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    Mary, Mary—flat tire!

    Posted by Sean at 06:44, June 19th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan is urging gays who are in the pocket of the Democratic National Committee to start trying to hit it where it hurts:

    One way to get the Obama administration’s attention on civil rights is for gay people to stop funding the Democrats. That’s all these people care about anyway when it comes to gays: our money. If the Democrats refuse to support us, refuse to support them. This is a start. But we need to get more creative. We need actions to highlight the administration’s betrayals, postponements and boilerplate. We need to start confronting the president at his events. We need civil disobedience. We need to tell him we do not want another fricking speech where he tells us he is a fierce advocate for our rights, when that is quite plainly at this point not true. We will not tolerate another Clinton. No invites to these people for dinners or fundraisers. No cheering him at events while he does nothing to follow up on his explicit promises. Of course these things can be done. If anyone high up in the Obama administration or the Pelosi-Reid Congress gave a damn, much would have been done.

    “That’s all these people care about anyway when it comes to gays: our money.” Well, yes, some of us have thought that for quite some time. Or maybe not quite that coarsely—I’m sure plenty of DNC higher-ups genuinely care about gay people, but when it’s time to make political calculations, we have little power unless we’re part of a larger bloc. I don’t say that out of self-pity; it’s just cold, hard political reality. The incentive to give gay activists what they want just because they’re being loud about wanting it is pretty low, though I certainly agree that gay people who feel betrayed should feel free to exercise their First Amendment right to petition the government.

    Allow me to observe, however, that it would be nice if they hadn’t set a track record of making it so easy to walk all over them. Sullivan talks about not tolerating another Clinton, but liberal gay politicos have already made the same mistake they did with Bill: showering a charismatic politician with such adoration that they can hardly blame him for presuming on their unconditional love. And then looking whiny when they start bellowing about how betrayed they feel. Nick Gillespie posted this yesterday at Reason.com:

    I can appreciate the anger and disappointment among gay and lesbian supporters of Obama, but in their frustration may well be the seed of a deeper understanding that politics and politicians are disappointing at best and malevolent at worst. Which is precisely the reason to squeeze their power and influence over citizens and human activity to the bare minimum, whether we’re talking about the bedroom or the boardroom.

    We can dream. If this does get gay activists and voters to rethink their knee-jerk allegiance to the DNC, then the tactics Sullivan is calling for will serve a good purpose. But unless they recognize Gillespie’s libertarian point, it’ll be hard to shake the feeling that they’ve learned the tune but are pointlessly rewriting already adequate lyrics:

    Added later: Also, there’s this from Matt Welch:

    For journo-pundits especially, but I think all of us too: Life really is better lived when you reserve your love for the deserving people you know, rather than the undeserving politicians you think you understand.

    Behind door A…

    Posted by Sean at 12:58, June 18th, 2009

    The Yomiuri says that Japan and the United States are looking into the likeliest scenarios for the DPRK’s next rocket launch. Very comforting:

    At the Tongchang-ri facility, either a Taepodong-2 missile or an upgraded Taepodong-2 was believed to have been brought from a missile manufacturing facility near Pyongyang on May 30, according to the sources.

    Based on the assumption that this latest missile is a two- or three-stage type and has capability equal or superior to the long-range ballistic missile North Korea launched in April, the Defense Ministry predicted the possibility of a launch toward Hawaii, with a launch toward Okinawa Prefecture and Guam also seen a possibility.

    If it took the Okinawan path, when the first-stage booster detaches it could fall in the vicinity of a Chinese coastal area and might anger China.

    In the case of the Guam path, the missile must overfly South Korea and Japan’s Chugoku and Shikoku regions, which means the booster would be dumped onto a land area. Therefore, the ministry sees both possibilities as quite low, according to the sources.

    In case of the Hawaii route, the booster could be dumped into the Sea of Japan. If such a long-range test launch was successful, North Korea would be able to pose a great military threat to the United States, which until now has not regarded North Korean missiles as a threat to North America or Hawaii. Therefore, the ministry concluded the Hawaii route is most probable of the three scenarios, the sources said.

    However, while the distance from North Korea to the main islands of Hawaii is about 7,000 kilometers, an upgraded Taepodong-2 only has a range of 4,000 to 6,500 kilometers.

