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2008年12月31日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 30(IHT/Asahi: December 31,2008)

EDITORIAL: Steroids in sports


How should the sports world deal with the problem of doping, a problem that continued to mar events during 2008?


In January, Marion Jones, the U.S. track and field star who won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was sentenced to six months in prison for committing perjury during an investigation into alleged steroid use. And Major League Baseball is still reeling from a series of steroids scandals that have implicated home run king Barry Bonds and others.


Earlier this month, the silver and bronze medalists of the men's hammer throw at the Beijing Olympics were officially disqualified. Japan's Koji Murofushi, who finished fifth, was belatedly awarded the bronze by default.


Murofushi's second straight Olympic medal is an impressive achievement. But the gold medal he gained in Athens four years ago was also won by default due to the disqualification of the original winner for doping.


Unpleasant as it must be for Murofushi, his situation underscores how deeply doping has taken root in the sporting world.


For the first time in six years, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has substantially revised its rules and regulations, which will take effect in January. With the exception of drug tests during competitions in which athletes are forewarned, the revised World Anti-Doping Code allows sports organizations to conduct surprise tests at any time.


Under the current code, top-level athletes are already required to report on their daily whereabouts up to three months in advance. But the requirements will become more stringent from January.


For instance, athletes will be required to provide a specific place where they can meet with anti-doping officials for 60 minutes at an arranged time per day.


If they miss three drug tests over an 18-month period even because of illness or other emergencies, they will be suspended from competition or face other punishment.


Because athletes' performances and medal counts are directly linked to their income levels nowadays, world records and other spectacular feats are automatically scrutinized with some suspicion. This is unfortunate, but it is a fact that athletes today have no choice but to prove they are clean.


However, some Japanese don't seem to really know why these changes are needed.


Anti-doping regulations in Japan are administered by the Japan Anti-Doping Agency (JADA), and almost all athletic organizations for Olympic events are JADA members. However, Japan's professional soccer and baseball leagues still act independently of JADA.



In soccer, a former Japanese national team player appealed his doping suspension at the Court of Arbitration for Sport about a year ago.


And in Japanese baseball, some drug violations by foreign players have come to light.


Professional sports have a considerable influence on society. Their governing bodies must collaborate with JADA and take active steps to prevent doping violations.


We would like to see awareness-raising campaigns spread at the grass-roots level to make people, especially younger ones, understand why doping is wrong, what it does to the body, and how it can be stopped.


A few years ago, doping tests became mandatory for participants in Kokutai national sports festival events. Some athletes have been disqualified for "inadvertent doping"--taking common over-the-counter medicine without realizing they contained banned substances.


JADA will tie up with the Japan Pharmaceutical Association to introduce a "sports pharmacist system" next fiscal year. The purpose is to use the knowledge of pharmacists to prevent athletes from taking performance-enhancing drugs. We hope this system will prove effective.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 30(IHT/Asahi: December 31,2008)

EDITORIAL: National Diet Library


Sixty years have passed since the founding of the National Diet Library, the only national library in Japan.


"Truth sets us free," says the preamble to the National Diet Library Law, defining the ethos of this important institution. This passage can be found engraved at the counter of the library's main building in Tokyo's Nagatacho district.



The library was established in 1948, just a few years after the end of World War II, as part of efforts to create a democratic society in Japan where people gather, understand and discuss a wide spectrum of information without bias.

The institution was entrusted with the task of collecting and analyzing necessary materials as a basis for this process.


The library builds and preserves a comprehensive collection of books, newspapers, magazines and audio and visual recordings published and created in Japan. It also collects various materials from overseas.


The library's primary task is to support legislative activities through the use of these resources. Another important role of the institution is to preserve these resources as cultural assets and make them available to people to help support their lives and research activities.


The National Diet Library has changed its operations dramatically in recent years. Its electronic functions have been enhanced so that anybody with Internet access can now search the library's vast bibliographic database and read minutes of Diet sessions online.



Users can even read about 150,000 books published in the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926) on their computer screens.


The library also offers a service that allows users to search for materials at the National Archives of Japan and other libraries.


In addition, the National Diet Library publicizes reports on key public policy issues, providing various arguments, historical facts and the situations in other countries related to the issues.


The already-huge amount of materials available at the library is growing rapidly.


Makoto Nagao, a former president of Kyoto University who last year became the first chief librarian without a Diet background, has been actively promoting these programs and projects.


But new challenges for the library have emerged.


The library's work to support legislators has rapidly grown in scale. In fiscal 2007, which ended in March 2008, the library handled about 45,000 requests for materials and analyses made by Diet members, more than double that of fiscal 1995. The rise was due mainly to the sharp increase in legislative initiatives by lawmakers.


But the library's work force has not grown at the same pace, with only about 190 employees dealing with the heavier workload.


The library clearly needs greater manpower to accomplish its vital mission of providing information and advice for lawmakers from a position different from that of bureaucrats.


The library also lacks certain capabilities in gathering materials.


The amount of administrative and academic information published only on the Internet is increasing, and the Web pages of local governments can disappear at any time. But the library must gain permission each time to collect and preserve such data because it has no legal authority to do so freely.


Legal revisions are needed to allow the library to gather and preserve materials published by public organizations without obtaining permission. The range of materials for such operations should also be widened.


Another challenge facing the institution is the preservation of manga comic magazines, which attract the interest of many overseas researchers.


The ink on manga magazines tends to smudge rather quickly, causing the pictures to blur. Under current copyright rules, preserving manga publications in digital form for wide availability requires permission from various parties concerned. It would be a tall order and require tremendous clerical costs.


We hope a system can be created to deal with this problem flexibly while paying due attention to the copyright issue.


The National Diet Library is an intellectual asset of the people. We have a duty to expand and bolster the functions of the institution for future generations.


Necessary measures should be taken as soon as possible.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 30, 2008

English education in Japan isn't all about fluency


It was in the spring of 2003 that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology put forward a plan to foster English skills in Japanese children. The ministry envisaged junior high and high school graduates being able to communicate in English and university graduates being able to use English in their jobs.

The aim was to have junior high school students reach grade 3 of the Test in Practical English Proficiency, and high school students reach grade pre-2. But that goal is still a long way off.


Recently, plans were unveiled to teach English at elementary schools and to teach high school English classes in English. We hear that teachers are perplexed over the move.


In the autumn of Japan's defeat in World War II, famed Japanese author Osamu Dazai penned a letter saying, "I'm utterly depressed. I can't do interpreting or anything of the sort. It's obvious that I'll be made to look foolish." As someone who attended Tokyo Imperial University -- albeit briefly -- and made a living out of writing, it seemed inevitable that locals would ask him, "Teacher, what are the Americans saying?" He shuddered at the thought.


Apparently, it was actually the English teachers who faced a tough situation. During the war there had been no lessons in the "language of the enemy" and the teachers had no contact with Americans. It was only natural that they couldn't make themselves understood straight away, but it must have been hard for them to endure the stares of those around them, particularly their pupils.


But in the 60 years since then, what has been missing in English education?


Tadaichi Hirakawa, who was a pioneer in English conversation teaching through his postwar radio program, never received a specialized English education. He was born into a farming family in Okayama, and at the age of 16 followed his father to America, where he had gone to work. As a railway worker, he studied English to survive. He returned to Japan before the war and joined NHK. Following Japan's defeat, he broadcast the Emperor's official announcement in English.


The first half of Hirakawa's life was marked by chops and changes, and earnestness with respect to English. Lying behind his warm and witty English conversation lessons, no doubt, was an accumulation of tough experiences. I think the true value of language study linked with a person's way of living lies within a lifestyle like this.


If the purpose of the government's action plan is only to make people fluent in English -- which, by the way, is a difficult thing to do -- it is of no use at all. (By Kenji Tamaki, Editorial Writer, Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081230日 002

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「普天間」移設 日米合意案通りに進めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 31, 2008)

Don't stray from accord on Futenma relocation

「普天間」移設 日米合意案通りに進めよ(1231日付・読売社説)

The realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa Prefecture is finally about to enter the implementation phase. It is important that an agreement made between Japan and the United States be steadily implemented so that breakthrough measures to reduce burdens borne by local communities hosting U.S. bases can be taken.


The government in its draft budget for fiscal 2009 earmarked 83.9 billion yen for the realignment as part of defense-related spending. This is more than triple the figure from the previous year.


The draft budget set aside 34.6 billion yen for the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps units in Okinawa Prefecture to Guam, including site preparation work for its headquarters and accommodation facilities. The relocation of Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture to Camp Schwab in Nago comes with a price tag of 9.4 billion yen.


Tokyo and Washington have agreed that the relocation of Futenma Air Station and the transfer of 8,000 marines to Guam will be completed by the end of 2014 and that the sites of six U.S. military facilities, including Futenma, be returned to Japan.


These plans are well balanced in that the deterrent capability of the U.S. forces will be maintained while the burdens on Okinawa Prefecture will be eased.



Negotiations deadlocked

It is important that the plans are carried out in unison. If the planned transfer of Futenma Air Station does not progress, the overall plan will stall. This would spell failure for measures aimed at lessening local burdens.


The Okinawa prefectural government has yet to agree to a plan to construct alternative facilities to Futenma Air Station on a waterfront area of Camp Schwab. The prefectural government has demanded the facilities be built far off the shore from the camp. However, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has refused to accept the offshore plan. The negotiations thus have been deadlocked.


Some Japanese officials had hopes that the administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will accept the prefecture's demand on the relocation site. But the possibility of that happening significantly diminished when Obama decided to retain U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. This could have serious implications.


After all, proceeding with the plans agreed by the two governments offers the shortest path to making the return of Futenma Air Station site a reality. Twelve years have passed since the agreement on the return of the air station was made. Any further delay in the plan could erode the credibility of the Japan-U.S. alliance.



Govt must do more

Under the cabinet of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura and some other officials in the Prime Minister's Office were actively involved in the relocation issue. But the Cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso has lacked a "control tower" on this matter. The Aso Cabinet needs to give more attention to the relocation and spare no effort in coordination efforts with the Okinawa prefectural government and other concerned local governments.


The defense budget planned for fiscal 2009 totals 4.77 trillion yen, 0.1 percent less than the previous year's initial budget. This will mark a decline in defense spending for seven consecutive years. In fiscal 2010 and beyond, the cost of realigning U.S. forces may increase further, which would squeeze the budget available for other defense projects.


Among neighboring nations, however, not only China and Russia but also South Korea, India, Australia and the United States have sharply increased their defense spending in recent years.


The government must be careful not to give the impression that only Japan is reducing its defense spending and attaches little importance to security issues.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 31, 2008)

200812310136  読売新聞)

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2008年12月30日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 30,2008)

EDITORIAL: Surging unemployment


They have only a bag, some clothes and a few coins in their wallet. A growing number of people like this can be seen on the streets as the year nears its end. They are dispatch workers and other laborers who have suddenly lost their jobs and been forced out of their company dormitories.


After perhaps just a few nights of restless sleep in Internet cafes, they run out of money. Their wallets are empty, but they can't bring themselves to sleep in a park, so they wander aimlessly through the streets all night.


Even in normal times, there are few job offers for day workers in the holiday season between the year's end and early January.


However, this year, things will be worse. In times past, once the New Year holidays ended and the nation got moving again, temp workers could expect to find new jobs. This winter, that is not likely to happen.


Moreover, a significant number of people have just recently lost jobs in factories and other places. These people are spending nights on the streets for the very first time.


In late November, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that about 30,000 nonregular employees would lose their jobs by next spring. Within a month, that estimate nearly tripled to 85,000.


Some people have killed themselves in despair. Others, falling ill, cannot afford to see a doctor. Some have gone so hungry that they've turned to stealing money for food. The situation is critical. How can things have come to this pass?


Citizens groups and labor unions have jumped into action, prompted to somehow support people driven into such dire straits. They are offering consultation services, providing meals on the streets and helping displaced workers negotiate with their former employers over compensation.


Some groups are strongly urging the central government ministries and local governments to take countermeasures. Such moves all offer much-needed help to those in need.


Meanwhile, the operators of izakaya pub chains and of a Tokyo-based cram school have both offered to hire people who have lost their jobs. Some local governments have moved quickly ahead of the central government to temporarily offer public housing to desperate jobless workers.


Much more can be done. Local community halls could be used as shelters. Temples, gymnasiums and corporate facilities that are not in use could also become temporary refuges. We urge local communities to go ahead and use their resources to help the unemployed.


But in sharp contrast, the central government and the Diet appear lethargic. Why are they so slow to act?


Here's a proposal for Prime Minister Taro Aso: Why don't you walk around the capital city in the dark, freezing night, and listen directly to the earnest voices of those who have suddenly lost their jobs and homes?


Employment security has virtually collapsed. To prevent more people from becoming homeless, the government must create a new social safety net that will save people from joblessness, bankruptcy or other calamities.


It can happen to anyone at any time, even tomorrow. If one was fired today, it would not take long for one to realize that the existing systems to help the jobless are extremely frail and unreliable.


If workers are not covered by unemployment insurance, then they have no financial support to fall back on when they lose their job. Next year, larger numbers of jobless people will end up relying on social welfare.


Previously, some local governments around the nation had refused to accept welfare applications from young people, instead just telling such applicants to get a job.

Such welfare offices must change their attitudes immediately.


We also need to review the way the nation's workforce is treated. Many observers previously feared that nonregular workers, with their weak position in the labor pool, could be too easily jettisoned by companies adjusting staffing levels. That prediction has come true.


So what kind of a labor system is needed to prevent this from happening and protect workers from being discarded at will? How should the worker dispatch law be revised?


As this year draws to a close, with its expanding waves of economic recession, we must again think about these problems and find solutions.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 30,2008)

EDITORIAL: Israeli airstrikes on Gaza


Israel's airstrikes that started Saturday on Gaza, a strip of Palestinian territory, killed more than 200 people on its first day alone, a horribly high death toll for just one day of raids.


The Israeli military says it is only targeting bases and facilities of the radical Islamist group Hamas. But it is virtually impossible to launch attacks against the militants while avoiding civilian casualties in this densely populated area.


Israel describes the military campaign as an anti-terrorist war against extremists, but it is an action that outrageously makes light of human lives.


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the European Union called for an immediate cease-fire, while an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was convened. The international community must first put strong pressure on Israel to stop its military operations.


Since summer last year, Israel has been imposing a tough economic blockade on Gaza, which is effectively ruled by Hamas. In response, Hamas started firing handmade rockets into southern Israeli cities. Israel and Hamas agreed on a cease-fire in June, but it expired on Dec. 18. Hamas then resumed its rocket attacks, triggering the large-scale Israeli aid raids.


Hamas' rocket attacks should be denounced. Although the rockets are neither very powerful nor accurate, it is easy to imagine how their unpredictable trajectories can terrorize Israeli citizens.


Still, Israel's military response, said to be the country's most lethal air attack since the 1967 Middle East War, is too rash an act and should be criticized as an "excessive use of force," as U.N. Secretary-General Ban has described it.


There are internal and external political factors behind Israel's tough action at this juncture.


Domestically, Israel will hold a general election in February. Recent opinion polls have shown the ruling coalition of the Kadima and Labor parties trailing Likud, which is known for its hard-line stance toward the Palestinians. The ruling alliance may be trying to regain public support by taking tough military action against Hamas.


An external political factor is the change of the U.S. administration next month. The current administration of President George W. Bush, who launched a war against terrorism, will be replaced by the new administration of Barack Obama, who has been stressing the importance of dialogue and cooperation in foreign policy.


It is conceivable that Israel is trying to discourage Obama from adopting too conciliatory a posture toward the Palestinians.


Israel has said it will continue its attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, while Hamas has vowed retaliation. A wave of anger against Israel's airstrikes is spreading in the Arab world. This conflict must not be allowed to expand and escalate further.


In the summer of 2006, Israel launched airstrikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon and then invaded the country. The war, which was also triggered by armed clashes in Gaza, left more than 1,000 Lebanese dead.


Containing the crisis requires the U.S. government to exercise strong diplomatic leadership. Washington needs to get Israel to end its attacks on Gaza and then persuade Arab nations to use their influence over Hamas to engineer a new truce.


The United States has consistently sided with Israel in the U.N. Security Council and other diplomatic venues. But a continued bloody conflict in the Middle East will result in continued suffering for Israel. If the United States considers itself a real friend of Israel, it should make all-out efforts to persuade the country to end the military campaign.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 30, 2008

Linking sympathy with action amid hard times


Around the time of the Great Tenmei Famine, when people were starving to death and riots were breaking out in various areas, about 100 people arrived at Kyoto Imperial Palace as if they were making a group shrine visit. After this, the number of people walking around the perimeter of the palace -- men and women, young and old -- began to increase day by day. It is said that eventually, the number of people who gathered, including those from Omi and Kawachi provinces, numbered 70,000.


The group activity that came to be called "1,000-time Imperial palace visits," started because the people who sought relief from poverty from the Kyoto magistrate's office were ignored. Retired emperors and court nobles, who began to hand out apples and rice balls to commoners, and Emperor Kokaku, through the Kyoto Shoshidai administrative office, asked the shogunate to provide relief for the poor -- an act unheard of in the history of the shogunate government. It was an event that was said to lead to the downfall of the shogunate's control of the Imperial Court and the rise of debate on reverence of the emperor.


The despair of people at a government that would not help starving people ended up leading to a historical movement, and sympathy over the suffering and sadness of those facing hard times can sometimes exert tremendous force.


In modern times, Japan was said to have a safety net for the poor. But with the economic downturn sweeping the globe, it has become a tough year-end period for many people, who could literally end up out in the cold. For those without a roof over their heads, the week around Jan. 1 -- when the functions of society all but come to a halt -- is a particularly tough time.


As expected, Hello Work employment counters were due to be open until Dec. 30 and talk with those who had lost their jobs and were seeking employment and housing. However, in politics, where we often hear that the type of financial crisis we are seeing happens only "once in 100 years," can we say that measures to meet the year-end and new-year period are also at a once in 100 year high?


The circumstances of both those preparing to greet the new year as usual, and those displaced workers left out in the cold, stabs at our consciences. And while there is plenty of sympathy for those freezing, action is a lot harder to come by. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081228日 006

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公的資金注入 融資力回復のため積極活用を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 30, 2008)

Use govt safety net to keep credit flowing

公的資金注入 融資力回復のため積極活用を(1230日付・読売社説)

There is a growing concern that regional financial institutions will make little use of a system to inject public funds into them after the revised Financial Function Strengthening Law came into effect this month.


In Japan's financial circles, there is a strong sentiment that smaller regional institutions can lend sufficiently without the injection of public funds. This may stem from fear of intervention by the Financial Services Agency after the injection of public funds and the management of such institutions being held responsible by the FSA for any problems.


The financial picture in provincial areas should not be thrown into disarray by the defensiveness of the management of regional lenders. Financial crisis should be avoided by effectively using the safety net.


The original provisions of the Financial Function Strengthening Law that enabled the central government to inject public funds into small and midsize financial institutions as a preventive measure to bolster capital strength, expired in March. But with the enactment of the revised law, the system for providing public funds to banks has been revived temporarily, and will be in effect until March 2012. The limit on the amount of money that can be given to financial institutions was raised from 2 trillion yen to 12 trillion yen, an amount almost equal to that injected into financial institutions in the past, including the bailout of the major banks after the burst of the bubble economy.



Cutting off the credit flow

Firms in rural areas and small and midsize companies complain the financial faucet suddenly has been turned off. Many bankruptcies have resulted from the financing provided by regional institutions drying up.


According to half-year earning reports ending in September, about one-third of regional banks were in the red. The economic downturn has been accelerating further in the latter half of the fiscal year. Doubtless their equity capital decreased due to an increase in nonperforming loans and losses caused by falling stock prices, and as a result, they have further lost their reserve power for financing.


Although small and midsize financial institutions have an increased need for capital reinforcement, it is currently difficult for them to raise capital by themselves. It is under precisely such circumstances that public funds have a role to play.


However, no financial institutions have yet applied for public funds. Even under the expired Financial Function Strengthening Law that limited such use of public funds to 2 trillion yen, there were only two applications totaling 40 billion yen.


In the draft of the revised law, the clarification of the management's responsibility was excluded to try to promote the use of the system, but later, the content of the draft was changed to allow authorities to hold management responsible for mistakes.



Errors have consequences

Some claim that such a provision in the law discourages institutions from seeking help. But the program is not intended to rescue failed financial institutions, such as Shinginko Tokyo, a bank primarily owned by the Tokyo metropolitan government.


Financial institutions indispensable to an area's economy are responsible for supporting the local economy by providing credit. If their financial wherewithal becomes insufficient to fulfill this responsibility, they should seek public funds without hesitation to enable them to recover their power for financing.


There are many financial institutions that deny there is a credit crunch, saying that they are making necessary loans. If so, they should voluntarily make public how they contribute to the local economy, including their provision of finances to small and midsize companies and future plans to make such loans.


With the revision of the law, even in the case of a merger that integrates a financial institution in a bad shape with another financial institution, the resulting entity can avoid lowering its capital adequacy ratio with the injection of public funds.


We hope that the revised law will add momentum to the reorganization of the financial community in a bid to drastically reinforce sound management.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 30, 2008)

200812300133  読売新聞)

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2008年12月29日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27(IHT/Asahi: December 29,2008)

EDITORIAL: Testing academic ability


In defiance of education ministry policy, Akita Governor Sukeshiro Terata publicly disclosed average scores by students of each city, town and village within the prefecture in controversial achievement tests taken nationwide. His decision came against growing confusion over whether to reveal the results of the annual tests for sixth-graders at elementary schools and the third-year students at junior high schools, which resumed in 2007.



