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    Final edit

    Posted by Sean at 13:23, July 5th, 2009

    Yesterday Clayton Cramer posted about the size of the average congressional constituency and about its implications:

    The Constitution provides that in the lower house of Congress “ the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative. ” The last change was from “one for every forty Thousand” to “one for every thirty Thousand.”

    The more people that a legislator represents, the easier it is for him to disregard the interests and concerns of his district — simply because he knows that no single person’s irritation or upset is likely to lead to his removal at the next election. In addition, the more voters there are in a district, the less likely it is that they will know the character of a candidate — because you are not likely to know him.

    For more than a century, we stuck with that ratio. The first House of Representatives had 65 members. Every ten years, a growing population meant a growing House — until in 1911, there were 438 members, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for such a large legislative body to operate. Congress went ahead and set the maximum size at 435 members.

    Today, a member of the House represents almost 700,000 people. If 40,000 people per member of the House in 1787 was “insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people,” why are we surprised that Congress is doing such a horrible job at seventeen times that ratio? Did Americans get seventeen times better at watching our Congresscritters between now and then?

    Well, we probably have at least seventeen times the exposure to them. Kind of sad that it’s gotten both more difficult for the average citizen to pressure legislators and more difficult for the same citizen to avoid their attention-whoring and yammering.


    Posted by Sean at 17:53, July 4th, 2009

    Isn’t that sweet? Pyongyang has decided to put on a fireworks show to help us celebrate July 4th:

    On the afternoon of 4 July, the DPRK fired off four more ballistic missiles from the vicinity of Gidaeryeong, Gangwon-do, on the Sea of Japan in the country’s southeast. Taken together with the three fired during the morning hours, the total fired sequentially was seven. All missiles fell into the Sea of Japan, but none appeared to have reached Japanese territorial waters. The government of South Korea has captured evidence of preparation to fire the mid-range Nondong missile, the striking distance of which includes Japan, and Japan and Korea are on alert for still further firings.

    Added later: Transliteration of name of launch site corrected thanks to Amritas.

    My need

    Posted by Sean at 10:46, July 4th, 2009

    Happy Fourth, everyone.

    Ever since Michael Jackson died—don’t make a face, I have a very specific purpose in bringing him up one last time, and explicating it won’t take long—I’ve been listening to Janet. It was unconscious on my part, and when I did realize that I was playing Control for the tenth time, it brought me up short. (I may have posted about it on Facebook, actually.) Why would Michael’s death put me on a Janet jag? He made plenty of good music himself after all.

    But here’s the thing: Michael weenied out on his own life, and Janet didn’t. Here‘s the way she describes what happened after her second album:

    Following the release of Dream Street, Jackson decided to separate her business affairs from her family. She later commented, “I remember trying to tell my father I no longer wanted him to manage me. It would have been easier to have Mother tell him for me, but that was something I had to do for myself.” Jackson also stated, “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do, telling him that I didn’t want to work with him again.” A&M Records executive John McClain hired producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to work with Jackson. Within six weeks, Jackson, Jam and Lewis crafted Jackson’s third studio album, Control. Jackson recalled that during the recording of the album, she was threatened by a group of men outside of her hotel in Minneapolis. She stated that “[t]he danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street … Instead of running to Jimmy or Terry for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That’s how songs like ‘Nasty’ and ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ were born, out of a sense of self-defense.”

    Michael never did anything like that. He rebelled in compulsive bursts that flared up and died like meteor showers. He retreated into childish fantasies. He wanted to stay protected by other people. He didn’t test himself, in any purposeful and sustained way, to see whether he was better off without his minders.

    Now, yes, Janet is one of the most ridiculously rich and powerful celebrities on the planet. Her version of “autonomy” involves bodyguards, an army of personal assistants, and a house that probably has a better security system than most presidential palaces. And she entrusts herself to ace collaborators. (This is not post-Rick Teena Marie, alone at the controls making her singular visions into reality.)

    But collaborators, even collaborators of superior talents, are peers. When it mattered, Janet decided that she was a grown-up and didn’t need to be daddied anymore. And she didn’t take the easy out of getting Mom to tell him. I love her for that.

