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2009年1月31日 (土)

刑務所製品:「マル獄」グッズ人気 安くて品質よし

(Mainichi Japan) January 31, 2009

Made in prison: Inmates' hot items a surprise fashion hit

刑務所製品:「マル獄」グッズ人気 安くて品質よし

How do you find cheap, hit products in the middle of a recession? Just look to the prison system.

刑務所作業製品で人気のマル獄グッズ 財布のひもをがっちり締めがちな最近の消費者に人気が出ている商品がある。刑務所で作られた作業製品だ。安価でしかも品質がよいと、ネット販売で数分で売り切れてしまう人気ブランドも出現した。【木村葉子】

Leading the way is Marugoku, a Hakodate Juvenile Prison brand, the first line of prison-made products to be trademarked. Its first run of 100 aprons -- made of dark blue canvas, with a white "goku" (prison) kanji character inside a white circle ("maru") design -- sold out online within a few minutes. In addition to the logo, "Prison" (in English), "Open Today" and "Established in the second year of the Meiji Era", the prison's opening year, are printed on the apron.


The design was the brainchild of the prison's judicial affairs officer, who unsuccessfully applied for permission to use the Ministry of Justice's paulownia crest before coming up with the Marugoku design.


Apart from aprons, the line-up contains 13 other items, including a bag made of Japanese-patterned fabric (1,980 yen). In two years, the organization has sold around 10,000 aprons, and has had total sales of 24 million yen.


The products themselves are made at the prison's sewing mill, where 100 or so detainees produce work clothes to order for government offices and businesses. The Marugoku project was originally conceived as an off-season project, but prodigious sales mean that stock is currently almost sold out.


The idea is not new. Ichihara Prison has been producing additive-free naturally brewed miso since 1972, using domestically-produced soybeans, as well as its own brand of soy sauce. And at Yokohama Prison, inmates have been making udon noodles for the past 15 or so years, using Australian wheat flour to make a hand-kneaded dough.





But according to an official at the Correctional Association Prison Industry Cooperation (CAPIC), the aim isn't to rake in money; prices are particularly low because the project is a not-for-profit endeavor: the aim is simply to instill prisoners with a sense of achievement through regular work. But with hard-working prisoners securing early releases, prisons are starting to pair up new inmates with the more experienced ones in order to maintain product quality.


"Even those who hate the idea of prison-made products should change their mind after seeing the quality of their workmanship," says the CAPIC official.



毎日新聞 2009129日 1541分(最終更新 130日 847分)

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ビザなし交流 ロシアは国際信義を守れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 31, 2009)

Russia must keep pledge on northern territories

ビザなし交流 ロシアは国際信義を守れ(131日付・読売社説)

Moscow has moved to unilaterally cancel an agreement reached between Japan and Russia that allows so-called visaless visits by Japanese nationals to the four northern territories.


Japan cannot allow this act by Russia, carried out for Moscow's own convenience, as it constitutes a breach of trust between states.


A Japanese ship carrying humanitarian aid including medicine for residents of the Russian-held islets had to abandon its attempts to dock there and returned to Japan on Thursday after Russian authorities demanded members of the mission submit immigration cards.



'Impossible to understand'

Following disembarkation procedures set out by Russia could have resulted in Moscow claiming that Tokyo has admitted that Russia has jurisdiction over the northern territories, which are claimed by both nations.


It is a matter of course that Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said Russia's action was "impossible to understand" and demanded on behalf of the Japanese government that Russia allow visaless visits to resume.


Humanitarian assistance to residents of the four islands is carried out under the same procedures as the visaless exchange system that started in 1992.


Out of consideration for the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia, members of humanitarian missions are allowed to visit the northern territories carrying only identification cards and an attached paper from the Japanese government, which lists intended destinations and other details. Standard immigration procedures such as the presentation of passports and visas are skipped. The same mechanism is applied to former residents and their family members who come to visit graves on the islands.


However, on this occasion Russia demanded members of the mission submit embarkation/disembarkation cards in line with a revision of its domestic law in 2006. Russian officials said that future visaless exchange visitors also will not be exempted from the law.


Kunashiri Island, Etorofu Island, the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan Island are inherently Japanese territory. Japanese nationals should be able to visit there freely. The visaless visits system was agreed on to promote mutual understanding between Japanese and Russian people until a peace treaty is signed between Tokyo and Moscow.


However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia should not be blamed even if limiting visaless exchange visits harms Japan-Russia relations.


The background to this is said to be the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry is no longer able to control its Federal Migration Service, which advocates tighter immigration controls.


However, if Russia respects the promises it has made to other countries, it should make operational adjustments among its ministries and agencies, including making visaless visits to the northern territories an exception under its laws.


If nothing is done, visaless exchange visits scheduled for this summer and other programs will not be able to go ahead, in addition to planned humanitarian missions. Both the Japanese and Russian governments should hold talks to break the deadlock as soon as possible, based on the principle of visaless visits that does not undermine either nations' respective claims regarding the territorial dispute.



Development deals may suffer

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Prime Minister Taro Aso last Saturday and proposed they hold summit talks on Sakhalin in mid-February.


Russia is trying to attract Japanese money and technology to assist in the development of Siberia and its Far Eastern regions. But, there will be no boost in economic cooperation from Japan if Moscow fails to act sincerely when dealing with the territorial issue that stands as the biggest stumbling block between Japan and Russia.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 31, 2009)

20091310141  読売新聞)

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2009年1月30日 (金)

代表質問 「消費税」論戦をじっくりと

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 30, 2009)

Diet needs to give time to sales tax discussion

代表質問 「消費税」論戦をじっくりと(130日付・読売社説)

It is imperative that the Diet now deepen discussions about a suitable consumption tax rate for the nation, even though the task is thought of as a medium-term challenge.


The consumption tax issue was one of the focuses of attention Thursday during questioning from party representatives at the House of Representatives in response to a policy speech delivered Wednesday by Prime Minister Taro Aso.


Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, lashed out at Aso's pledge to raise the consumption tax rate, saying the tax raise would not win public sympathy "unless amakudari [the practice of bureaucrats landing cushy jobs in the private and public sectors] is eradicated and pork-barreling is completely terminated."


In his counterargument, Aso said, "All revenues from the consumption tax will be used for social security benefits and policies to address the declining birthrate, thereby returning it to the people." The prime minister, however, stopped short of clarifying the timing and margin of the consumption tax hike by saying the government will study these issues from now on.



Welcome all proposals

It is appropriate to consider raising the consumption tax rate to secure a stable financial source to cover snowballing social security costs.


Of course, with the economy currently deteriorating, it is difficult to work out details, such as the timing and margin of the tax raise, which will be made on the condition that the economy makes a turnaround.


Even so, it is vital for the government to dedicate time to considering the direction in which the nation is heading--toward a hike in the consumption tax rate--and steadily make efforts to win public support.


In this regard, a proposal by Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda can be seen as forward-looking. He proposed, among other things, managing revenues from the consumption tax by putting them into an account separate from the general account and that a mechanism be instituted to prevent wasteful spending.


If the DPJ is so opposed to a consumption tax hike, it should present other ways to secure financial sources. Putting options on the table can only deepen discussions on this issue.



DPJ dropping ball on piracy

Meanwhile, regarding the government's plan to dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to fight piracy off Somalia, Hatoyama asked why the task could not be undertaken by the Japan Coast Guard.


In principle, maritime policing activities fall within the JCG's jurisdiction. But the pirate-infested area is far removed from Japan, and the pirates are armed with heavy weaponry.


It is in line with accepted international practice to send MSDF with trained members and more powerful equipment now that the mission has been deemed difficult for the JCG. Other countries involved antipiracy missions are sending their navies' ships, not those of coast guards.


Hatoyama argued from the perspective of civilian control that it would be problematic for the Defense Ministry to formulate guidelines on the use of weapons for antipiracy missions, which will not be made public.

This argument is unreasonable. Disclosing guidelines would be tantamount to exposing MSDF's cards to the pirates and could hamper MSDF efforts to carry out missions.


What the DPJ needs to do is compile as soon as possible its own policy on fighting piracy.


There are arguments within the DPJ both for and against the dispatch of MSDF vessels. One of the reasons for DPJ opposition is its need to act in concert with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party.


If the DPJ believes it is more important to put on a united front with those two opposition parties at the expense of leaving unaddressed the threat of piracy against about 2,000 Japanese-related vessels that pass through those waters each year, it can hardly be said to be a responsible action.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 30, 2009)

20091300210  読売新聞)

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2009年1月29日 (木)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:オバマ氏のメッセージ /東京

(Mainichi Japan) January 29, 2009

Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Obama inspires world to overcome failure

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:オバマ氏のメッセージ /東京

Mr. Barack Obama's inauguration as the president of the United States was held amidst excitement around the world. He may be a member of an elite club, but he showed no air of smugness, and looked like any other pleasant, middle-aged gentleman. Then, when he appeared in front of such a huge audience, I was amazed at how his expression became serious, and he delivered that energetic inaugural address.




Needless to say, Mr. Obama must have experienced many setbacks in life. The accidental death of his father, the second marriage of his mother and moving to Hawaii. He must also have experienced racial barriers.



Former U.S. President Bill Clinton confessed in his autobiography that he came from a dysfunctional family. It is mistaken to think that a person great enough to become the president of the United States has experienced no setbacks in life.


The important thing when you are hurt or get depressed is to have the power to recover and get back into shape.


When I interview patients in my office talking about the difficulties they face and hear them say "Oh, I got so down in the dumps," I do express sympathy "Oh, that must have been hard," but at the same time, I secretly say to myself, "But as long as we go on with our lives, there's no getting away from difficulties, hardships, or sadness."


If we were to count the times we say "Great! I did it!" and the times we sigh "Oh how painful," most people would say that there were more of the latter than the former over their lifetime.

 「やった! うれしい」と思う回数と「ああ、つらい」と思う回数を数えることができたら、人生全体では後者のほうが多いのではないだろうか。

Then, instead of spending considerable time and pain trying to avoid setbacks and failure, I believe it is much easier to accept that life is full of trials and tribulations.


In case you do get depressed, just cheer yourself up so that you can bounce back as soon as possible.


I believe Mr. Obama is not a person who has never been hurt or depressed. However, I believe he knows how to recover and straighten himself out.


Around the beginning of his inaugural message, the new president talked about the crisis America was facing, and expressed it as "our collective failure."


I suppose the straightforward expression "I failed" can only come from those people who know failure and have recovered from it.


People as well as states can experience failure and depression, yet they can also recover from these experiences. Such confidence must be the grounds for Mr. Obama's graceful acceptance of the fact that America "failed."


The most important part is not to avoid failure. It is to accept failure and to gather yourself together once more.


This indeed was the message I picked up from Mr. Obama's inauguration speech. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)


毎日新聞 2009127日 地方版

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施政方針演説 「政府の役割」を着実に果たせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 29, 2009)

Aso should fulfill govt's responsibility

施政方針演説 「政府の役割」を着実に果たせ(129日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Taro Aso declared in his policy speech Wednesday that he would protect the lives of the Japanese people from the global economic crisis and "return Japan to a nation that is both positive and strong."


We agree with his assessment of the current situation and the ideals about nation-building presented in his speech. But what really matters is implementation of specific policy measures using strong political power.


The prime minister also stressed in his speech that Japan's role in the world is to contribute to "the creation of a new order," and that the nation itself must build "a society of peace of mind and vitality" at home to "successfully ride the changes in the times."


To realize all this, the Japanese economy must be put on a recovery path as soon as possible. Lawmakers must start deliberating on the fiscal 2009 budget as soon as possible to secure its passage by the end of this fiscal year and help the nation climb out of recession.


Aso also needs to restore the public confidence in politics. The prime minister surely wants to raise public support for his government by implementing economic stimulus measures so he can decide when to dissolve the House of Representatives. It is vital, therefore, for him to explain his ideals and policies in plain language during Diet deliberations to regain the people's support.



Change in tack

The prime minister said in his speech that "catchphrases such as 'shifting from the public sector to the private sector' and a dichotomous mode of thinking such as 'big government or small government' will not alone provide the vision [for the government] we seek." He is quite right.


Aso's remark marks a shift from the course of structural reform championed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.


Reform measures such as deregulation and the introduction of market principles have caused widening income gaps, employment insecurity and other problems. It is natural for the prime minister to have mentioned the need to strengthen social safety nets.


The negative legacy of restraints on social security expenditure under structural reform since the Koizumi administration is now causing problems in medical and social welfare fields. The Koizumi administration avoided even discussing a hike in the consumption tax rate, although it is obvious that a financial source is needed to rebuild the nation's social security system.


In his speech, Aso said his government "will take necessary legal measures by fiscal 2011" to undertake fundamental tax system reform. We expect Aso to stress the necessity of hiking the consumption tax rate patiently to the Democratic Party of Japan and the other opposition parties during upcoming Diet deliberations.



Japan-U.S. ties need a boost

With U.S. President Barack Obama having just taken office, the international situation surrounding Japan is changing dramatically. Japan must strengthen its alliance with the United States and cooperate with it to tackle problems related to North Korea and fight against international terrorism.


"Japan will play a proactive role as a responsible member of the international community," the prime minister said in his speech. If he asserts that "Japan should contribute to the creation of a new order," the prime minister must have the nation participate in more international peace cooperation activities than ever.


We expect the prime minister and other lawmakers to hold substantive discussions at the Diet on foreign and security affairs, including new legislation to send the Self-Defense Forces to crack down on piracy in waters off Somalia and the expansion of assistance for Afghanistan.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 29, 2009)

20091290128  読売新聞)

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2009年1月21日 (水)

トヨタ社長交代 非常時の「大政奉還」の意味

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 21, 2009)

Embattled Toyota crowns Toyoda scion

トヨタ社長交代 非常時の「大政奉還」の意味(121日付・読売社説)

Having decided to place itself in the hands of the founding family again, Toyota Motor Corp. apparently intends to make a united effort to rebuild the company's management under the family's leadership.

The automaker has picked Executive Vice President Akio Toyoda, 52, a member of the founding family, as president, a move that could be compared to the "taisei hokan," the return of power to the emperor from the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867. It will be the first time in 14 years that a Toyoda family member has taken the helm of the company.



The business performance of Toyota, which was seen the nation's largest and strongest company, has been deteriorating sharply. This has affected the nation's manufacturers as a whole and has become one of the causes of the serious employment situation.


So the nation's economy can recover, it is essential that Toyota regain its strength. The company's new management should get back to basics so it can carry out a drastic overhaul of its business.


Toyoda is a great-grandson of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota group. The family scion became a member of the automaker's board of directors at the age of 44 and has been engaged in such key tasks as domestic sales promotion and projects in China.


This "prince" of the Toyoda family will take the helm of the company after three "chief clerks" from outside the founding family reigned in succession, likely out of judgment that the company needs to start from scratch by overhauling its management strategy.



Limits to cost-cutting efficacy

The company achieved steady growth by strengthening its overseas production using its technology and profits it obtained through stringent cost-cutting efforts, which were compared to "wringing water out of dry rags." Not only has it become the world's largest automaker in terms of production, it looks set to overtake General Motors Corp. as the world's largest carmaker in terms of sales last year.


But as car sales became sluggish in the wake of the global financial crisis, Toyota's performance changed dramatically. Rising prices of raw materials and other factors made it difficult for the company to reduce costs, which had been its chief strength. Exchange rate losses also hit the company hard.


Consolidated operating profits, which once exceeded 2 trillion yen for the group as a whole, have been wiped out in only about a year. This leads us to conclude that there must have been major blind spots in the company's management, although it looked very solid.


The company may have overreached itself as it hurried to grab the position of the world's top carmaker. Some observers say the company grew conceited, assuming that its brand would always sell well. It certainly cannot be denied that the company was unable to shift from a structure under which it was overdependent on North American markets to raise profits.



New strategy needed

Under the new leadership, the company says it intends to shift to a structure under which it could generate profits even if sales declined 20 percent from their peak level. It will be unavoidable for the company to undergo restructuring by scaling down its production and carrying out further job cuts.