It is the policy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for prefectures to refrain from releasing a list of the test results for each municipality. It fears that doing so could create an unfair hierarchy in which municipalities are ranked on the basis of the scores. That, it says, could trigger excessive competition among schools and regions. The ministry says it should be up to municipalities to determine whether to release the data, and when doing so, they should announce not just the test results but also steps that may be needed to address the outcome.


In going against the ministry's policy, Terata said, "Basically, all information on public education should be disclosed, except for that regarding personal privacy." He also argued that "valuable information is being monopolized by just a handful of people involved in education."


Terata had repeatedly said in news conferences and on other occasions that he would release the data. However, it seems the actual announcement of the data caught everyone by surprise, not just municipal education boards but even the head of the prefectural board of education.


Terata also ignored the intentions of municipalities, which had all planned to withhold the test results. The situation in Akita Prefecture is different from that in Osaka Prefecture, where Governor Toru Hashimoto urges municipal education boards to voluntarily disclose their data.


We believe that Terata went too far. It is no wonder that more than half of the cities, towns and villages in Akita Prefecture said in reply to an Asahi Shimbun survey that they would reconsider whether to participate in the national achievement test next year.


However, we do understand why the governor decided to publicly disclose the test data. It is also natural from a viewpoint of information disclosure. Other local governments may well follow suit. What we find contemptible is the education ministry's dithering in trying to deal with the situation.



For its part, the ministry says it tried to ensure that reinstating the national achievement tests after a 40-year hiatus would not set off a new round of excessive competition and hierarchy among schools and districts. This was why the ministry discouraged prefectural governments from releasing the results of individual municipalities.


Apparently, the ministry had not expected a case like Akita to arise. Yet, the ministry could have expected that the data would have to be released if ever an official request was made for disclosure of the information. It hardly makes any sense for the ministry to prohibit prefectural governments from disclosing the data for each municipality when the ministry itself has made public the results for each prefecture.


There was a flaw in the original design. It is too late for education minister Ryu Shionoya to bemoan the mess, which is what he did in a recent Asahi Shimbun interview.


At this point, we feel that the education ministry should review whether it is worth continuing with the achievement tests at the cost of causing so much confusion.


The ministry began the tests as a means to grasp the nationwide state of students' scholastic prowess as a way to improve instruction methods. Because the ministry dictated that every single child should participate, it costs more than 5 billion yen each year to hold the tests.


Similar data could have been gleaned just as well by sampling surveys.


Just think how much could be done to enhance teaching staff and school facilities with the amount of money spent for the nationwide tests.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27(IHT/Asahi: December 29,2008)

EDITORIAL: Anti-piracy mission


The government is considering whether to deploy Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and other vessels to waters off Somalia in support of international efforts to rein in rampant piracy in the region. In response to a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for international cooperation to tackle the problem, a host of countries, including the United States, parts of Europe, China, Iran and India, have already decided to dispatch warships.



The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden connecting Europe with the Middle East and Asia is of huge strategic importance. About 20,000 tankers, cargo vessels and other ships pass annually through the gulf. Of the total, 2,100 vessels have business with Japan. In fact, several have been hijacked by pirates operating off Somalia in the past year or so.


Clearly, Japan must consider what level of cooperation it should offer to help counter this threat. On Friday, Prime Minister Taro Aso instructed Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada to devise a way to deploy MSDF vessels on an anti-piracy mission.


The government has been studying a new law to allow the MSDF to carry out anti-piracy operations. But the prospect of early passage of such legislation through the Diet is dismal, given the current legislative gridlock due to opposition control of the Upper House.


As an alternative, the government is considering resorting to a provision in the Self-Defense Forces Law to order a maritime policing action by the MSDF in the area. This approach would enable the government to deploy MSDF vessels swiftly. From the viewpoint of jurisdiction, the Japan Coast Guard should primarily deal with the problem of piracy, which is a criminal activity. But the law authorizes the government to mobilize SDF troops to cope with a situation that demands higher capability than what the coast guard can offer.


Under the plan being considered, MSDF ships would escort Japanese commercial vessels off the Somali coast. There are, however, problems to be sorted out.



First, there are no clear rules for the MSDF to use weapons during such operations. The MSDF can fire warning shots during a sea policing mission but its members are not allowed to launch a damaging attack unless it is for legitimate self-defense or averting imminent danger. Somali pirates are armed with rocket launchers and other heavy weapons and could attack MSDF vessels. Clear rules of engagement should be established to protect the safety of MSDF personnel.


Another important question is whether the MSDF should provide protection only to ships with Japanese registry or operated by Japanese companies. It is possible, for instance, that MSDF ships could escort international flotillas, including Japanese vessels. A realistic formula for anti-piracy operations based on the local situation should be developed.


Details of the MSDF ships' responsibilities should also be specified. If their mandate includes cracking down on pirates in addition to protecting commercial ships, the question of how they should treat any pirates they capture would need to be answered. The countries that have already dispatched ships to fight piracy face the same problems and are struggling to deal with them.


In light of these sticky problems, it is not surprising that there is strong skepticism about an anti-piracy mission within the Defense Ministry. If MSDF ships are deployed before all these issues are clearly worked out, there will undoubtedly be serious confusion among personnel involved in the operations.


What is critical is to lay down clear rules of engagement in advance.


There are also other ways for Japan to support international efforts to stop piracy. The Japan Coast Guard cooperated with the maritime security authorities of other countries in dealing with piracy in the Strait of Malacca. The government should also consider drawing on the experience.


At the heart of the problem is the chaotic situation in Somalia. It should not be forgotten that there can be no fundamental solution to the problem of piracy without effective international aid to clean up the situation in Somalia.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 28, 2008

Tokyo Education Board's ban on votes, show of hands goes too far



The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education's blanket ban on showings of hands and votes in staff meetings at metropolitan high schools, announced in an April 2006 notice, is causing a stir in Japan.


No such notice has been issued in any other prefecture, and educators are complaining that the move is resulting in a loss of freedom of speech.


As I see it, the notice is a prime example of the Tokyo Board of Education's hard line which, under the leadership of Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, pursued things like widespread punishment for teachers who didn't stand for the singing of Japan's national anthem, "Kimigayo." I think it goes too far. The education board should rethink the notice, which is stifling for educators, and devote itself to its role of providing an environment that revitalizes schools with cooperation between school workers and administrators.


The education board's notice was sent out under the name of then director for education Masahiko Nakamura, under the title "Making school management appropriate." It said that planning and coordination meetings held by principals and vice principals -- not staff meetings -- served as the nerve center of school administration.

"Management by means of holding a show of hands, votes and so on at staff meetings is inappropriate, and is not to be carried out," the notice said.

In the past staff meetings at some schools had turned into decision-making bodies that overrode school principals' views with majority votes. The notice was designed to promote the type of school development that principals were seeking.


In 2000, before the notice was sent out, the former Ministry of Education revised an ordinance in order to boost the authority of principals, and designated staff meetings as "subsidiary organs" to facilitate the work of school principals. Prefectural education boards across Japan revised their regulations accordingly. However, a Mainichi poll carried out in August showed that only the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education went as far as to send out a written ban on a show of hands and votes.


Nobuo Dohi, 60, principal of Tokyo Metropolitan Mitaka High School, is seeking a withdrawal of the ban. At a meeting of school principals in November last year, he stressed that the measure was having a negative effect at schools. He had presented his claims to the media in May, saying a mood was spreading among school workers that whatever they said was pointless. He had asked the metropolitan education board to hold an open discussion on the issue.


In response, between June and September the education board asked principals and vice principals at 260 metropolitan high schools -- excluding Dohi's high school -- what they thought about the situation. Altogether, 245 schools (94 percent) replied that the measure had no effect on freedom of speech. No schools answered that the measure did affect free speech.

On Nov. 13, the metropolitan education board compiled the results of the survey. It concluded that the measure "is not depriving people of freedom of speech."


Educational analyst Naoki Ogi, who sides with Dohi, writes off the results of the survey.

"It's like a pistol-armed robber making a victim raise both hands and asking, 'Are you scared?' It's not worthy to be called a survey," he says.


Opinions on the issue are divided. At a meeting of the education board on Nov. 27, Yutaka Takehana, former Tokyo vice governor, said, "The notice is not something that's making orders like 'Don't hold staff meetings,' or, 'Don't listen to the opinions of school workers.'"


Screenwriter Makiko Uchidate says," It's mistaken to think that not being able to hold votes or a show of hand is the equivalent of a crackdown on opinions."


"There are hundreds of ways to establish communication (between principals and school workers)," adds Tsutomu Kimura, president of the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation, who chairs the education board.


But I want people to stop and think about this. Are there any other organizations that make a point of spelling out bans on a show of hands and votes? The metropolitan education board meeting regulations actually go the opposite way, stating that a show of hands and votes are conceivable procedures.


I don't think the feelings of Dohi are that far removed from society in general. Even in the metropolitan education board's survey, opinions matching those of Dohi could be seen -- five schools admitted, "An atmosphere has emerged that there isn't any point in staff presenting their opinions, and they've stopped speaking out." The stance of teachers managing by themselves had also disappeared, according to another report.


A teacher in his 40s from a metropolitan high school, whom I met during my coverage of the issue, said that atmosphere of meetings had changed because of the notice.

"In staff meetings, the atmosphere of free debate has disappeared, and the meetings have basically become outlets for announcements and reports. It has spurred autocratic management by the principal," the teacher said.


Masaaki Katsuno, an associate professor in educational administration at the University of Tokyo, says such a notice is unusual.

"Even from a perspective of general organizational management, the notice is extremely unusual," he says. "Staff aren't infringing on the leadership of principals in any way (by holding votes and a show of hands). Officials should seriously take to heart the significance of what is being pointed out by an incumbent principal," he adds, showing his support for the open forum requested by Dohi.


School principals hold the final responsibility and authority in school administration and management. Shows of hands and votes could serve as points of reference for their decisions, and there are probably cases when doing so is more effective. And from the viewpoint of teachers, there are likely some who will lose their motivation when faced with a procedure that shuts off a way for them to express their opinions from the outset.


I don't think staff meetings that produce unproductive discussions from start to finish as people focus on putting forward their ideas are desirable. But placing notices that dwell on standardized operations above everything else only brings discouragement to the education scene, and isn't good for the children, either. The metropolitan education board should open its ears to different opinions from within and without. ("As I See It," by Kenji Kimura, City News Dept. of the Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081225日 東京朝刊

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介護報酬改定 職員の賃金アップを確実に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 29, 2008)

Govt must push for better caregivers' pay

介護報酬改定 職員の賃金アップを確実に(1229日付・読売社説)

The nation's nursing care insurance system seems to face a crucial stage.


Government-set fees for nursing care services, which are revised every three years in principle, will be raised by 3 percent overall in fiscal 2009 in an effort to secure adequate human resources and to improve the quality of nursing care services.


The latest increase mainly targets burdensome work, including services for dementia sufferers. In addition, the revision includes a raise in payments to operators of nursing homes that hire a high percentage of caregivers as permanent staff.


The increase in payments for nursing care providers comes as no surprise. Since the nursing care insurance system was launched in 2000, the payments for nursing care providers had been slashed in the past two revisions due to the government's policy on curbing the social security spending.


Accordingly, the financial health of many nursing care providers is deteriorating. Caregivers are suffering low wages while a serious shortage of human resources is apparent. This situation must be improved.


A policy of raising the payment had already been announced in an economic stimulus package unveiled by the government at the end of October in response to the economy's rapid deterioration. The nursing care service industry is seen as a likely source of an increasing number of job opportunities.



Pay increase

With the latest increase in payments for nursing care providers, the government estimates that a caregiver's wage will be raised by 20,000 yen per month and the number of caregivers will increase by about 100,000.


Of course, we cannot feel delighted about the worsening economy. But, at least, nursing care providers will be able to secure personnel more easily.


The current situation is similar to when the nursing care insurance system was launched. Since many people were looking for jobs due to the sluggish economy, the nursing care industry had no problem finding workers.


Owing to that, a business model predicated on low wages for caregivers was established in the industry. But once the economy recovered and the employment situation improved, valuable personnel flowed out to other industries.


We should not allow the pattern to be repeated.


According to an estimate by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of people certified as being in need of care will be about 6 million in five years time, an increase of 1.5 million from the present figure. Along with that, the number of caregivers has to increase by between 300,000 and 500,000 from the currently figure of about 1.1 million.



Attracting, keeping workers

To tackle this situation, it is important to retrieve workers that once left the industry by taking advantage of the current deteriorating economy, as well as convincing caregivers to stay in the industry by improving the working conditions.


The problem is whether the increase in payment for nursing care providers will be reflected on caregivers' wages. If nursing care providers--acting on the idea that securing personnel will be easy due to the declining economy--used the increase only to improve a company's financial situation, working conditions for caregivers will not change.


From now on, the health ministry needs to research whether caregivers' working conditions improve. The ministry also should obligate nursing care providers to disclose caregivers' wage level.


The government should make the profession of caregiver a financially rewarding job, then nurture the nursing care service industry as one of the key industries in the age of a declining birthrate and aging society.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 29, 2008)

200812290153  読売新聞)

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(Mainichi Japan) December 27, 2008

So what other industries are 'too big to fail'? Cheese? Chocolate? Church?


It's not only big banks and auto companies that get bailed out with taxpayers' money. The Italian government has announced that it will rescue the Parmesan cheese industry. The Ministry of Agriculture made the decision as a rise in production costs has forced one-third of Parmesan producers to the brink of bankruptcy, vowing to spend 50 million euros (approximately 6.4 billion yen) to save the King of Cheese. And major real estate developers in the United States have begun to ask the government to bail them out.




In a satiric piece in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), an article takes a stab at the current bailout craze, saying that the U.S. government has announced that Santa Claus, who faces difficulties with "securitized products," will also be granted a rescue package. The Treasury Department initially harbored concerns about the possible nationalization of Santa Claus, but decided on the bailout on the basis that he is "too big to fail."


Back to reality and weren't we told just a little while ago that financial institutions were an exception? That even if it irked us to provide them with public funding, if we didn't, panic would break out, leading to a chain reaction of bank failures, wreaking havoc on the lives of common folk?


Now that government money has been doled out to auto manufacturers, it's almost impossible to draw a line between what's too big to fail and what's not. It's pretty difficult to come up with a logical explanation for why it's OK for the government to save the auto industry and not the chocolate industry.

 少し前まで、大手金融機関は特別、という話ではなかった? 腹が立っても税金で救わないと、信用不安が広がって、金融破綻の連鎖が起き、一般の人までみんなが大迷惑するから--という説明だった気がする。それが、自動車業界も救済となり、「大きすぎてつぶせない」の線引きがほとんど不可能になった。自動車は救済OKでチョコレート業界はダメ、とか論理的に説明するのは相当苦しい。

In the U.S., even churches face the threat of collapse. An increasing number of churches, who underwent construction during the real estate boom, are being seized for inability to make loan payments. The headline, "U.S. government pumps 80 billion dollars into God," may be plastered across papers sometime next year. Obviously, he's too big to fail.


But who in the world can claim to keep an eye on the management of those who are given a second chance? (By Yoko Fukumoto, Economic News Department, Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081226日 東京朝刊

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2008年12月28日 (日)

08回顧・国際 世界を揺さぶった同時不況

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 28, 2008)

2008 saw a recession that rocked the world

08回顧・国際 世界を揺さぶった同時不況(1228日付・読売社説)

The year is drawing to an unusually depressing end.


2008 will be remembered as a year that witnessed a world recession akin to the Great Depression of 1929.


The collapse of major U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which marked the spread of the U.S. financial crisis across the globe, came third in the list of top-ranking international news stories picked by Yomiuri Shimbun readers.


Following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the world was caught up in the throes of a recession in the blink of an eye. Who could have foreseen such a rapid turn of events?


Oil prices, which had been surging since the beginning of the year, hit a record-high 147 dollars per barrel in July--the story that ranked fifth on the list--before plunging, partly due to the global economic slowdown, and had fallen to the lower 30 dollars level around the end of the year.


In June, a world food summit, the first of its kind to address global food security, was held in Rome to tackle the issue of rising grain prices (the story ranking 18th on the list). Grain prices, however, began to drop in autumn as fast as oil prices because of abundant harvests and the withdrawal of speculative money from the market.



1st black U.S. president


This year also saw a series of changes of leaders.


Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election in November, paving the way for him to become the first black president in U.S. history. This news story topped the list.


In addition to criticism of the Iraq policy of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, the unprecedented financial crisis dealt a fatal blow to the Republican government, resulting in wide support for Obama. A burning task for the next administration will be financial and economic reconstruction, for which there is no time to waste, and the issue of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.


In March, Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party was elected president of Taiwan, leading his party back into power for the first time in eight years (25th on the list). Ma launched regular direct flights with China, establishing three direct links--trade, transport and communications--for the first time since Taiwan and the mainland split amid civil war in 1949. The Taiwan Strait likely will remain calm for the time being.


In Russia, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was endorsed by then President Vladimir Putin as his successor, was elected president (11th on the list). The new president appointed Putin as prime minister, transforming the administration into a Medvedev-Putin tandem system.


Russian forces invaded Georgia in August after Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia, which is seeking independence from Georgia. The fighting between Russia and Georgia then became a full-fledged battle (17th on the list).


Russia's military action drew a backlash from the United States and some European countries, and the dispute contributed to deepening tension between the United States and Russia.


Meanwhile, rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was incapacitated spread following a report that he suffered a stroke in summer (16th on the list).


In October, the United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, although verification of Pyongyang's nuclear declaration was not fully guaranteed in the six-party talks on the North's denuclearization (13th on the list). Such incaution during negotiations with North Korea may create problems in the future.


In Thailand, antigovernment protesters occupied the prime minister's office compound and two airports in Bangkok, stranding Japanese and other foreign tourists (14th on the list). Two prime ministers supporting ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were stripped of their posts by the Constitutional Court. The opposition Democrat Party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was elected prime minister this month.




Olympics, disaster in China


This year's top 10 international new stories are conspicuous in that four events related to China were included. Whether it is a good or bad thing, China came under the spotlight this year.


Before the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in August, protests in Tibet against Chinese rule developed into large-scale riots by Buddhist monks and other citizens. The Beijing Olympics ranked fourth on the list, while the Tibetan riots came eighth.


The security authorities quelled the riots, but the Olympic torch relay turned into a farce as it was blocked by protesters in many cities along the way, including London and Paris (ninth on the list).


In May, a massive earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan Province in China, leaving more than 10 million people homeless (second on the list). Efforts by Japanese rescue teams sent to quake-stricken areas seemed to help ease deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment in China.


Also in May, powerful Cyclone Nargis battered Myanmar, leaving more than 130,000 people dead or missing (sixth on the list). The military junta initially refused emergency humanitarian aid from overseas, causing a delay in rescue operations that compounded damages.



Terrorist attacks in South Asia


This year also left a deep impression as a result of the series of terrorist attacks that occurred in South Asia.


Mumbai, India's commercial center, was rocked in November, when terrorists launched simultaneous attacks that killed about 170 people, including one Japanese (seventh on the list). Indian security authorities arrested the suspected mastermind of the attacks, which are believed to have been carried out by Pakistan-based Islamic extremists.


For the sake of regional stability, India and Pakistan, which have nuclear arms and which have fought each other in three wars in the past, need to maintain self-restraint.


In Islamabad, a suicide truck bomb attack on a luxury hotel that is part of a U.S. chain killed 53 people in September (20th on the list).


There is no sign that terrorism will cease in Afghanistan or Iraq, either. The war against terrorism needs continuing patient efforts.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 28, 2008)

200812280139  読売新聞)

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2008年12月27日 (土)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26(IHT/Asahi: December 27,2008)

EDITORIAL: Cellphone ban in schools


The Osaka prefectural board of education is calling on public elementary and junior high schools to ban pupils and students from bringing cellphones into school as a general rule. The Meeting on Education Rebuilding, a government panel, also put together a draft report to the same effect. The problem of children and cellphones has become a major issue.


The prefectural board's decision is also in line with Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto's policy. Already, most public elementary and junior high schools in the prefecture prohibit pupils and students from bringing cellphones to school and as such, the actual impact of the ban will not be that great.


The governor stated clearly that "excessive dependence (on cellphones) stands in the way of studies and health." Indeed, a survey by the prefectural board that looked into how children actually use cellphones showed that many of them are virtually addicted to their handsets. Fifteen percent of first-year junior high school students surveyed said they use their cellphones for three hours or more each day and one in 10 said they send more than 50 text messages daily.


Fifteen percent of junior high school students said that when they receive text messages, they answer them within three minutes. According to teachers, there seems to be a tacit rule among pupils and students that one must answer messages within three minutes. They are apparently gauging their closeness to each other with the quickness in which they reply.


The survey also revealed that children who reply on their cellphones tend to spend less time studying at home and their lives are more irregular than those who are not.


This trend is thought to be more or less common throughout the nation. According to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association of Japan, one in five fifth-graders at elementary schools carries a cellphone.


When we think of the seriousness of the situation, we believe the decision to ban cellphones from school is reasonable.


At the same time, however, cellphones can also be effective in protecting children from crime. The Osaka prefectural board of education also said it plans to leave it to the discretion of principals whether to individually allow children to bring cellphones to school, depending on the circumstances. Another idea is to have schools keep handsets during school hours and return them to children when they leave.


Of course, banning cellphones from school does not solve all problems.