    Anyone who’s getting worried that I’ve decided Janet Jackson is just like Thomas Paine can relax. That’s not my point. The Founding Fathers thought and acted on a much, much higher plane, obviously. They made our current way of life possible; Janet did not. But for most of us, it’s within family and work that we have the opportunities to stand up or submit. (The way Washington’s developing, we may soon be getting a chance to do so at the federal-government level again, too, but that’s a topic for other posts.) What matters is whether you capitalize on them. For all the understandable talk about Michael this week, when I’ve wanted to listen to something that buoyed me, I’ve preferred “Control” or “Escapade” or “Enjoy.” Getting out into the world, testing your strengths, learning how to take care of yourself and use what gifts you have to enhance life for others—that’s America. Janet’s made quite a few missteps over the last decade or so, but you never hear speculation that she’s screwing up because she can’t get out from under her “handlers.” Her failings are as much her own as her long suits. And bully for her. If I’m going to be asked to countenance pop-star self-pity, I’ll take “There’s nothing more depressing than having everything and still feeling sad” over “Have you seen my childhood?” any day. Especially today.

    Just chase the chance

    Posted by Sean at 09:37, July 4th, 2009

    Ann Althouse links to a story about British teens who are adopting that look Namie Amuro launched the prototype of a dozen years ago:

    Her mother insists that the style is about much more than just “dressing up”.

    She tells me she thinks that this is more about creative expression and that she admires her daughter for her interest.

    As we all walk out the house and down the street, people look.

    Brightly coloured hair, clothes and unusual make-up sets them apart from the crowds who are travelling into London on the underground.

    Eilish says that people often don’t want to sit next to them.

    Interesting that Mom there has to justify the style by relating it to her daughter’s “expressiveness.” In Japan, I think people are much more ready to accept that it’s about sheer decoration, using artifice to make yourself look more interesting in a way (this is important) that conforms to a group identity and has a specific external inspiration. It’s funny to hear the look discussed as rebellion in the BBC article because—this just shows that Tokyo is as removed from the rest of Japan as New York is from the rest of the States—the whole time I lived there, I spent most of my time in Shibuya. (My office was there for ten years, and I lived there for six.) To me, that’s just kind of how Japanese teenagers look. IIRC, Amuro-chan, who’s from Okinawa and played up her darker skin tone with fake-bakes, used contrasting bright eye make-up, but she’s not the origin of the white lipstick or punk-ish hair.


    Posted by Sean at 17:51, July 3rd, 2009

    Sarah Palin’s stepping down as governor of Alaska. Vodkapundit’s take is this:

    I can describe this move in three words: Stupid, stupid, stupid. And the reason doesn’t matter.

    She needs more time to run for President? What does she think holding the job is like, time-wise? President Obama could manage to serve as a totally undistinguished Senator while running for the White House; surely Palin could manage to govern half a million people a bit.

    She wants to protect her family? Heat, low tolerance, kitchen, stay out of. And again, if she wants to be President, how does she think her family would fare in the White House?

    No matter the reason, however, Palin made a commitment to the people of Alaska, and she’s turning her back on them. Maybe I’m rash in saying this, but I think that makes her unfit for higher office.

    My sense is that Steve Green would normally be correct, but it’s become obvious since her nomination last year that her supporters (like her detractors) don’t apply the same standards to her that they purport to apply to others. It’s possible that if she seems to have been driven out of office by elitist nastiness, the experience could come to be regarded as, for lack of a better word, sanctifying. If she reemerges when her children are older, who knows? We’ll see what develops. Whatever the case, I wish her the best. I’ve doubted whether she was cut out for national office since not long after her famous first speech at the RNC, but no politician deserves the kind of shredding she got.

    Added before giving myself wholly over to my inalienable right, with which I’m endowed by my Creator, to more Scotch (because Scotland was a center of the Enlightenment, of course): Heather Mac Donald, unsurprisingly, has commented on the Palin resignation at her current berth at Secular Right:

    Now it’s Sarah Palin’s turn.   That icon of right-wing identity politics, revered for her populist authenticity  and lack of any taint of elite intellectualism, shows herself either to be involved in an as-yet-to-be-revealed scandal, or so nakedly ambitious that she lightly breaks her commitment to the people of Alaska.   Can’t wait to see how her apologists will spin this bit of hypocrisy.

    She cites her City Journal articles from last year at those links. (Am I prescient, or what?)

    The Unreligious Right has a similar take:

    I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Palin would be a better candidate in 2012, or that she in any way deserves a presidential or even vice-presidential nomination. Her followers among the base of the party are fanatical worshippers who can’t tolerate any criticism of Palin, no matter how well deserved. They remind me of some Obama-supporters.