    The ministry believes even if the missile took the most direct route over Aomori Prefecture, it would not reach the main Hawaiian Islands, the sources said.

    Though U.S. intelligence satellite images showed a missile launch pad had already been set up at the Tongchang-ri base, it takes more than 10 days to assemble and fuel a missile before launch, according to the sources.

    The ministry said it believes North Korea is likely to launch a missile sometime between July 4 and 8, because the 1996 launch of the Taepodong-2 missile took place on the July 4 U.S. Independence Day (July 5 Japan time) and July 8 falls on the anniversary of the 1994 death of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

    It came to light Wednesday that North Korea may have transported a missile to a launch site in Musudan-ri.

    So now we watch and wait and show “grave concern,” if that’s the phrase of the month on this particular issue.

    BTW, in more benign circumstances, Japan is apparently readying to provide nuclear power expertise to a roster of developing countries. I can’t for the life of me locate the article in which I read that–it was just within a week ago–but it sounds like good news given the push to move away from fossil fuels. Some may wonder whether Japan, given its history of nail-biting incidents at nuclear facilities, is really in a good position to be doing so; but the problems at, say, Mihama were not due to lack of knowledge of what safety regulations were needed. They were due to a failure to follow procedures that were supposed to be in place. Japan has plenty of good technical expertise to transmit.


    Posted by Sean at 21:33, June 16th, 2009

    The Asahi reports that a broker/fixer type who connects Japanese enterprises with investment opportunities in North Korea is being investigated by the Tax Bureau:

    Tax authorities plan to order an executive of a nongovernmental organization that offers humanitarian assistance to North Korea to pay back taxes on “fees” he collected from his side businesses, he said.

    Hiroyuki Kosaka, 56, head of the secretariat for Tokyo-based Rainbow Bridge, told The Asahi Shimbun that the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau suspects he concealed about 240 million yen in income over several years until 2007.

    But Kosaka said the money collected from Japanese companies as “advanced investments” for future business with North Korea was offered to the secluded country or used as tax-exempt expenditures.

    “I cannot agree (with the tax authorities). I will fight them thoroughly (in court),” he said.

    The authorities informed Kosaka’s accountant that he could face orders to pay between 100 million yen and 200 million yen in back taxes and penalties.

    “I offered the commissions to North Korea or used them as (part of tax-exempt) expenditures. So I have not obtained any income from them,” Kosaka said.

    Although North Korea’s latest missile launches and nuclear test have heightened tensions with other countries, including Japan, many Japanese companies see future business opportunities with Pyongyang, particularly in the fields of rare metals, gravel, infrastructure construction and matsutake mushrooms. Such deals require middlemen like Kosaka.

    Kosaka’s group is not the same as Chongryun, the most well known advocacy group for North Koreans in Japan, which has long been suspected of working semi-covertly for the DPRK regime. Also of long standing is the hope that North Korea will liberalize its economy even a little bit, which could enable established Japanese companies to have access to its untapped markets and resources. Of course, Pyongyang has a record of taking invested money and equipment and, essentially, nationalizing it, so such maneuvers would not be without risks.

    I’m very amused by the phrase “particularly in the fields of rare metals, gravel, infrastructure construction and matsutake mushrooms.” That’s a pretty eclectic list.

    The ROK newspaper Chosun Ilbun is reporting that U.S. reconnaissance satellite images indicate the DPRK may be moving a long-range missile to the Musudan-ri launch site in its northeast, says the Nikkei. So maybe another ballistic missile test soon.

    A night to remember

    Posted by Sean at 13:27, June 13th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan links to a post by Lars Thorwald at Kos, which defends the DOJ’s brief defending DOMA. Sullivan says:

    Lars Thorwald has a strong post on why Obama’s DOJ brief in defense of DOMA is in fact a keeping of a promise: to restore the rule of law after eight years of abuse. I take every point he makes. Read the whole thing.

    And Thorwald (I hope that’s his real name, because it would be a rather creepy Hitchcock reference to take as a pop-culture pseudonym—not that that vitiates his arguments…I’m just saying) states:

    Because what happened the last 8 years was this: We were a nation of men, or, more precisely, a handful of men. If Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Feith, Bush, and the rest didn’t like a law on policy grounds…well, we can just ignore it.