What we are concerned about is the rise in cases of bullying that use e-mail and the Internet. According to a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology survey covering elementary, junior and senior high school students, cases of harassment that used personal computers and cellphones in the 2007 school year through March amounted to about 5,900. The figure represents an increase of about 1,000 from the previous year. The negative effects of harmful websites are another worrisome factor.


It is time for society as a whole to deal with the situation. One idea that is being mooted is to promote the use of cellphones with limited functions for verbal communication and the global positioning system so parents, guardians and family members will know the location of the carrier at all times. There is also a service called filtering that limits access to harmful websites. We need to seriously think, together with cellphone-related businesses, about creating handset models and services designed exclusively for children.


But homes play the most important role. If parents establish rules such as not allowing the use of cellphones during mealtimes and turning them off at night, school rules would also be more effective.



Above all, we need to save children from addiction to cellphones and help them enhance real communication skills to exchange ideas with others face to face. Both classrooms and homes should serve for such a purpose.

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26(IHT/Asahi: December 27,2008)

EDITORIAL: Citizen judge system


Criminal trials are often described as attempts to "find the truth" about crimes. During the process, prosecutors and defense lawyers present their respective cases and offer evidence to support their claims so that the truth can be established.


But if important evidence for either the defense or the prosecution is excluded without good reason, it is impossible to uncover the truth.


In a recent ruling over the killing of a 7-year-old girl three years ago in the city of Hiroshima, the Hiroshima High Court criticized the lower court's handling of the case as inappropriate.


The high court reversed the Hiroshima District Court's decision, which had sentenced the accused to life imprisonment, and remanded the case to the lower court.

Why did the high court criticize the lower court's handling of the case?


The district court trial was conducted as a model for the new citizen judge system, which will be introduced in spring next year. To ensure a verdict could be reached in a short and intensive trial, pre-trial conferences were held among the presiding judge, the prosecution and the defense to sort out key issues and presentable evidence.


During the pre-trial conference, the defense refused to allow as evidence an investigator's record of oral statements by the accused. But the district court terminated the pre-trial process without learning how the prosecution would try to prove the guilt of the accused.


During the trial, the two sides debated over whether the accused was forced to make those statements. Without investigating the issue, the district court rejected the prosecution's request to use the defendant's statements as evidence.


The interrogation record contained the suspect's remarks concerning a blanket found in his apartment that contained hair and blood of the victim.

The remarks suggested the accused didn't bring the blanket out of his room on the day the girl was killed. If his statement had been regarded as credible, prosecutors could have shown that the girl was killed in his apartment.


Pointing out this procedural lapse, the high court said the lower court ruling contained factual mistakes. The lower court failed to make clear the location of the crime, only saying the girl was killed in the apartment or somewhere around it. The high court criticized the district court's failure to make sufficient efforts to identify the location of the crime.


The high court also said the lower court terminated the pre-trial process prematurely in a rush to ensure the trial would be held according to schedule.


The objective of pre-trial conferences is to lay out a plan for the trial by sorting out key arguments and possible evidence. The process is essential to ensure a short and intensive trial. It is also a prerequisite for the new lay-judge system because citizens cannot be bound to their judge-duty obligations for a prolonged period.


In the Hiroshima murder case, however, the district court judge apparently narrowed down the arguments and evidence too much during the pre-trial process in an attempt to establish a route to the verdict.


The lay-judge system is designed to have diverse views of ordinary citizens reflected in the determination of facts and appropriate punishment.


All issues and evidence that ordinary citizens would regard as relevant to the trial should be presented to the court. Judges should not narrow down evidence at their discretion so that the trial will run in line with their specific position on the case.


The professional judge's role should be limited to ensuring that the trial will proceed in an orderly manner by controlling how the defense and prosecution present their cases.


Unless both the professional judges and citizen judges are free from any prejudgment when they attend the first hearing of the trial, the new lay-judge system cannot achieve its purpose.


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社説:09年度予算案 これでは生活防衛できない

(Mainichi Japan) December 26, 2008

Budget draft lacks concrete measures to protect people's livelihoods

社説:09年度予算案 これでは生活防衛できない

The government approved a state budget draft for fiscal 2009 on Wednesday. At a news conference following the decision, Prime Minister Taro Aso praised the budget as a bold measure to protect people's livelihoods. The prime minister apparently wanted to emphasize that social security outlays, which include 77.5 billion yen from the 333 billion yen in funds for priority policy measures that he allocated at his own discretion, will increase by 14 percent and that he also places priority on regional vitalization measures and support for smaller businesses.


However, one cannot help but wonder whether the budget will provide relief for people plagued by a chain of concerns.


The government's compilation of the fiscal 2009 budget draft was affected by international economic conditions and political maneuvering. Amid the rapid economic slowdown, numerous emergency issues have emerged.


The government has decided to carry out 75 trillion yen worth of projects in three economic stimulus packages and also has plans for 12 trillion yen in fiscal measures.


The stimulus packages appear to be on par with those in other major countries in terms of their scale and ratio to gross domestic product, but the public does not appear to expect them to produce far-reaching results.


Moreover, the government is basically going to rely on loans to finance these measures in the face of a large tax revenue shortfall.


The budget draft calls for the issuance of deficit-covering bonds totaling 25.71 trillion yen, up 5.6 trillion yen from the initial budget of the current fiscal year. Moreover, 4.23 trillion yen will be diverted to part of these projects from reserves in the special account of the government's fiscal investment and loan program, which will require funding from deficit-covering bonds in the future.


If the budget can reassure people and improve economic conditions, it will lead to an increase in tax revenue and help the country erase its chronic deficit. How 1 trillion yen set aside in the fiscal 2009 budget draft for emergency economic measures will be used remains to be seen. However, the allocations of funds for medical, nursing care and employment security projects are insufficient. The budget does not show how Japan can transform its economic structure to stimulate its economy and expand job opportunities.


If the government really thinks Japan is facing an economic crisis that occurs once every 100 years, it should have drastically reviewed the budget appropriations. Financial resources exclusively set aside for road construction will be incorporated in the general budget as the government has pledged. Nevertheless, road construction and maintenance spending will be cut by only 8.8 percent.



The government will increase its contribution to the basic pension fund, but it has not secured stable sources of funding to carry this out.


The government has also not sufficiently reduced its waste of taxpayers' money or restructured its outlays. Instead of efficiently allocating funds to various projects, it has pondered over how to provide enough funds for a wide variety of projects by expanding the scale of the budget.


The goal of the fiscal 2009 budget draft is to protect people's livelihoods and Japan's economy. However, it does not appear that the government will achieve this goal.


Ruling coalition politicians are trying to avoid mentioning a consumption tax hike and other sensitive issues that would require taxpayers to shoulder a heavier financial burden as part of a mid-term program to achieve a sustainable social security system. The tendency of politicians to avoid difficult topics and attempt to cover up the need for a tax hike has become evident.


To ensure sustainable economic growth, it is urgent that Japan's fiscal capability, which has been considerably weakened, be rebuilt. Both the ruling coalition and opposition parties must recognize the importance of this task and offer specific measures to achieve it.


毎日新聞 20081225日 017

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ソマリア沖海賊 迅速な海自派遣を目指せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 27, 2008)

Send MSDF to fight piracy off Somalia soon

ソマリア沖海賊 迅速な海自派遣を目指せ(1227日付・読売社説)

It may be unavoidable for Japan to send Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to fight piracy off Somalia in accordance with existing law, if a new law for this purpose cannot be enacted on time.


Prime Minister Taro Aso on Friday instructed Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada to study the dispatch of MSDF ships on antipiracy missions under the Self-Defense Forces Law.


There are two proposals within the government for sending MSDF vessels. One urges the enactment of a new law for this purpose, while the other calls for invoking the maritime policing activity clause of the SDF Law.


It is desirable to enact a new law, but it will take time to do so. If the Diet starts deliberating on a bill for the law after passing the fiscal 2009 budget in the next ordinary session, the law's enactment will come in April at the earliest.



Existing law poses 2 problems

But dealing with antipiracy missions within the framework of the existing law would create two problems.


One is that the MSDF vessels would be able to escort only Japanese-registered vessels, ships operated by Japanese companies and foreign ships with Japanese on board. Japan's relationship of trust with other countries would be compromised if MSDF vessels were powerless to protect foreign ships at a time when Japanese ships were being protected by other countries' military vessels.


The other problem is that the use of arms by MSDF sailors would be restricted. The sailors would be able to fire warning shots or launch counterattacks in self-defense, but prohibited from firing shots for the purpose of inflicting damage on pirate ships. A number of situations might arise in which MSDF commanders in charge would waver in making judgments.


It would be difficult to effectively crack down on pirates, who are armed with heavy weaponry, including rocket launchers, in this situation. Under no circumstances should the safety of MSDF personnel be put in jeopardy because of restrictions imposed on them by law.



Preparations should start now

If an antipiracy law was enacted, it would enable MSDF vessels to escort foreign ships and fire at pirate ships in the course of carrying out their missions.


The government and ruling parties should begin negotiations with the opposition camp so the Diet can commence work to legislate such a law at an early stage of the next ordinary session.


Damages from piracy in the waters off Somalia have increased in number and scale, posing a serious problem.


As of Wednesday, 109 piracy cases had been reported this year, a 2.5-fold increase from last year. Among the 42 ships hijacked in 2008, 14 are still in the hands of pirates, with 269 crew members being held hostage.


There have only been three cases this year in which Japanese-related ships were attacked by pirates. But it would come as no surprise to hear news of such ships having suffered serious damage.


Naval ships from about 20 nations are already engaged in escort and patrol activities in the pirate-infested sea zone. China has dispatched three warships to the area.


As it stands now, it is essential for the government to act speedily. The government should expedite necessary preparations--such as the dispatch of personnel on a fact-finding mission and the training of MSDF troops for antipiracy missions--for sending MSDF vessels in accordance with the SDF Law as a stopgap measure for several months until new legislation is in place.


The MSDF has the option of sending P-3C reconnaissance planes in addition to vessels for antipiracy operations. To fulfill its international responsibilities, Japan must consider various possible measures.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2008)

200812270137  読売新聞)

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2008年12月26日 (金)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 26,2008)

EDITORIAL: Sato's nuclear request


Former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato (1901-1975), who set Japan's three non-nuclear principles and was awarded the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize, was actually a tough negotiator who sought a U.S. nuclear attack against China in the event of an outbreak of war between Japan and China, according to Foreign Ministry documents that were declassified on Monday.


A month before Sato became prime minister in November 1964, China jolted the world by conducting its first nuclear test while Tokyo was hosting that year's Summer Olympics. Japan's shock was profound.


It was previously revealed that Sato hinted at Japan's readiness to arm itself with nuclear weapons when he met with U.S. Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer immediately upon taking office. He said to the effect: "If the other side (China) has nuclear weapons, we should have them, too. That's common sense."


But during his visit to the United States one month later in January 1965, Sato denied Japan's nuclear ambitions. "Japan is unequivocally opposed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons," he asserted, according to the newly declassified documents.


"Should a war break out (between Japan and China), we expect the United States to immediately launch a retaliatory nuclear strike (against China)," he said.

In short, Sato sought protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and Washington agreed to comply.


The public was not informed of any of this. The horrors of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in the nation's collective memory at the time, and the government presumably decided the public was not yet ready to deal with this sort of thing.


But China's nuclear armament was a real threat, and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) had yet to come into being. From the declassified documents, we can imagine how these circumstances must have compelled Sato to take upon himself the role of a tough diplomatic negotiator who would drive a hard bargain with Washington.


More than four decades have since passed. How is Japan handling the nuke issue now?


India and Pakistan have gone nuclear, and the NPT regime itself is now shaky at best. For the Japanese people, North Korea's nuclear test in 2006 was as terrifying as the 1964 Chinese test. The United Nations adopts nuclear disarmament resolutions every year at the Japanese government's initiative, but when the United States inked a nuclear accord with India that effectively acknowledges the latter as a nuclear power, Japan had no choice but to recognize this agreement.


On the other hand, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other prominent nuclear deterrence theorists called for "a world free of nuclear weapons" last year. This means nuclear proliferation has come to be recognized as a real threat to the world.


Yet, the Japanese people seem to be growing less concerned, not more. The six-party talks for ending North Korea's nuclear program are stalling over the verification issue, but Japan's approach to this situation is not as hot a subject of public interest as the abduction issue.


On the contrary, even some politicians are now voicing arguments in favor of Japan's nuclear armament that are tenuous at best.


Three years after his U.S. trip, Sato announced his three non-nuclear principles in his speech before the Diet, having concluded that possessing nuclear weapons would neither contribute to the national security nor benefit the Japan-U.S. security alliance. He also took into account the fact that public opinion at the time was overwhelmingly anti-nuclear.


Times have changed, and the world is more complex. Today, we need to debate and deal with the nuclear issue more objectively and realistically than in Sato's time.


It is foolish to discuss this issue on an emotional level. Sato's remarks in the declassified documents remind us of the responsibility of politicians.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 26,2008)

EDITORIAL: New broom at NHK


Shigehiro Komaru, president of Fukuyama Transporting Co., has been named chairman of the board of governors at scandal-tainted Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK). As head of the public broadcaster's decision-making body, Komaru will be responsible for steering the board in a way that reflects a clear and viable vision for the television and radio network's future.


The board of governors determines NHK's basic management policies, budget allocations and business plans while supervising the executive board headed by the president. The power of the board was enhanced significantly this spring through a revision to the Broadcast Law. This was done in response to a series of scandals that had plagued NHK that included cases of employees embezzling funds for program productions.


Komaru's predecessor, Shigetaka Komori, pushed hard to transform the board from an organization that simply rubber-stamps decisions by the executive board into a vocal watchdog to oversee management operations. In a move that symbolized his reform campaign, Komori ensured that NHK's new medium-term business plan included a 10 percent cut in viewer fees starting in fiscal 2012. The decision was made in the face of strong opposition from the executive board.


Komaru must be willing to disagree and even fight with the executive board if he is to continue his predecessor's efforts to slim down the bloated organization.


Still, Komori made some troubling moves that Komaru should not emulate. The former chief of the board of governors made unwarranted attempts to influence the public network's news reporting and content of other programs. Komori also stirred controversy by saying NHK's broadcast for overseas audiences should be designed to promote Japan's national interests. In addition, he made remarks that could be interpreted as intervention in the network's programs.


Since its budget and some key management decisions must be approved by the Diet, NHK constantly faces the challenge of how to maintain its political independence. The new chairman of the board of governors should have a renewed awareness of NHK's delicate position.


NHK has been hit by a string of scandals that betrayed the public's confidence, including insider trading by reporters and others. On the other hand, some NHK programs are topping prime-time ratings. With commercial broadcasters struggling with the deepening recession, the role of NHK, which secures a stable revenue from viewer fees, is assuming greater importance.


Komaru comes to his new position after having spent four and a half years as a member of the board of governors. In the news conference announcing his appointment as chairman of the board, Komaru repeatedly said his immediate priority is to implement the medium-term business plan. Asked about NHK's future stance, however, he only talked vaguely about such principles as "fairness" and "independence and discipline."


Komaru needs to give viewers and listeners a better idea of how he intends to support NHK's management so that the public network can live up to public expectations.


The enhancement of the board's power requires a review of the way the panel operates. The governors are selected from well-informed and experienced people in various walks of life, including education, culture, science and industry. They are appointed by the prime minister with approval by the Diet. The board is supposed to be composed of 12 governors. But only nine took part in the selection of the new chairman. That's because three of the government's appointees for the position were rejected by the opposition-controlled Upper House.



This unusual situation has drawn fresh public attention to the problem of the selections of governor nominees behind closed doors. One former governor said, "I received no explanation from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications about why I had been picked for the post, and I felt a lack of transparency in the process."


NHK is a public broadcaster that depends on support from the public at large. The ministry should figure out a way to make the selection process more transparent.


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香山リカのココロの万華鏡:なぜマイナス思考に /東京

(Mainichi Japan) December 25, 2008

Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Why do people think negatively?

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:なぜマイナス思考に /東京

The year of 2008 was an eventful one, in both good and bad ways. Somehow, however, only the bad, such as stabbing rampage in Akihabara or the global credit crunch, has remained in my mind.


I wonder if many people are saying, "The Beijing Olympic Games was the most impressive event this year!" or "Of course, the Nobel Prize rush in Japanese science was the biggest news of the year." I doubt it.


At any bookstores, there are dozens of titles along the lines of "Encouraging positive thinking" and "Live positive." But why can't we help stop looking at the negative side?


When I am counseling my clients, sometimes I think the nature of human beings is negativity. Take auditory hallucination, a symptom of mental disorder, and which causes sufferers to hear voices or other noises generated unconsciously by their own minds -- so I wouldn't be surprised if they heard good things. However, most of these messages are bad things about themselves. I wonder why they don't hear compliments, such as "You're a genius" or "You're the most beautiful woman in the world." My guess is that it's probably because human beings are conditioned to think negatively.




Hypothetically, if our brain is intrinsically disposed towards thinking negatively, remembering darker news more clearly among others does make sense to me. That would also explain other things, like the way memories of mistakes I made or bad things people said about me remain clear, while good memories fade away so quickly.


However, the bright side of the hypothetical fact would be that we could say there is nothing wrong with being depressed. Even if you are, just think: "This is the nature of human beings." Thinking this way might help to prevent the depression from becoming worse.



Of course, I hope the next year will be one filled with many enjoyable events. But I won't hold my breath for it: it's not necessary to force myself into thinking positive.


Well, I'm just going to relax for a moment and go through the negative feelings I have now. Having room in our hearts for this kind of thing might be valuable for all of us. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)


毎日新聞 20081223日 地方版

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雇用機構廃止 「看板掛け替え」で済ませるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 26, 2008)

Organizational reform must not be cosmetic

雇用機構廃止 「看板掛け替え」で済ませるな(1226日付・読売社説)

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday endorsed the abolition of the Employment and Human Resources Development Organization of Japan, which has been criticized for wasting taxpayers' money in various ways.

Some of its services are to be transferred to two different entities.

However, it will be a mere cosmetic change if the independent administrative agency for job support is eliminated but its services live on through other institutions. The organization's services and facilities must be thoroughly streamlined and transferred to local governments.




Let the prefectures decide

According to the government, the organization's 61 centers providing vocational training for job seekers and a total of 22 polytechnic colleges and junior colleges for job training for high school graduates will be transferred to the authority of prefectural governments, if they wish to take them on.


With employment conditions deteriorating, the central government is expected to play a leading role in building employment safety nets. However, the provision of vocational training is one of the public services that needs to be transferred to local governments in the medium- and long-term.


As many facilities as possible under the organization should be transferred to the auspices of local governments, to avoid redundancy in occupational training, which also is provided by local governments. Employment policy in accordance with the need of respective localities also should be promoted.


While nearly half of prefectural governments have expressed a willingness to accept such facilities, provided that conditions are right, there are still many that are ambivalent about the idea.


Local governments want to know how much financing and how many workers will be made available for them after such facilities are transferred to them. To answer such a question and respond to the anxieties of local governments, the central government needs to discuss and clarify the mechanism for this as soon as possible.


If prefectural governors already advocate the decentralization of power, they also should be expected to have the fortitude to agree with the transfer of occupational training services provided by the organization.



Retool vocational school

The central government also finally decided that the Polytechnic University, which had once been on the chopping block, will continue to exist, but only after a drastic review is undertaken of the university's curriculum for training vocational instructors and its cost-effectiveness.


The latest decision regarding the school reflects the opinion of Akira Amari, state minister in charge of administrative reform, that the university should become a central base of manufacturing talent.


The university has been criticized for straying from the original purpose of its founding, as a majority of its graduates do not become vocational instructors, but instead find jobs in the private sector.


If the government insists on the school's continuation, the university will have to be transformed into an institute that can assess social needs correctly and contribute to employment and industrial policy.


The organization's loss-laden Vocational Museum, which offers schoolchildren chances to learn about and try various jobs, will be abolished by August 2010 when the contract with a private company running the museum expires.


The facility will be sold eventually, but the organization should not attempt to be as irresponsible as to sell it off at a bargain-basement price as long as there are those still interested in buying it.


The organization has a history of selling off troubled welfare facilities at prices equivalent to only 3 percent of respective construction costs. It is important to study ways to minimize losses in selling off the facility by tapping private sector know-how.


An independent organization also should be assigned to closely monitor whether this reform is done appropriately.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 26, 2008)

200812260138  読売新聞)

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2008年12月25日 (木)

がんを生きる:寄り添いびと/5止 結び直した父との絆

(Mainichi Japan) December 23, 2008

Living with cancer: a volunteer forges a bond with her father (Pt 6)

がんを生きる:寄り添いびと/5止 結び直した父との絆


At the Tokyo Suicide Prevention Center in Shinjuku-ku, a three-month volunteer training course comes to an end, and the 10 trainees now join the ranks of "befrienders," or volunteer telephone counselors.


"This is just the beginning," warns the founder of the Center, Akira Nishihara, 79, who has been diagnosed with terminal intestinal cancer himself.


Naomi, 38, is among the 10 volunteers. Her father, 69, passed away in her hometown in Akita this March.


The news of her father's cancer came in the form of a phone call from her mother last September: "Your father has terminal stomach cancer and only has six months to live." The news was all the more painful for the strained relationship between the two.



Since Naomi was young, her parents had been on bad terms, separating when she was in high school. She lived with her mother and younger sister, and became estranged from her father. After moving to Tokyo for work, she only saw him on her rare visits to Akita.


"We still have time," she thought, hoping to reforge the bond that she had lost with her father. She began a weekend schedule of catching the bullet train every Friday night, returning to Tokyo on the final train on Sunday evening.