    A few weeks ago, Freeman Hunt wrote a post about why we may not be able to expect another Reagan or Thatcher, let alone Jefferson:

    Who will be the next Reagan? Who will be our Thatcher? Who will show encroaching statism for the tyranny it is and turn the tide against it? Nevermind that Reagan and Thatcher, while they did make great gains, did not turn that tide permanently. We expect some even greater personage. The minute a promising face appears we ask, “Could it be? Is this the one?”

    He is not coming. And he is not coming because we have not produced him. From whence would he come? We are an ignorant people. Our best and brightest, outside of the hard sciences, are a sorry lot by historical standards. Intelligence, we have. Wit, we have in surplus. But knowledge? Real, discriminating knowledge, where is it? Our standards for knowledge are now so low. Now we are only required to sound as if we know. We are masters of rhetorical style, but of wisdom there is a dearth.

    I don’t know that I buy the implication for politics there. That there are far too few comprehensively learned people running about, considering the money and hot air we expend on the educational system, I do agree with wholeheartedly. I suspect, though, that there are enough to go around (especially if you believe in smaller government). The problem is convincing them to leave the private sector, where they’re usefully serving markets and probably deriving immense satisfaction from concrete accomplishments.

    And here’s a great way conservatives can ensure that tough-minded persons of deep learning about history and deep commitment to applying them to the American enterprise stay as far away from politics as possible: keep pulling the crap you did with Palin. Like Eric, I’m a libertarian rather than a conservative myself, but one issue on which I was always willing to get behind the right was the value of encouraging people to strive for such greatness as they could achieve in whatever they did. The highest possible standards.

    Then Sarah Palin came along, and all that lofty stuff went straight out the window because she was the right kind of person. I found Palin’s family charming and her story inspiring, but it was most assuredly not charming to see commentators on the right attributing any aspersions cast on Palin’s qualifications to envy or secret leftist sympathies. That’s the kind of flim-flamming that convinces Independents that conservatives are as manipulative and unprincipled as liberals.


    Posted by Sean at 11:32, July 3rd, 2009

    The MOF has been looking into some of the projects Tokyo’s funding, and—surprise!—there’s waste:

    The Finance Ministry said Friday it found wasteful or inefficient spending for all 57 government projects it has examined, including 11 projects that simply are not needed.

    The 57 projects, worth 2.1 trillion yen, are among 73 projects at 14 ministries and agencies that the Finance Ministry is examining this fiscal year concerning budget allocations.

    “A thorough checking is done when the budget is formed, but some of the wasted spending turns up due to differences in value judgment,” Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said at a news conference Friday. “We will thoroughly remove the obvious wasteful spending.”

    The ministry will ask the Defense Ministry to find a more efficient way to buy weapons and other equipment.

    Inefficient spending was found in all eight projects involving contracts with outside businesses.

    The Finance Ministry will order corrections to the Fisheries Agency’s project to research next-generation fishing boats because it may unfairly restrict entries of new business operators in the project.

    The ministry said its fiscal 2008 examination led to savings of 32.4 billion yen, which was carried over to the current fiscal year’s budget.

    In a weirdly complementary way, dead and non-existent people have been wasting their money, too…on donations to the DPJ (the major opposition party).

    Yukio Hatoyama, president of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), on Tuesday acknowledged fabricated donations and apologized.

    Dead people and people who had never made political donations were listed as individual donors in his political fund reports, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama’s state-funded aide in charge of accounting used part of the opposition leader’s own money for the nonexistent donations. The aide did so to conceal his failure to collect donations from individuals, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama claimed the aide, who had served the politician for over 20 years, acted on his own without the knowledge of the Minshuto chief.

    Even so, Hatoyama’s political fund reports clearly contained false information about donations in violation of the Political Fund Control Law. Hatoyama bears a heavy responsibility for the wrongdoing.

    Between 4 million yen and 7 million yen of Hatoyama’s money was diverted every year for the misdeed.

    Although he is known for his immense personal wealth, Hatoyama’s annual income is less than 30 million yen, according to data published Tuesday.

    Hatoyama entrusted more than 10 million yen to his aide to cover his personal expenses. But was the money really Hatoyama’s? Or did it contain illegal donations whose sources had to be kept secret? There are many other questions that remain unanswered.