    I don’t care if it is DOMA, or FISA, or whatever. The law is the law, and the executive must apply it and defend challenges to it, if it is legally defensible. (The Americablog assertion that Presidents routinely and frequently simply decline to defend enacted laws in Court is wrong for reasons far too numerous to entertain here, and on the occasions it has happened without good justification, I submit those Presidents were wrong, too).

    The point is: The man I voted for told me he would return us to a nation of laws, not of men. That means we follow (and apply, and defend–or else it means nothing) the law. Regardless of the whims or policy desires of the man in the chair. Because he is bound by the law, too.

    Have you all forgotten this so soon?

    My understanding from posts by other attorneys is that, in fact, the brief filed yesterday is not really different from those of the Bush administration DOJ in substantive legal terms. So…this represents Obama’s commitment to the rule of law, but those represented Bush’s cavalier attitude toward laws he didn’t like? It’s possible that I really am missing something, but Thorwald is explicitly and mindedly pitching his post at the educated non-lawyer reader, and I don’t think there’s anything in it I just didn’t understand.

    If we’re talking about the rule of law outside the realm of DOJ briefs—well, Obama’s done plenty of talking about changing how we prosecute the WOT, but the actual shifts he’s made, even by the standards of the things leftists have been complaining about for years, are very meager. And looking at the administration from 35,000 feet, we have the tax-evading Secretary of the Treasury [!], the plans to interfere with the contracted-for bonus structure at AIG, and the strongarming of Chrysler creditors to facilitate a sop to the union$. I have a great deal of difficulty seeing these things, either collectively or separately, as representing anything but a system in which some rules apply to super-cool people and others apply to everyone else. People are welcome to cheerlead for Obama’s policy prescriptions, but they’re going to have to do better than this if they want to argue persuasively that his administration is setting about enacting them through the renewed application of the rule of law.

    I used to admire Sullivan very much, but for the last several years, reading him has made me feel a lot like Robert Christgau when he reviewed Cyndi Lauper’s third solo album, which cemented her metamorphosis from genuine free-thinker to bland market-segment opportunist: “How embarrassing to have placed hope in this woman.” I agree with Eric that it’s odd for Sullivan to keep labeling himself a conservative, fiscal or otherwise, and of course in terms of policy I wish he still were. But what’s really depressing is that he can’t even seem to do new-convert liberalism with consistency or conviction.

    We’re all following a strange melody / We’re all summoned by a tune

    Posted by Sean at 11:58, June 12th, 2009

    Now do you see why some of us were cautious about Obama, guys (via Instapundit)?* John Aravosis at AMERICAblog is livid:

    And before Obama claims he didn’t have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we’ll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same. But instead he chose to defend DOMA, denigrate our civil rights, go back on his promises, and contradict his own statements that DOMA was “abhorrent.” Folks, Obama’s lawyers are even trying to diminish the impact of Roemer and Lawrence, our only two big Supreme Court victories. Obama is quite literally destroying our civil rights gains with this brief. He’s taking us down for his own benefit.

    Anyone who knows me well or reads me often is aware that I think the way activists have pursued SSM is self-defeating and naive, but it requires a particularly egregious level of naivete to be blindsided by this development at this point. Thus far, the Obama administration has manifested a preference for big donors with lots of people and power to leverage. Gay activism doesn’t fit those criteria. It’s loyally Democratic and has plenty of donors who (for individuals) give a lot, but its aggregate power isn’t major. And that’s leaving aside the possibility that Obama may be perfectly fine with gay people’s living our lives but just seriously believe that DOMA isn’t unconstitutional. I will say I find it droll to read that the Obama administration has suddenly taken it into its head to worry about how “scarce” government resources are and thus to be all parsimonious and judicious and stuff in allocating them to people who really, really deserve them. Where was that attitude during Bailout Fest a few months ago?

    Actually, this episode leads me back to a question that’s nagged at me ever since the Obama candidacy started taking over the airwaves: Liberal friends, doesn’t all this uncritical adulation for a politician worry you? I mean, I know you like the guy. I know you were sick of Bush and the GOP and were excited for a change. My libertarian heart and brain suspected that I wasn’t going to like Obama’s policy directions, but I understood why other people were willing to take a risk on him.

