Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My keyboard is nearly dead, but David Brooks' works

...most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy.

We’re living in an age when a vast excess of capital sloshes around the world fueling cycles of bubble and bust. When the capital floods into a sector or economy, it washes away sober business practices, and habits of discipline and self-denial. Then the money managers panic and it sloshes out, punishing the just and unjust alike...

David Brooks

Monday, September 29, 2008

I actually feel sorry for Aso

Japan's transport minister resigned Sunday after a string of gaffes...

...The resignation of Nariaki Nakayama was an embarrassing and rocky start for Aso, who took office on Wednesday with the lowest public support of any newly appointed prime minister in eight years. Newspaper polls showed his approval rating at just below 50 percent...

Nakayama, a conservative, said Saturday that Japan's liberal-leaning national teachers' union was "a cancer" and should be abolished, according to the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers. CNN

Many of these old men seem to live in their own never-never land.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Imagine the fallout,

the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the warnings of the dangers of investment by foreigners and of foreigners/foreign things, were the shoe to have been on the other foot and an American, European, or other non-Japanese company were buying a Japanese firm like this and at this price---bankrupt or not.

Nomura Holdings Inc. paid only $2 for the European and Middle Eastern equities and investment banking operations of bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., sources said Friday. (JT online)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Confidence restored

MangaMan Aso is a man of action and as such has already appointed a fresh, competent cabinet.

His new tourism minister began by arguably being a bit too honest:

...Nariaki Nakayama wasted no time putting his foot in it. The day after stating that Japanese do not like foreigners and that the country is ethnically homogeneous...

...Asked how more foreign travelers might be enticed to come to Japan in the face of opposition from some locals, Nakayama responded, "Definitely, (Japanese) do not like or desire foreigners."

He added that Japan is extremely inward-looking and "ethnically homogeneous." (Japan Times.)

OK, so Japan is not "ethnically homogeneous." I assume that this error in fact is what the controversy is over as the rest of what he said rings true. Or is it because a man in his position should have more sense than to publicly make statements, well-intentioned/true or not?

Or, is the real sin this statement:

"In that sense, I envy somewhere like China"...

(Made when complaining about local opposition to the Narita airport expansion--- I guess he assumes that it would be better if he and his fellow rightwing nutjobs could repress protests as China can.)

Mr. Nakayama is one of rightwingers who has claimed that the Nanjing Massacre is a lie*, and was so happy that he could have s**t himself when references to sex slavery were removed from some school texts in 2005.

Maybe, just maybe, the LDP is on its last legs this time. These old goofs are going to continue these sorts of statements because they believe them---and in some cases making such statements satisfies the nutjob section LDP supporters. The question is if the public cares enough about these sorts of things to throw them out for more than one election cycle. I wonder, as even the pension scandal seems to have gone off the radar screen. Of course, if they do vote the LDP out then we'll get to see if the DPJ, led by Ozawa (???!!!), is any different.

* 29 Sept: I have also read that he actually said that the number of deaths has been exaggerated by China, but that he did not deny Nanjing occurred. Also, I deleted "Aso/Abe" from "
rightwingers" as I do not know that either of them have claimed Nanjing is exaggerated or a lie.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

NYT has noticed something in Japan

Japan’s new prime minister, Taro Aso, is well known — and not fondly remembered — by Japan’s neighbors as a pugnacious nationalist. As foreign minister from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Aso soured relations with China and South Korea and raised tensions throughout the region, praising the achievements of prewar Japanese colonialism, justifying wartime atrocities and portraying China as a dangerous military threat.

(And the US will help him and his fellow rightwingers by focusing on the military relationship with Japan and asking it to rearm.)

What the United States most needs from Japan is a responsible strategic partner, not a government whose imperial reveries and symbolic muscle-flexing will provoke angry reactions across Asia.

The rightwing is very interested in what the US needs, especially over the long term.

3 Oct: Just noticed a different, more nuanced view of PM Aso at Shisaku---well worth reading.

Monday, September 22, 2008

They need to read the NYT and Martin Fackler

Washington's bailout of Wall Street may also help bail out Japan, a nation hobbled by aimless leadership, punishing public debt, a dwindling workforce and growing weakness in the exports that power the world's second-largest economy.

"The very troubling international environment for Japan has become, virtually overnight, much brighter," said Ken Courtis, former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia. (Washington Post)

Doesn't the Washington Post know that Japan is in a Zen-like calm and has no concerns about the US financial crisis?

Of course Japan does have tons of cash from its decades long trade surplus with the US and others. Neo-mercantilism has its benefits.

Shocking News!!!

...Japan's ruling party chose outspoken nationalist Taro Aso, an advocate of spending and tax cuts to boost the economy, by a landslide on Monday to be next prime minister ahead of an election that may be held soon....