Though at first, Naomi and her father both had some reservations, eventually, he began eagerly awaiting her visits. "When will you come next?" he would ask, and she would circle the dates on the calendar by his hospital bed. "Train fare adds up, doesn't it?" he would say, and give her some change. They would always part reluctantly with a high-five.


He also told her stories from his childhood: how he loved to run, how he and his younger brother would peddle fish and vegetables stacked on a two-wheel cart that they hauled around. They savored the time they had together.


While her father had never complained before, as his cancer progressed and the pain became unbearable, he screamed to her for help. She automatically held him in her arms, and was shocked to find that his body, once muscular from jogging, had wasted away.


"I'm sorry, I have to go," were Naomi's last words to her father, the day before he died. "Thank ... you ... take ... care ..." he whispered back.


"I wonder if I'll be able to run again in heaven." Remembering the words her father uttered in his hospital bed, Naomi and her mother decided to place a pair of sneakers and running outfit in her father's casket.


In the fall, Naomi arrived at the Suicide Prevention Center.


"Through my father's death, I realized I want to contribute in some way," she told the others of her motivation for becoming a counselor. Akita Prefecture, where she is from, has a high suicide rate. "Some day, I want to do a job in Akita that involves empathizing with people in pain."



On the last day of the training course, Nishihara and his wife, Yukiko, 74, visited a hospice in Tokyo for an interview. He wants to have as many options as possible in his final moments.


"I want to continue my work at the center for as long as I can, but I may eventually have to trouble you for your help," he told a doctor there. "What is the dying process? I want to reflect upon myself as I confront my remaining days."


It has been 30 years since the Suicide Prevention Center was established in Osaka. The seeds planted by Nishihara and his wife are being passed on to their colleagues, who will continue the work they have begun, helping lives flourish into the future.


毎日新聞 20081220日 東京朝刊

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臨時国会閉幕 解散政局で「政策」が沈んだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 25, 2008)

Politicking wastes Diet session

臨時国会閉幕 解散政局で「政策」が沈んだ(1225日付・読売社説)

After weighing his options, Prime Minister Taro Aso decided against dissolving the House of Representatives. Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa, for his part, was not able to pressure Aso into dissolving the lower house. And Diet members showed little inclination to settle down for any kind of policy discussions because of a possible snap election.


So ends the current extraordinary Diet session Thursday, which has been overshadowed by the specter of a possible Diet dissolution.


In his first policy speech at the Diet on Sept. 29, Aso fielded a series of questions about DPJ policies and its positions on particular bills--a rare move for a prime minister to undertake in a speech of that kind. This was probably because the prime minister intended at that point to dissolve the lower house at the beginning of the Diet session.


But the approval rating of the Aso Cabinet immediately after its inauguration was not as high as had been expected, while the U.S.-originated financial crisis was spreading in scope and depth. These factors served to give Aso second thoughts about dissolving the lower house as the session wore on.


Even so, Liberal Democratic Party executives and New Komeito tried to persuade Aso to dissolve the Diet around the end of October. Aso vacillated for a while, but eventually decided against doing so. Resentment toward Aso, who was chosen as the LDP's face for the next lower house election, began to spread within the ruling parties.



Aso inconsistency hurt party

If the prime minister had pushed ahead with measures to boost the economy and employment under the slogan of prioritizing policymaking over political maneuvering, he would have been able to find a way out of this political quagmire. But he did not submit a second supplementary budget for financing additional pump-priming measures to this extended Diet session.



It is little wonder then that Aso, who has lacked consistency in both his handling of policies and political maneuvering, has come in for fierce criticism.


The prime minister also caused some self-inflicted wounds through his careless remarks. It will not be easy now to boost the Cabinet's approval ratings, which have plummeted to well below the 30 percent mark.


During this Diet session, discord has emerged between the ruling coalition partnership of the LDP and New Komeito.


It is fine for New Komeito to assert its positions on the timing of Diet dissolution and the advisability of an increase in the consumption tax rate. But sticking so doggedly to its own partisan interests will make it difficult for New Komeito to carry out its duties as a member of the ruling coalition.


Meanwhile, the DPJ's handling of Diet affairs as an opposition party also has been erratic.



Political opportunism

The DPJ swiftly dropped its hitherto conciliatory approach toward the ruling parties as soon as it became clear the prime minister was not going to dissolve the lower house anytime soon. The party agreed to pass the bill to revise the new Antiterrorism Law after brief deliberations, but then tried to prolong debate over the bill by reneging on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to hold a vote on it in the House of Councillors. The DPJ's opportunism was clear.


Near the end of the session, the DPJ, with two other opposition parties, submitted four bills for employment-boosting measures to the upper house and had them ostentatiously passed through the chamber after 2-1/2 hours of committee deliberations.


It is puzzling why the DPJ decided to ram the bills through the upper house.


The four bills submitted by the opposition parties had many points in common with a government plan for boosting employment. The fact that the ruling and opposition parties were unable to coordinate policies over urgent tasks amid the deteriorating economic conditions symbolizes how fruitless this Diet session was.


The DPJ protested the scrapping of the four employment bills at the lower house Wednesday by introducing to the chamber a resolution to dissolve the Diet, which was later voted down.


The DPJ was apparently trying to stun the LDP, and the opposition party's prioritizing of political games was a constant feature of the Diet session.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 25, 2008)

200812250133  読売新聞)

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2008年12月24日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23(IHT/Asahi: December 24,2008)

EDITORIAL: Hamaoka nuclear plant


Chubu Electric Power Co. has decided to retire two old nuclear reactors and build a new state-of-the-art reactor at the same nuclear power plant. The first-ever reactor "replacement" in the nation will be made at the company's Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka Prefecture.


The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Hamaoka plant, which started operation in the late 1970s, have been shut down since 2001 and 2004, respectively, due to accidents and for repair. Chubu Electric initially planned to retrofit the two reactors to raise their earthquake resistance under new safety standards and reopen them in fiscal 2011.


But it has been estimated that the work to make the reactors more quake resistant will cost about 300 billion yen in total and take more than 10 years. The company decided that decommissioning the two aged reactors and building a new one, the No. 6 reactor, would make better economic sense.


The Hamaoka plant is located in the middle of a region that seismologists have warned is likely to be struck by a powerful Tokai earthquake in the not-so-distant future. The probability of this dreadful quake hitting the region within three decades has been estimated at 87 percent.


It is quite sensible to shut down the two reactors with questionable seismic reliability. But is it the right decision to build a new reactor at the same site?



We understand the need for the utility company, which has a duty to ensure a stable supply of electricity, to build a new power reactor that can compensate for the loss of the combined power output of 1.38 million kilowatts of the two reactors that will be put out of service.


In addition, power utilities are under growing pressure to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Replacing the two nuclear reactors with thermal power reactors would increase the company's emissions of carbon dioxide. At Chubu Electric, the share of nuclear power generation in its total power output is significantly lower than the national average among power companies.

It is hardly surprising that the company wants to build a new nuclear reactor, which doesn't spew out CO2 into the atmosphere.


But building another nuclear reactor in the region that is likely to be rocked by the formidable Tokai earthquake will only add to the safety concerns among residents. Chubu Electric claims there is no reason to worry about the safety of the new reactor as long as it has enough seismic safety margins.

It will be a tall order, however, to win support for the plan from the local community. Some residents are still fighting a battle at an appeal court to suspend operations of the Nos. 1-4 reactors at the Hamaoka plant.


Chubu Electric should first consider a wide range of alternatives, including increasing purchases of electricity from other power suppliers' nuclear plants and looking for a new location to build a new nuclear plant.


The company's decision, meanwhile, underscores the fact that the nation is now entering an era of reactor retirement when a growing number of aging nuclear reactors will have to be shut down. This is a problem that far transcends the closed reactors at the Hamaoka plant.


Of the 55 reactors operating across the nation, 17 are 30 years or older. While their anticipated maximum life span is 60 years, it may be more economically sensible to decommission an old reactor and build a new one, considering the costs of maintenance and so forth. Replacing aged reactors will become an increasingly common practice for the industry.


What is worrisome is that there are no firmly established procedures for shutting down an old reactor.


Decommissioning a 1.1-million-kilowatt reactor produces 500,000 to 550,000 tons of waste. While it contains no high-level radioactive waste, about 3 percent of the matter is polluted with radioactivity. Some sticky questions remain unsolved, such as where the waste materials from the reactor and its peripheral equipment should be buried.


It is vital to work out a viable plan for decommissioning reactors before the nuclear retirement era comes into full swing.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23(IHT/Asahi: December 24,2008)

EDITORIAL: Teaching in English


Many high school English teachers must be shaking their heads over a draft revision to curriculum guidelines for senior high schools, proposed by the education ministry on Monday for implementation in the 2013 scholastic year.

The guidelines call for English classes to be taught only in English as a rule. This is the first time that such a directive has been issued by the education ministry.




Curriculum guidelines specify required course contents and classroom hours for elementary, junior high and senior high schools. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology revises them every 10 years or so.


The new directive has us shaking our heads in doubt, too. Granted, Japanese by and large are notorious for their poor command of English. Perhaps a perfect case in point is Toshihide Maskawa, a recipient of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics, who delivered a speech in Japanese when awarded the prize.



Six years of junior and senior high school English may give people a passable level of proficiency in written English. But spoken English is an entirely different matter.


With the world becoming "borderless," English has become an indispensable tool of international communication. We agree with the ministry's reasoning that if students are to acquire better conversation skills, the English education system must change.


And we are also in favor of turning English classes into opportunities for students to practice and hone their communication skills.


But our optimism vanishes when we picture a real-life classroom scene.


Exchanging routine greetings in English should not be difficult even now. But it will be quite a challenge for teachers to explain grammar in simple English so that students can understand, or to answer in English questions asked by the students.


And even if teachers do manage somehow, the bigger question is how many students will be able to follow the lessons?


Some senior high schools are already teaching English in English, but success depends largely on the abilities of both teachers and students. Just forcing the system on everyone will not work. Nobody will benefit from it.


Another concern is that teaching English in English is not a particularly welcome prospect for schools that are strongly oriented toward preparing their students for university entrance examinations. Listening comprehension tests have been introduced into the National Center Test for University Admissions. But with most of the emphasis still being placed on reading comprehension and composition, we doubt that so many senior high schools will be willing to take on the additional burden of teaching English in English.


By abruptly telling English teachers to start giving lessons only in English, the education ministry is creating confusion and consternation. The ministry's job should be to determine what needs to be done to help students become functionally fluent in English and how the nation's English education should change for that end. The ministry should then establish a workable system and desirable classroom environment.


The ministry not only needs to examine such matters as teacher training and curriculum planning, but it also must keep university entrance test reforms in perspective. The ministry should consider the whole situation, including its plan to introduce in 2011 compulsory English classes for all upper-grade elementary school children.


But even with the education ministry issuing uniform directives on all matters, that does not mean the directives could be implemented immediately. Whether they will work will depend largely on the performance levels of teachers and students and the classroom environment at each school.


At the end of the day, the curriculum guidelines should remain just that--guidelines. It should be left up to each school to decide what to do under these guidelines. And that, we believe, is ultimately what will bring out the best in the teachers and their students.


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社説:視点・未曾有08 核と総書記 「対話と圧力」に…=論説委員・中島哲夫

(Mainichi Japan) December 23, 2008

Turbulent times could let North Korea play both sides

社説:視点・未曾有08 核と総書記 「対話と圧力」に…=論説委員・中島哲夫


Ultimately, there has been no conclusive evidence on whether or not North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is still alive. It was in the midst of this strange situation that North Korea's burning wish to be removed from the U.S. government's black list of state sponsors of terrorism was granted. This was a huge mistake for the U.S., which announced that North Korea had consented to an inspection system for its nuclear programs. As it turns out, the "agreement" was nothing more than an empty promise that the six-party talks failed to even put into writing.


After North Korea denied the aforementioned agreement had ever taken place, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill complained to a group of South Korean legislators visiting the U.S. that the more one negotiates with North Korea, the more difficult the situation becomes. How unprepared was Hill that he was previously unaware of something so obvious?


U.S. efforts to dismantle North Korea's nuclear program began in 1993 during the Clinton administration. Nearly 16 years have passed, and not only is the issue still unresolved, but the situation has deteriorated. This has been a rare development of events in the history of U.S. foreign diplomacy.


As for Kim Jong Il's health, there are yet to be any decisive reports.


For 50 days beginning Aug. 15, there were no updates from the government-run media on the North Korean leader's activities. The South Korean intelligence agency claimed that Kim had suffered a stroke or something similar. Among the 10 or so North Korean media reports since November featuring Kim's inspections of military units and visits to various facilities, there are several photographs in which his left hand has an unnatural appearance: possibly the effect of a stroke.


Meanwhile, however, there has been some speculation that Kim's brother-in-law has taken over the reigns of power. If so, it casts doubt on the authenticity of these photos.


According to North Korean media reports, Kim Jong Il recently received a new year's card from Chinese President Hu Jintao. Senior North Korean officials were invited to a party at the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, where both countries promised continued cooperation.


In contrast, the same North Korean media has railed daily against Japan -- which has postponed providing energy aid to North Korea due to an impasse over the abductions issue -- and South Korea, which has grown more antagonistic towards the North after a change in its administration. Anti-American sentiments do exist, but these are not as intense.


North Korea's intentions are obvious. It plans to continue using China as a safety net, soften South Korea and Japan by creating waves, and get a good deal from the new U.S. administration. It is a typically North Korean approach, regardless of whether it was masterminded by Kim Jong Il.


What this all means is that it will be imperative for China and the U.S. to take a "dialogue and pressure" line with North Korea. If these two nations do not stand firm, North Korea's nuclear disarmament will remain a mere pipe dream. To achieve an unprecedented outcome, Japan must also play a part by offering its resources and wisdom.


毎日新聞 20081221日 東京朝刊

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08回顧・日本 政治も経済も波乱の年越し

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 24, 2008)

2008--a year of instability

08回顧・日本 政治も経済も波乱の年越し(1224日付・読売社説)

The 20th year of the Heisei era is drawing to a close. The growing instability in several fields that symbolized the year 2008 featured prominently in the top 10 domestic news stories selected by Yomiuri Shimbun readers.


Turmoil in the political world was a topic on many people's lips this year. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's sudden decision to resign and Taro Aso succeeding his post was the second-biggest story chosen by our readers. Fukuda abruptly pulled in his horns and walked away from the administration, saying that the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan was holding up Diet discussions and refusing to negotiate, which delayed decisions on important matters.


Shinzo Abe, Fukuda's predecessor, also abruptly resigned as prime minister last year after a crushing defeat in the House of Councillors election. Abe cited health problems as his reason for stepping down. The cabinets of Abe and Fukuda were both short-lived, both staying afloat for about one year.


Fukuda was frustrated by the "split Diet" in which the ruling parties hold a majority in the House of Representatives and opposition parties control the upper house. The provisional gasoline tax rates expired and gas prices began to fall, but the rates were revived after a bill to restore them was passed into law in a revote at the lower house after the upper house voted against it. This story ranked 13th. Public frustration mounted over the snail's pace at which policy decisions were made in this snarled Diet.


The new medical insurance system for people aged 75 and older started this year, but the system, under which premiums are deducted from pension benefits, has come under severe criticism, and ranked sixth overall. A panel investigating the manipulation of corporate pension records concluded in a report that local social insurance offices systematically falsified many records. This story ranked 26th.


A barrage of criticism has been leveled at the new insurance system that describes people aged 75 and older as "koki koreisha" (late-stage elderly people). The systematic involvement of the Social Insurance Agency in pension record falsification was just one of a series of scandals that rocked the SIA. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry took the brunt of criticism over several pension and medical problems.



Food safety woes


The U.S.-triggered financial crisis has battered Japan's economy and turned business conditions on their heads. The eighth-ranked story of 2008 was the plunge of Tokyo stocks to the lowest level since the bubble economy burst. The impact has spread even to the real economy and Japan's signature export industries--auto and electronic manufacturers--are falling on tough times. The employment situation is becoming increasingly unstable.


Public interest in food safety remains high. Poisoning cases caused by tainted Chinese-made gyoza and a string of troubles stemming from Chinese-made foods was the top-ranked domestic news story.


With consumers already on edge over food safety, it was discovered that rice tainted with pesticide residue or mold that the government sold to dealers was resold for human consumption. Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Seiichi Ota resigned to take responsibility for the debacle, which was ranked 11th. The story in 18th spot was a stream of misleading labeling of products' origins, including the labeling of grilled eels from China as being from Japan.


The gyoza case whipped up consumer distrust of Chinese-made foods. China eventually retracted its initial claim that the dumplings were contaminated with a toxic substance in Japan, not in China. However, China has yet to provide Japan with details of how the investigation there was carried out.


The rice tainted with pesticide residue or mold was made into sweets or shochu liquor. This news left many people shaking their heads in disbelief. A raft of irregularities involving food in Japan regularly made the headlines. The resignation of the agriculture minister has done little to resolve these problems.



Shocking crimes


The year 2008 saw several heinous crimes that hinted at a worrying increase in social instability.


Particularly disturbing were random street murder cases committed on a selfish whim by culprits bent on killing whoever happened to be nearby. The fifth-ranked story of 2008 was the indiscriminate stabbing spree by a man in Tokyo's Akihabara district that left seven people dead. In another attack, a man wanted on a separate murder charge killed one person and injured seven in a knife attack at a train station in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture. This story ranked 29th.


The seventh-ranked story was the shocking knife attacks at the homes of two former administrative vice health and welfare ministers that left two people dead and one seriously injured. An unemployed man later turned himself in and reportedly told police he committed the attacks to avenge the putting down of his pet dog at a public health center 34 years ago. However, many people found this explanation to be dubious, to say the least.


Natural disasters also featured prominently among this year's stories. Ranking ninth was the Iwate-Miyagi Inland Earthquake, which killed 13 people and measured upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Five people, including primary school children, were killed when they were washed away by a Kobe river swollen by sudden torrential rain. This story ranked 17th.


Devastating earthquakes and torrential rains can occur anywhere at any time. It is important to always be prepared for such an emergency.



Moments to savor

Amid all this doom and gloom, the top 10 domestic news stories also included stories that brought smiles to our faces.


Coming in fourth place was Japan's haul of nine gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games and breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima becoming the first swimmer in history to successfully defend Olympic titles in both the 100- and 200-meter events.


Kitajima, who made the memorable comment, "I feel incredible!" after winning gold in Athens, left another notable quote after winning in Beijing when he said, "I can't say anything more."


Many Japanese people were glued to the TV as they cheered on the Japanese athletes.


The women's softball team won the nation's first Olympic gold medal in the sport with a tremendous performance that piqued the interest of many people. The athletes must have made every effort in their quests to accomplish such impressive feats.


The third-ranked story of Japan's Nobel Prize winners--Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa, who won the prize in physics, and Osamu Shimomura, who was awarded the chemistry prize--was welcome news that pushed aside the economic gloom for a moment.



As this year nears its end, many people are feeling unsettled and anxious. In politics, the future of the Aso Cabinet and the timing of a general election are being closely watched by the public. It also remains unclear when the economy will recover.


The news of the Group of Eight summit meeting talks in Toyakocho, Hokkaido, that set a long-term target to halve greenhouse gas emissions ranked 10th. However, challenges lie ahead in achieving this goal because key countries hold different views on the issue.


Nobel laureate Masukawa said he won the prize for work he did 30 years ago. He then asked people whether scholars are conducting studies that could lead to prominent awards in the future.


Dealing with immediate issues is important. But at the same time, looking ahead and taking appropriate steps is essential, particularly at a time when uncertainty and chaos is gripping the nation.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2008)

200812240134  読売新聞)

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2008年12月23日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 22(IHT/Asahi: December 23,2008)

EDITORIAL: Domestic violence


The Nagoya District Court handed a life sentence to a man in Aichi Prefecture who had taken his former wife hostage at his home, shot and killed a police officer attempting a rescue operation, and shot and injured three others.


The man's violence against the woman was the cause of their divorce. However, he suspected her of having an affair and demanded that they get back together, leading to the tragedy.


As a result of the man's actions, a 23-year-old policeman was killed, leaving behind a daughter who was only 10 months old at the time. A 55-year-old policeman now uses a wheelchair due to paralysis, and the man's own son and daughter have been traumatized by the fact that their father shot them.


The motive for the incident seems to pale in comparison to the serious crimes he committed. The sight of the man with his head down as he listened to the judge hand down the sentence was unbearable.


The case highlighted the problems police face concerning gun control and rescue operations. But we should also look into whether it was possible to make the man think twice before his outburst of violence.


Japan has been slow in tackling the problem of domestic violence. It was only in 2001 that the domestic violence prevention law was created. Since then, courts have issued more than 2,000 orders each year, restraining access to the victims or evicting the perpetrator from the victim's home.


But these are only emergency relief measures intended to protect the victim. There is no system in place to re-educate or rehabilitate the abuser. Unless law-enforcement authorities act on a case as an assault or other crime, nothing can be done against the person inflicting the damage.


Victims often suddenly disappear after enduring years of abuse from their spouses. But the abusers unduly become resentful or persistently demand the victims return to them. And in the process, the abusers will often cause serious trouble, like the case of the Aichi man.


The United States, Britain and South Korea have systems in place that not only protect the victims but also order abusers to enter rehabilitation programs, where they can discuss their crimes with other offenders and reflect on their actions.


In Britain, the rehabilitation program is mandatory for offenders. If the abuser fails to attend, he or she can be sent to prison.


Japan should adopt such an approach to oblige abusers to attend rehabilitation programs during their probation period or when they are subject to a court protection order.


