only Lawless, but also current U.S. administration officials. They also share a deep sense of mistrust over Hatoyama’s frequent flip-flops on this issue.

    It’s very difficult to assign blame in this scenario. It’s not possible to indulge the NIMBY-ism of every municipality, but it’s understandable that many towns don’t want the side-effects of a military installation. I’m very much a supporter of the military, but it’s a plain and simple fact that putting a lot of hopped-up kids in their early twenties far from home—in an environment of literal martial discipline in which their violent impulses are deliberately brought to the surface so they can be channeled to useful purposes—nearly guarantees an increase in crime and a tense relationship with the locals, whatever job-creating benefits may come along with the installation. Washington wants the existing agreement to be implemented; Tokyo seems to see the new administrations in both countries as an opportunity to restart negotiations practically from square one. Neither seems likely to have all its expectations met.


    Sugarpie, I have just found the must-have camp accessory of the year:

    Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s first permanent president, has published his first anthology of haiku poems.

    Van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, said here Thursday that he hopes to compose haiku when he is in Tokyo for the annual EU-Japan Summit, which convenes April 28.

    The book, titled “Haiku,” contains 45 haiku he wrote in Dutch and which have been translated into English, French, German and Latin.

    Can you just…?

    A new commission–
    the joy of its formation
    like freshest spring rains


    Indifference from
    sassy Yank colonials–
    our cries sad, owl-like!


    Dry cicada shell–
    an easy relationship
    would be so empty

    Okay, in all seriousness, van Rompuy could be very good; but haiku is one of those genres that bring out the “I could do that!” dilettantism in people, and the results are nearly always irredeemably precious, in my experience. For some reason, the combination of shortness (not a major time investment!), nature themes (I love Nature—I’m a good person!”), and Japaneseness (aesthete capital of the world!) makes haiku hard to resist, but it also makes them difficult to execute well. Maybe Catherine Ashton will be flogging her first manga this summer?

    Added later: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. I have a half-dozen regular commenters who routinely agree with me, for which I am very grateful; but if you have a dissenting comment to make, I’ll be glad to read it, since I don’t get much dissent around here. (That’s not an aspersion, regular readers.) If you’re wondering where my interest in Japan comes from, I studied Japanese literature in college and grad school, and I lived in Tokyo from the ages of 24 to 36. I am unapologetically American down to the bone, but I love Japan also, and I’m very interested in seeing our alliance not screwed up.


    Posted by Sean at 21:36, January 4th, 2010

    In the Mainichi, a typically confused argument for the global abolishment of nuclear weapons (Japanese original here, though the English version is well done):

    “Every American should visit Hiroshima,” said Balbina Hwang, a Northeast Asia specialist and a senior policy advisor during the administration of President George W. Bush. She was addressing reporters after giving a lecture in Tokyo in November following a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum and other locations in Hiroshima. “I was overwhelmed by a sense of humility,” she continued. “I was struck speechless upon seeing (what happened) with my own eyes.”

    Still, what Hwang saw was not the actual reality of the atomic bomb. Witnessing an exhibit — which can only offer a hint of the actual barbarity of the bomb — with one’s own eyes will shake any American’s soul to the core. Even today, the starting line toward the elimination of nuclear weapons lies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I don’t know. I didn’t find that Hiroshima shook my soul to the core. It was very sobering. I was sorry it had to exist. I hope it’s never necessary to deploy nuclear warheads again.

    But when you read opinion pieces like this one, it’s easy to forget that when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were not, say, retaliating against Japan for dumping cheap Sony electronics on our markets. World War II is called that for a reason. Japan thought it could play the USSR against the other Allies and capitalize on our exhaustion. It was wrong. America decided that it was not worth sacrificing more of our people and materiel waiting for Japan’s military command to figure out in its own time that surrender not only was inevitable but had to be immediate.