But only promoting such austerity measures aimed at recovering earnings would soon cast a shadow over the new president's leadership. To lead this global company, it is important for Toyoda to come up with an aggressive management strategy for making a comeback.


Automakers around the world are facing disaster, which begs the question of whether the auto industry will be able to maintain its place at the top of the manufacturing sector. Toyoda will be tested for his ability to serve at the top of the car industry.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 21, 2009)

20091210157  読売新聞)

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2009年1月20日 (火)

参院予算審議 「消費税」を正面から論じ合え

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 20, 2009)

Parties must discuss consumption tax hike

参院予算審議 「消費税」を正面から論じ合え(120日付・読売社説)

The ruling and opposition parties should discuss in concrete term in the Diet budgetary debates how to reform the social security system and where to find the financial resources to do so.


The Diet session, which was stalled due to an earlier boycott of deliberations by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, is now back on track. Deliberations at the House of Councillors on the government-proposed second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 began Monday at the upper house's Budget Committee.


Prime Minister Taro Aso reiterated his intention to raise the consumption tax rate from fiscal 2011 on the assumption of economic recovery and the development of administrative reforms.


Due to the declining birthrate and a growing proportion of elderly people, the social security system is faced with increasing difficulties. It also is urgent to shore up the economy in the near term. Aso said the government would not be able to take economic measures without anxiety unless there was sufficient revenue, and that the government must not act irresponsibly. His stance is quite natural.


The government endorsed a medium-term tax reform program in late December, specifying that "a necessary legislative step is to be taken in advance so that fundamental tax system reform, including the consumption tax rate hike, can be implemented from fiscal 2011 on the assumption that the economy improves." The program also said that "tax reform is to be implemented by the mid-2010s in a phased manner."



Enshrine direction in bill

The Cabinet also endorsed specifying the direction of the fundamental tax system reform in an additional clause to a package of bills related to tax system reform for fiscal 2009.


However, at this stage, some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party express strong opposition about whether "the implementation of the fundamental tax system reform from fiscal 2011" should be specified in the additional clause. They apparently feared touting tax increases with the next general election coming near.


The LDP proclaims itself to be a "responsible political party" able to manage the government. If so, it should make clear the direction of the consumption tax rate hike in legislation.


The DPJ did not touch on the issue of the consumption tax increase in Diet deliberations Monday.



Change of plan

In the 2005 House of Representatives election, then DPJ President Katsuya Okada asserted that the consumption tax would be increased by three percentage points as a revenue source for the pension program. But after Ichiro Ozawa became president of the DPJ in 2006, the party dropped discussion of hiking the consumption tax.


In late December, the DPJ's tax commission put off the decision on the consumption tax hike, saying the party would clarify how much the tax rate should be raised after taking power if it becomes necessary.


The DPJ estimated the financial resources for realizing its manifesto at a total of 56.9 trillion yen for four years. But it would be impossible for the DPJ to come up with the financial resources needed only by eradicating wasteful spending of tax payers' money and implementing administrative reforms, without raising the consumption tax rate.


According to sources, the DPJ is considering submitting a revision bill to cut the additional clause in hope of enticing LDP lawmakers to rise in rebellion.


If the ruling and opposition parties avoid discussing the "bitter medicine" of the consumption tax rate hike and only try to spin any and all political developments in their favor, they will only undermine public confidence in them.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2009)

20091200224  読売新聞)

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小沢民主党 信頼できる政策を明示せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 19, 2009)

DPJ must show policies have substance

小沢民主党 信頼できる政策を明示せよ(119日付・読売社説)

If the Democratic Party of Japan is serious about trying to assume the reins of government, it will need to present policies that convince the public of its credentials and widen the party's support base.


On Sunday, the main opposition party held a regular party convention at which DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa expressed his resolve to bring about a change in government. "We'll take the interests of the people to heart and create a new government that will protect people's lives and livelihoods," Ozawa said.


According to several recent opinion surveys, the DPJ has been basking in approval ratings almost on par with those for the Liberal Democratic Party. However, it is still too early to say the DPJ's high approval rating equates to a positive evaluation of the party's political stance and policies by voters.


Rather, the rise in support might be more the result of people becoming disaffected with the LDP and its policies, including its wavering over the controversial fixed-sum cash benefit, and mounting displeasure at a string of verbal gaffes by Prime Minister Taro Aso.


According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted this month, only 20 percent of respondents said they thought the DPJ had presented proposals that would be effective in stimulating the country's flagging economy. An overwhelming 67 percent answered they did not think the DPJ had offered viable proposals.



Trustworthiness is key

If the DPJ aspires to defeat the government in the next House of Representatives election, it needs to prove it has the ability to hold the reins of government, not by playing to the gallery, but by presenting policies of its own that people can trust.


At Sunday's party convention, Ozawa proposed two "New Deals" as fresh economic stimulus measures--namely "environmental measures" such as promoting the wider use of solar panels, and "safety and security measures" such as strengthening the earthquake resistance of primary and middle schools as well as hospitals.


The party should immediately start concrete discussions on these proposals and spell them out in a manifesto and other mediums.


In October, the DPJ estimated that implementing its pledges, including child benefits, should it come to power would cost 56.9 trillion yen over four years. Although the party presented a brief breakdown of the estimate, it failed to clarify where the financial resources to fund these promises would come from. We hope the party will deepen discussions on the matter and make its pledges more credible.



Diplomatic concerns

The DPJ's fiscal 2009 campaign policy, which was approved at the convention, stressed the party would "win the trust and friendship of the international community by employing self-determined and active diplomacy that centers on peace and the environment." However, this leaves some nagging doubts. How does the DPJ plan to handle the Japan-U.S. security alliance, a cornerstone of this nation's diplomacy?


The DPJ is demanding the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean be terminated. It also insists that the Japan-U.S. agreement over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, be reviewed and that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement be revised. The party also has opposed a special agreement on Japan's host-nation support for the costs of U.S. military forces stationed in Japan.


These matters directly concern the foundation of the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Any slip-ups or careless handling of these issues could strain relations between Tokyo and Washington.


What, precisely, does the DPJ mean by "self-determined and active diplomacy"? The party will need to discuss in detail the finer points of this question.


The DPJ will never be considered a responsible party if its main priority remains preventing internal disarray on key policies while continuing to skirt debating these tough questions.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 19, 2009)

20091190137  読売新聞)

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The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 18, 2009)

Govt should pave way for social security tax


The economic crisis that has engulfed the world is instilling anxiety into people's lives.


The government obviously has to focus on economic reconstruction and recovery. But at the same time, it is vital to make the social security system unshakable.


If people do not feel secure about the future, consumption will not expand, and the economy will not regain its strength. As we are in the middle of a severe economic downturn, this will be a crucial year for tackling social security system reform.


2009 is the first year when the generation born in the Heisei era reaches adulthood. The baby boomers born between 1947 and 1949--right after the end of World War II--will all be 60 or older this year, too.


A look at the circumstances surrounding the two generations reveals the problems facing the social security system.


Upon reaching the age of 20, a person must join the national pension scheme, helping to support the pension system. The core of those who support not only the pension scheme, but also medical, nursing care and other services in the social security system will gradually shift to the generation born in the Heisei era in the coming years.


In the not-so-distant future, the baby boomers will become retirees dependent on the social security system.


The apex of the nation's demographic pyramid is rapidly expanding, while the Heisei-era generation, which forms the narrow base of the pyramid, looks as if it is being crushed by the weight of the older generation.


The nation faces a chronic, rapid aging of the population combined with an extremely low birthrate. In this situation, those who support the social security system will not be able to endure the burden imposed on them if the government tries to maintain social security benefits under the current system, which largely relies on the generations still working.


The burden of providing financial resources for welfare should be spread widely among both young and old, with each paying a small portion. By doing this, the burden will be spread evenly across every generation, even though the population of the older generation is larger than those of the working generations.


Financial resources should be properly secured by renaming the current consumption tax the "social security tax," to be solely used for social security purposes, and raising its rate.



Delay in raising tax costly


The nation will have to pay for the delay in increasing the consumption tax rate. The effects of this neglect can be seen in every field of the social security system, including anxiety over pension funding, the shortage of doctors and nurses, the low wages of nursing care workers, the poor implementation of medical care rules for the elderly, and the financial quagmire that health insurance associations are in.


As society grays, there will be a natural increase of about 800 billion yen a year in social security spending. But the government, which has put priority on fixing the nation's severe fiscal situation, is compiling a budget that slashes 220 billion yen every year from the projected increase in social security costs. This has led to major strains in medical and welfare fields.


Furthermore, permanent financial resources for social security have not yet been secured, though the government's share of funding of the basic pension will be raised from the current one-third to half the total from this fiscal year.


As a quick fix for strains in the medical and welfare fields and to obtain the financial resources to fund the pension system, the government managed to squeeze out financial resources for the fiscal 2009 budget by tapping surplus funds in special accounts, dubbed "buried treasure." But the buried treasure is not inexhaustible.


In its basic policy for overhauling the tax system over the medium term, the government and the ruling parties specified an increase in the consumption tax rate from fiscal 2011 on the premise of economic recovery. The government and the ruling bloc made a political pledge to simultaneously try to realize an economic recovery and stabilize and strengthen the social security system.


Although some Liberal Democratic Party members have voiced opposition to this policy, the pledge should be carried out as is.



Reform momentum building

Before the temporary financial resources are used up, it is vital to steadily prepare for the introduction of the social security tax.


To clarify the amount by which the social security tax should be hiked, it is vital to have a reform plan aimed at making each category of the social security system--pension, medical and nursing care--function properly in the rapidly graying society with a declining birthrate.


Last year, The Yomiuri Shimbun proposed pension system reforms that included the establishment of minimum guaranteed pension benefits for low-income elderly people and the waiving of pension premiums for parents for three years after they have a child. The Yomiuri also proposed a comprehensive plan to reform medical and nursing care services whose main aim is to distribute doctors systematically and evenly.


To realize the plan, the tax rate for daily necessities, such as food, would have to be 5 percent, while the rate for other goods and services should be set at 10 percent. Faced with an ultralow birthrate and the need to care for a growing population of elderly people, it may be necessary to discuss as the next step the adoption of a tax rate on goods and services of about 15 percent--a rate at the lower end of those applied in Europe.


Various proposals on pension system reform have been volunteered from every sector of society. The government's National Council on Social Security has put forward an array of options for the future course of the nation's social security system, including medical and nursing care services. All the proposals share the basic assumption that the consumption tax will have to have a double-digit rate in the future.


An atmosphere conducive to social security system reform has been developing. Politics will be put to the test this year when it comes to the challenge of fusing this energy and applying it.


The social security system must not be shaken every time the administration changes. To assure the people a secure future, reform of the system must be carried out in a suprapartisan manner.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2009)

20091180141  読売新聞)

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経済運営指針 「失われた10年」繰り返すな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 17, 2009)

We must guard against another 'lost decade'

経済運営指針 「失われた10年」繰り返すな(117日付・読売社説)

Does the latest economic report put together by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy offer a road map that can pull the nation out of turmoil created by the global recession at an early date and bring the domestic economy back on the road to recovery?


The government's key economic panel has compiled a report detailing medium- and long-term economic and fiscal policies and a 10-year outlook on the economy, hoping to set a package of guidelines for achieving economic recovery in the immediate future and improving the nation's growth potential.


We must prevent the next 10 years from becoming another "lost decade"--the term used to describe the years that followed the collapse of the asset-inflated bubble economy in the early 1990s. The government must put its growth strategy to work as soon as possible.


The 10-year-outlook section of the report lists policy measures needed to be implemented in three phases--short, medium and long term.


The report states efforts aimed at stimulating the economy should be given priority for three years starting this current fiscal year. In the medium term through the mid-2010s, according to the report, stabilization of the social security system and fiscal rehabilitation are most important.


In the medium to long term, ending in fiscal 2018, the council says the nation's economic growth potential should be enhanced by creating new demand and jobs through relaxation of bureaucratic restrictions and development of new industries.



Questions left unanswered

We do not see any problems with this strategy, but we are not quite convinced by the contents and of the effectiveness of the actual policy measures.


The guideline briefly outlines the government-proposed \75 trillion economic stimulus package aimed at tackling the current recession. However, this does not reassure us that the government is determined to take necessary additional measures to bring about an economic recovery. We feel the government is not full aware of the gravity of the situation.


If one looks at the report, the future of the government's finances and the social security system seems to be even more uncertain as a result of the current economic turmoil.


In the report, the government admits that it has become difficult to achieve its target of bringing the primary balances of central and local governments into the black by fiscal 2011, but retains them as nonbinding targets.



New fiscal targets needed

The government will continue to try to achieve fiscal reconstruction and maintain fiscal discipline, the council said in the guideline. However, the Cabinet Office estimates the national deficit will grow to \13 trillion in fiscal 2011, even under the most optimistic scenario in which the consumption tax rate is raised and the global economy recovers quickly. It will be simply impossible to achieve a primary-balance surplus by that target year.


The government would be better placed to alleviate public anxiety over its finances and the social security system if it set a new goal, which might take longer to achieve, rather than sticking to the old unachievable target.


The council said in the guideline that the government will try to bring about a low-carbon society by tapping the nation's strengths, including its advanced technological capabilities.


Several similar government plans, such as "the course and strategy of the Japanese economy" and "the economic growth strategy" announced last year, have been presented. So all the "menus" now seem to have been laid out on the table.


Even with so many wonderful menus on offer, however, delicious meals cannot be made without a good cook.

Now, more than ever, we need a political leadership that can realize a fruitful decade by serving up those menus.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 17, 2009)

20091170135  読売新聞)

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2009年1月16日 (金)

春闘スタート 環境激変に労使一体で当たれ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 16, 2009)

Time for management, labor to work together

春闘スタート 環境激変に労使一体で当たれ(116日付・読売社説)

This year's shunto, or spring labor offensive, started Thursday, as the world reels from a recession that has no end in sight.


The leaders of the Japanese Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) held a meeting to spell out their basic stances before launching labor-management negotiations for wages and working conditions.


Such notable export-oriented industries as automobile and electrical machinery--leading players in shunto negotiations--are caught in the storm of the global recession.


The major challenge for management and labor is to find ways to sharpen competitive edges of companies without harming employee morale.



Antagonism hurts progress

At the Thursday meeting, Rengo demanded for the first time in eight years for an increase in the basic wage in a bid to push up the wage level. It asserted that real-term wages are decreasing due to rises in commodity prices and that the most effective economic stimulus measure would be to expand consumption through wage increases.


The Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers' Unions and the Japanese Electrical, Electronic and Information Union--both of which operate under the Rengo umbrella--demanded monthly pay increases of more than 4,000 yen and 4,500 yen, respectively.


These demands are bold. The figures compare with last year's demands of more than 1,000 yen for the automobile unions confederation and more than 2,000 yen for the electrical, electronic and information union.


Nippon Keidanren, however, found this year's union demands impossible to accept. It counterargued that it is a general principle to decide wage levels based on each company's ability to pay--not on commodity price fluctuations--and that virtually all companies are unable to raise wages now.


As it is, negotiations could be marked by fruitless antagonism throughout. It is essential for labor and management to cooperate, particularly in a time of crisis. Let us hope that compromises can be hammered out through exhaustive discussions.



Results needed from all sides

The state of affairs surrounding labor and management is changing day by day, as exemplified by the decision of some companies to cut wages and at the same time suspend parts of their operations.


It is possible that a succession of labor unions will drop Rengo's policy during their negotiations with management.


Furthermore, employment issues cannot go unaddressed.


Nippon Keidanren and Rengo have compiled a joint declaration, pledging to cooperate in ensuring employment stability and tackling other pressing issues. At the center of their declaration are demands on the government, such as the expansion of the employment safety net and the swift implementation of measures to create jobs.


At this pressing time, it is important for labor and management to jointly urge that the government implement employment measures. But putting everything on the government's shoulders will not fix the current predicament.


Their joint declaration stated that Nippon Keidanren and Rengo "reaffirm that the long-term employment system has supported the growth and development of companies and the economy, and that they will make utmost efforts to attain economic recovery."