    Happily, there’s always a new dirty-money scandal to wick away attention from the current one. The latest, fortunately for the DPJ, involves the ruling coalition (as it usually does, of course, since it’s the LDP and its partners that have power to sell). Indeed, it involves a new cabinet member:

    The LDP’s local chapter in the 10th constituency in Chiba Prefecture did not report 200,000 yen donated by a local civil engineering company in its political funding report for fiscal 2005.

    While admitting the negligence in the financial records and that he had been personally acquainted with the company president, Hayashi denied personally receiving any funds.

    The problem was covered in the July 12 issue of the Sunday Mainichi weekly magazine, in which the 56-year-old president of the civil contractor revealed that he had been footing the accommodation and meal costs for Hayashi’s secretary under his own name, in a bid for Hayashi’s assistance in securing a Haneda Airport project contract.

    “It’s nothing but fraud. They just took money and gave us no contract,” said the president in another interview with the Mainichi Shimbun Thursday.

    JPY200000 is only about USD2000, so we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. I do like, however, the contractor’s bald-faced admission that he was trying to buy a government contract and froth of righteous indignation that it didn’t work.

    Well, we clearly didn’t privatize it enough

    Posted by Sean at 17:58, July 2nd, 2009

    One more thing about Sarah Palin: Eric says, “I think this will hurt Sarah Palin more than it hurts Sullivan, or Ken Layne, or the allegedly mother-hating homos,” and there’s a way he’s right that doesn’t fall within the scope of his post but is important to note.

    I like Palin. She seems energetic and practical-minded, and she doesn’t give you the creepy impression (common among pols, in my crabby libertarian view) that she’s lusted after the power of high public office since she was a toddler. She’s learned on the job as Alaska governor. She’s a genuine DC outsider. All these are good things.

    But substantive concerns remain about her as a potential president or VP, and they’re in danger of being impossible to address if her most vocal supporters insist on taking up only the nastiest, snobbiest counter-arguments…or on taking all counter-arguments as prima facie evidence of nastiness and snobbery that obviate the need to respond to their content. I don’t care that Palin didn’t go to Wellesley, that she doesn’t have a grad degree, or that her accent and diction are folksy. I care that she doesn’t express herself like someone whose political convictions are based on long immersion in great works of history and political science. I don’t doubt Palin’s shrewdness or common sense, but I think the point Heather Mac Donald made last October is still an important one:

    I know, it’s elitist to expect a candidate for president or vice president to speak like an adult. Sure, there are parents out there battling the “like” epidemic who might not appreciate having someone in the White House validating their 15-year-olds’ speech habits. But, hey: “Total role reversal here.” (Palin, of course, can sound adolescent even when she uses the right verbs, as when she disingenuously denied her snarky put-down of Joe Biden’s age while lauding herself as “you know, . . . the new energy, the new face, the new ideas.”) It’s even more elitist to expect a vice president to put together sentences that cohere into a minimally logical progression of thought. There was a time, however, when conservatives upheld adult standards—such as clarity of speech and thought—without apology, even in the face of the relentless downward pull of adolescent culture. But now, when a vice-presidential candidate talks like a teenager, mugs like an American Idol contestant, and traffics in syntactical dead-ends and non sequiturs, we are supposed to find her charming and authentic.

    Palin’s verbal hodgepodge may say nothing about her qualifications for the vice presidency. Judgment and political acumen could well rest on different mental capacities than the ability to order thoughts into smooth sentences. But the inability to answer a straightforward question about economic policy without becoming tangled in words suggests either ignorance about the subject matter or a difficulty connecting between ideas. Neither explanation is reassuring.

    These are things Palin needs to be thinking about. And maybe she is. Maybe she’s chosen good handlers who’ve locked her in a room with Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft and refused to let her out until she’s perused it twice. Maybe she has a speech coach.

    But maybe, if the only feedback she’s getting comes from her media supporters, the only message she’s getting is that Real Americans love her to pieces just the way she is and that the only detractors she has are motivated by pro-abortion, anti-gun, anti-family, misogynist animus. I think that’s cause for worry.

    The title is from this Spitting Image clip, BTW:

    Free xone

    Posted by Sean at 19:58, June 30th, 2009

    A dear blog friend asked whether I’d seen this and implied that I might want to comment on it. I’m not sure what good that will do—the post is so incoherent that there’s no point to a line-by-line, Fisking-style approach, and I can’t really pick out a well-developed central argument to discuss more generally. So let me split the difference and make a few passing observations:

    •   To the extent that McCain has a point, his point is that Palin-hatred on the part of leftist gays is especially vitriolic in the way it’s targeted toward her identity as a wife and mother. But the example he chooses is this:

         A hetero swine like Letterman makes “slutty flight attendant” jokes about Palin’s looks. Gay men make tasteless jokes about Palin as a mother. This is a blog, not a textbook, but if you’ve read this far, you can generalize from that observation to consider why Andrew Sullivan has spent months mucking around the fever swamps of Trig-trutherism.