    But a lot of other people were True Believers, a type I recognize from my extreme-right/fundie upbringing. It’s that part that I think is insalubrious. Their faith in Obama is nonfalsifiable—he’s going to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t do the right thing, that just proves that he’s a pragmatist who’s willing to make the hard compromises that are sometimes necessary, so he really is basically doing the right thing—until they get a kick in the teeth that’s too powerful to spin away. Then they freak. And you can expect it to happen more and more often, because Obama’s been idolized by so many people with so many (ahem) diverse ideologies that, even if he were a paragon of principle, he’d inevitably end up screwing over large numbers of them.

    This is why I’m unmoved when friends complain that I’m too cynical about politics. Being suspicious of the motives of those who hold state power may make you gretzier after watching the news, but it at least ensures that you don’t make the mistake of equating politicians with rock stars. Celebrities can be Guardians of our Collective Dreams, but politicians set policy backed by the coercive power of the state. That means we should be searching out all available information about them and evaluating it unsparingly, so that we can make the most educated possible prediction of what they’re going to do once we give them the keys to the office. Swooning unreservedly over an untested politician may give you a nice glow now, but it’s a recipe for heartache later. You have no one to blame but yourselves when your misapplied religious impulse comes back and bites you.

    * I mean, of course, cautious in general, not cautious in the sense that I share Aravosis’s beliefs about SSM.

    Added later: Dale Carpenter has a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy:

    Historically federal marriage benefits have been available to anyone married under state law. The federal definition was parasitic on the state definition. If a state chose to allow 14-year-olds to marry, but most states did not allow that, nobody thought federal recognition of such marriages functioned as a subsidy forced on the taxpayers of other states. DOMA changed that, but only for gay marriages. “Neutrality,” as the Obama administration understands it, does not mean federal recognition of state choices in this matter. It means denying federal recognition of state choices.

    My point here is not to claim that the DOJ’s arguments are anti-gay, homophobic, or even wrong. Much of the brief seems right to me, or at least entirely defensible, as a matter of constitutional law. My point is only to note how much continuity there is in this instance, as in others, between the Bush and Obama administrations. In short, there’s little in this brief that could not have been endorsed by the Bush DOJ. A couple of rhetorical flourishes here and there might have been different. Perhaps a turn of phrase. But, minus some references to procreation and slippery slopes, the substance is there.

    Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a “fierce advocate” for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?


    Posted by Sean at 19:34, June 11th, 2009

    The Nikkei has another editorial up today about North Korea’s nuclear program.

    Japan and the U.S. should continue to team up with South Korea and make the UNSC’s sanctions into something that gets results, and there’s a need for steps to be taken immediately. The U.S. is looking into sanctions of its own, such as toughening its financial sanctions and redesignating [the DPRK] a terrorism-sponsoring state. The Japanese government also ought to expedite its investigation of possible concrete steps and legal arrangements for implementation of sanctions. Especially for inspections of vessels on the open seas, it’s assumed that revision of the Ship Inspection Operations Law and the enactment of new laws will be necessary.

    It’s probably inevitable that the adoption of the UNSC resolution will bring with it a furious reaction from North Korea. One view of its recent radical behavior ties it to Kim Jong-Il’s succession issues; nevertheless, its intention to move forward with its nuclear development is obvious. It is anticipated that North Korea could, from here on, move into such adversarial steps as withdrawing from the U.N., but shattering North Korea’s “nuke” ambitions is the duty of the global community.

    Well, most of the “global community” isn’t an enemy of North Korea that sits within Taepodong range, so it rather lacks Tokyo’s sense of urgency. That’s not to say the Nikkei is wrong to point out that the DPRK’s nuclear program, with its known leaks to unsavory clients, is a global problem—only that Japan, the U.S., and South Korea seem to be the only countries that are actually keen on doing anything about it. And even the U.S. has been pretty consistently wifty.

    Also, North Korea leaving the U.N.? That sounds highly unlikely to me. I can see its making a big show of threatening to do so, but what would the DPRK possibly gain by withdrawing from the major international organization that lends it legitimacy? Claudia Rosett, on her blog at PJM, has been keeping an eye on DPRK-related developments, BTW.