Many people argue that if public funds are to be used, then support for the victims should be the top priority. So far, the government has avoided making a decision about such rehabilitation programs because questions remain on their effectiveness. There is also the danger that abusers might use the rehabilitation programs as an excuse to approach their victims.


Some local governments and citizens groups have tested their own rehabilitation programs. The central government should also move to create solid measures to deal with the issue.

Noriko Yamaguchi, 58, heads a private group based in Tokyo that offers education programs for perpetrators of domestic violence. She was trained in the United States, and her group has seen more than 100 participants in the rehabilitation programs since it started up in 2002.


Yamaguchi says it is difficult to easily determine whether someone who has spent decades abusing his or her partner has really changed through the education programs. But she says the programs are worth trying.


"Domestic violence is a crime. Currently, the only recourse the victim has is to run and hide. That is wrong," she said.


In fiscal 2007, more than 60,000 calls were made to aid centers in Japan seeking help or guidance about domestic violence. If nothing is done, this problem will become a serious burden on society. Even abusers should not be left to ruin. Serious action is needed.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 22(IHT/Asahi: December 23,2008)

EDITORIAL: Consumption tax hike


The government is putting the finishing touches on a medium-term tax reform program that should show how it intends to ensure financing for the social security system so that people can feel secure about their future.


One key question is whether the government and ruling camp will specify in the blueprint when the consumption tax will be raised--a step Prime Minister Taro Aso has promised to take in three years.


Aso has already decided to increase the ratio of state financing of the basic portion of pension benefits to one-half in April from the current one-third, as originally planned. But it is unclear how the government will find the money needed for this measure beyond "bridge funding" for the first two years.


To preserve confidence in the system, it will be vital to make the timing of the tax hike clear and lay out the path for stable financing.


Lawmakers have long been putting off serious debate on any major increase in the public tax burden. As a result, tackling the issue of social security funding has been postponed, saddling the government with a huge mountain of debt.


A Lower House election must be held by autumn next year. Proposing a tax increase at this time would be a radical departure from such dithering.


It is far from certain, however, that Aso, whose political power base is very weak, will be able to stick to his position. But we nevertheless welcome his courage and his apparent sense of responsibility.


However, debate on the tax hike should also address other key details, such as the scale of the increase and the use of the added revenue.


The government's National Commission on Social Security is calling for measures to bolster the functions of the system, which it describes as seriously frayed.


Given the increase in social security spending due to the aging of the population, the consumption tax rate will have to be raised by 3.3 to 3.5 percentage points from the current 5 percent by the end of 2015, according to the panel.


But some ruling party politicians regard a tax increase as a means to restore health in state finances. They say that much of the 13.8 trillion yen in social security spending, a portion that cannot be covered by consumption tax revenue, has been financed by debt. The government's Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy stresses the need to end this debt financing. But that would require raising the consumption tax rate by 4.2 percentage points.


The ruling camp has yet to make clear whether it will use the fresh revenue from the consumption tax hike to improve fiscal health or bolster social security financing, or both.


Some government officials are arguing that it would be sufficient for now to set a schedule for the tax hike to be implemented after three years, and that debate on other details can wait.


But voters will find it difficult to form an opinion on a tax hike proposal that says nothing specific about how the money will be used, other than it will be spent on social security.


Who would be convinced by a government argument for fiscal rehabilitation when the administration plans to hand out cash to households in a costly giveaway of taxpayer money? There must be many wasteful expenditures that can and should be cut in areas outside social security.


The government should tell the public in clear, unequivocal language that the additional consumption tax receipts would be used to expand and enhance the nation's social security system and fund the increase in social security spending.


The ruling camp cannot hope to win public support for the tax hike unless it presents a comprehensive vision for reforms while clarifying how they would be financed.

Voters need to know how the proposed tax increase would change public health and nursing-care services as well as the pension program.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 22, 2008

Shoe attack a fitting curtain call for end of Bush's failed presidency


Ignoring someone's attempt to shake your hand, repeatedly stealing glances at your watch, leaning your head backward, and smirking with just one end of your mouth curled up ... These are all gestures that indicate that you have an aversion toward someone's company.


Ethologist Desmond Morris writes in his book, "Manwatching," that humans possess a much broader range of ways to express contempt than any other animal. Among these behavior patterns, spitting and pinching one's nose are signs that one considers the other party filthy. And filth, explains Morris, suggests vulgarity and indecency.


Shoes an Iraqi journalist hurled at U.S. President George W. Bush were also used to convey filth. Being hit by a pair of shoes is considered the ultimate insult in Iraq, since it implies that one is even more unsanitary and repulsive than shoes dirtied from treading on the ground, a U.S. newspaper says.


In addition to contempt, the journalist expressed rage when he shouted, "This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!" as he threw the second shoe. The entire world is likely to remember the scene as a symbol of the Bush presidency's curtain fall.


One need not go all the way to Iraq to witness Bush's plummeting authority. In an Internet survey taken by American historians, 98 percent said they consider the Bush presidency a failure, and 61 percent declared Bush the worst president in U.S. history. In a public opinion poll, 58 percent said they see Bush as below average, the worst assessment given to a president among the four recent leaders, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and "W" himself.


Bush's admission that "The biggest regret of his presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq" was shocking. At the eleventh hour, he laments that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Why tell us now that he was "unprepared for war?"


The eight-year Bush era comes to an end with a sigh of regret and relief. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081221日 東京朝刊

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月例経済報告 景気「悪化」はすでに深刻だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 23, 2008)

'Worsening' economy already bad enough

月例経済報告 景気「悪化」はすでに深刻だ(1223日付・読売社説)

The government has, at last, explicitly admitted that the nation's economy is "worsening."


In the monthly economic report for December, the government lowered its assessment of the economy for the third consecutive month, saying it was "worsening," after stating in last month's report that the economy "has weakened further." It was the first time in nearly seven years that such serious language as "worsening" appeared in the government's economic assessment reports.


The report was the seventh downgrading in monthly assessment this year and indicates nothing less than an accelerating day-to-day deterioration of the economy.


Due to large-scale reductions in production in such export industries as automobiles and electrical appliances, many workers are losing their jobs. Even profitable companies are being driven under due to tightened lending.


Following the government's announcement of measures to boost the economy and secure employment, the Bank of Japan lowered its key interest rate to near zero and moved to take what was, in effect, a quantitative monetary easing policy. The government and the central bank finally seem to be taking the crisis seriously and enacting policy measures to address the situation.



Further action needed

But that is not enough for us to feel relieved. The government must hurry to enact a second supplementary budget. It also should take whatever steps are necessary in a prompt fashion, closely watching economic trends and shaping effective fiscal and monetary policies.


Sluggishness in the corporate sector is serious. In the six monthly reports for the second half of the year, assessment of the three key categories of production, exports and business confidence were each downgraded three times.


The corporate business slump is having a negative effect on the employment situation. The December report said the situation is "rapidly worsening," a more severe assessment than the previous monthly report that said it was "worsening." Consumer spending, which stayed "flat," likely will begin to decline if things continue on their present course.


The Japanese economy, which initially had been seen as being less affected by the financial crisis than the United States and European nations, tumbled suddenly, probably because Japanese companies were not as strong as previously thought.



Even mighty have fallen

Toyota Motor Corp., which had seemed invincible and posted more than 2 trillion yen in operating profits last fiscal year, now expects an operating loss of 150 billion yen this fiscal year.


Toyota is not alone in facing the negative effects of a profit structure that relied primarily on external demand--particularly that of the U.S. and European markets.


Obviously restoring business performance is the top priority for corporate management, but companies also must gain some perspective on the need to balance profit structure and improve their stamina to cope with changes in circumstances.


Some people may see the government's assessment of the "worsening" economy too late. Many observers in the private sector realized the economy had entered a recession by early in the year.


We wonder if the government was primarily concerned with the political situations in its reluctance to officially declare that the economy is deteriorating for about a year since the beginning of the present economic downturn.


It was particularly hard to understand the October assessment that said the economy "has weakened further," a downward assessment from just "weakening" in the previous month report. We consider it of little use to have such "monthly literature" that uses vague expressions with subtle differences of language in assessing the economy.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 23, 2008)

200812230141  読売新聞)

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2008年12月22日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 20(IHT/Asahi: December 22,2008)

EDITORIAL: BOJ rate cut reasonable


The Bank of Japan on Friday lowered its benchmark interest rate from 0.3 percent to 0.1 percent. This is a reasonable policy decision given the current economic situation.


The BOJ's latest Tankan quarterly business confidence survey indicated economic conditions are deteriorating faster than at any time since the first oil crisis.


Moreover, the U.S. Federal Reserve has recently cut its target interest rate to virtually zero and turned to an unconventional approach known as "quantitative easing."


The Fed's move, which pushed down interest rates in the United States below those in Japan, increased the risk that the dollar, already trading below 90 yen, could drop further against the yen.


The BOJ's rate cut is unlikely to be a very effective solution to the problem of the yen's unwanted strength. What is happening now is more the weakening of the dollar than the strengthening of the yen.


If speculative sales of the dollar grow uncontrolled to an alarming level, the Japanese government should step into the currency market together with the U.S. and other major economies in a concerted and determined attempt to rein in such speculation.


The BOJ was cautious about a further rate cut because of the fear that lowering the target rate for overnight lending to near zero would hinder the money market from functioning properly.


The central bank's concern probably explains why it reduced the rate to 0.1 percent instead of down to zero. Now, the BOJ's policy priority should be on supporting the credit markets where companies raise funds.


To do so, the BOJ has launched a new, temporary program to buy commercial paper, a critical short-term debt instrument for businesses.


The bank has also suggested it may expand this program to cover a broader range of financial instruments used for corporate financing.


In a way, the BOJ has embarked on de-facto quantitative easing while keeping the interest rate above zero.


We applaud this decision, which represents a bold departure from the BOJ's previous refusal to go beyond accepting commercial paper as collateral for lending to commercial banks.


It is extremely unusual for the central bank, whose primary mission is to keep the value of the nation's currency stable, to buy debt instruments like commercial paper, a step that exposes the bank to the risk of corporate bankruptcies. Not surprisingly, the BOJ characterized the program as a temporary measure in response to the serious economic crisis.


Should the corporate issuers of commercial paper and other debt securities bought by the BOJ actually go under, however, the central bank's balance sheet would be damaged. The kind of risk the BOJ is now taking on became reality when Yamaichi Securities Co. collapsed in 1997 after receiving emergency relief loans from the central bank.


Back then, the BOJ prevented damage to its balance sheet by reducing the money it paid into state coffers from its profits by the amount of the soured loans to Yamaichi.


The BOJ's plan to buy commercial paper and other debt securities will not produce the expected effects without government cooperation. The government should create a scheme to cover the losses the BOJ suffers from defaults with public funds to preserve confidence in the central bank.


At the same time, confidence in the BOJ's independence is also a crucial foundation for effective policy efforts.


Some Cabinet members had made remarks apparently intended to put pressure on the BOJ to cut the rate. But the government would be better advised to avoid any act that could undermine the BOJ's independence.


The central banks of Japan and the United States have started moving toward employing all policy tools available to deal with the economic downturn. They have apparently no other choice if they are to make effective policy responses to the ongoing crisis.


That, however, doesn't change the fact that they are taking drastic, potentially risky steps that will plant seeds of excessive liquidity, which could lead to inflation or another financial bubble in the future.


The monetary authorities have a duty to map out a viable exit strategy for this unprecedented monetary expansion.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 20(IHT/Asahi: December 22,2008)

EDITORIAL: Get moving on job crisis


We are in the middle of a recessionary blizzard as the year approaches the finish line in just over a week. Some people who have suddenly been sacked are now homeless and living on the streets. Once the government and business offices close for the holidays on Dec. 27, they will not open again until Jan. 5. In the meantime, how are these suddenly jobless and homeless people supposed to survive the freezing nights? How are they to feed themselves? There must be more than a few people feeling desperate.



With a third of its work force hired as irregular employees, this recession has hit Japan's new labor environment hard. Companies view such employees as adjustment valves, and fire them with little thought. In such an environment, an economic downturn has an immediate and major impact on employment as has never been seen before.


This is where politicians have to step in and react quickly. However, the parties are playing out a political farce within the Diet that seems devoid of a sense of crisis.


Three opposition parties, including Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), have submitted and passed an emergency employment bill in the Upper House, but amazingly, Prime Minister Taro Aso and the ruling coalition are bent on burying this in the Lower House.


Many features of the bill are similar to what the government has already proposed, like making public housing and financial aid available to those who've lost their jobs and homes.


The ruling parties brush off the bill as "opposition grandstanding."


They probably want to say, why not wait until the new year when the regular session of the Diet is scheduled to pass the second supplementary budget bill that includes employment security measures.


Granted, the opposition is indeed maneuvering with tactical objectives in sight, intent on underscoring the ineptness of the Aso administration which has already postponed submission of the second supplementary budget bill to the Diet. The opposition has also been rash in forcing a vote within the Upper House without sufficient debate.


However, the important thing here is speed and the ability to move with alacrity to implement security measures so that the newly jobless can receive relief quickly. Even if you have a plan, it will not be ready for the holiday season if it needs legislation or budget appropriations. The opposition's criticism is on the mark here.


We find it hard to understand why the prime minister refused to accept Minshuto's call for a meeting of the two party's leaders. In a crisis situation of such proportions, shouldn't the leaders of the two major parties meet and talk, and if necessary, revise the bill so as to implement measures quickly? Minshuto leader Ichiro Ozawa also could have demonstrated his determination by holding a news conference to call for a summit meeting.


On Friday, Aso visited a public job center "Hello Work" in Shibuya, Tokyo. There he talked to a man looking for a job and said to him, "Unless you know what you want to do, an employer will find it hard to be interested in you."


The prime minister was probably trying to be helpful and to give sound advice, but we wonder if his words really made a real impression upon the job-seeker. The public is not looking for its prime minister to be a job counselor.


There are still a few more days until the current Diet session closes.


We urge the prime minister to forego his holidays. He should seek cooperation from the opposition parties and promote whatever legislation is necessary for emergency job security measures.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 22, 2008

Banking blues: What's In a Name?


Collapsing American banks continue to make the news. Just the other day in the Mainichi Shimbun, there was an article about a local bank in Georgia, the 24th bank bankruptcy in the country.


The name of the bank, the article said, was "Hebun torasuto banku," or what looked to me like "Heaven Trust Bank." Heaven?! Then I realized that it's meant to be a transliteration of "Haven."

 その名は「ヘブン・トラスト・バンク」。天国信託銀行? 倒産じゃしゃれにならないよ、と思ったら、Heavenではなく避難所のHavenだった。

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) website posts a list of failed banks, and there are some ironic names in the mix. A few examples include the Freedom Bank, the Integrity Bank, and the Reliance Bank.


Japan has a bitter past, too. There was the Kofuku Bank ("Happiness Bank"), and the Anzen Shinyo Kumiai ("Safety Credit Union"), both of which collapsed after the bubble burst. Midori Bank ("Green Bank") sank into the red and flopped. Bank after bank returned to square one, as they were taken over or merged with other banks.


What troubled these banks in starting over was their name. Fruit and plant names were popular as being familiar and innocuous, but most had already been trademarked. "Apples and strawberries are sold out. The only thing left is Chinese cabbage," some complained.


With the flagging economy and financial crisis, banks have grown reluctant to issue loans, which poses a huge problem for businesses. "If the current cash-flow problem continues, everyone's going to have to file for black-ink bankruptcy," lamented the president of one small business in a television interview.


What's the point of a bank or credit union if they are unwilling to lend and unwilling to trust? Rumors are going around that the Financial Services Agency is considering instituting a policy that will force financial institutions failing to fulfill their roles to change their names: Reluctance Bank, Non-Trust Credit Union, Withdrawal Financial Group, Cheap Funds... (By Yoko Fukumoto, Economic News Department)


毎日新聞 20081219日 東京朝刊

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テスト結果公表 学力向上に正面から取り組め

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 22, 2008)

Take direct approach for better schools

テスト結果公表 学力向上に正面から取り組め(1222日付・読売社説)

An Education, Science and Technology Ministry panel of experts has recently concluded that the policy on disclosing the results of nationwide academic achievement tests should remain as it has been for the previous two years.


However, we cannot help but harbor reservations about the panel's opinion.


This year some of the municipal-level comparative data from the examination was disclosed in Osaka and Akita prefectures, while data on individual schools was disclosed in Nanbucho, Tottori Prefecture. In light of such situations, the ministry asked the panel tasked with analyzing the results of the nationwide academic achievement test to reexamine the way the results are disclosed.


The ministry will soon compile guidelines for next year's test in line with the panel's suggestions.


The national academic achievement test was resumed last year for the first time in 43 years, with sixth-grade primary school students and third-year middle school students being tested on arithmetic, math and Japanese.


According to the current guidelines, municipal boards of eduction can disclose data from the tests about the board's schools as a group, and primary and middle schools can disclose data about themselves. However, prefectural boards of education should not disclose data comparing municipalities or individual schools, and the municipal boards of education should not disclose school-by-school comparative data.


This measure is intended to prevent excessive competition among students and the ranking of municipalities and schools.



Breaking the rules

In the aforementioned cases of data disclosure that violated the guidelines, the intent was to instill a sense of competition and intensity in teachers and schools so that they would try harder to improve students' scholastic performances.


This indicates that some prefectures and municipalities have a sense of crisis about the educational situation and do not trust some teachers and view them as lacking in skills. Building a relationship of trust among teachers, households and communities is vital and to do so it is necessary to share the examination results.


However, the ministry's panel of experts recommends giving prefectural boards of education a choice of whether to receive the municipal- and school-level data from the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, out of concern that the prefectural boards of education would have to disclose the results if they are asked to do so through freedom-of-information requests. If such information is provided to the prefectural governments' departments, the panel wants them to strictly adhere to the guidelines.



Use data responsibly

Special attention should be paid to small schools with few students and municipalities with only one or two primary and middle schools. However, the nationwide academic achievement test may become meaningless if results of a municipality cannot be compared to its neighbors. Also, it may be difficult to motivate students.


While obliging schools to be mindful of excessive competition, Tottori Prefecture revised its information disclosure ordinance to allow disclosure of the results of the nationwide achievement tests by schools, except small schools.


Fundamentally speaking, information disclosure requests about the academic achievement test are not appropriate.


Data, including the average percentage of correct answers, are valuable in reflecting the current state of student performance. Such information will be meaningful if prefectural boards of education release it in a responsible way, along with measures to improve performance.


Analyzing the causes of poor results at a municipal and school level and seeking understanding and cooperation from parents and community residents is important. At the same time, data disclosure will help improve education policies, through more appropriate budgets and allowances for teachers.


It is important to tackle head-on the need to improve scholastic performance.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 22, 2008)

200812220120  読売新聞)

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2008年12月21日 (日)

社説:雇用崩壊 一体政治は何をしているんだ

(Mainichi Japan) December 21, 2008

Politicians should not turn deaf ear to desperate cries of unemployed

社説:雇用崩壊 一体政治は何をしているんだ

An unemployment crisis is blowing violently through the Japanese archipelago. Many temporary workers have lost their jobs, their contracts suddenly terminated. Worse still, many have been thrown out into the cold with no place to live. The alarming scramble for personnel cuts by automakers and other large corporations who in the past had been Japanese economic leaders is unprecedented.


Nissan Motor Co. announced that it would terminate all contracts with temporary workers by the end of March 2009. Fears have spread among the public as many automakers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have revealed plans to drastically downsize their workforce, and layoffs that initially only swept through the ranks of temporary workers have begun to affect full-time employees. The wave has reached affiliate companies and contractors, and the future course is still unpredictable.


"How am I supposed to live?"


"I can't find a job."


No politician can be deaf to these desperate voices of the unemployed. It is the role of politics to provide relief to people whose jobs have been taken away from them as a result of their employers' circumstances, but the political response has been slow in coming. Many are angry and distressed: "What in the world are politicians doing at a time like this?"


A House of Councillors plenary session has passed an employment related bill submitted by the three opposition parties -- the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Social Democratic Party, and the People's New Party. Members of the ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which plan to submit a supplementary budget at the regular session of the Diet next year opposed the move, saying, "The bill only suggests everything that the government is already trying to do. It's an attempt by the DPJ to create an alibi."


Indeed, parts of the bill drafted by the three opposition parties do overlap with the ruling coalition's plans. What is important in the short time remaining in the current session of the Diet is to reach an agreement on an employment strategy and have it administered. Emergency loans and residential aid for people who have lost their livelihoods should be put into place immediately. The issue should not be left for the next regular Diet session. The lives of the unemployed rest on the shoulders of the ruling coalition and opposition parties.


In addition to a response to the immediate employment crisis, there's an urgent need for a fundamental re-examination of the Worker Dispatch Law. Most of the recent payroll cuts have taken place in the manufacturing industry, where a ban on temporary workers was lifted in 2004, leading to a shift of its workforce from full-time employees to temporary workers. As a result, when the economy suffers, temporary workers are dismissed without a second thought. Anyone can see now that non-full-time employees are considered disposable labor.


There have been increasing calls to ban temporary workers in manufacturing. Although an amendment to the Worker Dispatch Law banning daily hires has been submitted to the Diet, this is not enough. It is time for a comprehensive reassessment of the Worker Dispatch Law, including the possibility of prohibiting temporary workers in the manufacturing industry and a discussion of the pros and cons of the registration-based worker dispatch system.