The number of nonregular workers in the manufacturing sector has been drastically slashed in a short period. Such employment adjustments could eventually affect regular workers. Problems also have emerged regarding economic gaps between regular and nonregular workers.


We hope in-depth discussions will be carried out with the aim of producing tangible measures in line with this declaration.


In this spring's labor offensive, both management and the unions will be watched closely on how they act to weather the upheaval in the business environment and attain sustained growth.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 16, 2009)

20091160137  読売新聞)

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2009年1月15日 (木)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 14(IHT/Asahi: January 15,2009)

EDITORIAL: Supreme Court seats


The true purpose of judicial reform, of which the citizen judge system to be introduced this May is a key pillar, is to open the administration of justice to the public eye. In that sense, there is still one phase of reform that must not be overlooked. Namely, bringing the appointments of the 15 justices on the Supreme Court out from behind closed doors.



Under the Constitution, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is designated by the Cabinet and then officially appointed by the emperor. The other 14 justices are appointed directly by the Cabinet. Despite this provision, however, no stipulations are made regarding the specific method of selection.



In November, Hironobu Takesaki was appointed to serve as the Supreme Court's 17th chief justice. Again, however, insufficient explanation was given on how he was chosen. Takesaki is the ninth consecutive court judge to be named chief justice over the past 30 years. By all appearances, therefore, some sort of pecking order is at work. Prior to that, judges, scholars, attorneys and public prosecutors were chosen to fill that post.



The chief justice is not the only post decided in closed-door sessions. The current members of the Supreme Court consist of six who served as judges, four as attorneys, two as prosecutors, two as bureaucrats, and an individual from legal academia. For all practical purposes, these quotas have become fixed.


In principle, the Cabinet pares down the candidate list when appointing bureaucrats to these judicial positions. With those from the legal profession, however, the actual practice is to ratify candidates named by the presiding chief justice.


In the United States, the president nominates Supreme Court justices. The power to approve the appointments lies with the Senate, which holds nomination hearings to review each candidate.


This approach stands in sharp contrast to Japan, where the public remains in the dark about the selection procedures.


The Judicial System Reform Council addressed this problem in 2001 by calling for more transparency in the appointment process so as to raise the trust of ordinary citizens in Supreme Court justices. However, the judicial system reform promotion headquarters, the government body in charge of bringing such concepts to fruition at the time, failed to compile a proposal for action.


The citizen judge system, law schools, the Japan Legal Support Center and a steady stream of other institutional reforms have been introduced to better familiarize citizens with the nuts and bolts of how justice is administered.


The appointment credentials for Supreme Court justices are stated as being persons age 40 or above possessing high principles and knowledge of the law. Clearly, candidates should be selected from a more diversified personnel pool, using methods clearly visible to the public eye.


Throughout the postwar era, there have been only eight instances in which the Supreme Court declared laws unconstitutional. In view of this, more detailed selection criteria could also be expected to help transform the Supreme Court into a body characterized by a more aggressive stance toward constitutional rulings.


Four times in the past, revisions have been proposed to the Diet to establish an appointment advisory council for the Cabinet comprised of persons from legal circles, Diet members, experts and others. Such a body would select multiple numbers of Supreme Court justice candidates and submit the list to the Cabinet.


With the start of the citizen judge system, this is a year in which judicial reform is moving into full swing. The time is thus truly ripe for lawmakers to embark on serious examinations of the issues at hand, including reconsideration of this legal revision.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 14(IHT/Asahi: January 15,2009)

EDITORIAL: Feud over cash handouts


Opinion polls conducted by major news organizations over the weekend showed quite astounding results. The approval ratings for Taro Aso's Cabinet dipped below 20 percent in polls by The Asahi Shimbun, The Sankei Shimbun and Kyodo News, while the disapproval ratings topped 70 percent in polls conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), Sankei and Kyodo.



In short, more than two-thirds of voters have turned their backs on the prime minister, including 67 percent of the respondents in the Asahi survey.


Even worse for Aso is the overwhelming unpopularity of his economic measures.


In the Asahi poll, 70 percent of the respondents said they did not expect much from the prime minister's economic stimulus package. Similarly, the Yomiuri poll showed 64 percent of the respondents giving a thumbs down to the government's economic measures.


On the much-debated fixed-sum cash handout program, 71 percent considered it "ineffectual as a stimulus measure," and 63 percent said the handouts should not be given, according to the Asahi survey. In the Yomiuri survey, 78 percent favored "spending the money to improve employment and social security, rather than to give it away."


The government's popularity is bound to suffer when recession continues to seriously affect employment and consumer spending.


However, the government now finds itself extremely unpopular for wanting to use a whopping 2 trillion yen to give cash handouts to all Japanese citizens. This means people are not just balking at this particular initiative, but they are saying they have lost faith in the government.


Against this background, the ruling coalition railroaded the government's second supplementary budget and related bills through the Lower House on Tuesday.


Naturally, this elicited a strong reaction from opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan). The party's leader, Ichiro Ozawa, said he would "deal positively with other issues" if the prime minister drops the 2-trillion-yen spending plan from the budget bill, indicating that he would cooperate for the swift passage of the supplementary budget bill.


Had Aso accepted Ozawa's "offer," he could have made it easier to take swift measures to increase employment and help small and medium-sized businesses with cash flow problems.


But in Aso's mind, meeting Ozawa even halfway must have been tantamount to conceding defeat. The prime minister appears incapable of understanding just how gloomy the situation has become for society.


Aso also faces critics within his own Liberal Democratic Party. Yoshimi Watanabe, a former state minister in charge of administrative reform, resigned from the party on Tuesday.

And former LDP Secretary-General Koichi Kato noted, "Between 70 and 80 percent of LDP members know in their hearts that the handout program isn't quite right, but they support it because they need New Komeito on their side in the next general election."


If what Kato said is true, it means the LDP is going along with this "not quite right" program solely because it needs the support of its junior coalition partner and Soka Gakkai. This is pathetic.


If the ruling coalition continues to feud with the opposition camp, which will likely reject the legislation in the Upper House, the ruling bloc, which controls the Lower House, would resort to the "60-day rule" to get the program approved by a second vote as it has done in the past.


This will lead to a repeat of the confusion in the Diet during the Yasuo Fukuda administration over the gasoline tax bill and the bill to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.


With life becoming increasingly bleak for its citizens, Japan just does not have the luxury to continue with such inane politics.


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殺人:45歳中大教授刺され死亡 理工学部のトイレで

(Mainichi Japan) January 14, 2009

Professor fatally stabbed in bathroom at Chuo University in Tokyo

殺人:45歳中大教授刺され死亡 理工学部のトイレで

A 45-year-old professor has died after being found collapsed in a bathroom at Tokyo's Chuo University on Wednesday with multiple stab wounds, police said.

Hajime Takakubo, a professor at the science and engineering faculty of the university in Bunkyo-ku, was found collapsed at around 10:30 a.m. He died about an hour after being rushed to hospital. He had several stab wounds in the back and to other parts of his body.


According to police, a student saw a man who looked in his 30s leave the bathroom, and another student said he passed a man dressed in black in a corridor near the bathroom. Police believe the suspect may have bloodstains over his clothes.



Takakubo was scheduled to have a class from 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday. The bathroom was near his research room. No security procedures were in place for entering the university and anyone could enter the campus.


Takakubo earned a Master's degree at Sophia University in Tokyo. He became associate professor of engineering at Chuo University in 1997 and started serving as a professor there in 2003. His specialty field was analog integrated circuits, according to the university's Web site.




毎日新聞 2009114日 1135分(最終更新 114日 1335分)

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輸出企業不振 北米市場頼みが裏目に出た

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 15, 2009)

Japan Inc. must wean self off N. American market

輸出企業不振 北米市場頼みが裏目に出た(115日付・読売社説)

The business performance of Japanese exporting companies is deteriorating fast due to the simultaneous slowdown of the global economy triggered by the U.S. financial crisis. The situation can now be described as a debacle.


Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. are expecting operating losses on a consolidated basis for the business year ending in March, though both of them had earlier forecast profits. Sony projects that it will fall into the red for the first time in 14 years, while Toshiba anticipates its first loss in seven years.


Sony's projected loss is due to the fact that sales of liquid crystal display TVs, one of the company's flagship products, and other electronic items have tumbled in the United States and Europe. In addition, the company has suffered from declining export profits due to the yen's sharp appreciation.

Meanwhile, Toshiba has been dealt a blow by the lackluster performance of its semiconductor business.


The slowdown in the manufacturing industry, an engine driving the Japanese economy, was triggered by the downturn in the auto industry.


Toyota Motor Corp. said in late December that it expected a 150 billion yen operating loss for the business year ending in March 2009. It has taken only a year for Toyota to fall into the red since it reported operating profits of more than 2 trillion yen in the last business year.



'Toyota shock' makes waves

The shock wave caused by Toyota's poor performance has spread to a wide range of businesses, including manufacturers of electrical appliances and industrial materials.


Japanese export companies have been enjoying positive earnings for the last few years, benefiting from thriving markets in North America and other regions, and from the weak yen. But drastic changes in the business climate have exposed the fragility of their profit structures.


The total operating profits of listed companies are expected to decline in the business year ending in March for the first time in seven business years. The harsh economic environment is forecast to continue in the next business year.


The slowdown in exports has also cut into Japan's current account surplus. The doldrums in the manufacturing industry will impede the recovery of the nation's economy, which has entered a recession phase.


Exporting companies are working all out to secure profits under the current economic turmoil. Sony will cut 16,000 workers, including 8,000 regular employees, at home and abroad. Toyota and Toshiba have already decided to reduce production drastically after reviewing their manufacturing systems.



Major rethink needed

But cost reductions through restructuring efforts are just stopgap measures. It is an urgent task for exporters to reform their profit structures from a medium- to long-term viewpoint.


First, the exporting companies should end their excessive dependence on North America and strengthen structures to glean earnings in countries around the globe, including newly emerging markets with high growth potential, such as China and India.


It is also important for the firms to pick their business fields carefully and concentrate on priority ones. Sanyo Electric Co. has agreed to be acquired by Panasonic, while Toshiba will take over the hard-disk-drive business of Fujitsu Ltd. Such reorganization within the industry is bound to accelerate. Manufacturing companies must work out aggressive business strategies in response.


Research and development will become even more important to enable firms to make new products that give them a competitive edge in the future. In the past, the Japanese manufacturing industry has used its high-tech capability as leverage to overcome so-called high-yen recessions and the bursting of the IT bubble. We are confident that the industry has the potential to rise to the latest challenge.



(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2009)

20091150209  読売新聞)

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2009年1月14日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2009)

EDITORIAL: Reform of bureaucracy


Reform of the nation's calcifying bureaucratic structure remains stalled despite a consensus among many lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps that the system badly needs to be revamped.


Last year, the government abandoned its plan to set up a new Cabinet bureau in fiscal 2009 that would have allowed the prime minister's office to control all senior bureaucratic appointments. Currently, all such personnel moves are decided by the relevant ministries and agencies. The step has been postponed to April next year, the start of fiscal 2010. The government now says it will shortly decide on a blueprint and a timetable for the entire makeover of the bureaucratic system. This will include expanding the basic labor rights of national public servants.


Prior to the start of fiscal 2010, however, a Lower House election must be held as the current term for the chamber's members expires in September. The scope of this reform will change the nation's bureaucratic system fundamentally. Therefore, the job should not be rushed just to meet the deadline. We believe it would be better to leave the task to a new administration, which could then confront the challenge with its own ideas.


The creation of the new Cabinet personnel bureau, a step based on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties, was stipulated in the law to reform the central bureaucracy that was enacted in June last year. The principal objective is integrated management of personnel decisions concerning senior bureaucrats under the chief Cabinet secretary, instead of independently by respective ministries and agencies.


The nation's central bureaucrats are working in a highly compartmentalized organization steeped in a culture that stresses turf consciousness. That is why they are often described as putting the interests of their ministries ahead of the national good. The bureaucracy cannot function for the benefit of the public unless this mind-set is changed. It was significant that the rival political camps agreed on this point even with a legislative gridlock due to the opposition's control of the Upper House.


Following enactment of the legislation, an advisory panel of experts published a report on the issue last November. It said the sections in charge of planning and management of the entire personnel system at the National Personnel Authority, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Finance Ministry should be transferred to the new Cabinet personnel bureau. However, the negotiations with these ministries proved tougher than expected, forcing the government to abandon its plan to establish the new bureau in fiscal 2009.


The advisory panel didn't spend enough time discussing the key issue of how to give the new bureau the effective authority to make personnel decisions concerning senior bureaucrats at all ministries and agencies. Due partly to the leadership change that handed the reins of power to Prime Minister Taro Aso, the start of the panel's discussions was delayed. The panel had only a month to put together its recommendations.


Some ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who campaigned for the legislation warned about acting rashly to set up the new bureau, while some members of the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) who were involved in the talks over revisions to the bill were irked at being left out of the process of drafting the plan.


Late last year, the government set up a new center within the Cabinet Office to help retiring bureaucrats find new private-sector jobs--a step adopted by the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as an answer to the problems linked to the traditional practice of amakudari. But there was a problem. The center was established while the appointments of the members of the committee in charge of approving the employment of retiring officials were blocked by the opposition parties. It is still unclear whether former bureaucrats on private payrolls should be allowed to hop from one job to another, a practice known as watari that was originally designated for a ban.


All the parties should present their own plans for overhauling the bureaucracy, including measures on the amakudari issue, as part of their campaign platforms. Then, the new administration should push through the reform with support from both the ruling and opposition camps.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2009)

EDITORIAL: Japan-S. Korea summit


Public approval ratings are abysmal for both Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. But their latest summit in Seoul gave us reason to anticipate new, positive developments in bilateral relations.


For Aso, it was his first state visit to South Korea since he assumed office last September.


During the talks Monday, the two leaders confirmed the importance of having their countries and the United States remain on the same page concerning North Korea's nuclear problem. They also agreed to work together to cope with the global financial crisis.


The summit produced no surprises, but it was significant that the Japanese and South Korean leaders reconfirmed their positions less than 10 days before the U.S. administration of Barack Obama takes off on Jan. 20.


Morever, Aso and Lee made it quite clear that the two countries intend to work together in tackling various international challenges. We welcome this new direction, as past summits tended to focus only on bilateral issues.


One matter that was discussed at length this time was how Japan and South Korea can cooperate on Afghan reconstruction.


Japanese and South Korean citizens are among the global contingents of aid workers dispatched to Afghanistan, but the situation there is growing progressively worse. As Afghanistan is one of Obama's top foreign policy issues, his administration will most likely call for greater contributions from Tokyo and Seoul.



There is no doubt that this prospect was what prompted Aso and Lee to discuss the Afghan issue.


Nothing specific has been decided on Japan-South Korea cooperation in Afghanistan. But since any form of military contribution will be severely restricted and raise serious problems, we believe Tokyo and Seoul should swiftly work out details of joint civilian assistance plans.


Aside from Afghanistan, the two countries ought to work together on many other international issues, such as helping developing countries grow and stabilize themselves. Various environmental challenges, including climate change, need to be addressed, too.


In that sense, we applaud Aso and Lee for agreeing to start "joint research on a new era in Japan-South Korea relations."


The project will involve experts from both countries and explore bilateral relations to enable the two nations to jointly contribute to the international community. We hope the team will tap all sorts of possibilities and achieve results.


The Japan-South Korea relationship itself can be strengthened by the partners' efforts to compile a solid track record of cooperation on the international stage, as well as to seek regional stability through summits involving China and other talks.


Aso's latest visit to South Korea signified the revival of "summit shuttle diplomacy," which aims to build mutual trust through casual visits and frank exchanges by leaders of the two nations.


We must never return to that dismal period in our relationship, when our prime minister's obsessive determination to keep visiting Yasukuni Shrine and excessive nationalism in South Korea resulted in the suspension of mutual visits by the leaders.


Next year will be exactly a century since Japan annexed and colonized the Korean Peninsula. At every summit, the leaders of Japan and South Korea stress the "importance of facing the past squarely and looking toward the future." But this does not mean that all the lingering ill feelings about history and territorial issues have evaporated.