    Added on 12 June: To wit, Rosett’s post today on “The Lighter Side of North Korean Nuclear Tests.” She’s not talking about the glow after detonation, either.

     The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution #1874 on Friday condemning “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s May 25th nuclear test. Devotees of such stuff will note that this sure-as-shootin’ sounds stronger than UN Security Council Resolution #1718, adopted in 2006 in response to the previous North Korean nuclear test. In that case, the Security Council, instead of condemning “in the strongest terms,” contented itself merely with “Expressing the gravest concern.”

     This latest UN resolution, #1874, demands that North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology.” Or rather, this new resolution makes the demand again, since the previous resolution, three years ago, made the same demand. (Well, with one small difference — the previous resolution demanded no more nukes or ballistic missiles. The new resolution demands no more nukes and no more launches using ballistic missile “technology” — a fine distinction perhaps meant to address the problem that two months ago North Korea tested a ballistic missile, but described it as a satellite launch).

    Anyway, the UN’s new resolution #1874 doesn’t stop there. It contains 34 articles demanding, deploring, deciding, calling, requiring and requesting, plus a coda in which the Council decides to “remain actively seized of the matter” (which may sound like what happens to an engine block without oil,  but at the UN, it means they plan to keep fussing about it).

    Some of these articles spell out plans that could be interesting, especially the calls for UN member states to inspect ships and seize cargoes if they have information that gives “reasonable grounds” to think that items pertaining to Kim Jong Il’s missile and nuclear bomb projects are aboard. More broadly, there is a list of actions the UN Security Council has (again) decided North Korea should take – which boil down to abandoning its nuclear and long-range missile programs, allowing complete and verifiable inspections and not trashing the world’s non-proliferation deals. (Seems like the Security Council, while on this roll, might just as well have tossed in a few demands for Kim Jong Il to disband his military, open his gulag and move to Hawaii — but maybe Russia and China wouldn’t have gone along with that).

    As I think I’ve said here before, my problem with these things is not that they’re only symbolic. Legislative bodies (if you want to think of the UNSC as one) make symbolic commendations and condemnations all the time to demonstrate principle. My problem with them is that people pretend they are actual actions taken to slow the spread of evil in the world, which they manifestly are not (the manifestation being the DPRK’s still-existent nuclear program).

    School ties

    Posted by Sean at 18:35, June 11th, 2009

    Agenda Bender resurfaced recently, as he is wont to do, with this item about the Brothers Kim:

    WaPo Former classmates at a Swiss boarding school describe a shy student who loved basketball and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Recent reports describe him as overweight and a heavy drinker. Now 26, Kim Jong Un has reportedly been tapped to become the next leader of nuclear-armed North Korea.

    For years, Kim Jong Il’s eldest son Jong Nam, 38, was considered the favorite to succeed his father until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001, reportedly to visit the Disney resort.

    Kim considers the middle son, Jong Chol, too effeminate, according to the leader’s former sushi chef.

    Jong Un, however, is the “spitting image” of his father and the leader’s favorite, the chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, wrote in a 2003 memoir.

    I want some remembrances of Kim Jong Chol by his former Swiss-boarding school classmates.

    Yeah, really. They always leave out the most interesting part of the story.

    You had something to hide / Should’ve hidden it, shouldn’t you?

    Posted by Sean at 23:35, June 10th, 2009

    Camille’s latest Salon column discusses President Obama’s Cairo speech. (She likes the attempt at outreach to moderate Muslims but thinks his grasp of religious faith seemed deficient and undercut it.) Worth reading as always.

    What really got my attention, though, is that she sings the praises of Depeche Mode. Really? I mean, I know they were a big Catholic-schoolgirl thing, but really? And her favorite song—go figure!—is “Never Let Me Down Again.” An image flashed into my mind of her standing at the kitchen sink in the ’80s, scrubbing the dishes with a plastic scrubby while tunelessly chanting, in that bark of hers, “He promises me I’m as safe as houses / as long as I remember who’s wearing the trou-sahs.”