    Besides, the Mainichi editors make an interesting exception to their call for everyone to start beating their nuclear warheads into ploughshares:

    A basic international roadmap should be laid out at this year’s conference. Obama has already publicly announced his goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Though the road to that finish line may be a long one, small, visible steps are necessary along the way. If the countries that possess nuclear weapons fail to demonstrate goodwill in the upcoming meeting, discontentment toward the NPT will be further exacerbated, getting in the way of international cooperation that is crucial to the prevention of nuclear terrorism. What is most important now is the reconstruction of an international consensus toward the goal of nuclear abolishment.

    Hwang, whose area of expertise includes North Korea, remains doubtful that the rogue nation’s nuclear arsenal will be completely eliminated. She says this is because North Korea is overwhelmed by insecurity. [!] As a result, says Hwang, North Korea is demanding not only the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from South Korea, but wants the entire U.S. nuclear umbrella to be removed from East Asia, including Japan.

    We seek the complete abolition of nuclear weapons from the world, and support President Obama’s efforts toward nuclear disarmament. At the same time, however, we do not see the protection we receive from the U.S. nuclear umbrella as unreasonable as long as the North Korean threat exists, and we will not accept our allies’ admonishments to give up on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

    So using nuclear weapons for protection—in fact, outsourcing nuclear protection to another country—is okay if you’re Japan, with North Korea a stone’s throw across the sea.

    But only temporarily, you understand.

    Just until everyone agrees to disarm.

    What’s never explained is how this is supposed to happen. “International consensus” sounds great, but I don’t recall one on any issue that involved agreement by every country on the entire planet. The international community can’t even stamp out age-old rogue behaviors such as piracy in shipping lanes, drug trafficking, and currency counterfeiting. In today’s world of decentralization and advanced telecom and transport technologies, it seems quixotic at best to believe that we can ever return to a state in which we can reliably say that no malefactor has nuclear weapons. It’s a bummer to have to think that way, but as long as human beings are born with human nature, there will be some bummers we have to stare in the face and prepare to deal with forcefully. In the universe we actually inhabit, the weaned child who puts his hand on the cockatrice’s den is going to get bitten.


    Posted by Sean at 12:57, December 26th, 2009

    Like President Barack Obama, whose campaign themes he consciously adopted, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces plummeting popularity figures in the latest poll by the Asahi:

    Seventy-four percent of all respondents said the prime minister has failed to exercise leadership.

    Half of those who do not support the Cabinet said the main reason was Hatoyama’s inability to act on his policies.

    “We take the figures (in the Asahi survey) seriously and will reflect them in the management of the government,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.

    Only 18 percent of the respondents said Hatoyama has shown leadership. Some members of his own government are now voicing concerns about Hatoyama’s abilities.

    “Although the Futenma issue, the budget and financing are all difficult problems, the prime minister could say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ But he doesn’t. People are wondering if he is OK,” a Cabinet minister said.

    Along with the abstract charges of dithery passivity, Hatoyama has had to respond to concrete charges that his employees use public funds improperly:

    On Thursday, two of Hatoyama’s former secretaries were indicted without arrest over falsified fund reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

    Hatoyama’s former state-funded first secretary was indicted for entering false statements in official political funds reports. Prosecutors also filed a summary indictment against another former secretary over the case.

    Hatoyama spoke to the media not at the Prime Minister’s Office–where he normally holds press conferences–but at a Tokyo hotel. He selected Tenzo Okumura, a Democratic Party of Japan member who does not hold a government position, to moderate the press conference, because the prime minister wanted to keep the issue separate from his government and minimize any fallout from the matter.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also kept the matter at arm’s length at a press conference Thursday evening.

    “That’s a problem that happened at an individual politician’s office,” he said.

    Hatoyama reveled in being one of the most ardent critics of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party whenever problems involving “politics and money” came to light when he was in opposition. He had insisted that LDP lawmakers “should be punished for crimes committed by their secretaries.”

    The opposition parties plan to pursue Hatoyama over whether he will walk the walk in dealing with his scandal after talking the talk when others were in similar straits.

    When reminded about these remarks at Thursday’s press conference, Hatoyama only said he did not think he had lined his pockets or had gained illegal profits, despite the fact he would have to file amended gift tax returns.