         Huh? The joke Letterman actually took the most heat for was the one about Palin’s daughter’s being impregnated by A-Rod , which is not only targeted at Palin as a mother but also targeted at her daughter as a mother. (Letterman insisted that he was talking about Bristol rather than Willow.) Perhaps McCain has confirmation that that particular one-liner was devised by one of Letterman’s gay writers, but I haven’t heard tell of any such thing. And I haven’t heard any allegations that Letterman himself is gay. (Aside to the heavens: Please, no.) The writer of that recent PlayboyOnline article about conservative women as objects of what we will delicately call adversarial lust was, to my knowledge, straight, too.

         As for Sullivan’s obsession with the provenance of Trig Palin, yeah, it’s embarrassing; and the part about Sullivan’s being a gay guy who’s obsessed with the traffic through Palin’s cervix is one of the media’s more amusing ironies. But I’m not sure it’s any more telling about Sullivan’s gay mind than, say, the loopy obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate implies racism on the part of the fringe-right wackos who keep fulminating about it. Sullivan thought there was a weakness to exploit in someone he was trying to take down politically, and he went for it. He ran it into the ground, but lately he runs everything into the ground, cervix-related or not. If this were some sort of intrinsically gay male thing, we might expect Jonathan Rauch, Bruce Bawer, Deroy Murdock, Walter Olson, or Dale Carpenter to be routinely going bananas over women they oppose politically. But they don’t.

    •   McCain has anticipated such objections by saying that of course there are exceptions; he’s just stating the general rule. I don’t know what kinds of persons McCain hangs out with, but I’ve been a gay guy in Philadelphia, New York, and Tokyo for a decade and a half, and I’ve found it pretty easy to avoid neurotics. Yes, you basically have to give up on organized gay activism, which is dominated by one-note obsessives; and if your political positions skew what’s seen as right, you deal with a lot of spluttering at dinner parties. But that’s life in the big city, and it’s no better among leftist straight people.
    •   The fashion industry, or the section of it that McCain is talking about, is also part of the big city. Lots of small towns out in the provinces have gay dressmakers who make the local society ladies look like local society ladies, which normally doesn’t mean streetwalkers. Hell, even the gay guys in New York who contribute to the production and distribution of lines of tarty clothes will, when a living, breathing female friend asks them to help her get ready for a date, counsel her in the direction of feminine and romantic and away from anything that looks too slutty. The sort of high-end fashion design that you see in Vogue is generated by people who prize the unfettered imagination over everyday wearability for everyday people. (You can see the same phenomenon in architecture and interior design.) They like their models tall and slim, even when they’ve got curves like Gisele, because clothes in general hang better and show their construction better on tall, slim bodies. Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace, Behnaz Sarafpour, and thousands of less famous women are just as numerous in that world as gay guys are. And it’s bizarre that McCain can actually mention ultra-hetero hip-hop without noticing that that‘s where a lot of the flesh-displaying shapes that fashion has absorbed over the last two decades have come from.
    •   I’ve never heard another gay guy use the word fish to refer to anything but his order of trout amandine, except on episodes of Queer as Folk. That’s not to say it doesn’t ever happen, only that it doesn’t necessarily characterize gay life in general. And while fag hag can certainly be used negatively, in my experience, it tends to describe a very particular kind of straight woman: one who latches on to gay-guy friends because she can’t handle straight men who might want to have a lasting, mature relationship with her. The exploitation goes both directions, and it can be depressingly difficult for bystanders to determine who’s making the bigger sucker out of whom. But to the extent that dysfunctionality and derogation are involved, they aren’t just homosexual dysfunctionality and derogation.
    •   The idea that gay men are more hostile to women than the lesbian sisterhood is to men, which is implicit in the statement that lesbians are “riding in the back of the Equality Bus” while we male homos steer it, is pretty hard to believe on the face of it. I don’t know about Cynthia Yockey, but I do know that Camille Paglia and Tammy Bruce, while they’re critical of gay men’s excesses, have reserved their most astringent comments for the self-defeating practices of fellow lesbians.
    •   One final thing that’s applicable to McCain but hardly, more’s the pity, exclusive to him: can we please knock it off with the bratty, self-satisifed, look-how-daringly-un-PC-I-am tone? If you’re calling them as you see them, alert readers will be able to tell that you’re not cowed by PC pieties without your having to ham and mug about what a roguish taboo-trampler you are. It’s no less obnoxious coming from the right than it used to be coming from Karen Finley.