Who'da thunk?
...If the events of recent days prove anything, it is that we cannot believe a word that John McCain or Barack Obama has said about what he will do as president. It's not that they have lied. Simply put, the underlying premise of everything the candidates have proposed -- that the economy is fundamentally sound -- is no longer operational...Washington Post

So what? When has that ever stopped anyone from promising or asking?

....Voters should insist that McCain and Obama throw out their tax and spending plans and offer something that reflects current economic realities...

Hahahaha. That's hilarious!!!!!

The time for free lunches is past.

BAHAHAHAHA. Too much! Enough already.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Topsy-turvy Japan

... Japan is a captive of its investment in the United States economy and its central bank has no real alternative other than to hold on to the massive amounts of U.S. Treasury bonds it owns and work hard to help clean up the mess on Wall Street, Hidehiko Sogano, an associate finance director at the Bank of Japan, said Friday.

"The reason why we stress the importance of stability is that the amount which we have in U.S. assets is so enormous," said Sogano....Washington Post Foreign Service.


TOKYO — Wall Street may be suffering the worst financial storm since the Great Depression, but Japan has felt like an island of Zen-like calm.

Trading data posted in Tokyo on Friday. “The financial crisis looks like fire on a distant shore,” a Japanese economist said.
The world’s second-largest economy has often seemed to be marching to its own drummer, sometimes to Japan’s own disadvantage. But rarely has the disconnect been as stark as during the current financial crisis...

...“It [Japan] doesn’t need money”...

...This blessing has also been a curse to investors, say economists. Its wealth shields Japan from pressures to meet global standards of growth or corporate profitability. This is what allowed the nation to accept near zero growth rates in the 1990s and what permits the survival of Japanese corporate practices like valuing employees and clients over shareholders...Martin Fackler article in the NYT. (Reading the full article is necessary to truly appreciate it.)

Well Zen always explains it. Comedian/actor/director Beat Takashi has said that foreign journalists etc always ask him about Zen influence on his movies, so he will often claim some influence even though there is none. I always assume that whenever someone starts the Zen nonsense that everything to follow is suspect too.

I was a bit surprised to see how nonchalantly Japanese whom I have spoken with (other than those directly affected) have taken the crisis. Had it worsened, the effect on Japan would not be small. But Martin Fackler has discovered otherwise in our mysterious, inscrutable Orient.

Democracy in action

"Yes, of course we are competing," said Mr Aso, the LDP's present number two. "This is how we mature and grow as politicians. An election such as this is a training ground for politicians."

If a 67 year old man who has been an LDP politician for 43 decades isn't trained by now, you have to wonder if he ever will be.

"Even though they are going through this drama, I'm sure all the candidates already know who is going to win on Monday," said Pema Gyalpo, a professor of law at Yokohama University. "They are only going through this process to get the attention of the media and the public before the general election.

...responding to questions from the foreign press, but one was focused squarely at Mr Aso, whose family operated coal mines on the southern Japan island of Kyushu during the war, using Allied POWs, including British military personnel, as slave labourers.

"I was five years old at the end of the war and have no recollection of these events," said Mr Aso, who has steadfastly refused to apologise to POW groups for the actions of his family's company.

"I recognise these incidents as fact and I have worked solidly so that Japan can advance as a member of the international society." Telegraph.co.uk

Friday, September 19, 2008

Change in the US: Health Care

WASHINGTON -- John McCain's health plan won't lower the ranks of the uninsured. Barack Obama's fails to curb the soaring cost of health care, meaning initial gains in helping more people buy health insurance would eventually be undermined.

That's the assessment of health care economists who critiqued the plans of the two presidential candidates. Washington Post.

Those of us from the US should be careful about making fun of the Abe/Fukuda/Aso crowd.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Once again, the LDP is doomed

Has been election after election for at least 15 years...

A report in Japan's Asahi newpaper says the country's ruling parties have agreed to call a general election on October 26 in the hope of benefiting from a jump in support for a new prime minister. Radioaustralia.

I will not hold my breath.

Hogs with "Change" lipstick

After spending the weekend and early part of this week watching the financial crisis in the US and pretty much ignoring the meaningless comments of both presidential candidates on the problem since it hits home very directly---why can't they just admit that they have no clue of what should be done but are hoping for political gain---I came across this quote by Heritage foundation research fellow John Tkacik this morning in the Japan Times: (This article is nothing more than a list of guesses by people who don't really know what either candidate will do).

"McCain understands the realities of America's dwindling influence in Asia, but I understand he believes that by reinvigorating strong Pacific alliances, America, Japan, (South) Korea and other Asian democracies can balance China," he said.