We hope the latest summit can become the cue for moving in the right direction, even if by a baby step.


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社説:日韓首脳会談 「成熟した関係」を確かなものに

(Mainichi Japan) January 13, 2009

Japan, South Korea turn to 'shuttle diplomacy' to boost bilateral cooperation

社説:日韓首脳会談 「成熟した関係」を確かなものに

Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed in their summit talks in Seoul on Monday to step up bilateral cooperation to solve problems involving North Korea's nuclear program, extend assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and respond to the global financial crisis.


The two leaders should bolster a "mature partnership," which the two countries agreed to build up in April last year, through various activities.


During the summit, Aso and Lee focused on the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20. Both leaders placed special emphasis on cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea in responding to North Korea's nuclear program.


The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program have been deadlocked over how to conduct inspections on facilities to verify the program. The new U.S. administration holds the key to breaking the deadlock.


"Cooperation between the three countries is extremely important," Lee told Aso during the summit meeting.

"Following the inauguration of the new U.S. administration, North Korea may attempt to cause a crack in cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. The three countries must maintain their close alliance," Aso said.


It is significant that the leaders of Japan and South Korea confirmed that they will seek cooperation with the U.S. prior to the inauguration of the new Obama administration. The two leaders should demonstrate their determination through actions, not just words.


Aso and Lee agreed to pursue bilateral cooperation in extending assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, taking into consideration the new U.S. government's policies.


President-elect Obama has made it clear that he will attach particular importance to the Afghanistan issue. However, Japan has not yet laid the groundwork for enacting legislation aimed at dispatching Self-Defense Force (SDF) personnel to Afghanistan. South Korea had stationed military personnel in Afghanistan to assist in the reconstruction, but has already withdrawn the troops.


As part of the bilateral cooperation in extending assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the two countries are apparently considering cooperation between the Japan International Cooperation Agency and its South Korean counterpart, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, and other organizations in the fields of vocational training and agricultural assistance.


Such support appears to be less notable than the deployment of SDF personnel, but it is significant as a way to extend effective assistance to Afghanistan. Japan and South Korea are urged to realize their bilateral cooperation in this field.


Relations between Japan and South Korea were strained by the description of the Takeshima Islands, which are claimed by both countries, in Japan's school curriculum guidelines -- even after Lee visited Japan in April last year. Nevertheless, the leaders of the two countries have frequently held talks with each other.


This was Aso's first visit to South Korea as prime minister, but he has met with Lee five times since October last year in other locations.


At a joint news conference on Monday, Lee described the frequent summits between the two countries as a symbol of the development of bilateral relations -- from nations close to each other geographically but distant politically to nations close to each other both geographically and politically. He then pledged to visit Japan sometime this year.


The president did not mention the territorial dispute over the Takeshima Islands apparently because he places priority on building forward-looking relations between the two countries.


Strengthening bilateral ties through so-called "shuttle diplomacy," in which the leaders of the two countries frequently exchange visits, will lead to greater contributions to the international community.


毎日新聞 2009113日 東京朝刊

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補正衆院通過 予算審議を速やかに進めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 14, 2009)

Budget deliberations should proceed apace

補正衆院通過 予算審議を速やかに進めよ(114日付・読売社説)

A second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 and its related bills cleared the House of Representatives on Tuesday with majority support from the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito.

Given that economic recovery is the top priority for the nation, a vote on the extra budget must not be delayed, even though it includes a controversial cash handout plan.



Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan boycotted the vote on the extra budget at the lower house plenary session, saying deliberations on it were insufficient.


With its passage at the lower house, the extra budget could be automatically enacted in 30 days without a vote at the House of Councillors.


But to implement the cash handout and other measures, the related bills will have to be enacted.


If opposition parties do not vote on the bills, the ruling parties will have to pass them through a second vote using their two-thirds supermajority in the lower house, in line with the Constitution's so-called 60-day rule.



DPJ should push its own ideas

The DPJ intends to continue pressing the ruling camp hard by claiming that the cash handout measure is foolish, with the aim of encouraging as many LDP lawmakers as possible to rebel against their party at the time of the second vote.


But even if the DPJ manages to delay the start of deliberations on the extra budget at the upper house due to its opposition to the cash handout plan, there certainly will be limitations to this tactic.


This is because it is an urgent task to pass the extra budget and the fiscal 2009 budget as soon as possible, in view of the economic downturn.


It would be a much wiser course of action for the DPJ to call on the government and ruling parties to discuss revisions to the extra budget by coming up with concrete alternatives while continuing to demand the removal of the 2 trillion yen cash handout plan.


If the DPJ refuses to take part in deliberations or delays them, those on the extra budget at the upper house will have to be conducted in parallel with those on the fiscal 2009 budget at the lower house.


For their part, the government and ruling parties need to get their act together before deliberations on the fiscal 2009 budget start.


An opinion poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun recently showed that disapproval of Prime Minister Taro Aso's Cabinet exceeded 70 percent. Also, two out of three respondents did not positively evaluate measures to address the economic downturn that were included in the fiscal 2009 budget.


The government and ruling parties should explain more carefully how they expect the budget to boost the economy.



LDP must close ranks

Yoshimi Watanabe, former state minister in charge of administrative reform, who had been calling for an early dissolution of the lower house and the dropping of the cash handout proposal, submitted a letter conveying his wish to leave the LDP before the vote at the lower house's plenary session. The party accepted his resignation. It was a natural turn of events for Watanabe to leave the party, considering his arguments.


Most of the points he made were similar to the DPJ's, and some observers saw his actions as traitorous. Many LDP lawmakers likely were put off by his aggressive anti-Aso rhetoric during his appearances on TV programs.


One LDP lawmaker abstained from the voting at the plenary session. The LDP cannot allow any more disruption in party unity. The party's executive bears a grave responsibility in this regard.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 14, 2009)

20091140134  読売新聞)

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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 12(IHT/Asahi: January 13,2009)

EDITORIAL: Abducted doctor freed


Keiko Akahane, a Japanese doctor who was kidnapped in Ethiopia in September last year, was freed last week after being held captive for 3? months in Somalia.


"I'm happy to have lived to see this day," Akahane said at a news conference in Paris, where French aid group Medecins du Monde (MDM, Doctors of the World) is based.

Akahane was working as a member of the group when she was abducted.


Her family and friends must have felt immense relief to find her safe and sound. We share their happiness.


When she went to Ethiopia in April last year, she realized her childhood dream of doing medical work in a developing country.


For a while after she was abducted by an armed group and taken to neighboring Somalia, she thought "This is it" every time she heard the kidnappers touching their guns, according to Akahane's account of her life in captivity.


She said she could endure the days of living in constant fear of death because of her strong feelings toward her family. It seems she also found solace in daily conversations with a Dutch nurse who was kidnapped with her and by reading books.


Somalia is a totally failed nation. A serious deterioration of the public safety situation in the eastern African country has led to rampant kidnappings of foreigners. Pirates operating off Somalia are also posing a nagging maritime security problem for the international community.


We wonder how well MDM understood the seriousness of the security situation in the region.


The French aid organization, founded in 1980, operates aid work in about 50 countries on an annual budget of more than 10 billion yen. It is a sophisticated, well-experienced humanitarian aid group.


While working in Ethiopia, Akahane and her colleagues first gathered security information every morning to ensure their safety. Still, they failed to detect the movement of the armed group, which crossed the border and sneaked up on them. This is the grim reality of a conflict area.


MDM negotiated with the kidnappers on its own. The Japanese government just monitored the related developments in response to a request from the French aid group.


There is no functioning government to depend on in Somalia. MDM apparently thought involvement by the Japanese government would only complicate the negotiations. MDM's strategy for dealing with the situation has proved successful.


What must not be forgotten is that Japanese nongovernmental organizations operating aid work overseas do not have the ability to conduct similar negotiations with an armed group. If a Japanese aid group becomes embroiled in a similar situation, the Japanese government would have to take action to fulfill its duty to protect Japanese nationals.


Japanese NGOs began operating large-scale humanitarian aid activities in various parts of the world in the 1980s. Their efforts have contributed greatly to raising Japan's stature in the international community. But their operations are always fraught with danger.


In a tragic incident in August last year, Japanese aid worker Kazuya Ito, who was working in eastern parts of Afghanistan, was abducted by an armed group and killed immediately afterward.


But the NGO he belonged to, Peshawar-kai, has continued irrigation and agricultural work in the country in order to build on Ito's legacy.


Akahane, who said she wanted to rest awhile in Japan, nevertheless expressed hope that she will be able to do aid work in a similar place again.


Humanitarian aid activities in developing countries can continue because of contributions by many such dedicated people. We all should give moral support to young people committed to serving the cause of humanity.


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社説:ガザ地上侵攻 米国はイスラエルを止めよ

(Mainichi Japan) January 8, 2009

U.S. must stop Israel's invasion of Gaza

社説:ガザ地上侵攻 米国はイスラエルを止めよ

He repeatedly punches his adversary, claiming self-defense. Asserting that his adversary, who is now covered in blood, is resisting, he mounts and continues to pummel him. Finally, he whales away at his adversary not only with his fists but also with a bat and golf club. Passersby look on but do not intervene, and the policeman seems unconcerned, saying only that "it can't be helped because all is being done in self-defense."


Couldn't this be a description of Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip, whose air strikes are now being augmented by a ground campaign? No country or institution, including the United Nations, appears to be capable of bringing Israel's military campaign in Gaza to an immediate halt. Even the U.S., which at times has been looked to as the world's policeman, chooses to defend its ally, and President George Bush has stated that Israel has "decided to protect itself."


But Israel's military operation cannot be condoned from a humanitarian perspective. Since its offensive against the Gaza Strip began in late December, more than 550 Palestinians have died, of whom around 100 were children, according to emergency workers. If Israel's military campaign is a political performance staged with an eye on its general elections scheduled for February, then it can only be described as especially heinous.


The rockets that Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist organization that exercises de facto control over Gaza, continues to launch into Israel have reportedly killed several Israelis. While Hamas should cease its rocket attacks, Israel above all must exercise self-restraint and desist from attacking Gaza in order to prevent the death toll from rising substantially.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to mediate have come to naught, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' demand to "immediately and unconditionally terminate its invasion" as a call for a compromise that would "condone Hamas' attacks."


Even under normal conditions, the Gaza Strip suffers from a scarcity of goods, but it is now experiencing shortages of drinking water, fuel, medical supplies, and other commodities, and according to a U.N. official, a "humanitarian crisis" is rapidly unfolding there. The territory covers an area of land equal to only about 60 percent of the land mass of Tokyo's 23 wards, so it has a very high population density, and the inflow of commodities into the territory is strictly controlled.


Furthermore, the inhabitants of Gaza have nowhere to take refuge. It is easily predictable that when the inhabitants of this narrow sliver of land, who have their backs up against the sea, come under attack, large numbers will come into harm's way. There are also reports that Israel has used cluster bombs in its Gaza offensive. These weapons have been targeted by an international campaign to ban them.


Israel has invaded Gaza in the past, and conducted a large-scale military campaign against the neighboring country of Lebanon in 2006. Israel has described an earlier invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as a peace offensive, but the same operation was cited by Osama bin Laden as justification for the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S.


It would be difficult to conclude that Israel's military campaigns have enhanced its peace and security. Protests by Muslims in neighboring countries, who condemn the attack on the Gaza Strip as a massacre, have been spreading. The U.S should persuade its ally Israel to end its military campaign. If President Bush ignores the bloodshed and cries of agony until his term expires on Jan. 20, he may have to leave office with a heavy conscience.


毎日新聞 200917日 東京朝刊

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日韓首脳会談 北の分断戦術に動じるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 13, 2009)

Japan, South Korea must strengthen ties

日韓首脳会談 北の分断戦術に動じるな(113日付・読売社説)

It is North Korea's usual tactic to try to divide negotiating partners. Japan and South Korea must maintain strong cooperation with the new U.S. administration without being shaken by such tactics.


In talks in Seoul on Monday, Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak agreed to closely cooperate with the new U.S. administration of Barack Obama that will take office on Jan. 20 in order to realize their basic goal of denuclearizing North Korea through the six-party talks.


In the six-party talks in December, the participating countries could not agree on stipulating a procedure to verify Pyongyang's nuclear declaration, including sample-taking from the country's nuclear facilities. The next round of six-party talks likely will be held after the new U.S. administration sets its policies regarding North Korea and a new State Department official is appointed to act for the United States at the talks.


A joint editorial run on New Year's Day by the three main state-run newspapers in North Korea stressed a confrontational approach against South Korea, but on the other hand, recognized the importance of dialogue with the United States. Meanwhile, North Korea has been postponing its reinvestigation of Japanese nationals abducted to the country and still has not agreed to openly and honestly discuss the abduction issue in a good faith. It is quite an insincere attitude.



Divide and conquer

Taken as a whole, North Korea's moves can be seen as tactics aimed at driving a wedge between the United States and Japan and South Korea and expediting bilateral negotiations with the United States rather than advancing six-party talks. Aso, in the summit meeting with Lee, pointed out that North Korea might move to split the trilateral security framework of Japan, South Korea and the United States after the new U.S. administration takes office.


In the final stage of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, as the administration put priority on the overall success of the six-party talks in denuclearizing North Korea, negotiators were unable to put the finishing touches on the more immediate goal of sorting out the nuclear verification process.


It will become important for Japan and South Korea to discuss policies on North Korea in-depth with the Obama administration as early as possible and take concerted action in line with a policy to seek a strict nuclear verification process.


In the summit talks, Japan and South Korea welcomed the setting of the foundation for alternating annual visits by the prime minister and the president and also agreed to promote bilateral cooperation to solve the global financial crisis and provide support for Afghanistan.



Overcoming tensions

In 2008, the relationship between Japan and South Korea became tense when the Japanese education ministry issued an instruction manual for new middle school social studies curriculum guidelines that mentioned for the first time that students should be taught that the disputed Takeshima group of islets, which South Korea calls Dokdo and claims as sovereign territory, belong to Japan. Nevertheless, leaders of Japan and South Korea exchanged visits four times over the year. Relations flowered, with the leaders meeting in each of the last three months of the year, including discussions at international gatherings.


It is important that leaders of the two countries continue to exchange opinions frankly in spite of difficult problems related to historical and territorial issues and try to find solutions to these issues in a future-oriented manner.


Accumulating concrete achievements, such as bilateral cooperation in financial reforms and macroeconomic policies in battling the financial crisis, and supporting Afghanistan's reconstruction in the fields of job training and agriculture, will help Japan and South Korea strengthen their ties.


An expert panel to discuss how the two countries should jointly cope with international problems will hold a preparatory meeting this month. We hope the two countries will rack their brains in order to remake their relationship, sometimes described as nations close geographically but distant politically, into one in which the two nations are close geographically and politically.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 13, 2009)

20091130136  読売新聞)

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10(IHT/Asahi: January 12,2009)

EDITORIAL: Cease-fire in Gaza


The U.N. Security Council has at long last adopted a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Israel's offensive against the Gaza Strip.


Israeli airstrikes have killed about 800 people, including civilians. Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, should immediately accept the resolution and put an end to the bloodshed.


Yet, even after the adoption of the Security Council resolution, Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks have continued. It seems both sides are trying to provoke the other while keeping an eye on moves by the international community to get them to stop.


The hopes and expectations that surged when the resolution was adopted must not be allowed to dissipate. We urge the United States and European nations to exert every effort to persuade Israel and the Arab world to do the same with Hamas. As a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, Japan should also seek ways to work with the parties first-hand so that they will accept the resolution.


The United States, which had resisted previous Security Council attempts to call for an immediate cease-fire, abstained rather than vetoed the vote for the resolution. In a way, it can be said that Washington joined the international community's call for a cease-fire.


The resolution calls for an "immediate and durable" cessation of hostilities and continued efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace. To that end, the United States, as the central architect of the Middle East peace process, must take an active role in this process. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who is set to take office on Jan. 20, should immediately start working to achieve calm in the region and try to rejuvenate peace negotiations.