    Hatoyama occasionally put on a defiant face at the press conference, saying, “Even though I’ve tried to give as full an account as possible, there are some details that the public won’t understand.”

    It’s different for politicians, you see.

    Frankly, I don’t have much trouble believing that a man of Hatoyama’s personality and approach did, in fact, entrust too much to the wrong underlings and therefore wasn’t involved in any book-cooking. But when hope-change types get their parties into power by implying that the opposition could easily clean house if it just tried hard enough to let in sunshine and sweep out the dirt, they’re asking to be held to that standard.

    And, of course, one reason every misstep by the Hatoyama administration so grates on the public is that there’s a lot riding on the results of whatever policies is decides on. As a Mainichi editorial puts it:

    To be sure, some policies to distribute money directly to households, which are just what you’d expect from a Hatoyama administration, will be realized: deep cuts in expenditures for public works, its having waved “from concrete to people” aloft as its slogan, and the implementation of allowances for children and an income-subsidy system for farmers. Because a “project reclassification” has been executed, the degree to which attention of the citizenry has been fixed on “use of tax revenues” is also probably unprecedented.

    However, there’s a conspicuous lack of direction when it comes to prioritizing the elements of its core manifesto and setting a ceiling on the amount that can be issued in government bonds. In the background, there’s not only the absence of a command center for economic policy but also a lack of clarity about the future shame of the Japanese economy, including the financial restructuring policy that is the Hatoyama administration’s aim. No matter how much of the budget is scattered around with the aim of supporting people’s lives, if there’s no change in the sluggishness of the economy and the instability of the foundations of finance, the burden will ultimately fall on the way the citizenry lives.

    Which is to say, someone’s going to have to start creating new wealth rather than spreading existing wealth around.

    Hovering in there, of course, is also the Futenma relocation, which raises a lot of thorny questions on how Japan is positioning itself geopolitically.

    In part, of course, expecting a Japanese cabinet to act decisively is unrealistic. Japan has, if anything, even more checks and balances than the US, though many are informal. But Hatoyama and the other DPJ candidates encouraged the Japanese to dream big about reform, and people are understandably less inclined to be content with the usual mealy-mouthed, study-the-problem-until-it-goes-away-by-itself approach.


    Posted by Sean at 22:02, December 15th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning carries the headline “Crisis in US-Japan alliance that Futenma postponement will deepen”:

    The postponement of a decision on the relocation of the US military Futenma Base on Okinawa will result in the deepening further the current state of crisis surrounding the US-Japan alliance. We feel concern regarding the gutting of the US-Japan alliance and the tilt toward China indicated by the Hatoyama administration’s actions, which empty the phrase “US-Japan axis” of meaning.

    On 15 December, the administration convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Basic Policies at the prime minister’s residence, and it decided to (1) conduct a joint study among the three parties in the ruling coalition of candidate sites for relocation, including that currently planned, (2) propose to the US side the establishment of a US-Japan cooperative organization, and (3) incorporate into calculations for the FY 2010 budget the relocation expenses, based on the current plan—thereby postponing until next year its resolution on where to relocate the Futenma Base facilities.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada and Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa, who are in charge of the management and nuts-and-bolts operations of the US-Japan alliance, had sought to have an agreement between the two countries confirmed within the year, but Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama put a higher priority on consideration toward the Social Democratic Party. Spokesman [Ian] Kelly of the United States Department of State stated on the 14th*, “The optimal plan would be to have a roadmap for US military restructuring on which agreement had been reached,” but there are no signs that the gulf between the US and Japan will be bridged.

    Foreign Minister Okada has expressed a sense of urgency about the state of the US-Japan alliance, but in diplomatic terms, real damages have already manifested themselves.

    If the [chance for a] US-Japan heads-of-state summit in an official format in Copenhagen is missed, Japan will lose the position from which it can persuade the American side on [global] warming issues. For Hatoyama, who is passionate on environmental issues, could there really be any realization that his own judgments are bringing about that sort of result?