"Obama will probably follow his aide's advice, which apparently is to work with China in Asia — and essentially to let China do what it will," Tkacik said.

So perhaps we can assume that McCain will continue the militarization of the US/Japan relationship at the expense of every other relationship in the area?
China will be our replacement for the Soviet Union threat, and we will continue to encourage Japan to rearm and to hell with what other countries in the region mean think/fear about that. God forbid that we work with China in Asia.

Obama has said nothing that I have seen that suggests he will do anything significantly different---he can't---so the "change" that either candidate claims is mostly wishful thinking.

The article states:

...in April 2007, Obama made a welcoming speech [for ex-PM Abe] in the Senate.

He portrayed the Japan-U.S. alliance as "one of the great successes of the postwar era" and stressed the need for Americans to embrace "a Japan that is a 'normal nation' — one that has its own identity, vision and goals"...

What does that mean? Do Americans who know anything about Japan not already know that? Does it mean that we will take a neutral position on Japan rearming and accept that there may be different goals? Do we embrace Japan as it tries to exclude the US from various economic groups/agreements in the region? Will we recognize the the right in Japan does not hold US/Western values of democracy or human rights, or accept any responsibility for Japan's actions in WW2. Would we stop assuming that the right in Japan is our friend just because they are willing (more than willing)to go along with rebuilding the military and taking a view of China as an enemy? Or does it mean nothing, just part of a welcoming speech.

From his Foreign Affairs article of last year:

...As China rises and Japan and South Korea assert themselves, I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity...

Sounds nice, but does it really mean anything?

And the man who promises change, the man who does not engage in the old ways of thinking wrote:

...A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace...

More than ANYTHING! That's how New Zealand has survived.

Six months ago I thought we would have the best candidates for president that we have had in decades. Perhaps we do, but that is not saying very much. Two pigs wearing Change brand lipstick.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

While seeking taxcuts

for its corporate members, Keidanren wants to help Japan by punishing domestic consumers. No problem, export everything to other countries and let Japan's residents subsidize it.

The Japan Business Federation will call for doubling the consumption tax rate to 10 percent by fiscal 2011 and urge the government to fund all budget outlays for the state-run basic pension plan with tax revenues, the group's draft policy recommendation showed Saturday.

Great idea brought to us by a bunch of old men with no new ideas.

(Quote above from Japan Times Online)

Friday, September 12, 2008

A younger guy whom I know, of about 30-35 years old, often talks about how women cannot do the same work as a man. We aren't talking physical labor either. They simply can't do it mentally or "spiritually" for lack of a better word. He works in a branch of a British company. He received his university degree in the US. He is an office manager. He will be quite upset to hear that:

Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has backed Yuriko Koike in her bid to become Japan's first female leader...

However, he will be reassured to learn that:

...an analyst said the backing of the popular politician was unlikely to lift her to victory. (from Reuters as I hold my nose)

Despite that, I wonder if the LDP will succeed in distracting voters enough to remain in power.

It is kinda like wondering if US voters are dumb enough to be distracted by the McCain campaign's "lipstick on a pig" and other absurdities.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nearly anything to piss the right in Japan

is fine with me.

Japan will withdraw the troops it had based in the Middle East in support of the US-led coalition.

Government officials said that some 200 air force troops would be brought home from Kuwait by the end of the year.

They have been deployed to fly goods and personnel into Iraq since Japan withdrew its ground forces from the country two years ago.

Japan's pacifist constitution blocks military operations, but humanitarian troops served for two years.

The pacifist constitution which bars a military, allows humanitarian operations by non-military SFD military personnel. I understand. (Oh wait, the SDF isn't really a military.)

This does not mean that the increasingly close (at the expense of other US allies in the region) military relationship between the US and Japan will cool down a bit. One can only hope though.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

On a new energy saving lighting technology by United Solar Guide, Inc. in Tokyo, the director, Hiro Okahashi, had this to say:

...As to why the company chose to target California for its sales, Okahashi said that the public, the power companies and local governments there are more eager to promote energy saving than those in Japan, partly because the state experienced an electricity supply crisis that led to widespread blackouts in 2000 and 2001...

...But in Japan, he ruefully remarked, such measures [cash rebates to consumers, government tax breaks] to reward energy savers have not been introduced, and this lack of incentives discourages companies and households from reducing their use of power...

The waste of energy and resources is readily apparent in Tokyo except to visiting journalists who discover such things as architects who have fuel cells powering their apartments and report it as sort of a common thing in Tokyo. Perhaps it will change, but if it does it will be thanks to companies after profits and consumers out to save money. Not to the Kyoto Accords or any imaginary spirit that exists uniquely in Japan.

(The national government and media is more concerned with other, more important things such as: Will the next ineffective, bumbling, slow-footed LDP leader be a right-wing nutjob, or a mere bore.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A brilliant LDP strategy?