The Security Council resolution also encourages "intra-Palestinian reconciliation" between the militant Hamas and moderate Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. We look forward to a renewal of dialogue between the two Palestinian parties, as Fatah's involvement in controlling post-cease-fire Gaza is imperative.


The situation has reached such a dire point, and claimed so many victims, specifically because it revolves around two antagonists in direct conflict: on one hand, Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, and on the other, Israel, which condemns Hamas as a "terrorist organization."


To expedite peace with Israel, the Palestinians must build a united front. There will only be more confusion if they continue in their fractured way, with Fatah in the West Bank actively pursuing peace, and Hamas in Gaza refusing to.


To achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt with a history of mediating between the two parties--Saudi Arabia once urged the two to form a coalition government, and Egypt mediated reconciliation meetings between them last year--must exert pressure on them to start talking with each other once again.


Some 3,200 people have been injured in Gaza so far. After 18 months of economic blockade by Israel, hospitals there are running out of anesthetics and medical supplies. The Security Council resolution "calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance." Japan should show a willingness to participate in sending emergency medical teams and other humanitarian assistance, as well as demanding that both Israel and Hamas observe the cease-fire.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10(IHT/Asahi: January 12,2009)

EDITORIAL: Obama addresses crisis


Just 12 days before taking office on Jan. 20, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, in an address on his economic policy, laid out a plan to deal with the economic crisis. It is highly unusual for a president-elect to make such high-profile policy pronouncements before actually being sworn in.


Since he was elected in November, Obama has acted swiftly and vigorously in preparing for his administration's handling of the crisis, appointing his economic team much earlier than usual.


Obama's aggressive actions raised hopes of an early economic recovery among the American people, helping to temporarily lift the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 9,000.


But the latest employment data, showing a further deterioration of the job situation, provoked rumblings that it could be too late if Obama waited until his inauguration to announce his plan to tackle the economy.


The unprecedented speech was apparently his response to a growing sense of crisis among Americans.


In the Thursday speech, Obama candidly talked about the nation's perilous economic outlook.


"If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," he warned. "The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four."


"In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."


Obama was apparently trying to dampen expectations among Americans of an early economic upturn.


In the address, Obama reiterated his intention to save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next two years through a fiscal stimulus package worth up to $775 billion. The amount represents more than 5 percent of the country's gross domestic product.


The centerpieces of the package are tax cuts and public works spending.


The envisioned tax cuts focus on middle-class and low-income households in line with Obama's campaign promises. In addition, the new administration would also cut corporate taxes to stimulate job creation and business investment.


Obama's public spending programs include projects to build and enhance infrastructure like roads and bridges and modernize schools and other public facilities, investments in energy-saving technologies and a program to computerize medical records for better and more efficient health care.


The U.S. government is already in crisis mode, seemingly ready to take all necessary policy measures to save the sinking economy.


U.S. policymakers created a $700-billion rescue fund to restore stability in financial markets and made dramatic monetary policy moves. Monetary authorities lowered the benchmark interest rate to virtually zero and launched a quantitative easing program to inject money directly into the economy at the end of last year.


The proposed fiscal expansion is expected to increase the U.S. budget deficit for fiscal 2009 to a record high of well above $1 trillion.


Obama has warned about the prospect of "trillion-dollar deficits for years to come." To put a floor under the deepening global recession, it is vital to prevent the bottom from falling out of the U.S. economy.


Obama wants to get the bills to implement his economic plan enacted as soon as possible, preferably in early February. But the political climate is not necessarily favorable for the policy prescriptions he believes will get the economy moving again.


In an apparent effort to win support for his package from Republicans who prefer tax cuts to spending increases, Obama has promised to spend about 40 percent of the amount on tax cuts.


But calls for additional measures and revisions to his plan are growing among both Democrats and Republicans, raising concerns about a delay in getting the legislation passed.


But U.S. lawmakers must avoid any replay of the legislative debacle over the financial rescue bill last autumn, when Congress' initial rejection of the bill triggered a stock market tumble.


It is, however, unclear whether Obama's package, even if it is implemented smoothly, will even produce the desired results.


If Obama fails after expending a great deal of political capital, fears of a mammoth U.S. budget deficit could destroy confidence in the dollar, the world's key currency.


Undoubtedly, Obama has a long and tricky policy challenge ahead of him, much like trying to walk on the the edge of a sword.


The world is pinning its hopes on strong, proactive leadership from Obama.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 9(IHT/Asahi: January 10,2009)

EDITORIAL: Plight of temp workers


Amid an alarming surge in the number of dispatched and other temporary workers who lost their jobs and places to live, the Diet has started considering a raft of key economic measures. They include a second supplementary budget plan for the current fiscal year that would finance steps to improve the employment situation.


The government and the Diet should act swiftly to take every possible measure to provide relief for dismissed workers and help them find new jobs.


Besides short-term responses, one key policy challenge facing lawmakers is to figure out longer-term solutions to the faltering employment structure that has led to growing job insecurity in recent years.


Situation beyond expectation


The use of dispatch workers for manufacturing jobs has emerged as the central topic for Diet debate on the deteriorating job front.


The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has predicted that at least 85,000 nonregular workers will lose their jobs by the end of March, with dispatch workers at manufacturing factories accounting for two-thirds of the total. Factory operations are sensitive to changes in economic conditions. The global recession has hit the most vulnerable sector of the work force particularly hard.


Initially, temp staff were limited to specialist jobs like interpreters. But the market began to explode in the late 1990s. In the ever-tough business environment, demand for dispatch workers grew quickly. This is because temp staff are hired only when they are needed. At the time, companies were struggling against intensifying international competition and a domestic economic slump following the burst of asset-inflated economic growth.


In response, the government loosened its regulations on dispatch hiring under the slogan of promoting "diverse work styles."


The trend was accelerated by the deregulation drive spearheaded by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Five years ago, the government lifted its ban on the use of dispatched workers for manufacturing work.


Debate on this picked up steam after the nation's unemployment rate hit its highest postwar rate. Chikara Sakaguchi, who was then the labor minister, later said the move was aimed at creating jobs, no matter what kinds. "We expected these temporary workers to be funneled into full-time jobs when the economy recovered," he said.


The jobless rate fell substantially as the economic situation improved in the years that followed. But the ranks of dispatch workers kept growing rapidly, belying the expectations of Sakaguchi and other policymakers. Companies replaced many of their full-time employees with dispatched and other temporary workers.


The Japanese corporate tradition of putting great value on job security began to fade as a growing number of companies introduced American-style management systems that focused on pursuing profits and serving the interests of shareholders.


Meanwhile, no serious efforts were made to develop a system to protect the well-being of workers. Various stresses created by these changes are now causing increasingly serious social ripples.


Reconsider dispatch of factory workers


"The moment dispatch workers face termination of their work contracts, they lose not only their jobs but also find it hard to continue surviving," said Naoto Kan, acting president of the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), describing the dire situation of these workers in a Diet session on Thursday.



The opposition parties are now moving toward banning the dispatch of workers to manufacturing jobs. Yoichi Masuzoe, the minister of health, labor and welfare, has also said he is personally sympathetic to the proposal to tighten regulations on temporary work conditions.


But the business community is opposed to this. Company managers say they need a flexible workforce to make quick labor adjustments in response to demand changes. They also claim flexible hiring is essential to surviving competition with rivals from low-wage countries. A sudden tightening of labor market regulations would rather reduce employment opportunities, they warn. All these arguments raise some important issues.


The reality facing us makes it hard to deny that deregulation has gone too far and the use of basically vulnerable dispatch workers has spread to a much wider range of areas.


Prime Minister Taro Aso has already stated that he believes manufacturing jobs should basically be full-time positions.


The ruling and opposition camps should start working together to figure out the best way to restrict temporary assignments to manufacturing tasks while taking measures to prevent a further spread of job losses among the nearly 500,000 dispatched workers at factories.


We should take this opportunity to start a broader deliberation on the temporary work industry as a whole.


There is another policy challenge demanding a quick response.


The wave of layoffs of dispatched and other temporary workers triggered by the economic downturn is due purely to policy failures. While taking steps to promote employment mobility by allowing companies to increase their levels of nonregular workers, the government has failed to make serious efforts to develop a solid safety net that enables displaced workers to seek new jobs without worrying about their immediate livelihoods.


Steps to discourage easy dismissals


Generally, the safety net for nonregular workers, including seasonal workers with limited-time contracts, is far less dependable than that for permanent workers.


The employment insurance program, which provides unemployment benefits and job training for the jobless, has been available only for those who are expected to be on the payroll for a year or longer. The government plans to shorten to half a year the period of expected employment required for eligibility. Even so, dispatch workers who frequently switch jobs with very short-term contracts for periods like two or three months will still not be eligible.


To eliminate workers who slip through the safety net, the employment insurance program should, in principle, cover all nonregular workers. The system is meaningless unless it can support those with insufficient job security.


Fujio Mitarai, chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), has proposed the creation of a fund jointly financed by companies to help jobless workers to find housing and receive job training. Companies that want to use temporary workers should shoulder a fair share of the financial burden of providing livelihood relief to such people when they lose their jobs and support their efforts to find new jobs.


The gaps between full-time employees and nonregular workers in wages and other working conditions should also be narrowed. The principle of the same compensation for similar work should be adopted widely. In an effort to protect jobs, labor and management should have a serious discussion over work-sharing, which means all workers, including full-time employees, accept shorter working hours to avoid job cuts.


The nation's workforce will shrink in coming years due to the twin problems of population aging and low birthrates. The central and local governments need to work with business circles to find effective ways to promote a shift of labor from areas facing a surplus due to social and economic changes to areas with a labor shortage, such as the nursing-care industry.


Workers are also consumers. Low-wage employment that treats workers like disposable commodities ends up cramping consumer spending and will never help create strong domestic demand.


Reconsidering ways of working and improving the nation's employment structure will contribute to enhancing the fundamentals of the nation's economy. This is a perspective that should not be missing from the debate on policy efforts to improve the job picture.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8(IHT/Asahi: January 9,2009)

EDITORIAL: Companies and sports


Sports cannot remain unaffected by the economic downturn, which has been described as unprecedented. Indeed, companies are increasingly withdrawing their sponsorships or closing down their sports teams.


In the slightly more than a decade since the collapse of the asset-inflated economic boom in the early 1990s, more than 300 corporate teams, including prestigious and powerful ones, have disappeared from such sports as baseball, track and field, rugby and volleyball.


Less than 10 years later, a bleak atmosphere is once again shrouding the corporate sports world.


In motor sports, Honda Motor Co. announced its withdrawal from Formula One racing. Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, both announced their withdrawal from the FIA World Rally Championship. As a result, all Japanese cars will disappear from WRC competitions.


Prince Hotels Inc., a Seibu Railway group company, also announced it will fold its distinguished ice hockey team after this season. Onward Holding Co., a major apparel group, will end its American football powerhouse with a nearly 30-year history at the conclusion of this season.


Honda reportedly spends more than 50 billion yen a year to manage its F1 team. With so much money involved, the decision to withdraw is not unreasonable. On the other hand, some withdrawals and team closures are hard to understand.


In the postwar era, companies started to support sports activities as part of employee benefit plans with the aim of improving worker morale. With high economic growth, corporate sports expanded and teams competed at the pinnacle of each sport.


As a result, corporate sports later played the role of advertisers and promoters.

But the trend also served as the primer to push companies to close down sports teams with the burst of the asset-inflated economic bubble. This time, too, we suspect many companies cut their teams in the same way as they slashed their advertising budgets.


Under these circumstances, a new trend is starting to emerge in the field.


Bullseyes Tokyo, an American football team that will be promoted to the X League next season, has been calling on fans to become "citizen shareholders" in support of the club team. The citizen shareholders pay an annual membership fee of between several thousand yen and about 100,000 yen.


In American football in Japan, where the number of purely corporate-run teams continues to decline, the players themselves are starting to look for ways to run their teams.


Measures are also emerging to give corporate sports a more amateur-oriented look, as in the past.

All players on the Kumamoto Golden Larks amateur baseball team, which is owned by a Kumamoto-based supermarket operator, work as sales clerks.


The move runs counter to the trend in which athletes employed by companies devote themselves entirely to athletic activities to compete at the higher levels of corporate sports. But members of the Kumamoto team do not have to worry about how to support themselves once they retire from baseball.


In the three years since its establishment, the team has entered the Intercity Baseball Tournament for two straight years. The operator chose not to put the company's name on the uniforms because it wants the team to win over Kumamoto residents. Some shoppers are voluntarily forming fan groups.


Why not turn the current predicament into an opportunity to rebuild the relationship between sports, businesses and local communities?


Cooperation with education should also be advanced to fill the demand for capable personnel. More universities in the last few years have established departments for the study of sports business and management.


However, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology oversees school and professional sports, while corporate sports come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. It is time to remove administrative sectionalism and think about promoting sports as a whole.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8(IHT/Asahi: January 9,2009)

EDITORIAL: Tragedy in Gaza


Israeli tank shells slammed into three Gaza Strip schools operated by a United Nations relief agency for refugees on Tuesday, killing nearly 50 people. Many of the victims were Palestinians displaced by Israel's ground offensive against Hamas militants. Heart-wrenching images of killed and injured children emerged from the sites.


Israel says the shelling of the schools was in response to mortar rounds fired by Hamas militants from these facilities. Even if that is true, the fact remains that Israel targeted public facilities sheltering many civilians and was fully aware of the likely consequences.


We cannot help but wonder whether such action, which was bound to result in heavy collateral casualties among civilians, falls in the category of indiscriminate attacks on non-combat zones and civilians that are banned by international law. The strikes on the schools are so inhumane as to qualify as massacres. The situation is so serious that it may even raise serious questions about the raison d'etre of the United Nations itself.


Forty people died at the Jabaliya refugee camp school, located adjacent to Gaza City. It sits in the middle of an area where more than 100,000 refugees are living within about 1 square kilometer of land. The refugee camp is bustling with four- and five-story concrete-block residential buildings. These buildings will collapse if they are shelled. The U.N. school, which has a schoolyard, is the only place in the area where Palestinian refugees can take shelter from the Israeli onslaught.


The local representative of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said the international community has a responsibility to act swiftly to effect a truce to protect civilians and children.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a 48-hour emergency cease-fire for relief activities like treating the wounded. But Israel has rejected the proposal, saying it cannot halt the military operations as long as the Muslim extremist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has the ability to attack Israel with rockets.


It is hard not to think that the Israeli military is seeking to annihilate Hamas, which has both political and social welfare arms, and trying to punish the Palestinian people for supporting the group, instead of simply fighting Hamas militants.


Unless the conflict comes to an end quickly, civilian casualties will keep mounting, transforming the coastal enclave into scenes from hell. Israel must immediately stop its military campaign in Gaza, instead of halting the operations for just three hours every other day as it promised to do on Wednesday.


There has been a serious food shortage in Gaza because of the economic blockade imposed by Israel since summer 2007. Hospitals in the Palestinian territory have run out of anesthetics and other medical products. The Israeli onslaught has brought the situation to a crisis point. This humanitarian crisis cannot be allowed to continue.


The good news is that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has clout with both Israel and the Palestinians, has started diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire deal. Mubarak has called for an immediate cease-fire for a specific period for humanitarian purposes, including delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza. European countries have welcomed the Egyptian initiative.


The Japanese government has also called for a halt to the military operations in Gaza. But it should launch more active diplomatic efforts to help defuse this crisis, such as sending envoys to the region to persuade Israel and other parties involved and holding talks with countries supporting Hamas, such as Syria and Iran.


As of this month, Japan is a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. It is part of the nation's responsibility to contribute to the international efforts to figure out ways to make the virtually paralyzed United Nations start performing its core functions.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 7(IHT/Asahi: January 8,2009)

EDITORIAL: Senior-friendly housing


The Japanese people now boast the world's greatest rate of longevity, and their average lifespan continues to grow. The inevitable result of this trend lies in changes in how people spend their twilight years.