毎日新聞 20081219日 東京朝刊

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09年度予算 埋蔵金と赤字国債が頼りとは

Budget cooked up with buried treasure, bonds

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 21, 2008)

09年度予算 埋蔵金と赤字国債が頼りとは(1221日付・読売社説)

Government spending must increase to prop up the economy and cover swelling social security costs, but tax revenues are forecast to drop substantially. In the teeth of the global financial crisis, the compilation of the fiscal 2009 budget was unusually difficult, given these two situations.


The general account budget for fiscal 2009 proposed Saturday by the Finance Ministry totals 88.5 trillion yen, up 5.5 trillion yen from the initial fiscal 2008 budget. The budget has ballooned to a record size as it sets aside 2.3 trillion yen to raise the government's contribution to the nation's basic pension program from the current one-third to half from April and 1 trillion yen in special emergency reserves to cope with any further deterioration of the economy.



By contrast, tax revenues in fiscal 2009 are estimated to fall to about 46 trillion yen, more than 7 trillion yen lower than the amount projected in the initial fiscal 2008 budget, due to a drop in corporate tax revenues resulting from worsening business performances. The fiscal 2008 tax revenues projection was revised downward by 7 trillion yen in the second supplementary budget, and the ministry's draft budget is based on the assumption that this declining trend will continue in fiscal 2009.



As a result, new government bond issuances in fiscal 2009 will climb to 33.3 trillion yen, up about 8 trillion yen from the initial fiscal 2008 budget, breaking the 30 trillion yen mark for the first time in four years. Funds raised by the bond issuances will account for nearly 40 percent of total revenues next fiscal year.


The government has set a goal of achieving a surplus in the primary balance of central and local governments in fiscal 2011. However, the expected sharp increase in the fiscal deficit has made it virtually impossible to attain this goal.


Given this, it is no longer necessary to stick to the goal. The targeted fiscal year should be postponed.


However, this does not mean that the massive fiscal deficit should be left unaddressed. It might be admissible to try to muddle through the present difficulties with new bond issuances, but the goal of tackling fiscal reconstruction by securing stable financial sources itself must not be abandoned.



Sales tax hike inevitable

It is, therefore, obvious that there is no choice but to rely on the consumption tax to stabilize the nation's finances. In light of the current faltering economy, now is not the time to raise the consumption tax. But discussions over doing just that should start now. An environment needs to be created to ensure that the tax can be hiked swiftly when the economy recovers.


Tax reform proposals for fiscal 2009 that were presented by the ruling coalition earlier this month did not mention when and by how much the consumption tax should be raised. The government and ruling parties should clarify the timing of the tax hike in the midterm program for tax reform that they will soon compile, if not earlier.



What is conspicuous in the series of budgets compiled recently is the tapping of surplus funds in special accounts, dubbed "buried treasure." For the second supplementary budget for the current fiscal year, which was approved by the Cabinet on Saturday, 4 trillion yen will be diverted from the reserves. In addition, more than 4 trillion yen from the reserves will be appropriated for the fiscal 2009 budget under the ministry's proposal. It appears the reserves will also be counted on for the fiscal 2010 budget.


The reserves will be used to fund the fixed-amount benefit plan, the centerpiece of the government's economic stimulus package, and to offset the increased financial burden the state will shoulder in fiscal 2009 and 2010 as a result of the government's contribution to the nation's basic pension program being raised. They also will be used to increase central government tax revenues allocated to local governments.


Most of the buried treasure is reserve funds and annual surpluses in the Fiscal Investment and Loan Program Special Account. The reserve funds are projected to total about 10 trillion yen as of the end of the current fiscal year. The surpluses arise from the differential between the high interest rate applied to loans extended by the government in the past and the current low interest rate on funds the government procures. The surpluses are expected to total about 2 trillion yen in the current fiscal year and nearly the same amount in the next fiscal year.


These funds are supposed to be used for funding the redemption of government bonds. Diverting it for other purposes is tantamount to issuing fresh deficit-covering bonds. This is permissible to a certain extent, but it should be stopped once the economy recovers.



Road tax plan undermined

The ministry's budget proposal has effectively hamstrung a plan to allocate road-related tax revenues for general purposes, a focal point in the fiscal 2009 budget compilation.


Under the proposal, 700 billion yen earmarked as a "temporary subsidy for regional road improvement" in the fiscal 2008 budget will be transformed into a "subsidy for creating the foundations for regional vitality," and the new subsidy, totaling 940 billion yen, will be distributed to local governments. About 80 percent of the amount will be used for road-related projects.


At the instruction of Prime Minister Taro Aso, central government tax revenues and other grants allocated to local governments were increased by nearly 1 trillion yen in total, to 16.6 trillion yen. At the local government level, there are still plentiful examples of wasteful expenditures that should be cut, such as the comparatively high salaries that public servants enjoy. Local governments must do more to rein in their spending.


In late July, the Cabinet approved budgetary request ceilings for the fiscal 2009 budget, in a bid to keep expenditures down.


For social security spending, the budgetary request guideline set, as in previous years, a goal of curbing the projected natural increase in related costs by 220 billion yen annually. To achieve this goal, a plan to hike the tobacco tax was broached but shelved. Eventually, the ministry's draft budget managed to make this policy add up by eking out necessary funds from the buried treasure.


However, the actual amount to be held down in the social security costs will only be about 20 billion yen in medical costs, achieved primarily by promoting low-priced generic drugs.



Problems have also emerged with other expenditure items. It is no longer logical to apply the ceiling system for budgetary requests. The government should consider using a new method for the fiscal 2010 budget compilation.



LDP idea worth studying

So what should be done? A set of proposals presented last year by the Liberal Democratic Party group studying fiscal reforms could be of some help. The group proposed that, first of all, the nation's budget be divided into two major categories: "social security" and "others."


Under the proposal, in the social security category, necessary increases to relieve concerns over people's livelihood are permissible, and revenues from the consumption tax, which will be transformed into a tax for social security purposes, will be used to secure financial sources for welfare in the future. Utmost efforts should be made to trim spending in the others category, according to the proposal.


In the others category, what is vital is a flexible approach--for example, allowing an increase in strategically important budgetary items, including official development assistance.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 21, 2008)

200812210132  読売新聞)

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2008年12月20日 (土)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 19(IHT/Asahi: December 20,2008)

EDITORIAL: China's economic reform


The Communist Party of China, during a Central Committee plenary session Dec. 18-22, 1978, started a campaign to reform and open up the nation's economy.


In the 30 years since then, China's gross domestic product has grown nearly seventyfold, and the country is on track this year to surpass Germany as the world's third-largest economy.


Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday extolled the nation's economic progress during a ceremony held in the Great Hall of People to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the start of the reform. China "has used the reform and opening up as a powerful driving force to push through various undertakings and accomplished great achievements that claim the attention of the world," he said in his speech.



This year's Beijing Summer Olympics, described as "a 100-year dream of the Chinese people," would not have taken place without the country's amazing economic growth.


The Chinese media are also advertising the fruits of the 30 years of reform to audiences both at home and abroad.


The current economic situation, however, gives the nation little reason to be in a festive mood. The financial crisis that started in the United States is now threatening the well-being of China's 1.3 billion people.


China's exports fell 2.2 percent in November from a year earlier, the first drop since the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. China's imports of materials and machinery also plunged during that month, raising concerns of a major downturn in future exports.


In Guangdong and other provinces that have been on the leading edge of the country's economic reform, export-oriented companies are collapsing. A growing number of rural migrants working in large cities are losing their jobs and returning home, stoking fears about social unrest.


The Chinese government has not been idle in the face of the deteriorating economic picture.


Last month, the government announced a package of economic stimulus measures worth more than 54 trillion yen. At the annual Central Economic Work Conference early this month, officials reaffirmed the need for aggressive fiscal and monetary efforts to maintain economic growth by increasing domestic demand.


This is the right response to the global economic downturn. Expanding domestic demand is also crucial for tackling the broad array of challenges confronting China, such as low productivity, environmental destruction and the miserable living standards of poverty-stricken farmers.


The international community hopes that China leads the world out of the recession as it has a great growth potential that can vastly improve Chinese living standards.


The question is whether the government can smoothly implement proposed measures. There are legitimate concerns that the growth-oriented economic policy will lead to more wasteful investments, environmental destruction and corruption concerning public works projects.


In addition, China has yet to establish an effective system for the fair distribution of wealth among the people.


These problems can be explained by the fact that the reform has been carried out under the single-party rule by the Communists, who have not adequately responded to the views and opinions of a wide range of people.


On Dec. 10, which marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a group of intellectuals and other critics of China's Communist rule published "Charter 08," a public appeal for democracy and human rights in the country, on the Internet.

Among the demands in the document was an end to the one-party rule. A growing number of prominent writers and human rights activists in and outside China are signing the document.


Political reform is also vital in the Hu administration's efforts to create a "harmonious society." At the ceremony Thursday, Hu said that the reform-and-open program represents the third great revolution in China, following the Xinhai Revolution of 1911-1912, which overthrew the Qing dynasty, and the socialist revolution.



But the revolution will never be complete without significant progress in political reform.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 19(IHT/Asahi: December 20,2008)

EDITORIAL: SDF ends mission in Iraq


The Self-Defense Forces completed their five-year mission in Iraq, with the last Air SDF transport plane returning to Japan.


Five years ago, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who supported the Iraq war, virtually steamrolled the SDF dispatch at a time when public opinion was divided over the dispatch.


SDF troops devoted themselves to reconstruction work and transportation activities in the war-torn country. From time to time, transport planes sensed danger, prompting them to take emergency moves to escape to safety.



Once, a roadside bomb exploded near a Ground SDF vehicle. It was fortunate that the SDF did not lose a single member.


Despite the fact that such countries as Germany and France did not take part in the war, and Spain and Italy withdrew their troops with a change in administrations, the SDF continued the mission. The Japanese government must want to stress this point as a great accomplishment.


But we should reflect on the situation.


Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Japan has remained close to and followed the United States, including throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


The SDF dispatch to Iraq was a symbol of such single-minded Japanese diplomacy.


But the results of the Iraq war were disastrous. Weapons of mass destruction, the supposed reason for starting the war, did not exist. After Iraq's dictatorship was overthrown, violence swept the country. The war, which started out as "a war on terror," had the opposite effect, adding momentum to and spreading terrorism.


The task force on external relations, an advisory panel to the prime minister during the Koizumi administration, pointed out in a report released in 2002 before the attack on Iraq: "The U.S. spirit of tolerance for opposing views and values different from its own is getting weaker. As a result, the morality of U.S. diplomacy could weaken."


Unfortunately, that fear proved right.


The Japanese government and leaders of the ruling parties at the time refused to face this fact and have remained silent.


Post-World War II Japanese foreign policy is often described as "toeing the U.S. line." But rarely has it been so monochromatic.


When we look back at the 1990s, before the Koizumi administration, the governments of Ryutaro Hashimoto and Keizo Obuchi had developed active diplomacy with not only neighboring countries, such as China and South Korea, but also with other Asian countries, the Middle East and Russia.


While they positioned the Japan-U.S. alliance as the central pillar of Japan's foreign policy, they also had a flexible mindset to heighten Japan's national interests with diversified diplomatic relations.


Now, Japan's relations with neighboring countries that broke under the Koizumi administration are about to be restored. Japan, China and South Korea agreed to hold regular trilateral summit meetings. The U.S. administration of George W. Bush, characterized by unilateralism, will soon be replaced by that of Barack Obama, who advocates international cooperation.


This is a chance for Japanese diplomacy to recover diversity. Japan should play a positive role in dealing with global issues, such as economic crises and environmental conservation. There must also be unique ways for Japan to make itself useful in reconstructing and stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq.


Japan should also reactivate its participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations--but not just based on the context of the Japan-U.S. alliance alone.


We want the SDF withdrawal to be the starting point for Japan to break away from single-track diplomacy intent on pleasing the United States.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 19, 2008

Japan needs to think for itself, instead of blindly following U.S.


The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) safely completed its mission with no losses, giving testament to the Japan-U.S. alliance and winning the appreciation of the United States. I may be so bold as to disagree, however, that this can be held up as a success for Japan, notwithstanding the fact that SDF personnel served with discipline and devotion. I say so because we have come this far with nothing to say about our involvement in the Iraq War, except for the line that following the strong (i.e. the U.S.) is in our national interests.


Unreasonable arguments have gone unchallenged over these five years. When the Nagoya High Court found the Air Self-Defense Force's (ASDF) airlift missions in Iraq to be unconstitutional, Toshio Tamogami, the ASDF's chief of staff at the time, laughed off the ruling saying, "That has nothing to do with us." Top uniformed officers disdain the administration of justice while the government looks on with indifference as the Diet regards Iraq and Afghanistan as nothing more than props on the political stage. There has never been a time when the security debate was treated this lightly.


In a pervasive mood of anything goes, society has slipped out of joint. How many people really took notice of the SDF personnel who were sweating in Samawah and Baghdad?


Japan's political leaders have been closemouthed. There has been no serious discussion about whether anything can justify a military intervention in Iraq that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people. There has been no expression of regret or remorse regarding the mistaken intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. After deciding to flatter the strong, most Japanese took Iraq to be someone else's problem and settled into a state of Iraq amnesia.


Nevertheless, the world has over these five years struggled to overcome the negative legacy of the Iraq War -- namely, how to secure the coexistence of Western society and Islamic society, on top of the spread of terrorism. The U.S., which caused this situation, has learned that problems cannot be solved with military might alone. With the coming of a multipolar age including China, India, Russia and the European Union, the search for a new world order has begun.


The half-century long alliance with the land of Uncle Sam is a valuable asset in Japan's diplomacy. More often than not, however, excessive reliance upon the U.S., with no attempt made to learn about the true situation in the outside world except through the prism of the United States, obscures what is really happening in the world. Japan can no longer even determine its place in all the crises -- from finance to energy, the global environment to food -- based solely on the scales of the Japan-U.S. alliance.


The form of support in Afghanistan will likely be the next matter to come under question for Japan's diplomacy. The administration of President-elect Barack Obama, which has adopted "new alliances" and the "rebuilding of alliances" as slogans, will certainly start off ready to listen, asking Japan for its ideas. Japan, for its part, needs to start by thinking on its own how it can contribute to peace in the region. The only thing it must not do is to repeat the folly of neglecting to think and simply going along with the narrow-minded theory of national interests that recommends following the strong. (By Hiroshi Komatsu, Deputy Managing Editor, Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 20081218日 東京朝刊

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金利0・1% 危機モードに戻った金融政策

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 20, 2008)

BOJ policy back in emergency mode

金利0・1% 危機モードに戻った金融政策(1220日付・読売社説)

The global financial crisis and the fast-deteriorating domestic economy have put Japan's monetary policy back in emergency mode.


The Bank of Japan decided at its monetary policy meeting Friday to lower its key interest rate by 0.2 percentage point to 0.1 percent.


This is apparently the de facto resumption of the zero-interest-rate policy that the central bank adopted during the financial doldrums that followed the collapse of the bubble economy.


The central bank also announced what is effectively a quantitative-easing policy, including additional purchases of long-term Japanese government bonds and new measures to facilitate lending to companies.


The U.S. Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday introduced an effective zero-interest-rate policy and a quantitative-easing policy. The Bank of Japan responded quickly to the Fed's decision, even though it meant cutting the key interest rate for the second time in less than two months.


The Bank of Japan confirmed in its latest quarterly survey of business sentiment released Monday that the nation's economy is rapidly losing steam. At the same time, market pressure appreciating the yen's value against the dollar has been increasing since the Fed's decision pushed U.S. interest rates lower than those in Japan. The Bank of Japan's quick decision to take additional quantitative-easing measures makes sense.



Deflation threat looms again

Meanwhile, the government on Friday downgraded its forecast of Japan's real economic growth rate for fiscal 2008 to minus 0.8 percent. The government aims to achieve zero growth in real gross domestic product in fiscal 2009, but in reality, the Japanese economy is likely to register negative growth in two straight years for the first time in 10 years.


Consumer prices, meanwhile, are expected to fall in fiscal 2009, rising fears of the return of deflation.


In addition to fiscal and tax measures to stimulate the economy, stabilizing the nation's financial markets by supplying ample liquidity is essential to stop deflation from taking hold.


The Bank of Japan decided this time to increase its purchases of long-term JGBs from financial institutions to 1.4 trillion yen a month from the current 1.2 trillion yen to secure sufficient liquidity.


In the quantitative-easing policy implemented for five years from 2001, the central bank accumulated funds up to a little over 30 trillion yen in its current account to calm anxieties in financial markets. However, the policy is said to have had only limited effects because most of the funds remained in financial institutions and did not facilitate corporate financing.



Companies short of cash

Since it has become difficult to raise operating capital with commercial paper and corporate bonds under the current financial crisis, even major corporations are experiencing cash-flow problems.


To ameliorate this situation, the Bank of Japan announced a new method of purchasing CP under which it will buy the short-term corporate debt outright to facilitate corporate financing. It also will study the possibility of widening the range of securities it purchases.


It is extremely unusual for the central bank to assume the risk of its debt assets becoming unrecoverable due to corporate bankruptcies and other contingencies. This shows the central bank's strong determination to normalize the financial system.


We hope the Bank of Japan will improve the effectiveness of its easy-money policy by every possible means, while taking care not to compromise its financial strength.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2008)

200812200146  読売新聞)

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2008年12月19日 (金)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18(IHT/Asahi: December 19,2008)

EDITORIAL: Fed's zero rate policy


To prevent his worst nightmare from becoming reality, U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has made a gutsy decision. His biggest fear is that a deflationary downturn in the U.S. economy will throw the world economy into an abyss.


If the U.S. economy falls into a full-blown deflationary spiral, finance and credit will contract rapidly, forcing businesses to sharply reduce their production and work forces. The downward pressure could become so strong that both monetary and fiscal policies would be powerless to turn the tide.


If that happens, the entire world would be sucked into a deflationary maelstrom.


What the Fed announced Tuesday was the so-called zero interest rate policy. For the first time in the history of U.S. monetary policy, the central bank lowered its target range for the federal funds rate to between zero and 0.25 percent. Since interest rates cannot fall below zero, there is no room for further monetary easing through the traditional approach of interest rate cuts.


So Bernanke also decided to take bold steps to inject money directly into the economy through the unconventional approach known as quantitative monetary easing policy. That means the Fed will buy huge amounts of bonds of various kinds and mortgage-backed securities to help businesses raise the money necessary for maintaining operations and restore stability in the financial system.


By buying long-term Treasury securities, the Fed is also trying to push down long-term interest rates and lift the economy.


The Bank of Japan adopted the quantitative easing approach to fight deflation between 2001 and 2006. At that time, the BOJ flooded the banking system with liquidity and urged commercial banks to expand lending to companies. That made sense because in Japan domestic companies depended on bank loans for much of their financing.


In the United States, in contrast, companies raise most of the funds they need in securities markets. The Fed's quantitative easing operations are designed to support corporate financing directly by buying bonds and commercial paper, a kind of unsecured promissory note for short-term financing, issued by companies.


It effectively means the Fed lends money directly to companies. By using this unusual policy tool, the central bank is running the risk of allowing its balance sheet to be damaged by possible defaults on the bonds and commercial paper it is buying. In such cases, the U.S. government will cover the losses with public funds.


If losses from the operations balloon to an amount that puts a serious strain on public finances, however, confidence in both the U.S. government and central bank could diminish, triggering a crash of the dollar. Even so, the Fed has no choice but to use all available tools to defuse the impending deflationary crisis, which is threatening to send the economy into a downward spin.


Apparently, U.S. monetary policy has reached a make-or-break juncture.


All major central banks are now facing similar policy challenges. The European Central Bank has reduced its target interest rate to 2.5 percent through a series of cuts, while the Bank of England has lowered the key rate down to 2.0 percent, the lowest level since the British central bank was founded in the late 17th century. Yet both central banks are almost certain to be forced to cut interest rates further.


The Bank of Japan cut its benchmark interest rate by 0.2 percentage point to 0.3 percent in October and has since taken additional steps to pour money into markets. But the BOJ has so far refused to go beyond accepting commercial paper and corporate bonds as collateral for loans to banks.


Since domestic companies are finding it harder to raise the funds they need to stay in business, the BOJ should be open to the policy option of buying corporate bonds and commercial paper directly from companies. The BOJ needs to cooperate with the government in guarding itself against possible defaults as the Fed is doing.


With the central bank's policy board meeting under way, BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa must make his own gutsy decision.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18(IHT/Asahi: December 19,2008)

EDITORIAL: Spring labor talks


The 2009 shunto spring labor negotiations took off with nonregular workers--and now full-time employees--feeling insecure about their jobs.


Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) decided on its tactics for the talks in November. Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) put together its guidelines for the annual negotiations on Tuesday. Both labor and management have made their positions clear.


The centerpiece of Rengo's strategy is "the first demand for a raise in the basic pay scale in eight years." But under the current economic conditions, securing jobs is an urgent and most important objective. The government should also work with unions and management to stabilize the labor situation.


This year, year-on-year growth in the core consumer price index temporarily topped 2 percent while wages declined in value. Labor's share in company profits also fell for six straight years.


The prevailing view among union officials was that a demand for a raise in the basic pay scale would be natural. Rengo maintained its demand for a pay-scale increase even as the financial crisis worsened.


Rengo's logic was that higher wages would "support domestic demand to make up for rapidly declining external demand."


Rengo apparently feared that switching its emphasis from pay hikes to job security would be taken to mean it weakened its stance, playing into management's hands. And that would undermine Rengo's negotiating power.


Of course, Rengo is also paying attention to job security, but it attaches greater importance to demanding government measures in this regard.


Nippon Keidanren is set to reject demands for the pay-scale increase. Furthermore, the business group downgraded job security from a "top priority objective" to a "target to reach." The management side is also urging the government to implement measures to secure jobs.