    Added on 2 July: Thanks to Eric for the link in his own post on the topic:

    The only message I can see that will be remembered from this is that a lot of right wingers think that those who hate Sarah Palin are gay (as if there is no greater insult) and should be called names. A new meme for the left to proudly wave.

    I fail to see how this will resonate in Sarah Palin’s favor.

    I realize that many people are saying that Stacy McCain is only doing this for the traffic. I can’t blame any blogger for wanting traffic, but I do think that if he likes Sarah Palin as much as he claims does, McCain might think twice about whether getting more hits is worth the damage he does to his cause.

    When the dust settles, no one will remember the traffic he got. What they will remember is the shining new conservative principle he established.

    If you hate Sarah Palin, you must be gay!

    Well, plenty of people already believed that kind of thing without McCain’s having to post about it; when I posted this, not a single one of his approving commenters seemed to have suffered any cognitive dissonance over the way he’d characterized Letterman’s Palin jokes–an elementary factual error. Social cons are to be applauded when they take a critical look at politically biased research that uses shoddy methods to generate figures that conveniently shore up preexisting liberal wish lists. It’s just a shame that their disinterested pursuit of the truth rarely extends to their discussions of gay issues, where many of them have a history of being all too willing to let questions about sampling, survey-instrument construction, generalizations drawn from anecdotes, and other basics recede from view as long as there’s a juicy opportunity to paint homosexuals as pathological.


    Posted by Sean at 11:49, June 29th, 2009

    My hometown newspaper has a blogger who’s writing about dealing with being laid off in the current economy, and she recommends that people who need to scrimp on travel and entertainment go to the Japanese House and Garden at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. I second that, for those from the Lehigh Valley who haven’t gone. If memory serves, the sightlines are pretty much uninterrupted to the horizon, which actually makes it very unlike modern Japan. (In Tokyo, even when you’re at the Inner Pond at the Meiji Shrine, you can look up and see buildings way off; in the rest of Japan, it’s usually electric-cable pylons hemming you in.) But it’s beautifully kept up. I wanted to take Atsushi there when I brought him home to meet my parents five years ago, but we never had the time. His taste of Japan PA-style was restricted to the “Japanese” steak house in the South Mall, which he fortunately found amusing.

    The Japanese name of the facility, BTW, means something on the order of “pine-wind villa.” The first two characters are read, in other contexts, as matsukaze. It’s the name of one of the most famous Noh classics.

    Refuge of the roads

    Posted by Sean at 11:07, June 29th, 2009

    This Asahi story (Japanese here) announces a major development:

    For the first time in Japan’s corruption-tainted, money-wasting highway construction industry, competition has arisen over contracts for an expressway project.

    Three expressway operators–East Nippon Expressway Co. (E-Nexco), Central Nippon Expressway Co. (C-Nexco) and Metropolitan Expressway Co. (Shutoko)–have applied to the land ministry for contracts to build a new section of the Tokyo Gaikan Expressway.

    The competition is expected to finally make expressway construction and maintenance more cost-efficient.

    Previously, the government had ordered one public expressway operator, including the mammoth Japan Highway Public Corp. (JH), to construct expressways.

    But JH came under heavy fire for bid-rigging scandals and other antitrust allegations.

    After JH and other related public organizations were privatized in 2005, private expressway operators were allowed to seek government contracts for expressway construction projects.

    E-Nexco, C-Nexco and Shutoko all emerged from the privatization process.

    The Japanese story contains this sentence, though:

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism will from here on be choosing the main operator based on its comprehensive assessments of, for each company, the amount of costs it will bear and its technological capabilities; but it has not been decided whether to use competitive bidding or a no-bid contract.

    The English version leaves off the no-bid part, but IIRC it affects how competitive the process actually is because it requires less transparency. The government could still award the contract to the one that’s best at string-pulling and back-scratching, not necessarily the one that seems to offer the best deal for the public. Well, that could happen with open bidding, too, probably, but the competitors would seem to have more maneuvering room.