One example of this is where and how we live. From the era in which people normally dwelled with their children, the trend toward the nuclear family has produced a new generation that prefers to live away from their parents, who themselves prefer to live separately from their offspring. This shift is fueling projections for a steady increase in households comprised solely of senior citizens. The members of such family units will eventually grow old and feeble, with one of the partners passing away. The surviving members will naturally be plagued with doubts about their ability to continue to live as they have done.



For pensioners in rental accommodation, the cost of rental fees will emerge as an increasingly heavy burden. Even among those who own their own homes, with suburban and regional areas becoming so dependent on cars for mobility, older folks may come to regret living so inconveniently.



The bestseller status of the recent book "Ohitorisama no Rogo" (Seniors Living Alone) by sociologist Chizuko Ueno appears to reflect such underlying anxieties.


Last October, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which is in charge of housing policy, instructed its Council for Social Infrastructure to advise it on the best approach to formulate housing policies for the elderly.


The move indicates that interest in homes for the elderly, a genre of dwellings positioned somewhere between conventional housing and institutions, is on the rise at last.


Key advantages of such senior housing include the monitoring and livelihood support services provided for the residents. Such benefits counter the threat of even minor problems seriously hindering the everyday lives of elderly people.


One example would be a situation where elderly people are unable to replace a burned out light bulb. Another would be tripping on a step, breaking a bone and being hospitalized; or in worst-case scenarios, dying alone.


For many of those still able to live independently without nursing care, senior housing can ensure safety and peace of mind. In fact, such dwellings have been in trial use for more than 20 years.

 生活の自立ができていて介護はまだ必要ではない人に、安全と安心を保障するのが高齢者住宅といえるだろう。 実は高齢者住宅は、20年余り前から試行されている。 

"Silver Housing" public accommodations, modeled after homes for senior citizens in Britain, provide one example of that approach. In this case, housing administrative authorities provide hardware features such as safe, barrier-free designs, while welfare administration furnishes the security benefits of having livelihood support officers stationed on the premises. The result was an epoch-making policy spanning the divisions between different government sectors.


However, the subsequent economic downturn and other factors have curbed the number of such dwellings being built, with only slightly more than 22,000 such units now available nationwide.


That supply was augmented through legal and other policy measures such as introducing high-grade rental residences for the elderly with subsidized construction and rental costs and enactment of a housing law for senior citizens. Nevertheless, limits remain on the availability of such low-priced and conveniently located housing that are so sought-after.


Access to safe and comforting senior-friendly homes enables the dwellers to remain self-reliant in their daily lives. This can also be expected to contribute to the nation's fiscal health by lowering nursing care expenses.


The home is the foundation of our livelihoods. Yet, there is no reliable model for housing to fully satisfy the needs of the elderly in a country with such unprecedented longevity. We need to confirm the accumulated achievements to date, and then pool our experience and wisdom to devise original and effective means of coming to grips with this pressing issue.



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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 7(IHT/Asahi: January 8,2009)

EDITORIAL: Fixed amount handouts


Prime Minister Taro Aso described the government's 2-trillion-yen cash handout plan, which has been incorporated into the second supplementary budget bill, as "the best plan we've ever conceived."

In reality, however, it is one of the least favored government plans.


"This is about the most foolish stopgap policy ever," thundered Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), during Tuesday's Diet interpellations by party representatives. "The (2 trillion yen spending) plan shouldn't be part of the second supplementary budget bill.

"The people's wishes will be best served if local governments are allowed to spend the money on health care, education, social welfare or whatever they see fit," Hatoyama said.

Minshuto and two other opposition parties promptly submitted an amendment bill to delete the 2 trillion yen spending plan from the supplementary budget.


But Aso stood his ground. "Some people are eagerly waiting for the handouts," he asserted. "I have no intention of removing the plan from the supplementary budget bill."


The prime minister is obviously aware that even if the opposition-controlled Upper House rejects the related bills needed to activate the cash handout plan, he can still take advantage of the so-called 60-day rule to later railroad the bills through the Lower House.


The economy is in dismal shape indeed, and, as Aso said, many people must be glad to receive a little extra cash--12,000 yen per person.


But 63 percent of respondents in an Asahi Shimbun poll said they thought this policy was unnecessary. A Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) survey found that 81 percent of respondents did not think the handouts would help the economy recover.


The handouts were initially meant as an election ploy to benefit the ruling coalition. But as things stand now, the plan may actually backfire.


Yoshimi Watanabe, a former minister in charge of administrative reform and a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, recently rebelled against the party. "If we are going to spend 2 trillion yen anyway, there are much better ways of using the money," Watanabe said, adding that he is prepared to resign from the LDP unless the prime minister kills the plan.

Watanabe's is not the only voice of dissent within the LDP.


Two trillion yen is roughly 10 times the Environment Ministry's annual budget and about the same as Aichi Prefecture's budget.


With the current economic crisis exacerbating the nation's fiscal problems, no amount of money is ever enough.


We suggest the government could perhaps distribute the 2 trillion yen among local governments and let them use the money to help jobless and other needy people tide over the situation or find employment.


Frankly, we cannot understand why the government is not spending the money to address the urgent needs of society, such as correcting the shortage of obstetricians, improving emergency medical services, and shoring up social welfare, particularly the nursing-care system.


For the government to spend this colossal amount of taxpayer money, the plan must definitely be in the interests of the people, not the prime minister.


We also must question New Komeito's position. The junior coalition partner pushed for the cash handout plan last summer, when household budgets were being hit hard by soaring prices of gasoline and food. But since the global financial crisis broke out, the situation has changed considerably.


Reinforcing society's safety net is the most urgent task now. As a party that has always focused on welfare, New Komeito must not hesitate to change its course now.


A leader in a time of crisis is required to react swiftly to the changing circumstances and make bold decisions. Aso should consider the opposition's proposal and eliminate the handout plan from the second supplementary budget bill. This will speed up passage of the bill.


After all, there is this old adage: "A wise man changes his mind, a fool never."


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6(IHT/Asahi: January 7,2009)

EDITORIAL: Israel's invasion of Gaza


A bitter new war is raging between Israel and Hamas. After a week of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip that started in late December, the Israeli military recently began sending ground troops and tanks into the coastal enclave.


More than 500 people have been killed in Israel's bombing campaign. An independent human rights group based in Gaza has reported that children accounted for 20 percent of the death toll to date. Casualties in ground battles are also rising.


Disturbingly, the international community is completely impotent to make an effective response to the situation. The United Nations Security Council has been unable to adopt even a statement, let alone a resolution, to call for an immediate cease-fire. That's because of opposition from the United States, which backs Israel.


Last year, the Muslim extremist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, started firing rockets into southern Israel. Israel cited its right to defend its people against the Hamas rocket attacks for its retaliatory strikes in Gaza. The United States and other allied countries have expressed their understanding of Israel's justification.


But Israel's airstrikes and invasion have caused such heavy casualties among Palestinians that they can only be described as excessive use of military power. Israel should stop its military operations in Gaza immediately and seek an end to the conflict through negotiations.


At the root of this fresh flare-up of violence in the region is a rift between the two main Palestinian groups. The mainstream Fatah, which led the Palestinian self-governing authority for decades, has lost the support of many Palestinians mainly because of corruption among its members. In an election in 2006, Fatah lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas. Hamas has refused to abandon its armed struggle with Israel, causing the Middle East peace process to bog down.


Hamas and Fatah briefly formed a coalition government in 2007 as part of their efforts for cooperation. But the alliance collapsed quickly, and in the summer of 2007 Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza. The result is a divided rule of the Palestinian areas, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah ruling the West Bank.


Then, Israel started trying to undermine Hamas by clamping an economic blockade on Gaza, while a range of countries including the United States, parts of Europe and Japan criticized Hamas. As a result, Gaza has become increasingly isolated, both politically and economically.


Shortly after a six-month truce hammered out between Israel and Hamas expired in mid-December, Hamas resumed rocket attacks against Israel, prompting Israel's invasion of the territory. With a general election in Israel slated for February, many observers believe the Israeli government has decided to take strong military action against Hamas to win public support.


But it is hard to believe Israel has a viable plan for achieving its political goal. It probably intends to restore rule in Gaza by Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after battering Hamas. But such heavy casualties in the military operations will ensure a deep and lasting anger against Israel among the residents in Gaza, where Hamas is quite popular. Confusion in Gaza and the West Bank will deepen.


The indignation Israel's military action has aroused among people in Arab and other Islamic nations will eventually be directed at the West and the United Nations, which cannot stop Israel. We fear that this war will increase support within the Muslim community for the international terrorist organization al-Qaida, whose terrorist attacks are targeting the United States and its allies.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has started touring the Middle East in a diplomatic campaign to broker a cease-fire. Japan, which has become a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council for a two-year term starting in January, should also make more active efforts to stop the bloodshed in Gaza.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6(IHT/Asahi: January 7,2009)

EDITORIAL: Accepting refugees


The time has come for Japan to shed what the world views as its reluctance to accept refugees.


Preparations will start this spring to begin accepting, from fiscal 2010, refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who are currently in Thailand. This is part of a third-country resettlement program for displaced people in foreign refugee camps with no prospects of repatriation.


Japan will try out this program on a provisional basis for three years, taking a step toward opening its doors wider to refugees. We would very much like this program to become permanent. The United Nations welcomes this move--the first in Asia--and is hoping that Japan will be a model for the region.


There are 11.5 million refugees worldwide who have fled persecution in their home countries. Of these, about 6 million people have been living in refugee camps for five years or longer. Children who have never lived outside refugee camps are increasing in number. There is no question that their prolonged stays in refugee camps aggravate these people's already miserable living conditions.


However, few countries welcome refugees. At present, less than 20 Western and other nations accept refugees under the third-country resettlement program, to which Japan will be the latest addition.


In Japan's case, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees will provide a list of prospective people hoping to be resettled, and Japanese government representatives will interview these refugees at their camps in Thailand.


But only 30 refugees will be accepted a year, which brings the three-year total to 90. Thorough screening is obviously necessary, but we think the number is too small. Ideally, refugees should be accepted in large enough numbers to allow them to establish their own community, so that they can help one another and will not feel isolated from the rest of society as they try to familiarize themselves with their new environment.


Carefully drawn plans are needed to receive people who are from cultures that are different from our own. Cooperation from everyone in the neighborhood community where refugees settle is crucial. Local governments, businesses and schools must join forces to help their new neighbors learn Japanese, find jobs and send their children to school. The economic situation is tough, but they deserve a warm welcome.


Japan became a signatory to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981. As of 2007, however, only 451 people had been recognized as refugees by the Japanese government. Because of the strictness of the screening process, the nation's refugee policy has been criticized as isolationist.


But the number of applications for refugee status in Japan has surged in the last few years, growing to about 1,500 last year. The number of recognized refugees has risen, too, and in some cases, those who could not be recognized as refugees under the U.N. Refugee Convention were nevertheless permitted to stay in the country out of humanitarian considerations.


After the Vietnam War, Japan accepted refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Some of these Indochinese refugees have since become successful doctors and business people.


Like Albert Einstein, who immigrated to the United States for political reasons, refugees can make invaluable contributions to their adopted countries.


We should welcome refugees from abroad as our new neighbors. We hope this will be the first small step on the way toward Japan's growth into an open society.


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2009年1月12日 (月)

雇用問題 粗雑すぎる製造業派遣論議

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 12, 2009)

No sweeping statements needed on temp staff

雇用問題 粗雑すぎる製造業派遣論議(112日付・読売社説)

Amid rapidly increasing job cuts among nonregular contract workers, the employment situation has become a lively topic of debate in recent days.


The government, ruling and opposition parties as well as the business community must draw on their combined wisdom to reduce employment insecurity.


In the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 and the state budget for fiscal 2009, money has been allocated for various employment-linked emergency measures, including those to assist reemployment and relax the conditions for temp staff to receive employment insurance. As a start, these two budgets should be quickly passed through the Diet.


Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe has called into question the allowing of nonregular contract workers to be employed in the manufacturing sector.


The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are preparing to submit a bill during the current Diet session to revise the Temporary Staffing Services Law to basically prohibit the dispatching of temp staff to the manufacturing sector.


According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, nearly 70 percent of nonregular contract workers who have lost or are about to lose their jobs are temp staff dispatched to the manufacturing sector. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that attention is focused on the issue of dispatching temp staff to this sector.



Manufacturing OK'd in 2004

The dispatching of temp staff to the manufacturing sector was given the go-ahead in 2004, after business community demands in the face of severe international competition. As companies at that time were increasingly shifting their production bases overseas to cut costs, the measure was also aimed at boosting employment.


But the viewpoint of Masuzoe and the opposition parties is still too rudimentary to be worthy of consideration. The arguments for a total ban and the need for a tightening of the regulations will turn out to be different. It is not a problem for which categorical judgments can be made about its pros and cons.


Companies are also in a weak position due to the global recession. If dispatching temp staff to the manufacturing sector is totally banned, business performance will further deteriorate, and the shrinking of employment opportunities will be inevitable. And the knock-on effects could be even more significant.


We should not jump to conclusions. The task that lies ahead requires the deepening of discussions over the merits and demerits of dispatching temp staff to the manufacturing sector as well as measures to improve the conditions under which this takes place.



A time for job sharing?

Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), has frequently said that the idea of job sharing is one option for protecting employment. This system allows companies to shorten working hours and employees to share their workloads.


In 2002, at the time of a previous recession, adopting the idea of job sharing became the focus of intense discussion. However, many business leaders were wary of adopting the system, claiming that it would lead to a decline in labor productivity. Fearing that the introduction of job sharing would lead to wage cuts, active support in the labor movement was not evident, either.


The possibility of introducing job sharing depends on the different circumstances of each category of business and company. As such, no single uniform arguments can be made with regard to this issue, either. Even with encouragement from business groups, it is still far from clear if the introduction of job sharing would become a major trend.


To improve the security of employment for nonregular contract workers, it is necessary to overhaul both the safety net for the unemployed and the vocational training system.


But what is called for above all else is the hammering out of effective economic stimulus measures by the government.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12, 2009)

20091120128  読売新聞)

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急変する世界 積極的外交を展開する時、アフガン派遣を検討せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 11, 2009)

Japan must adopt active diplomatic stance

急変する世界 積極的外交を展開する時、アフガン派遣を検討せよ(111日付・読売社説)

The world is currently facing a number of crises, including a global recession triggered by U.S. financial turmoil, international terrorism, regional disputes, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global warming and poverty.


Japan should play a proactive role in helping overcome these crises and maintain global peace and prosperity. The nation also must make its voice heard by ensuring its presence is felt on the international stage. The nation's interests can only be protected through such steady and persuasive diplomatic efforts.


While conventional consensus-building diplomacy has its limits, the country must draw up medium- and long-term national strategies and employ more active diplomacy.



Boost Japan-U.S. alliance


The forthcoming change of the U.S. administration provides a good opportunity for Tokyo to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and increase diplomatic efforts.


U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, whose Democratic administration will be launched on Jan. 20, emphasizes a multilateral foreign policy and is calling on allied nations to share the burden of international missions.


The United States still has a strong influence over international politics, the global economy and the military sphere. While it remains unchanged that Japan's diplomatic stance should be to maintain the Japan-U.S. security alliance as its linchpin, it is important that Japan outgrows its passive diplomacy.


Japan must be prepared to decide by itself what needs to be done in the diplomatic arena, and act appropriately. The nation also should contemplate what kind of actions it should press the United States to take, and lobby Washington in the most efficient manner.


To put it another way, we hope for the establishment of a new bilateral framework that allows Japan to do what it feels must be done and say what it feels must be said to the United States.


A test the nation faces now is whether it will dispatch Self-Defense Forces personnel to Afghanistan, the country which Obama has stressed must be assisted in the fight against terrorism.


In Afghanistan, troops from more than 40 countries are trying to rebuild the country and maintain security, despite the deaths of more than 1,000 soldiers so far. The fight against terrorism has reached a crucial stage.


The Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean plays a role in this effort. However, is Japan fulfilling its international responsibilities at a level congruent with its national strength?


The government should seriously consider whether to dispatch Ground Self-Defense Force transport helicopters and provincial reconstruction teams to Afghanistan.