The government's employment support measures are, of course, necessary, but efforts by both labor and management are also indispensable. If the annual negotiations enter the key stage with both sides sticking to their current stances, we fear that efforts to secure employment could be sidelined.


At this juncture, Rengo should review its strategy and focus on employment security as a whole, including jobs for nonregular workers. Even if its demand for a hike in the basic pay scale is met for full-time employees, workers will not be able to support domestic demand if jobs for nonregular employees are cut.


The major challenge for Rengo is to prevent the collapse of domestic demand by protecting employment as a whole. It is important to bring management to the table and make job security the top priority.


Amid deregulation and an increase in the number of foreign shareholders, Japanese-style management underwent a change and is now eager to secure immediate profits even at the cost of cutting jobs. Should it carry on this way? The ongoing financial crisis provides a test.


Companies should try to attain growth while striking a balance with shareholders, workers and other stakeholders. It is time to seek such a new management model.


In the past, company officials in charge of labor affairs thought about employment in the context of the national economy and society as a whole. Cutting jobs was a last resort and a painful task.


We are not saying that we should go back to the old days. Rather, what is now important is to restore that tradition in a way that meets the new age.


How should we build a new management philosophy and systems that attach importance to employment? Labor and management should work together to come up with an answer. We need efforts so that, in a few years from now, we can look back and say, "That shunto changed Japanese management."


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 17(IHT/Asahi: December 18,2008)

EDITORIAL: Rising unemployment


More workers are losing their jobs, being forced out of their homes and wondering how they will earn a living from tomorrow. Do the politicians of this country truly understand the pressing sense of crisis and emergency under which people are now living?



The three major opposition parties, including Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), submitted an emergency job measures bill to the Upper House on Monday. The legislation seeks to cope with the job losses now sweeping the country amid the global financial crisis.


The proposal would: require companies to explain in writing the reasons for withdrawing tentative promises of employment; expand the coverage of the employment adjustment subsidy program for employers to curb dismissals of nonregular employees; allow people who lose their jobs and living quarters access to public housing and livelihood assistance payments; and other steps.


Most of these ideas overlap the employment measures previously announced by Prime Minister Taro Aso. The ruling parties certainly must be aware that the job situation is grave and that there is no time to waste.


But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is reluctant to deliberate the opposition bill. If the current situation continues, any lawmaking will be pushed back to the ordinary Diet session early next year. This course of action is difficult to fathom.


The ruling parties most likely feel that they were the ones to move first in determining job measures.


Thus, their current attitude is clearly a backlash against Minshuto's tactic of submitting a bill toward the end of the current Diet session in an attempt to underscore the policy vacuum of the Aso administration.


Yet the coalition parties were the ones that initially invited the delay in taking action on employment. Despite hammering out details of a second supplementary budget, which includes job stimulation, they deferred on submitting that plan to the Diet until next year because they feared they would be forced to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election in the course of discussing that budget.


The economy has worsened at a pace unthinkable just a month ago. The wave of downsizing is advancing with fierce momentum. Scenes of tens of thousands of unemployed people overflowing the streets are rapidly becoming a reality.


Under such dire circumstances, obsessing over the empty honor of being the first to come up with a labor plan is unpardonable.


Both the ruling and opposition parties accuse each other of having no viable policies or being uncooperative, resulting in a delay in the passage of the crucial package of job measures. That is tantamount to abandoning all political accountability.


One municipality, exasperated by the policy foot-dragging by the government and the Diet, is taking matters into its own hand. All political parties should regard the municipality's move as a searing criticism of the parties' administrative impotence.


With winter setting in, and increasing numbers of people in limbo about how they will muddle through the New Year's season, it is ridiculous to delay action until the ordinary Diet session convenes next month.


The most effective policy steps in the measures drawn up by the ruling parties or the bill submitted by the opposition camp should be introduced immediately.


To break the current deadlock, the LDP must first agree to debate the opposition's draft bill.


Considering the current situation, the parties can't afford to prolong their confrontation. Instead of bickering, they must quickly pool their ideas and push forward real countermeasures. If there are sections of the bill that require amending, the parties need to get to work and pass the legislation by the end of the current Diet session.


Politicians must not abandon the public at the height of such painful economic times.

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 17(IHT/Asahi: December 18,2008)

EDITORIAL: Stalled trade talks


Faced with a crisis of an unprecedented magnitude, the global economy today is like a boat being tossed around in the rapids with a big waterfall ahead. The boat will surely tumble over the waterfall unless all hands aboard work the oars in unison with all their might.


But from the outset, the "oarsmen" in our real world have proved incapable of such a coordinated effort.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) decided last week to cancel a ministerial meeting slated for this month to forge a "framework agreement" in the Doha Round of negotiations before the end of this year. The reason for the cancellation is that the principal members of the WTO could not reconcile their differences.


The meeting would have represented the first test for the world's leading nations to unite in the face of the current financial crisis and economic downturn. Their failure to unite at this critical juncture is a terrible blow to the world, and the consequences far exceed a mere delay in securing the hoped-for agreement.


During the G-20 financial summit in November, world leaders were insistent that the framework agreement be hammered out before the end of 2008, aware that a global recession was becoming a real possibility.


Their aim was to curb protectionism to avert a shrinkage in global trade.


But their inability to realize their objective raises questions about their determination itself. In fact, their inaction effectively tells the world how bad things are for the global economy.


There would be little surprise, then, if some countries decide to protect their own economies by putting up trade barriers or joining forces with like-minded countries to create an exclusive economic bloc.


In fact, contrary to the G-20 agreement to "refrain from putting up new trade barriers for one year," Russia has already decided to raise its tariff on car imports from January.


The main cause of the cancellation of the December ministerial meeting stems from disagreements on farm trade between the United States and emerging economic powers, such as China and India.


The United States is in favor of setting stringent conditions for allowing import restrictions in the event of an import surge, whereas China and India want the conditions to be much more relaxed. The emerging economies are also resisting the demands of their advanced counterparts for substantial tariff cuts for automobiles and industrial products including electronics.


The administration of George W. Bush will soon be gone, but the United States is still very much responsible for ending the current economic chaos triggered by the financial meltdown of its own making.


At the same time, however, we must remind China and India that they, too, bear much heavier responsibilities today because of their vastly increased influence on the global economy. Trade liberalization can be achieved only when each country has accepted sacrifices by its own industries. This means that the longer the Doha Round negotiations are kept on hold, the deeper the world will sink into recession and hurt each nation's industries. This, in turn, will render domestic adjustments even harder to implement.



Should the international community abandon its commitment to maintaining free trade, global trade will inevitably shrink, and this will only accelerate and aggravate the economic crisis. We must not forget the history of trade protectionism leading up to World War II.


This year will end soon, but WTO nations must remain committed to forging their framework agreement. As soon as the Barack Obama administration is sworn in on Jan. 20, we hope the United States will call for the final round of negotiations.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 18, 2008

Peace movement has overwhelmed cluster bomb cynicism


 ◇平和行動が冷笑主義を打倒 「一人一人の歴史」裏付け


"Even if you cry out against weapons, they'll never disappear. There is no point in enacting a convention without the participation of major countries. That's the reality of the world." Some people tend to have such a warped view of global trends, and criticize other people's actions without taking a stand on their own. Such cynicism is prevailing everywhere. However, there are people who have overcome this cynicism, as shown in the signing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.



There was no progress on restrictions on cluster bombs even after years of negotiations during the Geneva arms reduction talks. It was two years ago that the Oslo Process on cluster bombs was launched after being separated from the Geneva talks.


I wonder what progress those involved in the process had initially expected.


It would have been impossible to ban the use of cluster bombs and the number of victims would have only increased if negotiations had been left to the discretion of diplomats who place priority on their national interests.


Those who negotiated the Convention on Cluster Munitions had set a deadline for signing it by the end of 2008, and attempted to persuade politicians from various countries and the public to support the treaty. Their actions, instead of cynical remarks, led to the signing of the convention.


At the signing ceremony held in Oslo on Dec. 3, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the two roads joined into one on that day.


The two roads referred to the use of cluster bombs and the international humanitarian law calling for a ban on killing civilians. The roads did not only join each other. International law made the road for bombs a dead end.


We must evaluate the claims by those who use such weapons. In March 2003, during the Iraq War, a colonel responsible for the U.S. Air Force's strategy held a press conference at the Department of Defense. When asked to what extent the military will accept civilian casualties, he responded that commanders will consider whether their operations are worthy of the casualties.



In other words, the U.S. launched attacks after making a compromise between orders to win by all means and demands that civilian casualties should be limited. Balancing between military needs and civilian casualties is a typical excuse made by military commanders.


How can operations that kill civilians be justified? Ibaraki University Professor Emeritus Shinichi Arai, 82, who analyzed the thoughts of those who launch attacks in his book, "Kubaku no Rekishi" ("The history of air strikes"), points to "the mentality of Imperialism" and "the effects of terrorism."


Aircraft invented by the Wright brothers (Wilbur and Orville) in 1903 were soon used in war in 1911 when an Italian plane dropped hand grenades during a fight over the colonization of Libya, which was part of Turkey's territory. It was the world's first air strike using an aircraft.


It had been believed that air strikes by civilized countries on what they considered "uncivilized" countries were effective in the fight for colonization and suppressing uprisings by local residents in areas they attempted to colonize. It was based on racism in which developed countries would not care if what they considered inferior people who lived in uncivilized areas lost their lives in war. And such racism has not died down.


"Massacres carried out in the name of 'air strikes' will continue as long as there is a framework allowing colonization. The mentality of Imperialism harbored by countries that attack other nations must be eliminated," Arai says.


"The effects of terrorism" refers to the idea that countries can win war if they destroy civilians' daily lives, terrorize them and cause them to lose their will to fight.


I think that the U.S., which used cluster bombs in attacks on Iraq, harbored the mentality of Imperialism and believed in the effects of terrorism.


Everybody hates cruel wars. However, human beings have not yet grown mature enough to realize complete world peace in which no wars are permitted. Although they have managed to agree to set rules on wars. Bans on attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks that do not distinguish between military targets and civilians have been incorporated in international conventions.


Even if politicians or military commanders claim the war they wage is just, they are condemned and held responsible for waging unjustifiable war if they deliberately attack civilians. Human beings have managed to reach this level of maturity.


Unfortunately, these rules are sometimes broken. However, the types of weapons that people have banned have been steadily increasing. They include chemical and biological weapons and anti-personnel landmines. I regard the Convention on Cluster Munitions as the latest results of arm reduction efforts made by human beings.


A sense of stagnation has been spreading throughout the world since the financial crisis erupted in September. Under such circumstances, people tend to hide in comfortable nutshells of cynicism.


"Where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people -- yes, we can," President-elect Barack Obama said in a speech he made shortly after he won the U.S. presidential race in November.


The U.S., which has used the largest number of cluster munitions of all countries that possess such weapons, has obligations to sign the convention and extend assistance to victims.


Individuals who can break the barrier of cynicism can change history. It was demonstrated by the singing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the U.S. presidential election. (By Yoshinori Nakai, Editorial Writer)


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教科書充実 教員の力量も磨かなければ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 19, 2008)

Textbook move could see new chapter in education

教科書充実 教員の力量も磨かなければ(1219日付・読売社説)

Now that a policy to boost the content of school textbooks is certain to be adopted, we hope the move will improve the academic abilities of schoolchildren and spark in them a greater interest in learning.


The government's Education Rebuilding Council on Thursday issued a second report on education reconstruction, urging the government to improve textbooks used in schools. The Textbook Authorization and Research Council, an advisory panel to the education, science and technology minister, plans to issue a similar report shortly.


The main point of the Education Rebuilding Council's report is the elimination of the upper limits on advanced materials in textbooks--a move that is in line with changes made this year to teaching guidelines that will be gradually implemented from the 2009 academic year. Currently, about 10 percent of total content for primary and middle school books, and 20 percent for high school books, is allowed to be of an advanced nature. These limits are checked when textbooks are screened.


The council also urged the education ministry to review the stipulation in the textbook screening yardsticks that says textbooks should not contain materials deemed "too rudimentary" for each grade. This proposal aims at providing more supplementary materials for students who tend to fall behind.



Cram-free no more

Under the current teaching guidelines, which stress cram-free education, learning materials have been reduced by about 30 percent compared with the previous guidelines.


As it has become clear that the academic abilities of Japanese students were dropping in international achievement scores and other tests, the ministry--under the new teaching guidelines--will increase class hours for major subjects at primary and middle schools by more than 10 percent, and reinstate some learning materials dropped in the current guidelines. Total class hours for arithmetic/ mathematics and science will be increased by about 15 percent during the nine years of primary and middle school education.


The new teaching guidelines will be fully implemented in the 2011 academic year for primary schools and in the 2012 academic year for middle schools. The new guidelines will be applied to science subjects ahead of schedule starting from the next academic year.


The latest report aims to bid farewell to cram-free education also by changing textbook content. The textbooks should not only have more content, but also better content.



Teachers also should hone skills

In particular, as the report pointed out, it is essential for textbooks to contain related materials from other subjects and descriptions about how material in textbooks can apply to daily life and society.


According to international math and science tests and related questionnaires--the results of which were released recently--Japanese middle school students came bottom in the percentage of students who answered that math and science "are necessary for studying other subjects" or "are useful in daily life."


Science, for example, can be used in home economics class, where teachers can make students calculate calories, or in health education, where teachers can teach students about the structure of the body. We hope textbook writers and publishers will tax their ingenuity in these regards.


In its report, the council said it was necessary to change the perception that all the contents in textbooks must be taught. An awareness change is essential for parents in particular.


However, it largely depends on the ability of teachers whether improved textbooks will be able to enhance the academic achievements and motivations of their students.


It is only natural that the report stressed the need for improving training programs for teachers in addition to improved textbooks. Efforts also must be made to devise content-rich training programs to be taken by teachers when they renew their teaching licenses under the new license renewal system to start next academic year.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2008)

200812190207  読売新聞)

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2008年12月18日 (木)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:デートDVの増加 /東京

(Mainichi Japan) December 17, 2008

Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Having no boyfriend better than dating a dominator

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:デートDVの増加 /東京

I had a talk with the National Women's Shelter Net's Director Tomoko Endo about violence on dates. The Law on the Prevention of Spousal Violence covers married and common law couples, so violence while dating is exempt.


When we talk of violence, we usually imagine women being kicked and beaten, but date hostility more often than not includes scrutiny and dominance. Such mental violence is not easy to identify from outside.


Endo said that the popularization of the cell phone has helped increase this new form of date aggression. For example, some men force their girlfriends to report each time their lecture at university ends, or order phone numbers and e-mail addresses of male friends to be deleted from their cell phones.


When such men are in a good mood, they will whisper "I want to monopolize you because I love you. I want to know all about you." Then the woman will start thinking that she is really loved. When you are shut out from the outside world and continually being cursed how stupid you are, you generally start accepting such enslavement, thinking "he is the only man for a stupid person like me." This is another feature of violence among people dating, according to Endo.


You might wonder why such women don't leave these men. They're not married so it should be easy to leave them. Some women do understand that there is no merit in being with such men, but many young girls cannot bear being without a boyfriend.


Once, a woman visited me for consultation, complaining of violence by her boyfriend, "I know it's not good. But I feel so lonely ... Besides, everyone else has someone. I am ashamed to be alone." The vanity and fear against solitude drives her to the misconception that a violent boyfriend is still better than no man at all.


Christmas is approaching, and it might be natural for young women to enthusiastically want a nice boyfriend, but it is much wiser to remain single than to keep seeing a boyfriend that will ruin you. Being alone is not a sin, nor a shame. Young people have to be more confident in themselves. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)


毎日新聞 20081216日 地方版

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米ゼロ金利 ついに踏み切った異例の策

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 18, 2008)

Fed entering uncharted territory in crisis fight

米ゼロ金利 ついに踏み切った異例の策(1218日付・読売社説)

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board finally decided Tuesday to adopt a zero-interest-rate policy. It also announced the introduction of a policy of quantitative easing--unprecedented measures for dealing with the current economic turmoil.


The Fed lowered the target range for the federal funds rate--its benchmark interest rate for short-term interest rates--by 0.75 to one percentage point, to zero to 0.25 percent. This is the first zero percent interest rate in real terms in the history of U.S. financial policy.


The U.S. economy has been in recession since December last year. The financial crisis has splashed cold water over the real economy and sharply increased unemployment. Many fear the worst recession since the Great Depression, while an increasing number of economists also are concerned about deflation.


The Fed's unprecedented action apparently is aimed at preventing the economy from deteriorating further and to stop deflation from taking hold.


Expressing strong concern, the Fed said in its statement that it "will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth."



Breaking new ground

Some economists argue the effects of interest rate cuts will be limited because interest rates were already extraordinarily low.


However, the introduction of a policy of quantitative easing, such as purchasing long-term U.S. Treasury and government-agency securities in substantial quantities to increase financial liquidity, is expected to be effective.


This is a dramatic shift in financial policy from its interest rate intervention-based approach so far, and the Fed is entering unknown territory.


The Fed has been actively buying commercial paper issued by private corporations, but is planning to further increase financial liquidity. This is an attempt to support the economy by helping lower interest rates for housing and other long-term interest rates.


The Fed could learn from the quantitative easing policy the Bank of Japan implemented for five years from March 2001. The Bank of Japan tried to snap the Japanese economy out of deflation by purchasing a large quantity of securities from financial institutions.


This policy is said to have been effective to a certain degree in supporting the economy by supplying sufficient funds to banks and other financial institutions. However, the application of the policy presented challenges, such as knowing when to stop quantitative easing of the money supply.


Of course there are differences between what Japan experienced then and the current situation facing the United States. But the Fed still should heed the lessons Japan has learned as it tries to steer the U.S. economy under extremely difficult conditions.



Coordination essential

It also will become increasingly important for the Fed to coordinate its actions with the White House's fiscal policy if the current economic turmoil is to be overcome. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is planning to take large-scale action to stimulate the economy. Both Obama and the Fed should work together to turn the U.S. economy around as quickly as possible with every fiscal and monetary policy measure available.


Meanwhile, the appreciation of the yen against the dollar continued Wednesday following the Fed's interest rate cut, which has put rates lower than those of Japan, among other factors.


Japan faces a serious recession, too. The Bank of Japan is scheduled to hold its monetary policy meeting Thursday and Friday. It is expected to consider additional monetary measures there, including interest rate cuts coordinated with the Fed.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 18, 2008)

200812180130  読売新聞)

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2008年12月17日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 16(IHT/Asahi: December 17,2008)

EDITORIAL: Curbing climate change


The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, an international agreement to battle global warming, is due to expire in 2012. Nations are now working to establish a new international framework for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in December next year.

But building a global consensus on the new framework has proved a colossal challenge.

The 14th Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recently held in Poland failed to produce a major breakthrough and simply left most key issues to be sorted out through negotiations in the coming months.


Just a year is left for the world to hammer out a new climate accord. The world cannot afford to continue pursuing wealthier lifestyles in a way that will leave a seriously damaged global environment to future generations. All countries on this planet share the responsibility to push negotiations forward through intensive efforts to produce an agreement that qualifies as a proud legacy to posterity.


Industrial nations that have been spewing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the largest part of the responsibility for securing a deal. But greenhouse gas emissions from China, India and other emerging economies and developing nations are growing rapidly.


The Kyoto Protocol obliges only developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. But the post-Kyoto Protocol framework should make sure that the entire world will be committed to reducing global emissions of the heat-trapping gases.


The biggest challenge confronting the countries is how to deal with North-South problems.


At their summit in July at the Lake Toyako resort in Hokkaido, the leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations agreed on a target of halving global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. But a subsequent meeting of the leaders of 16 major countries, including China and India, failed to reach agreement on any specific emissions reduction target.


Similarly, the recent COP 14 meeting in Poland highlighted a rift between industrialized and developing nations. Many of the developing countries demanded that the rich nations first set their medium-term emissions target for 2020.


Setting medium-term targets is indispensable for persuading emerging and developing countries to join the post-Kyoto Protocol regime. The COP 14 gathering was not meaningless because it at least made this point glaringly evident.


While the European Union has already set a target of cutting emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, Japan has yet to make any commitment to a medium-term goal. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to return U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. But this is not enough.


The United States, Europe and Japan need to come up with a clear medium-term emissions target that can persuade emerging and developing countries to join in.


It is important to ensure that the steps to curb global warming will not hamper efforts to stoke economic growth and reduce poverty in the world. That is especially important in the current global economic crisis. It is hardly surprising that both emerging and developing countries are worried about their futures.


One notable move is the Green Economy Initiative started by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). This is an ambitious plan for promoting investment in innovative energy technologies and environmental projects in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating new jobs.


President-elect Obama plans to create jobs through massive investments in clean energy development. The UNEP's green new deal is aimed at promoting such eco-friendly investments on a global scale.


If economic aid and technology transfer from rich nations to the developing world increase significantly, the long-term target of halving emissions by 2050 can become attainable and beneficial for both sides.


As inhabitants of this planet, we must figure out a way to share a cleaner future. The coming year will be the time for us to make some gutsy decisions.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 16(IHT/Asahi: December 17,2008)

EDITORIAL: New Thai prime minister


Will Thailand now be able to regain stability as an advanced Southeast Asian democracy? The nation's political pendulum on Monday swung against forces loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.



After days of political maneuvering that began earlier this month to cobble together a new ruling coalition, the opposition Democrat Party secured enough support to prevail over the pro-Thaksin forces. On Monday, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 44, was elected the new prime minister of Thailand by the lower house of parliament.