    “The US-Japan relationship has gotten rheumaticky. First solidifying the Japan-China relationship, then resolving issues with the US, is the realistic process.” Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Shanghai declaration [saying so] on the 14th will also raise the specter of doubts about the diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration.

    The diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration, over which DPJ General Secretary Ichiro Ozawa wields great influence, reflects, in foreign-affairs terms, a distancing from the United States and tilt toward China. That will sow uneasiness in the nations of Southeast Asia, which have complicated feelings about a growing China.

    The editors bounce all over the map, but their overall point is a coherent one: the Hatoyama administration is sucking up to Beijing without, perhaps, really thinking through where that might land it in the future. Of course, it’s not just the DPJ brain trust that’s producing this result; President Obama is hardly presenting America as an ally that means business and is worth continuing to cultivate.

    * Yes, that was fun to write.


    Posted by Sean at 08:05, December 3rd, 2009

    The suspected murderer of Lindsay Hawker has been arrested. (Apparently, he was actually discovered, after more than two years of hiding out, last month when I wasn’t paying very good attention to the news.

    Tatsuya Ichihashi, who was rearrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing Lindsay Hawker, studied French by himself during his 2-1/2 years on the run from police and participated in an overseas language study program at a French university when he was a student, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

    As Ichihashi had a private English conversation lesson with Hawker, the investigation headquarters is trying to determine what happened between the two, who seemed to be on friendly terms with each other shortly before Hawker was murdered.

    “We’re always told to try to feel other people’s pain, but we can’t, can we.” A 28-year-old woman who went on the study tour of France as part of Ichihashi’s group clearly remembers this remark that Ichihashi made at that time.

    Hawker was an inexperienced English teacher and apparently agreed to give a private lesson to the wrong person. As nearly as police can tell, she went back to Ishihashi’s apartment with him and was murdered there. Her body was discovered on his balcony the day after she went missing.


    The leader of the Social Democratic Party, which is now the DPJ’s partner in the ruling coalition, is threatening mutiny if the current Futenma relocation plans go through:

    Speaking at a party meeting on Thursday morning, Fukushima said that if a decision was made to relocate the base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to coastal portions of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, then the party would have to make a “grave decision.”

    “It is an extremely important issue which reaches the foundations of the party,” Fukushima told reporters following the meeting. “We are alarmed about the current agreement being rushed after the ministerial-level meeting between Japan and the U.S.”

    The decision’s been in the works for half a decade, of course, but it keeps getting fussed over then dropped.


    Posted by Sean at 20:58, November 30th, 2009

    Yet again “rough going,” as the headline on this Nikkei article has it, for the transfer of the Futenma base:

    On 30 November, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama confronted a second session, following up another on 27 November, with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima revolving around the issues with the transfer of the United States military base in Futenma (Ginowan, Okinawa). On the 30th, there were also active [efforts at] coordinating things, such as the prime minister’s collaborating with relevant cabinet ministers, but the hurdle presented by the “decision before year’s end” sought by the US remains high.

    “He said that, considering the hazardousness of Futenma, he’d like to get a concrete conclusion as quickly as possible.” That’s what the prime minister stressed to a press conference at his official residence on the night of the 30th. In contrast with the hour-long meeting with the governor on the 27th, that on the 30th was 20 minutes. It’s naturally assumed that the substantive debate was “on the 27th,” but the prime minister repeated, “I cannot discuss specific content.”

    Okinawans have been divided over the plan to relocate the Marine base for years now; the current plan, unless things have changed, is to expand Camp Schwab rather than expand offshore. But that’s been in the works since the middle of the decade.


    Posted by Sean at 17:52, November 27th, 2009

    The lead editorial in this morning’s Nikkei is headlined “We need coordinated response to crisis of across-the-board drop in dollar value.”