Obviously, a certain level of danger would be associated with such dispatches. This is unavoidable. However, the risks could be minimized, as some have pointed out, by upgrading the capabilities of the helicopters to be sent into Afghanistan through modifications and by selecting appropriate dispatch areas.


Dispatching GSDF troops to Afghanistan would require new legislation. Such legislation would need to give SDF personnel greater authority to use weapons--currently they are limited to using weapons only in self-defense--to bring defense force rules into line with international standards.



Potential for better intl ties


According to a joint survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup in November, only 34 percent of those polled across the nation said relations between Japan and the United States were "very good" or "good"--the least positive result since 2000.


The result is believed to partly reflect dissatisfaction over the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. In the latter half of the term of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, Japan-U.S. relations became strained over North Korea's nuclear development and the abduction issue.


Japan should set out to coordinate policy even more closely with the incoming Obama administration than it did with the outgoing Bush team to reconstruct solid cooperation between the two countries.


In handling the many issues related to North Korea, collaboration with China and South Korea also will be important.


To make the nation's strategic and mutually beneficial relationship with China more substantial and assured, it is necessary to yield tangible and concrete results in dealing with issues related to North Korea and the ongoing financial crisis.


Today, Prime Minister Taro Aso will visit South Korea as part of the so-called shuttle diplomacy between the leaders of the two countries.


We hope Tokyo will foster a future-oriented relationship with Seoul through frequent summit meetings.


As the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China confirmed during a trilateral summit meeting last month, continuing wide-ranging cooperation among the three major Asian countries is significant.


Closer cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea has great potential and possibilities. Japan must exercise its leadership within the grouping to contribute to regional peace and stability.



UNSC role key to diplomacy

On Jan. 1, Japan began a two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council for the 10th time. The nonpermanent seat provides Japan with an opportunity to realize a more active diplomatic stance.


Japan needs to actively commit to bringing conflicts in the Middle East and other parts of the world to an end and to promote peace.


Japan must also work to bring about reform of the Security Council with a view to obtaining permanent membership of the body--a long-standing goal.


To this end, it is indispensable for Japan to expand the SDF's international peace cooperation activities, both in terms of quality and quantity.


It may be the time to increase the government's official development assistance budget, which has shrunk for the past 12 consecutive years.


In the field of international peace cooperation activities, a key immediate task is the introduction of countermeasures to tackle piracy off Somalia.


For Japan as a trading nation, the securing of sea lanes is an issue of vital importance. It would not be much of a surprise if a ship related in some way to Japan were attacked in the area at any time.


The ruling and opposition parties should cooperate in preparing at an early date new legislation that would enable the dispatch of MSDF vessels and patrol planes to areas off Somalia.


Cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties in establishing the needed legislation, if realized, would pave the way for preparation of permanent legislation for all future SDF overseas dispatches. It is desirable that a majority of Diet members unite to support legislation related to national security.


To ensure the effectiveness of SDF activities, the government's current interpretation of the nation's right to collective self-defense, which currently states that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it, must be reviewed as a matter of course.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 11, 2009)

20091110128  読売新聞)

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2009年1月11日 (日)

ガザ停戦決議 実効性をどう担保するか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 10, 2009)

U.N. call for ceasefire in Gaza must be heeded

ガザ停戦決議 実効性をどう担保するか(110日付・読売社説)

It is time to immediately put an end to the calamity in the Gaza Strip.


In connection with the ongoing conflict in Gaza, a part of the Palestinian autonomous territories, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for "an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."


Israel and Hamas, the actors in this battle, should accept the resolution and lay down their arms.


Israeli forces launched armed attacks on Hamas-ruled Gaza on Dec. 27. Since then, intensive air raids by Israeli warplanes and a subsequent ground offensive have claimed the lives of more than 750 Palestinians, a third of them children.


Even aid activities conducted by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been thwarted by the Israeli forces in Gaza, which has been turned into a battlefield.


On humanitarian grounds alone, this state of affairs should never be permitted to continue.



Is U.N resolution toothless?

The humanitarian situation was the major factor that prompted the U.N. Security Council--which has hitherto been slow to respond to the Gaza situation--to agree to adopt a ceasefire resolution.


It is essential for the international community to proactively provide support to realize the ceasefire and improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


However, it remains to be seen if the resolution has the teeth to bring about such a result.


The United States was the sole member to abstain from the U.N. Security Council vote. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this was because Washington wanted "to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts."


Under what conditions would Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire? Even if they did agree, how could a framework for monitoring such a ceasefire be worked out?



No room for optimism

Israel vehemently objects to the smuggling of arms and munitions into Gaza. But how could it be stopped?


Hamas, for its part, is urging Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, including tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods crossing the territorial border. How will Israel respond to this demand?


The resolution has effectively left Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas to address the key issues at Egyptian-mediated talks. There is no room for optimism regarding these talks.


Israeli general elections are scheduled for Feb. 10. If the opposition Likud party, which takes a hard-line stance against Hamas, retakes the reins of government, it is possible the Middle East situation will become more fluid.


What is even more problematic is Hamas' confrontation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas due to its rejection of peaceful coexistence with Israel. It is indispensable for the Palestinian side to overcome internal strife so it can present a clear vision of the future to the territories' residents.


Japan, a nonpermanent Security Council member from this month, voted for the resolution. Next month, Japan will assume heavy responsibility as chair of the council.


It is important that Japan play a proactive role in reviving the Middle East peace process aimed at a lasting and peaceful coexistence between the Israelis and Palestinians.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2009)

20091100149  読売新聞)

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衆院予算委 民主党は積極的に対案を示せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 9, 2009)

Time for DPJ to offer alternative budget plan

衆院予算委 民主党は積極的に対案を示せ(19日付・読売社説)

Discussions on the government-proposed secondary supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 started Thursday at the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Lawmakers of both the ruling and opposition parties should actively discuss not only interim economic stimulus measures, but also policies on a wide variety of domestic and global issues in order to present options to the public, as this year will see a general election.



The supplementary budget should originally have been enacted during the extraordinary Diet session that wrapped up late last year. The schedule for its passage cannot be delayed any further.



Turn good ideas into bills

Lawmakers must not only enact the secondary supplementary budget as early as possible, but also swiftly advance deliberations on the fiscal 2009 budget, which is tied to the supplementary budget.


Discussions at the budget committee are focused mostly on the 2-trillion yen flat-sum cash benefit program included in the supplementary budget.


The Democratic Party of Japan and two other opposition parties jointly proposed a bill to remove the program from the supplementary budget. This bill also was discussed at the committee.


Naoto Kan, acting president of the DPJ, said the 2 trillion yen earmarked for the program could be used more efficiently by adding it to next fiscal year's budget. According to Kan, of this money, 1 trillion yen could be added to expenses earmarked for the seismic reinforcement of school buildings, 700 billion yen added to expenses for securing nursing care workers and 300 billion yen added to employment measures


Kan's constructive arguments could be positively evaluated as not only a demand on the government to remove the program from the supplementary budget, but also as a proposal of an alternative plan. What Kan proposed should be made more concrete through swift discussions within the DPJ so it can be proposed as a bill.


Employment measures are another focus of discussions at the budget committee. During the committee's discussions, Nobuteru Ishihara, acting secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, demanded the quick implementation of economic measures. Ishihara quoted people running small- and medium-sized companies as saying that government measures have solved their cash-flow problems, but that orders, which are more important, are disappearing in the current economic turmoil.



Lawmakers of both the ruling and opposition parties at the committee recognized that the economic and employment situations are deteriorating faster than that of government actions.


The four employment bills submitted jointly by the DPJ and other opposition parties were scrapped at the extraordinary Diet session last month. The DPJ should submit a new version of its own employment bill after clarifying differences between employment measures of the DPJ and those of the government.



Both sides need compromise

The ruling camp also will have to make some concessions with the opposition parties through policy consultations.


Lawmakers are currently considering restrictions on dispatching temporary workers to the manufacturing industry, but depending on the level of restrictions, this could affect Japan's international competitiveness and job security. Some business leaders are considering the introduction of job sharing, a method to have one job shared by more than one worker by shortening work hours per person.


From a medium- to long-term viewpoint, lawmakers should also discuss how the nation's employment system should be changed and how new industries and new jobs can be created.


Both sides also should further deepen discussions on other issues, including the enactment of a bill to crack down piracy in waters off Somalia and a consumption tax hike.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 9, 2009)

2009190149  読売新聞)

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2009年1月10日 (土)

ITの安全 「事故前提」の備えが大切だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 8, 2009)

To secure IT systems, prepare for accidents

ITの安全 「事故前提」の備えが大切だ(18日付・読売社説)

A society that runs on information technology cannot expect to run without a hitch as long as humans are involved.


The government's Information Security Policy Council has decided to beef up steps to ensure the safe utilization of information technology by assuming that accidents affecting providers and users are bound to occur.


The measures are included in the council's second basic plan for information security, which sets out policies to be tackled by the government, related enterprises and other parties concerned for three years beginning in fiscal 2009.


Even if safety measures are taken, problems can occur. The basic plan, therefore, calls for instituting mechanisms in various fields to minimize damage by grasping the causes and effects of a problem as well as to restore the trouble-hit IT system to normalcy.


This is in stark contrast to the first basic plan covering the three years through fiscal 2008, which set a goal of eliminating accidents involving IT usage. "IT system glitches should be eliminated" and "The number of individuals who are anxious about using IT should be reduced as much as possible" were two of the goals enshrined in the basic plan.


But the reality speaks for itself.


There have been a large number of system failures in key societal infrastructure, such as a securities trading computer system, ATMs at financial institutions and automated fare collection systems, causing far-reaching confusion that affected the public.


We also hear of one incident after another in which personal credit card information was stolen through the Internet, and of key information being leaked through computers. Cyber-attacks on government and corporate computers, meanwhile, are not about to disappear.



Damage limitation vital

Precautionary steps alone will not lessen damage from IT problems. To build a robust society in which IT is a blessing, consistent responses are necessary to deal with the situation right after an accident occurs.


To prod the government and companies to work toward formulating such emergency responses, the second basic plan calls on service providers in each of 10 essential infrastructure fields to define the maximum damage they aim to allow to result from an IT-related problem so the problem does not spin out of control. The essential infrastructure fields include public administration, information and telecommunications, and financial and medical services.


At the same time, the basic plan urges each industry group related to the 10 fields to make efforts to improve information security. The basic plan cites as an example the safety target set by gas suppliers that aims to prevent the disruption of gas supply to more than 30 households in the event of an IT glitch.



New plan realistic

Although the latest basic plan may appear to have lowered safety standards, it takes a far more realistic approach that will facilitate effective responses.


Measures seeking "perfect" information security can serve as roadblocks to IT utilization. In particular, it has been pointed out that moves taken by the government and related institutions in this regard are problematic in many ways.


For example, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry has provided electronic services for the filing of 696 types of documents, including one for requesting permission to physically alter a registered historic site. But 60 percent of the 696 document-filing services have not been used because, many say, the procedure for obtaining online certification to ensure information security is cumbersome.


Furthermore, it is indispensable to develop safer and more convenient technology and to encourage individual users to deepen their knowledge about IT. We believe such endeavors should be supported and other necessary steps spelled out in the second basic plan.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 8, 2009)

2009180132  読売新聞)

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代表質問 対決だけでなく協調も必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 7, 2009)

At Diet, heads together, not loggerheads, please

代表質問 対決だけでなく協調も必要だ(17日付・読売社説)

Japan's politics will be thrown into disarray again if the ruling and opposition parties continue to face off under the "divided Diet," in which the ruling parties hold a majority in the House of Representatives and the opposition bloc controls the House of Councillors. In the face of the unprecedented global financial crisis, such a situation should be avoided at all costs.


Interpellations in the Diet by party representatives over the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 started Tuesday. Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, criticized a government plan for a flat-sum cash handout totaling \2 trillion as "the last word in massively stupid plans" and demanded that it be removed from the extra budget.


Prime Minister Taro Aso countered Hatoyama head-on, saying, "The plan is intended to provide emergency assistance to each household in the current economic downturn, and it also will benefit the economy by boosting consumption."


It cannot be denied that the handout will have a limited effect in stimulating the economy. But Hatoyama, who described the plan as "the most wasteful use of taxpayers' money," should spell out, in the form of a constructive counterproposal, a more effective way to pump-prime the economy.


Three opposition parties, including the DPJ, on Tuesday submitted to the lower house a bill to amend the government-proposed second extra budget. But the bill merely seeks to scrap the cash benefit plan. It does not contain alternative economic measures.



Tactical move by opposition

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this move by the opposition parties is a strategy to gain political advantage and undermine the ruling parties by urging ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who are critical of the cash benefit payments, including Yoshimi Watanabe, a former state minister in charge of administrative reform, to rise up in rebellion by voting against important government-proposed bills or for opposition-proposed ones.


If the government and ruling parties insist on taking a hard-line approach to passing budget-related bills that the opposition parties reject by resorting to a second vote in the lower house, where the LDP-New Komeito coalition has a two-thirds majority, the passage of the bills into law would be greatly delayed.


That would deal a blow to the economy and people's livelihoods. It would be a rerun of the ordinary Diet session last year, in which ruling and opposition parties were at loggerheads over the issue of whether the provisional gasoline tax rates should be maintained.


Taking into account the current global financial crisis, the ruling and opposition parties should put their heads together and come up with ways to deal with the Diet impasse.


Hatoyama asserted that the tough employment situation is "a human disaster politically generated by the Aso Cabinet." He urged Aso to back an emergency resolution jointly submitted by the opposition bloc for employment measures.


The opposition-proposed resolution merely seeks the "securement of public employment and residence" and the "flexible management of the welfare benefits system."



No time for grandstanding

What is needed from the Diet now is not political performances that play to the gallery, but the immediate passage of a new law for effective employment policies. There are many pressing problems to tackle, such as the creation of new jobs, support for reemployment for those who have lost their jobs and measures to discourage the withdrawal of job offers.


The government-proposed bill to revise the Temporary Staffing Services Law includes a clause to basically prohibit dispatching registered workers on a daily-wage basis. But the opposition parties are considering submitting another bill to amend the law to prohibit dispatching temp staff to the manufacturing industry itself.


Careful consideration needs to be given to maintaining the international competitiveness of Japanese companies as well as temp workers' employment and working conditions. The ruling and opposition parties should rack their brains and try to hammer out a better approach to Diet business.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2009)

2009170150  読売新聞)

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2009年1月 6日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 5(IHT/Asahi: January 6,2009)

EDITORIAL: Elderly alcoholics


The number of elderly alcoholics is on the rise. Here is one example: a man, 68 years old, who lives with his wife in Osaka Prefecture. Within five years of his elderly parents passing away, he found himself in hospital being treated for alcohol addiction.


He had worked for a company for many years and retired at the usual age. His parents had lived with his family, and he had seen them through their final days. His two children were grown. He was left with not much to do. Out of boredom, he started to drink, even during the daytime.


In no time at all, he was drinking more and more. Soon he was passing out in front of railway stations or in shopping streets. His wife consulted their family doctor, and the diagnosis was alcoholism.


He entered a rehab program in hospital, and thought he had beaten his addiction. But after leaving the hospital, he thought, "Just a little can't hurt," and reached for the bottle again. Within a month, he was back to square one. He returned again to rehab and now attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly.


According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, around 800,000 people are being treated for alcohol addiction nationwide. The situation is especially serious among people in their 70s.


An estimated 3 percent of the population in their 70s are alcoholic, the highest rate among all the age groups. More elderly people are joining the All Nippon Abstinence Association for alcoholics. In fiscal 2001, only 41 percent of its members were 60 or older, but by fiscal 2007, that rate had risen to 51 percent.


Recently, addictions have worsened rapidly in the immediate years after retirement.


"People who worked hard all their lives find it difficult to rebuild their lives after retirement and unconsciously turn to drink," says Ryuzo Wake, honorary director of Shinseikai Hospital in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture. Wake has spent many years treating alcoholic patients.


The rise in number of rehab patients is overtaxing alcoholism treatment facilities and home nursing care services.