Lots of theories about Fukuda's sudden and surprising (?) resignation going around. One that I heard which was attributed to some unnamed Japanese pundit is that the Fukuda decided to resign now to steal the spotlight from Ozawa and the DPJ later this month. According to this theory, the media and everyone else will be interested in the LDP leadership fight which will take the focus off of Ozawa's uncontested election as leader of the the DPJ. The new LDP prime minister will then call an election for October and use his/her popularity to defeat the DPJ. Although many folks are quite upset about Fukuda and the LDP right now, according to our pundit, they will have gotten over their anger by then.

A fresh Aso or Koike vs Admiral Ozawa. Maybe the LDP ain't dead yet.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Who'da thunk?

Fukuda put MangaMan Aso in charge of finding a new prime minister and lo and behold he may just pick himself ala Dick Cheney.

Topping the list of likely candidates to become Japan's 11th prime minister in 15 years is former foreign minister Taro Aso, 67, an outspoken nationalist...Aso did not immediately announce he would run, but told reporters he thought he was a suitable candidate.

An old, comic book reading, right-wing revisionist geezer to lead the country. Oh my god, what a surprise.

1218: There has been quite a bit of coverage on the Fukada resignation especially for the US media which was disappointed by the lack of disaster in New Orleans and needs to fill up air time and newspaper space.

More from Bloomberg about Aso:

....may increase government spending in a country that already has the world's largest public debt...

from the Financial Times:

Mr Aso shares the desire of Shinzo Abe, another short-lived leader, to restore national pride and to make Japan an effective presence on the world stage...A patriot - some might say a nationalist - Mr Aso has recently toned down his rhetoric, though some observers wonder whether he would be able to maintain much-improved relations with China.

And on the resignation by the NYT:

“This is the perfect timing to not cause people too much trouble,” Mr. Fukuda said.

However, business leaders and opposition politicians were quick to criticize his abrupt exit, especially after Mr. Abe’s sudden departure.

“It is an utterly irresponsible way to quit,” Kozo Watanabe, a senior adviser at the Democratic Party, was quoted as saying by Japan’s Kyodo News. “I cannot help worrying about what will happen to this country’s politics.

Aren't we all worrying?

More FTP:

Aso, a flamboyant former foreign minister known for his love of comic-book culture, made little secret that he wants to be premier.

"Mr Fukuda said last night that he wanted a successor to take over what he has done," Aso, currently the LDP's secretary general, told reporters.

"I believe that I am qualified to take over Mr Fukuda's agenda...Other candidates may be Yuriko Koike, 56, one of Japan's most high-profile female politicians who has been defence minister.

Washington Post

"There is no one else really who can run other than Aso," said Harumi Arima, a political analyst.

Aso, 67, who Fukuda beat last year in party competition for the job of prime minister, is a Roman Catholic, part of a tiny religious minority that makes up less than half a percent of Japan's population. He has a reputation as a nationalist on foreign policy. While Fukuda focused on the improvement of Japan's relations with China, Aso has said he is wary of Chinese military ambitions.

Like many elders in the ruling party, Aso has a family pedigree in politics. He is the grandson of a prime minister, his wife is the daughter of another prime minister and his younger sister is married to a cousin of the emperor.

Japan Economy and News Blog. Not surprised:

There is no surprise. Mr Mori said on national television that Fukuda was no good and that he wanted Aso in the position

And the BBC's Chris Hogg cautions:

There are those who question whether the party's 53-yeargrip on power (apart from a one-off 10-month break several years ago) is now looking more likely than ever to be loosened or even lost.

Do not underestimate, though, the opposition party's proven ability over the years to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Who will slither in

to replace Fukuda?

I was surprised to hear that PM Fukuda suddenly resigned today as apparently so was everyone else. The question is who will replace him? Is this Aso's big chance? Will Japan return to the rightist policies of Abe or go even further with Aso? The MangaMan will at least handle the selection of the new LDP leader according to Fukuda.

Or, does this mean that the LDP is once again doomed as we have been hearing from some for years and years? Perhaps Ozawa and the DPJ will be able to use this to finally wrest control from the LDP, not just for a year or two, but long enough to bring Japan a real two-party system. If so, it seems like it would happen more because the LDP is showing itself to be completely incompetent and incapable of governing than because of anything that the DPJ does or says. (Ozawa? Is he an improvement on anything?)

I am skeptical---actually cynical---about the latter, and with unjustified self-confidence assume the Aso/rightist scenario is much more likely in both the short and long term.

2320: Even I have to admit that the LDP looks so bad now that those who have been predicting its fall for years may be right this time. Still, I'll believe it when I see it.