    Because web design is not my metier (no comments from the peanut gallery), I spent most of my blog-related time over the last week getting the site up and running here at WordPress rather than actually looking at the news. I did, however, catch at least some of the imbroglio over Ed Whelan’s snippy-vengeful disclosure at The Corner of the real name of the guy who blogs as Publius. Janis Gore, who I can’t imagine would ever be snippy, has posted about it several times recently. She links to a bunch of good posts and herself says:

    I’d hope my niece never shows up with this guy for dinner. Mr. Whelan didn’t do anything illegal, immoral or even unethical — just what in the South we’d call “tacky,” or my mother would call “ugly.”

    There was nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about Al barfing on that bridesmaid’s dress at Zee’s wedding, but he still won’t be invited to any more of Zee’s parties. Poor guy didn’t have the charm to carry that off. Few do.

    And I’m surprised. The National Review is an institution, and the bloggers there have never before confronted adversaries that way. I’d say Kathryn Jean Lopez has endured some of the most brutal, hateful and hurtful commentary I’ve ever read. I’m sure it’s on her radar, but she goes her merry way, as the other bloggers have.

    In the interest of fostering mutual understanding between cultures, let me point out that we’d call it “tacky” here north of the Mason-Dixon Line, too. (What my mother would say, for the record, is “You just don’t do that sort of thing!”) Janis approvingly links Bruce McQuain’s post at Q and O, and she’s right. That he’s right. McQ says:

    The fact that Whelan’s outing of Publius added nothing of weight to his arguments nor took away from those of Publius smacks of petty vindictiveness. He knew he could hurt Publius by doing something to him that Publius had carefully avoided over the years. In a word it was petty.

    Some commenters at Q and O maintain that Whelan doesn’t owe Publius any courtesy, but in these cases, it’s always useful to do a little thought experiment. If the roles were reversed, and a blogger on the left had revealed the name of an anonymous right-leaning blogger who was throwing rough-and-tumble criticism at him, would these same people be saying that no ethical lines were crossed? Sorry, I know it’s impossible to prove a such a hypothetical, but I don’t believe that for a second. Especially if the right-leaning blogger in question had invoked livelihood and family as reasons for staying anonymous, or even just the problems of being a conservative surrounded by liberals. I think Janis and McQ have found exactly the right pitch: the guy acted like a jerk and should be shunned. That people who blog under pseudonyms should not be naive about the possibilities that their real identities will be ferreted out doesn’t change the fact that publicizing who they are is violating their wishes. If their arguments suck, then post counter-arguments. If you think they’re writing at a level of nastiness that they would never sink to if they were using their real names, then point that out. Challenge them to put their own names to what they write if they want to be disagreeable—there’s nothing unreasonable about doing that. One of the reasons I’ve always commented and blogged under my own name is…well, so that I’d have a sense of ultimate responsibility every time I clicked on the “Submit” button. It was important to me to do that. But other people make different calculations, and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them.


    Posted by Sean at 12:44, June 10th, 2009

    Well, I can stop worrying about all my dear friends in Japan—the UNSC has drafted another resolution telling the DPRK that it’s naughty-naughty to be playing with plutonium (Japanese version at the Nikkei here):

    The latest U.N. action is expected to spark a reaction from North Korea as in the case of a presidential statement issued by the Security Council on April 13 condemning North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch.

    A draft outlined last week by the United States contained a requirement for all U.N. members to inspect North Korean cargo if it was suspected of carrying nuclear or missile-related items.

    But China had rejected the proposal, urging the six other countries to weaken the wording on cargo inspections and maintaining that mandatory inspections of North Korean cargo would lead to military conflict, the sources said.

    Effectively implementing the inspection of North Korean cargo was one of the measures the Security Council contemplated as a way to enforce Resolution 1718 in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test.

    The resolution, adopted in October 2006 after North Korea’s first nuclear test, states all U.N. members are ”called upon” to take ”cooperative action including thorough inspection of cargo to and from” North Korea.

    Following Pyongyang’s second nuclear test, Japan and the United States had insisted that a new resolution include a phrase making cargo inspections by U.N. members mandatory rather than ”calling upon” them to cooperate.

    Okay, little man, that’s it! It’s a time-out for you.

    Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 14:40, June 9th, 2009

    This Yomiuri story on Toshikazu Sugaya, who was convicted of the 1990 murder of a child but released last week after new DNA tests pointed to his innocence, exemplifies one of the common complaints about the sky-high rate of convictions among cases that go to court in Japan:

    While saying investigators used heavy-handed interrogation techniques only on the day of his arrest, Sugaya spoke of how he went on to conjure up a story of his “crime.”

    This further shadow over the investigation begs the question as to why Sugaya felt compelled to make a false confession.

    At the station, the investigators and Sugaya became involved in a verbal duel of accusation and denial that continued until the evening.

    He did not immediately admit the crime when investigators showed him evidence such as the results of a test that matched his DNA with that of body fluid found on an item of the girl’s clothing.

    “It was night, I was desolate and began to feel that if I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t be able to go home,” he said.

    After about 13 hours of interrogation, Sugaya finally broke down at about 9 p.m., saying he “gripped both of the detective’s hands tightly and broke down into tears.”

    “The detective seemed to think I’d done it because I cried,” he said. “But in fact, I cried because I was upset that he wouldn’t listen no matter how many times I told him I didn’t do it. I’d gotten desperate.”

    Sugaya later confessed. He also said he imagined the story based on details the media had covered of the case.

    “Since I was young, I’d clam up when people said things to me,” Sugaya said of his personality. “I hate offending people.”

    His lawyer, Hiroshi Sato, said of Sugaya, “He has a tendency to be accommodating and felt he wanted to convince investigators [of what he did].”

    Sato pointed out similarities between Sugaya’s case and that of a man in Himi, Toyama Prefecture, who had been arrested and imprisoned for rape and attempted rape. This man was found innocent in 2007.

    If the Japanese police pick you up and decide they want a confession out of you, they have a well-stocked arsenal to help them ensure they get it (that link via Debito). Notice this sentence: “Yasuda claimed they told him it is cowardly to invoke the right to remain silent and said he should take responsibility as a lawyer.” The Yomiuri article mentions personality, and it’s probable that Sugaya is unusually self-effacing; nevertheless, the tendency in Japan when there’s a disturbance is for everyone at hand to make reflexive apologies. Interrogators, say those who’ve studied detention practices in Japan, play on that. If you don’t apologize and then sign a confession, you’re holding up justice, you’re wasting the police’s time, and you’re disrupting the smooth flow of things. Even if you weren’t the exact person who caused the disturbance, as long as you’re involved in it, it’s considered proper to step up and say you’re sorry. Those concerns are especially powerful to Japanese people. Of course, there are wrongful convictions in the U.S., too, often over the protests of suspects who maintain their innocence all along. At the same time, our system is set up to presume innocence and to maximize the options of the defense. There’s a great deal of self-policing in Japanese society, and often for lesser crimes charges aren’t pressed even if a suspect is picked up. But we were told, practically the moment we arrived in Yokohama for our language program thirteen years ago, that once you sign a confession, that’s it.

    Another story from a few days ago illustrates a complementary problem: when things are not expedited but rather gridlocked because too many entities are engaged in turf wars. This is from a Nikkei editorial published Friday about ITS (intelligent transport systems), in which it is hoped Japan can take the technology and implementation lead:

    ITS comprise things such as vehicle-vechicle communication that avoids collisions between vehicles, road-vehicle communication that transmits road information, and navigation using high-speed roads. Auto navigation or or fee-collection systems (ETC) also fall within them. The metropolitan government and police department of Tokyo are moving forward with route guidance through traffic-signal controls and electronic signage, aimed at easing traffic jams.

    The challenge is the form cooperation between the public sector and manufacturers takes. For ITS, it has a vertically divided structure, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastrucure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and the National Police Agency having, all four of them, jurisdiction; and there’s a powerful tendency for manufacturers also to be dead-set on their own unique technologies.

    ITS Japan conducted a joint experiment of large-scale ITS in the Odaiba area, for which the Tokyo Olympic Center is planned. The technologies that each federal entity is moving forward with were unveiled, but to look at it from the perspective of people who drive, there was no uniformity to the systems and it was impossible to deny the impression of disjointedness.

    The system that results is almost certain to be a snazzy one. When it comes to electronics, Japan does not fool around. But it’s also likely that consumers will pay, because each ministry, agency, and powerful corporation will find a way to get a piece of the governing power and the licensing and fee structure.