    A gradual cheapening of the dollar would give a push to US exports, but serious effects would surface in the US economy, which would become dependent on capital inflows from abroad if anxiety about the dollar spread. For Japan, a spike in the value of the yen would invite a downturn in corporate export profits, and the possibility that that would muscle in on any [improvements in] the economy cannot be discounted. Upward pressure would also be applied to the Euro, and the ill effects of a progressive cheapening of the dollar would be great in Europe and the Americas also.

    If, in fact, the yen seems set to continue its rise, Japan must not balk at intervening to sell yen and buy dollars. China has [re]linked the yuan to the dollar, and other Asian countries such as Korea are exerting themselves to enact dollar-purchase interventions that would prevent a spike in their national currencies. Under such circumstances, if Japan just lets things sit, Japanese enterprises might very well see a rise in the yen that they cannot survive.

    In situations in which it is uncertain how economic recovery will proceed, we believe that interventions for the purposes of putting the brakes on currency spikes that are divorced from real market values are acceptable.

    In order to boost the effectiveness of [measures to] prevent a rise in the yen, policy collaboration between the government and the BOJ will be indispensable. After all, if they cross their arms and wait under a deflation, real interest rates, which take account of fluctuations in the cost of goods, will rise comparatively rapidly, and they’ll be courting a currency spike. It won’t do to stint on taking available measures, such as increasing the value in federal bonds in reserve.

    Who has seen the wind?

    Posted by Sean at 11:01, September 28th, 2009

    Bjorn Lomborg has an op-ed in the WaPo about proposed climate-change policies, which, he argues, will be bad for the world’s poor (via Hit and Run). Enlightened energy policy is being used as an excuse for increased protectionism.

    The struggle to generate international agreement on a carbon deal has created a desire to punish “free riders” who do not sign on to stringent carbon emission reduction targets. But the greater goals seem to be to barricade imports from China and India, to tax companies that outsource, and to go for short-term political benefits, destroying free trade.

    This is a massive mistake. Economic models show that the global benefits of even slightly freer trade are in the order of $50 trillion — 50 times more than we could achieve, in the best of circumstances, with carbon cuts. If trade becomes less free, we could easily lose $50 trillion — or much more if we really bungle things. Poor nations — the very countries that will experience the worst of climate damage — would suffer most.

    Aside from trade barriers, there’s the sheer improbability that the goals being trumpeted can be achieved. Lomborg specifically mentions Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s promises:

    Japan’s commitment in June to cut greenhouse gas levels 8 percent from its 1990 levels by 2020 was scoffed at for being far too little. Yet for Japan — which has led the world in improving energy efficiency — to have any hope of reaching its target, it needs to build nine new nuclear power plants and increase their use by one-third, construct more than 1 million new wind-turbines, install solar panels on nearly 3 million homes, double the percentage of new homes that meet rigorous insulation standards, and increase sales of “green” vehicles from 4 percent to 50 percent of its auto purchases.

    Japan’s new prime minister was roundly lauded this month for promising a much stronger reduction, 25 percent, even though there is no obvious way to deliver on his promise. Expecting Japan, or any other nation, to achieve such far-fetched cuts is simply delusional.

    It’s not that people don’t know that underneath all the upbeat sloganeering. Several years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was the big thing, the Asahi carried this story:

    With the landmark Kyoto Protocol on global warming finally taking effect today, Japan probably should own up to a major embarrassment: that it may well be unable to meet its obligations under the treaty.

    This possibility, suggested by an Asahi Shimbun survey, contrasts sharply with the fanfare that greeted Japan’s decision to hold an international conference on climate change in 1997 in Kyoto to set reduction goals.

    Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions between fiscal 2008 and 2012 by an average 6 percent from the fiscal 1990 level.

    The Asahi Shimbun established that only a few prefectural and municipal governments have done anything about it. In fact, a nationwide survey found that only three of the 47 prefectural governments and seven of the 13 major cities can actually boast decreases in their greenhouse gas emissions.

    Also, latest statistics offered by about half the prefectural and municipal governments surveyed showed double-digit increases over the fiscal 1990 level in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Unlike the central government, prefectural and major municipal governments are not obligated to establish emission reduction goals, and so are still not feeling the heat.