This spelled the first comeback in seven years and 10 months for the Democrats, who twice held power during the 1990s.


These years have been characterized by a bitter political struggle between the pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin forces. The former is supported mainly by farmers and low-income constituents in the rural northeast while the latter represents urban middle-class and wealthier constituents in and around Bangkok as well as the nation's business community with their vested interests.


Two years have already elapsed since Thaksin was ousted in the September 2006 military coup. But the animosity between the two camps has since intensified to the point of creating a deep rift in society. The new prime minister's foremost priority is to try to heal the antagonism and hostility and restore political stability through national reconciliation.


But Abhisit himself must know better than anyone how daunting a challenge this will be.


The military pulled the strings behind the scenes to anoint Abhisit. But since the new administration has not been popularly elected, one can hardly vouch for its legitimacy. Under the basic rules of democracy, Abhisit should dissolve the national assembly and call a general election if he is to seek a mandate from voters.


But few people in Thailand expect Abhisit to dissolve the national assembly immediately, since all general elections over the last few years have been won by the Thaksin camp. The anti-Thaksin parties failed to win a majority even in the general election of last December.


Thailand's credibility has been shattered in the international community. The weeklong siege of Bangkok's two airports from late November by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stranded many foreign tourists, including Japanese, and affected foreign companies operating in Thailand.


There are also concerns about the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been playing a vital role in keeping the country together. The monarch turned 81 on Dec. 5 but did not give his customary pre-birthday address to the nation this year.


Unless the Thai government is able to regain its trust at home and abroad and reassure everyone, Japanese businesses in Thailand will have to re-examine their long-term strategies. The Japanese government ought to convey this concern to Abhisit.


We ask the new prime minister to take bold initiatives. We want him to fight poverty in the northeast to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and to shun favoritism in the appointment of anti-Thaksin people to government posts while advancing dialogue with the Thaksin forces.


The government and the people of Thailand also need to engage in open debate on the role of the monarchy in politics to ensure the establishment of their democracy over the long term. The Thais cannot secure political stability if they keep relying on the king to intervene in times of crisis.


Thailand is a valued diplomatic partner of Japan. We hope Thailand will come out of this confusion as soon as possible.


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(Mainichi Japan) December 16, 2008

Bargain-hunting Japanese tourists flock to South Korea


Due to the depreciation of the won against the yen as a result of the current financial crisis, not only has the number of Japanese tourists in South Korea increased by 20 to 30 percent compared to last year, they particularly seem to be hitting the shopping hot spots. When I took a peek at the duty free store on the ninth and 10th floors of the Lotte Department Store in central Seoul, I could've sworn it was a year-end sale in Japan. Japanese tourists packed the place, speaking Japanese as if it were the official language.


So far, this sounds pretty similar to the situation during the financial crisis of late 1997. But what surprised me this time was the fact that I found Japanese people on the eighth floor -- not the duty free section or the traditional crafts section, but the household goods section -- selecting slippers.


"You can get slippers in Japan, too, can't you?!" I exclaimed, unable to restrain myself. But a 52-year-old housewife from Osaka insisted, "This shade of blue just doesn't exist in Japan." Indeed, it's not the kind of flashy blue often found in traditional Korean gifts, but still, a bright blue. Perhaps everyday products that gently assert their Korean-ness are more easily adapted to life in Japan than crafts that cry out stereotypical Korean-ness.


With cosmetics, too, it's not only the brand names that have huge followings. Shops that carry Korean herbal remedies, BB cream (a moisturizing foundation with the same ingredients found in creams used for dermatological treatment), and other products in the 1,000 yen range are highly popular.


The Myeong-dong branch of The Face Shop, a South Korean natural cosmetics company, saw 2.5 times more Japanese customers and 2.7 times higher sales in October compared to last year. In the past, the company had had a reputation as an inexpensive brand geared toward young people, but the number of Japanese shoppers in their 40s and older spiked after the popular Japanese hair and makeup artist Ikko introduced the company's anti-aging formula on television. The Face Shop sold over 3,000 packs of the product a day after the show aired, and ran out soon afterwards. Who would've known that the Japanese phenomenon of everything and anything someone says "is good for you" on television immediately selling out, would hit South Korea? The purchasing power of the Japanese is something to be reckoned with.


A 54-year-old housewife from Okayama Prefecture says that she travels to South Korea at least three times a year because it's much more economical than going to Tokyo. Buying about 40 cosmetic items worth a total of 50,000 yen, she says, "I usually get these products for myself, but because the yen is so strong against the won, I figured this time I'd buy enough to give to friends."


The Japanese tourists who visited South Korea during the won slump 10 years ago enjoyed a different culture. Japanese people who are now more familiar with Korean culture seem to be going there not for a new and stimulating experience, but to brush up on their taste in things Korean. Even if the won regains strength, I see no signs of this "pilgrimage" trend dwindling. (By Akiko Horiyama, Seoul Bureau)


毎日新聞 20081215日 東京夕刊

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成年年齢 「18歳」へ議論を深めよう

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 17, 2008)

Deepen debate on cutting majority age

成年年齢 「18歳」へ議論を深めよう(1217日付・読売社説)

Many countries in the world set the legal age of adulthood together with the voting age at 18. This is not to say that young people in Japan are especially immature, compared with the same generations in other countries.


With a view to lowering the age of adulthood and the voting age from 20 to 18, we hope the government will positively discuss how to handle the relevant laws and ordinances and take the necessary measures.


The merits of lowering the age of majority from the current 20 as stipulated in the Civil Code are being discussed by a subpanel of the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister. The subpanel released an interim report Tuesday.


As opinions are divided as to whether the age of majority should be lowered, the report included both the pros and cons of the idea. According to the subpanel, it also will sound out the public and continue discussing the problem, before reaching a conclusion around next spring.


The national referendum bill, which sets out procedures for constitutional amendments, was passed into law last year. The law stipulates that those 18 or older have the right to vote in the case of a referendum. In addition, a supplementary provision stipulates that the government should discuss the lowering of the voting age in elections and related laws and ordinances, including the Civil Code, and take the necessary legal measures before the expected enforcement of the referendum law in May 2010.


In doing so, the government will consider revising 191 laws and 117 government and ministry ordinances with provisions concerning the age of adulthood and the voting age. Changing the age of majority in the Civil Code will be the main pillar of the revisions.



Opinions split on implications

According to the interim report, there are opinions for and against lowering the age of adulthood. For example, some say it would encourage young people to participate in society and become independent, while others say it would not necessarily encourage them to do so or that only lowering the voting age, rather than the age of adulthood, would improve their social participation.


With the declining birthrate and a growing proportion of elderly people, it is extremely important to give younger generations a sense of participation in society as leaders in a depopulating nation. If young people aged 18 and 19 are also allowed to enter into legal agreements or marry under the Civil Code without parental consent, they might become more keenly aware of the seriousness of the responsibility they bear and develop a greater awareness of being adult.


It is natural for the age at which people are deemed competent to have the right to vote should be the same as the age they are viewed as capable of taking responsibility in accordance with the Civil Code.



18, de facto world standard

The age of adulthood and the voting age are set at 18 in many of states in the United States, European countries, China and Russia. As this is the case in many parts of the world, it is a global standard.


In public opinion polls, however, a lot of opposition is expressed to the idea of lowering the age of majority. Many people are afraid to change a legal system they are familiar with.


To ease such opposition, the report insists that the government make efforts to protect consumer rights and help young people become more independent.


Even if the age of majority is lowered in the Civil Code, this does not mean all the age provisions in other laws and ordinances will automatically be lowered. Taking the examples of drinking and smoking, the decision on whether to maintain the current minimum age of 20 can be decided separately by taking into consideration the effect on society in each case.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 17, 2008)

200812170135  読売新聞)

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2008年12月16日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13(IHT/Asahi: December 16,2008)

EDITORIAL: U.S. auto industry bailout package


The U.S. Senate has rejected an auto industry rescue bill that would have provided up to $14 billion (about 1.2 trillion yen) in emergency loans to the country's embattled Big Three carmakers.


In return for providing short-term financing for the cash-strapped automakers, the bill, drafted by the administration of President George W. Bush and Congressional Democrats, would have required each of the companies to develop, by the end of March, a drastic restructuring plan under government supervision. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the auto bailout bill swiftly, but many Senate Republicans opposed the plan.


Efforts to hammer out a compromise continued until the last moment but failed to produce a deal, causing the bill to be scrapped.


General Motors Corp., the largest U.S. automaker, has said it would go bankrupt due to a cash squeeze unless it can secure $4 billion of financing by the end of the year. GM's bankruptcy would deliver a heavy blow to the economy by hammering a large network of parts suppliers and local dealerships.


The demise of the largest car company could also have devastating repercussions on Chrysler LLC, the third-largest player, and the second-largest Ford Motor Co., which is not in immediate danger of going under.


Auto manufacturing is the mainstay U.S. industry, which employs several million workers.


The Senate rejection of the rescue package sent shockwaves around the globe, triggering selling-pressure on the U.S. currency.


The news quickly convinced many investors that the U.S. economy will sink deeper into recession, prompting them to sell dollars. In Tokyo, the greenback fell through the 90-yen mark for the first time in 13 years on Friday, temporarily sinking to the 88-yen band.


The yen's climb against the dollar roiled the Japanese stock market, dragging down the benchmark Nikkei 225 index by more than 600 points at one point. Prices also plunged in major stock markets in other Asian countries and Europe.


As what happened recently made clear, the consequences of simply allowing GM to go bust would be too dire. Already, two shocking events that took place in the United States this autumn worsened the crisis: the collapse of major investment bank Lehman Brothers and the House's initial rejection of the bill to save troubled financial institutions. GM's failure would come as the third and biggest jolt for the world economy. The fate of GM will go a long way toward determining the depth and length of the global recession.


There is strong opposition among U.S. voters to the auto industry rescue bill because of the widespread concern that the envisioned tax-funded bailout would allow the automakers to keep on going without radical restructuring to lower labor costs.


The employees at GM and other big automakers are generally seen as receiving relatively good pay and benefits. In fact, the negotiations for a Senate deal broke down because the United Auto Workers union rejected a Republican compromise proposal containing steep pay cuts for its members.


That may explain why many Americans believe the only way to ensure radical restructuring of the automakers is to force them to file for Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code--a process that permits reorganization under the law, the U.S. equivalent of Japan's Civil Rehabilitation Law.


If GM files for Chapter 11, the wages of its employees will be inevitably slashed. The labor union should face up to this reality and accept wage cuts now to help revive the auto industry bailout bill.


After Republican senators refused to support a compromise proposal to rescue the automakers, Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the administration will consider other options to prevent a collapse of the troubled automakers, including dipping into the $700-billion bailout program for financial institutions. The spokeswoman pointed out that the failures of the companies would deal a serious blow to the economy.


Indeed, the U.S. government and the Congress have the obligation to make every possible effort to minimize the damage to the world economy from the predicament of the U.S. auto industry.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13(IHT/Asahi: December 16,2008)

EDITORIAL: Can Aso maintain fiscal discipline?


Prime Minister Taro Aso on Friday announced a 23-trillion-yen economic stimulus package titled "emergency measures for protecting livelihoods." At the same time, he clearly stated the possibility of raising the consumption tax rate in three years and stressed his intent to achieve a balance between overcoming the financial crisis and maintaining fiscal discipline.


This double-pronged approach is a correct one. However, seeing how the prime minister has meandered on tax and fiscal policies, we are deeply concerned about whether he can really function as the command center for such an approach.


The basic economic and fiscal policy guidelines of 2006, which set forth the framework of the government's fiscal administration, stipulate the natural increase in the ever-growing social security spending should be curbed by 220 billion yen each year.


However, those actually working in welfare say this policy is tantamount to throwing away those in need of welfare. The prime minister himself had indicated his intention to review this policy.


To relax the curb on spending, it is necessary to find another source of revenue. That is why Aso set his sights on raising taxes on tobacco by about 60 yen a pack.


This caused a furor of resistance within the ruling coalition. Opponents argued that there were no guarantees the tax hike would increase revenue because the higher costs could further diminish an already declining demand for tobacco.


In addition, the higher taxes would affect tobacco plant farmers. The opponents argued they could not accept anything like that before a Lower House election.


Contrary to the prime minister's wishes, the ruling parties' tax system research commissions decided to postpone the idea of a higher tobacco tax. Now, there are no other options on the table for a new tax revenue source that can ease the pressure on tightening the social security budget.


More confusion erupted concerning the midterm program for tax reform, including an increase in the consumption tax rate to secure a stable revenue source for future social welfare programs.


The prime minister instructed Kaoru Yosano, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, to clearly state in the midterm program that the consumption tax rate would increase "three years from now." But on the same day, the ruling coalition's tax panels decided not to include the timing of the tax increase in their tax reform outlines.


Vague wording was used instead because the Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, New Komeito, furiously resisted a specific schedule. There is no denying that lawmakers' knee-jerk reaction against mentioning tax hikes before an election came into play here.


During his news conference, Aso again referred to his intention to raise the consumption tax rate in three years and expressed an eagerness to persuade the ruling parties to go along with his plan. But it is highly doubtful Aso can win over the parties with his depleted support within the ruling coalition.


Given the situation, how far can Aso go in maintaining fiscal discipline during the process of compiling the budget plan for fiscal 2009 and the second supplementary budget bill?


Aso will certainly face increased pressure to use the maizokin surplus reserves in special accounts and issue more government bonds for social security costs. Once the threshold of self-restraint is crossed, all sorts of budget requests for pork-barrel programs for road construction and revitalizing local communities will burst forth.


The writing is already on the wall. Old-fashioned public works programs may well wriggle into the emergency stimulus package, which sets aside 1 trillion yen each in additional tax allocations to local governments and new funds reserved for economic emergencies.


Measures must be taken to prop up the economy and enhance employment security. But if those measures are used as an excuse for repeated pork-barreling with an eye on the next election, then it will be nothing more than an undisciplined, lax fiscal policy.


The public can never rest assured if politicians continue to carelessly increase this nation's fiscal deficit.


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社説:日中韓首脳会議 東アジアの軸がやっと動いた

(Mainichi Japan) December 15, 2008

Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing agree on vision, responsibility for East Asia region

社説:日中韓首脳会議 東アジアの軸がやっと動いた

The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea recently gathered in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, and issued a joint statement on the promotion of trilateral cooperation. The leaders agreed to make trilateral summits a regular event, deciding to hold the next one in China in 2009.


It was the first time for the leaders of the three countries to gather independently in one place in such a form. In fact, it is unnatural that, while being neighbors, the countries had never held such a summit in the past. It is hoped that the trilateral summit will function as the axis of a stability system in East Asia, overcoming such hurdles as differences in political systems and territorial and history awareness issues.


Since 1999, when then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung gathered in a breakfast meeting at the ASEAN summit, meetings between the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea have been held every year, with the exception of 2005. This time was the ninth meeting, but the first time such a meeting was held separate from any international conference.


The joint declaration on a trilateral partnership signed by Prime Minister Taro Aso, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, said that they shared a "vision and responsibility for creating a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future for the region and the international community." The handling of the global financial crisis and a response to the North Korean nuclear issue are pressing issues faced by the three countries in order to fulfill that responsibility.


As a response to the global financial crisis, the three leaders confirmed that they would strengthen regional cooperation, while welcoming the fact that their governments agreed to expand the size of bilateral currency swap agreements between Japan, South Korea and China in order to support South Korea, which is struggling due to the depreciation of its currency.


The combined gross domestic products of Japan, China and South Korea exceeds 16 percent of the world total, and accounts for 70 percent of the figure for all of East Asia. Considering the immensity of this economic power, the strengthening of collaboration among the financial authorities of the three countries is vital. The fact that regular meetings are to be convened among the governors of the central banks of the three countries should be applauded.


The six-party talks ended without producing results on the North Korean nuclear issue, but the three leaders confirmed that they would collaborate over this issue in the future. In order to make a breakthrough in the stalled six-party talks, there needs to be a greater extent of coordination among Japan, the United States and South Korea, and leadership from China, as chair of the talks. The cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea that the countries' three leaders agreed upon this time should be used in policies toward North Korea.


Between Japan and China, light remains to be shed on a poisoning incident involving Chinese-made frozen dumplings. In addition, Chinese survey vessels made an intrusion into Japanese waters off the Senkaku Islands earlier this month.


The fact that over 70 percent of people in a Cabinet Office opinion poll took a negative view of relations between Japan and China is probably not unrelated to such events. The trilateral summit that will be held regularly should provide an opportunity for the leaders to talk frankly about such bilateral issues.


毎日新聞 20081214日 東京朝刊

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日銀短観 景気の悪化が加速している

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 16, 2008)

Economy's downhill slide picking up speed

日銀短観 景気の悪化が加速している(1216日付・読売社説)

The nation's economy has been deteriorating at surprising speed. The government and the Bank of Japan must employ all available measures to prevent the economy from sinking any further.



The Bank of Japan's key Tankan quarterly survey for December showed that the diffusion index for business confidence among major manufacturers dropped to minus 24.


The index fell by 21 points from the previous survey for September. The fall was the second-largest in the survey's history following a 26-point drop in August 1974 in the wake of the first oil shock.


The index of all 15 types of industries worsened from the previous survey, also for the first time since the oil shock.


Regarding major nonmanufacturers, the index fell into the negative territory for the first time in five years. The lack of confidence expressed through the survey by smaller companies--both manufacturers and nonmanufacturers--was more serious than the figures for major companies.


Sluggish sales caused by slowdowns in foreign economies and weak domestic demand are rapidly cooling business sentiment.


Following export-oriented industries such as automobiles and electrical appliances, signs of the worsening economy have become apparent among such consumption-related sectors as the hospitality industry and retailers as well. The nation's economy is suffering a meltdown.



Sentiment declining further

Seventy to 80 percent of the companies surveyed completed their replies by late November. With a series of reductions in output and job cuts announced after that taken into account, business sentiment now must be even worse. Both major and smaller companies predicted the economy would deteriorate further in March compared to this month.


It also is a concern that the indexes for employment and production capacity both showed companies felt payrolls and production capacity were excessive, a sentiment that has begun spreading.


If companies feel strongly that their payrolls are excessively large, corporate restructuring is likely and the income of corporate workers and others will go down. It is of increasing concern that consumption, a major pillar of domestic demand, may further decline.


Excess production capacity will dampen companies' incentives to invest and make production activity even more sluggish.


The nation cannot expect much from external demand as its future prospects are uncertain. To prevent further acceleration of the deterioration in the economy, it is necessary to pursue policy measures to bolster domestic demand.



Swift action needed

First and foremost, the government should hasten to implement its additional economic package, worth 23 trillion yen, to boost the economy and secure employment.


The financial situation also is a concern. The index representing the lending attitude of financial institutions now is at a seriously low level, close to that of the financial depression a decade ago.


With the enactment of a bill to revise the law to strengthen financial functions, safety nets for regional financial services have been created as the legislation again allows injection of public funds into financial institutions. Using measures listed in the stimulus package that are aimed at helping companies' cash flow, financial institutions must make utmost efforts to prevent credit tightening cutting off a lifeline to companies.


We also consider it necessary to undertake additional measures to help companies' cash flow, such as the purchasing of corporate bonds by the Bank of Japan.


Monetary easing is a worldwide trend. Although there is little room for the Bank of Japan to lower interest rates further, the central bank should consider additional measures without excluding even a zero interest rate and quantitative easing.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2008)

200812160131  読売新聞)

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2008年12月15日 (月)

社説:ソニー大リストラ 雇用への北風が吹きすさぶ

(Mainichi Japan) December 14, 2008

Sony's major restructuring plan casts chill over employment outlook

社説:ソニー大リストラ 雇用への北風が吹きすさぶ

Sony has announced a large-scale restructuring plan that will include the layoff of more than 16,000 workers worldwide from its various electronics businesses, including its liquid crystal display TV and digital camera divisions.


The U.S.-triggered financial crisis has profoundly shaken the global economy. Without a government bailout, U.S. automobile manufacturers are facing inevitable bankruptcy. And Japanese automakers, led by Toyota, are drastically revising their sales outlooks downward.


In the consumer electronics sector, Panasonic and Sony have already made downward adjustments; their Christmas sales wars in the U.S. and Europe have been disappointing, demand for their goods is expected to continue to fall, and a quick recovery is not likely.


Sony has probably decided that protecting its corporation under these circumstances requires a major restructuring that includes cutbacks in personnel and plant investment.


Sony has 57 production sites in Japan and abroad, and plans to close five or six of them. It will eliminate the jobs of 8,000, or 5 percent, of its 160,000 regular employees in its electronics businesses, as well as the jobs of 8,000 or more temporary or non-regular employees.


Given the severe financial conditions, Sony appears to be taking steps to keep its finances in a healthy state. While its layoff plans for within Japan are unclear, other corporations have already fired temporary or contract workers, and it is worrisome that many of these people who use company housing will be left without a place to live.


In order to prevent an increase in the ranks of Internet cafe refugees and the homeless, the government needs to address this problem immediately. We also urge corporations to adopt flexible responses to the crisis.


In April 2003, Sony's announcement that it revised its sales outlook downward triggered a steep decline in its stock price and caused the "Sony shock." In 2005, Sony revamped its management, and pushed ahead with a restructuring plan in order to rejuvenate its electronics businesses.


Sony had aimed to return its flat-screen TV division to the black by March 2009. However, price competition has been intense, and the economic downturn is likely to keep it mired in the red. The current large-scale restructuring has been forced upon the company by declining revenues from digital and video cameras.


The management of Sony has also been hobbled by the fact that the company has not been able to come up with hit products that drove sa