    Grand-scale pronouncements are easy. Putting them into effect at ground level without aftershocks that the economy might not be able to absorb is less easy. And note that, as Lomborg states, Japan is already very good at energy efficiency. The Japanese occupy a resource-poor archipelago; despite being rich, they’re used to relying on ingenuity and near-obsessive parsimony to make the most of what they have. They are very good at it. But there are limits to what a modern, industrialized country of 127 million people can cut down on and still function. The increased use of nuclear power sounds great as far as I’m concerned (though one hopes that it will be accompanied by increased rigor in enforcement of safety standards), but it takes a while to get plants online. And that’s an awful lot of wind turbines.

    Learning to do more with less is always a good thing. So is caring for the environment. But for all the talk about how responding to the greenhouse effe…oops! global war…oops! climate change…means we’re entering a new era, what we really seem to be seeing is a lot of recycling of long-standing political wish lists wrapped in new (at least 50% recycled material!) packaging. And unsurprisingly, the world’s poor stand to get screwed yet again while developed-country politicians curry favor with their constituents.


    Posted by Sean at 16:13, September 27th, 2009

    Hi, there, you four remaining people who are still checking back to see whether I’ve posted anything. Just to prove this is really Sean, I’ll make this about homosexuality and atheism and partisan politics and Japan.

    The Unreligious Right linked last week to this very good post about being an atheist out in the public debate. The one problem, as commenter lilacsigil points out, is with the comparison Christina uses to illustrate why it’s out of line to tell self-identified atheists that they’re not actually atheist:

    Let me make an analogy. If you’re not gay, would you say to a gay person, “You don’t understand what it means to be gay”? Would you say to them, “Being gay means that 100% of your sexuality is directed towards people of the same sex”? Would you say to them, “If you’ve ever had sex with someone of the opposite sex, or have even had a slight passing inclination to be sexually interested in someone of the opposite sex, then you’re not really gay”?

    Would you say to a gay person, “I understand what ‘gay’ means better than you do”?

    If you were a busybody, you most certainly would. And, non-hypothetically, if you are a busybody of that particular type, you most certainly do.

    Plenty of anti-gay commentators (both in the media and in informal conversation) are constantly telling us there’s no such thing as a “real” homosexual (we’re just confused, underdeveloped heteros with unexplored anger toward the opposite sex, you see) and that we’re practicing gays because we don’t want to do the hard work of facing up to the truths of nature and the moral strictures that flow from them. If you’re both gay and atheist, the condescension is even more dismissive–along the lines of “You just don’t want to believe in God because if you did you’d have to exercise sexual discipline.” (No, not everyone is like that, but I’m only talking about busybodies.) Anyway, Christina’s post is very good, and so are the comments, some of which are hers.

    [Added after loading the dishwasher and pouring a Scotch: Actually, if you really want to ensure you can never discuss anything but the weather with new acquaintances without stepping into a political minefield and being informed what you think, you can try being gay, atheist, and libertarian. Sententious busybodies on the right will be happy to tell you that you’re a libertine who wants to pretend society doesn’t need rules and order; sententious busybodies on the left will be happy to tell you that you don’t want to acknowledge the degree to which circumstances beyond people’s control affect their ability to make their way in life. And both sides will be happy to tell you you’re not a “real” libertarian if you happen to take a position that isn’t congruent with whatever they’ve decided the libertarian position should be based on some article they read in The Wall Street Journal or something a few years ago. Both sides like to use the same triumphant, “GOTCHA!” tone, too.]


    This diavlog between Michelle Goldberg and Megan McArdle (who’s a libertarian, not a conservative, but who’s naturally seen as being “on the right” in our current political climate) is almost a month old now, and it got a lot of attention when it was posted. Still, if you haven’t watched it, there’s a lot to munch on that’s illustrative of the way things are framed in the public debate lately. I particularly thought this was interesting:

    My sense is that Goldberg’s reflexive assumption about gun owners—that they’re running about eager for an opportunity to shoot someone—is shared by a lot of people, but I don’t think she’s right. McArdle doesn’t go into much detail, but the way she describes the gun enthusiasts she’s met fits those I know, too: they enjoy shooting at the range, and they like the feeling of autonomy that not depending on 911 in an emergency gives them, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy contemplating killing an actual human being. Instead, they rest easier knowing that they’re prepared if they meet some miscreant who threatens them or their property when the police are too far away to do anything about it. It really is a self-reliance thing, and I agree with McArdle that it’s likely that that’s the message those who wear their guns to so-called Town Hall meetings or protests were trying to send: don’t think you have to patronize me, Madam Senator, or protect me, Mr. Congressman—I can handle my own life and only need you to stop getting in my way.

    That having been said, I think McArdle’s right about the PR factor. Carrying a deadly weapon to a political protest is a great way of signaling that you (at least) think there may be occasion to use it, which does not help to bring the tenor of debate back down toward poised, reasonable argument.


    New Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with President Obama this week. (He also addressed the UN General Assembly and was presumably in one of the motorcades that made getting to work or home in Midtown East utter hell.) The Asahi editorial contained this priceless quotation:

    The chiefs of the Democratic parties that govern Japan and the United States met for the first time.

    This fresh start for the bilateral relationship came after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took over government by promising “change” from more than half a century of virtually one-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, and U.S. President Barack Obama took power by promising “change” from eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush.

    After the meeting, Obama told reporters he is “very confident that not only will the prime minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew” the alliance between the two countries.

    And Obama should know, because, after all, he’s all about keeping campaign commitments (to rein in spending, to close Guantanamo, to prohibit anything that could be construed as torture in the prosecution of the WOT) and strengthening and renewing alliances with existing partners.

    Hatoyama apparently wanted to convey his intention to guide his nation away from this traditional relationship [i.e., Japan’s playing second fiddle to the United States–SRK] toward new relations in which Japan is more assertive and ready to play a more active role.

    Some tricky issues were not discussed at the Hatoyama-Obama meeting but must eventually be addressed. Among them are Tokyo’s plans to terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission to refuel coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean and review the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, including the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

    The Japanese government must make decisions on these issues before Obama’s scheduled visit to Japan in November.

    Mishandling these delicate issues could strain Japan-U.S. relations and stir up criticism against the Hatoyama administration at home.

    A power transfer can lead to a major policy shift. What is happening in Japan now is a natural part of democracy. The diplomatic challenge facing Hatoyama is how to persuade Washington to accept this change in Japan without hurting the mutual trust.

    Well, it might be noted that the push for a permanent UNSC seat for Japan began under Koizumi and that the plans to restructure United States military deployments to have fewer personnel in Japan began under Bush; I’m not sure those things represent substantive change as much as evolution in a preset direction. The nuclear-disarmament part sounds nice, but surely everyone is aware, underneath the genial dialogue, that it’s not going to happen now that the toothpaste is out of the tube. And Japan has spent decades talking about internationalization and global outreach, but those processes are a two-way street, and the adapting it would need to do at the level of nuts-and-bolts approaches to politics and business is not one that it welcomes.

    “This yuai (fraternity) is a way of thinking that respects one’s own freedom and individual dignity while also respecting the freedom and individual dignity of others,” he said during his 20-minute speech in English.

    He said that based on the spirit of yuai, Japan can become a bridge for the world in five areas.

    I’d love to see Japan, as the most mature democracy in the region, take more of an active geo-political role, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen on what seem to be the current trajectories. Serving as a “bridge” between the rest of the world and Asia makes sense given Japan’s economic power and corresponding contributions to the UN. But fraternity (the Japanese word indicated actually means more like “friendship” or “amicability,” but let that slide) among East and Southeast Asian peoples is notoriously unstable, despite their many elements of shared heritage, and Japan’s history does not, shall we say, establish it unequivocally as the obvious choice for role of altruistic, disinterested referee.