Drinking curbs a patient's appetite, and so they refuse to eat meals prepared by their care workers. Alcoholism thus leads to secondary health problems such as malnutrition, memory loss and depression. There is also a higher risk of falling and breaking bones.


Some alcoholic patients try to force their home care workers to buy alcohol for them. According to a survey on alcohol-related problems conducted by a Kansai academic society on about 500 care managers and home-care workers, 80 percent of respondents had clients with drinking problems and 30 percent said that they found it difficult to provide care.


Alcoholism is a disease in which a person cannot control their alcohol intake. It should not be dismissed as merely someone "enjoying a drink" or being a "big boozer." If the patient receives proper treatment and quits drinking, recovery is certainly possible. The elderly, especially, are easier to treat than other age groups.


Home caregivers who have daily contact with their patients need to be trained to better understand alcohol addiction.


What is needed is local networks that can enhance cooperation among care workers, town doctors, public health centers, hospitals specializing in the treatment of alcoholism and others.


The remaining days of elderly citizens are precious ones. We hope that as many elderly patients as possible can be helped and supported so they can overcome their addiction and live out their last days in fulfillment.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 5(IHT/Asahi: January 6,2009)

EDITORIAL: Recession and election


A Lower House election must be held by September, finally giving voters the chance to pass judgment on the confused and stagnant state of the nation's politics.


The choice will be whether to allow the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to continue governing or elect a new government led by the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan). Voters will have to think long and hard about their vision for the future of the country.


On Sunday, the day before the regular Diet session convened, Prime Minister Taro Aso and Minshuto President Ichiro Ozawa raised the curtain on the political battle they intend to wage in this crucial election year.


"It is the LDP that can implement effective economic measures swiftly," Aso said with confidence. Ozawa retorted that the "LDP-Komeito government cannot lead the nation through this crisis."


The primary mission of this Diet session, however, is to figure out ways to protect the public from the fallout of the economic and employment crises that have been rapidly gaining ground since last year.


The second supplementary budget bill for the current fiscal year that the government plans to submit to the Diet session will include a program to increase loan guarantees and the line of credit to small and medium-sized companies. The initial budget plan for the new fiscal year starting in April will finance fiscal spending to stimulate the economy as well as social security measures that would make nonregular workers eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. A delay in the implementation of these vital policy measures due to partisan animosity must be avoided at all costs.


Aso has maintained a confrontational political posture toward the opposition camp despite his promise to put a higher priority on policy responses to the economic downturn than on political warfare. This understandably makes it difficult for the opposition parties to seek political compromise. The decision by Aso and his ruling coalition to delay submission of the second supplementary budget until the regular Diet session was apparently a political maneuver to avoid being forced to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.


In the meantime, companies are expecting to face an increasingly hard time raising funds as the current fiscal year winds down to a close at the end of March. It is the shared responsibility of both the ruling and opposition parties to make sure that effective measures will be in place in time to help companies ride out the expected cash squeeze. The opposition camp must do more than just block policy proposals by the government and the ruling coalition.


We urge both camps to fulfill their political responsibility. This means they must both make concessions and put priority on enacting the budget plans quickly. It is the public that will suffer most from any major delay in the passage of the budget bills.


First, Aso needs to drop his planned 2 trillion yen cash handout to households, which has been criticized by all the opposition parties, from the second supplementary budget. In exchange, Minshuto and the other opposition parties should accept the remainder of the spending package.


Similar mutual concessions are also needed to enact the initial fiscal 2009 budget bill swiftly. That will require Aso to promise to dissolve the Lower House for a snap poll immediately after the Diet passes the budget and related bills.


At Sunday's news conference, however, Aso clearly ruled out any possibility of such a political deal with the opposition bloc. Aso appears to be intent on bulldozing these bills through the Diet by invoking the so-called 60-day rule, which allows the Lower House to enact bills through a second vote if the Upper House does not vote on them in 60 days. But this approach will inevitably prolong the political gridlock. Aso's confrontational strategy is a disturbingly irresponsible way to deal with the current political situation.


Aso may be fearing that a promise to call an election would torpedo the last of his fragile power base within the ruling camp and cause his government to collapse. But this political paralysis has its roots in the postponement of a Lower House election to seek a public mandate by the three LDP administrations since the party's disastrous defeat in the Upper House election two years ago.


It is no longer possible for the ruling party to keep escaping the inevitable political reset.


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社説:09年チェンジ オバマ政権 のびやかな日米関係に 近現代史の知識を広げよう

(Mainichi Japan) January 5, 2009

Looking to the past to boost Japan-U.S. alliance for future

社説:09年チェンジ オバマ政権 のびやかな日米関係に 近現代史の知識を広げよう

"I hate talking about the past," are the words of a Japanese student in Seoul. After a year of language study in South Korea, the student had become capable of communicating fairly well with the friendly Korean students that she had met. Once in a while, talk turns to Japanese-Korean tensions over differing perspectives on history.



The student can't help but feel that the arguments of the Korean students who feverishly defend their views are one-sided, but she doesn't have the tools necessary to refute them.


"I didn't learn about it in school, and I don't know much history," the student said in her defense.


She has grown increasingly frustrated, as her language skills are insufficient for her to throw any conversational curveballs. She feels her anger escalating toward Korean students who don't hold back in venting their side of the story but later act as nothing has happened. While this is not enough for her to fall out with her friends, recalling such incidents leaves her with a bad taste in her mouth. And her story is not an uncommon one.


Japanese youth -- or rather, the majority of the post-war generation -- is lacking in an understanding of Japanese history from the Meiji period through Japan's defeat in the Pacific War. And at the core of this phenomenon lies the relationship between Japan and the U.S. Let us take a look at this issue in light of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20 (early on Jan. 21, Japan time).



First, with regards to international affairs, Obama has quite a bit of work cut out for him. In addition to the economic crisis, various challenges await him: acts of terrorism as well as conflicts in the Middle East that are causing unending bloodshed; the alarming possibility of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as exemplified by North Korea; and the world's scramble for food and energy resources.


Of course, expectations are high, too. While President George W. Bush lost the world's trust through selfish diplomacy and an unjustified war in Iraq, there is hope that Obama, who knocked down the barriers of race on a platform of "change," will bring about a shift, that he will effectively use America's cultural and spiritual soft power to strike a chord of international cooperation with people around the world.


Yet, there are mounting fears in Japan. As the fight against terrorism shifts its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, there is no doubt that Obama will be asking allies for support. And when he does, will Japan be able to respond?


Public order in Afghanistan has declined enormously. And some predict that, unlike when it sent the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, if Japan decides against sending its SDF troops to Afghanistan, the U.S. will request vast sums of financial support instead.


Japanese citizens suffering from the recession will be appalled by the amount, and if Obama also shows a lack of sensitivity to Japan regarding North Korea's nuclear program and the abduction issue, worsening Japanese sentiment toward the U.S. is inevitable.


From the start, the Japan-U.S. alliance has been somewhat shaky. The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is an alliance between a country that came out victorious in the Pacific War and another that was defeated. The unique set-up, in which the U.S. is entrusted with the core elements of the alliance while Japan allows the U.S. to operate large scale military bases on its land, has been maintained within a backdrop of resignation that such an arrangement is unavoidable because Japan lost the war, and the argument that being able to develop economically without having to spend money on a military is ideal.


Meanwhile, however, ill will regarding the events leading up to the war, the dropping of the atomic bombs, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, and conflicts within Japan still linger and occasionally resurface. The incident last year in which a top official in the Air Self-Defense Force released an essay that included a sloppy theory of an American conspiracy is just one example of such enduring tensions.


There are also cases in which such antagonism is not expressed openly. President Bush has made repeated statements in which he equates the bombing of Pearl Harbor with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. While many Japanese have been offended by the suggestion, most have kept quiet. This troubling relationship between Japan and the U.S. is what makes teaching history in our schools such a difficult task.


From the U.S. perspective, too, however, the Japan-U.S. Alliance is not rock-solid. In his recent book, "Pacific Alliance: Reviving U.S.-Japan Relations," Kent E. Calder, a student of Edwin O. Reischauer, who was a Japan scholar and a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, points out that as military integration was furthered via the alliance, the network of politicians, businesspeople, and intellectuals who supported the alliance languished. The number of Chinese Americans has grown to over three times the number of Japanese Americans, and Japanese influence in the world and American interest in Japan has diminished.


A young American man who is fluent in Japanese said that he was having trouble finding work in Washington that meets his criteria. He says that there are countless good job openings for China specialists as a result of China's explosive economic growth and the rapidly intensifying ties between China and the U.S. "It was a mistake to study Japan," he said in Japanese, smiling wryly. "I lacked foresight."



The bottom line is this. In spite of some troubling aspects in the relationship between Japan and the U.S., the Japan-U.S. Alliance is extremely important. This is especially true now, a time when North Korea refuses to abandon its nuclear program and Russia and China's proclivity for ambition is becoming increasingly evident. However, there is not enough interest in the Japan-U.S. Alliance among the public. Our relationship with the Obama administration is an ideal opportunity to develop a better awareness and understanding of our history and relationships.


At the same time, it is crucial that we teach the fundamentals of modern Japanese and world history in our schools, and for adults to gain an accurate understanding of Japan's dog-eat-dog imperialist era, how the country flourished, and eventually suffered defeat. Without this knowledge, we run the risk of being consumed with misinformed fury and lapsing into the kind of nationalism that once ruined Japan.


One hopes for a more open, unconstrained relationship with the U.S. To achieve this, we must let go of any lingering grievances. It will probably take a long time. But first, let us learn about the past.


毎日新聞 200914日 東京朝刊

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急変する世界 国政遂行の枠組みを作れ、予算を早期に成立させよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 6, 2009)

Nation in need of new political framework

急変する世界 国政遂行の枠組みを作れ、予算を早期に成立させよ(16日付・読売社説)

With the nation facing a worldwide simultaneous economic downturn, political leadership is needed now more than ever.


The term of House of Representatives members expires Sept. 10. A lower house election must be held by the autumn.


How can the nation form a political framework to promptly and vigorously pursue policy goals?


Both political parties and individual politicians now must take to heart their grave responsibility and act with prudence.


At his first press conference this year, Prime Minister Taro Aso stressed the urgent need for economic stimulus measures. He said he would not consider dissolving the lower house until the vital fiscal 2009 budget and related bills had been passed by the Diet.


Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa said doubts about the current administration's ability to continue would grow beyond the prime minister's intention and urged the swift dissolution of the lower house.



Mindful of election

The ordinary Diet session, which was convened Monday despite the matsunouchi New Year period, is likely to be tense as lawmakers are keenly aware of the possibility of dissolution of the lower house.


The government and ruling parties hastened to open the Diet session early because they need to pass a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 and the fiscal 2009 budget as soon as possible to address the rapidly deteriorating economy and the increasingly serious employment situation.


The Aso Cabinet has been shaken by its rapidly declining approval rate. Yoshimi Watanabe, former state minister in charge of administrative reform, has indicated he may leave the Liberal Democratic Party. The fate of the Aso administration will depend on its ability to get through this Diet session.


The ruling parties intend to pass the second supplementary budget, which includes flat-sum cash benefits, and its related bills in the lower house in mid-January.


But the DPJ has decided to submit to the lower house a revised budget that dropped the cash benefit and related plans. The leading opposition party is set to urge thorough deliberations on the extra budget at the House of Councillors. The ruling camp thus has little prospect of swift passage of the extra budget.



Pointless payoff

The cash benefit plan is unlikely to generate much economic effect, despite its 2-trillion yen price tag.


But if the DPJ unnecessarily delays Diet deliberations, it would go against its own election campaign slogan--"the people's livelihood is a top priority."


Delay in passing the budgets due to turbulent Diet deliberations would result in further economic decline. The ruling and opposition parties should avoid a power struggle and instead join hands to quickly pass the budgets.



The next lower house election will be a battle for power between the two major parties--the LDP and the DPJ.


They will be tested strictly by voters over whether the LDP still has the capacity to remain in power and whether the DPJ is responsible enough to take power.


Another question to be asked in the election is what the party that takes power intends to do with it. What kind of nation do they intend to make Japan? Each party must show detailed plans for the nation's future.


How can economic and social vigor be maintained as the nation's population shrinks with a declining birthrate and graying society? How can the social security system, including pensions, medical services and nursing care, be reorganized in a way that restores people's trust?


What roles should the nation play to foster global stability? How can the nation's security be protected?



Squabbling won't serve

If the ruling and opposition parties stick to fighting each other over dole-out policies such as the LDP's cash benefit plan and the DPJ's child allowance plan, they will not be able to win voters' hearts.


Aso clearly referred to a hike in the consumption tax rate in fiscal 2011 in the government's medium-term program for drastic tax reform likely out of a sense of responsibility as one in power.


The DPJ is set to fight the next general election on the same policy platform it had in the 2007 upper house election, including the creation of minimum pension guarantees and the provision of income guarantees to farmers in some cases.


But as much as 20.5 trillion yen will be needed to implement those policy measures. The question arises of whether this amount could be allocated through reform of the administrative and fiscal system alone without raising the consumption tax rate. The DPJ should be clear on the source of revenue needed to carry out the measures.


We hope each party actively engages in debate in the current Diet session to clarify points of contention in the upcoming election.


Voters are increasingly frustrated with the current political situation in which a divided Diet hinders speedy decision-making.



Split legislature


Even if the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito secure a majority of lower house seats in the next election, the Diet will remain divided with the upper house controlled by the opposition camp.


In addition, it seems certain that the ruling parties will fail to retain two-thirds or more of the lower house seats needed to pass bills through a second vote. This means that the nation's legislative process will not function if opposition parties defeat bills in the upper house.


If opposition parties, including the DPJ, win a majority of lower house seats in the election, the problem of a divided Diet will disappear.


But it also will be difficult for the DPJ to secure a majority in both chambers on its own. The DPJ will have to seek the cooperation of other opposition parties such as the Social Democratic Party despite differences in policy.


Regardless of which party takes power, it is necessary to have a framework to carry out state affairs without delay. To secure a majority in both chambers, it seems unavoidable for the political circles to form a coalition with different partners and undergo political realignment.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 6, 2009)

2009160135  読売新聞)

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2009年1月 5日 (月)

主要企業アンケート:「景気悪化」急増83% 今年「改善」ゼロ--主要121社

(Mainichi Japan) January 5, 2009

83 percent of surveyed major firms say business conditions are worsening

主要企業アンケート:「景気悪化」急増83% 今年「改善」ゼロ--主要121社


Over 80 percent of major companies surveyed by the Mainichi Shimbun late last year said that business conditions are worsening.


In the survey conducted just a year earlier, none of the respondents felt business conditions were deteriorating and only 4 percent gave the same answer in the July 2008 survey.

The latest survey has demonstrated that the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September last year has cast a shadow over Japanese companies' business confidence.


The Mainichi Shimbun surveyed 121 major companies across the country between early and mid-December last year about their business confidence.


Just 100, or 83 percent, replied that they felt that business conditions were deteriorating. All the other companies but one said they felt that business conditions were gradually declining.


An overwhelming majority of respondents are pessimistic about the prospects of the economy this year, with 85 percent saying it will worsen in 2009 and 13 percent replying it will remain at the current level. None of the respondents forecast that the economy will improve this year.


In the poll at the end of 2007, 27 percent of companies predicted that the economy would improve in 2008, well above 11 percent who forecast it would worsen.

These two surveys show that companies' business confidence has sharply declined over the past year.


In the poll, 121 firms were asked to cite up to three main causes of concern for Japan's economy.

The largest number -- 98 firms -- cited the U.S. economic outlook apparently because there is no sign that the financial crisis will be settled in the foreseeable future and that the prospects for rehabilitating Big Three U.S. automakers are uncertain.


The next reason was the sluggish consumer spending cited by 73 firms, followed by the yen's appreciation as named by 48 companies, and the prospects of emerging economies such as China, which was listed by 35 firms.


The largest ratio of the respondents, 41 percent, said they predict that Japan's economy will begin to pick up in the first half of 2010, followed by 24 percent who answered the latter half of the same year, 22 percent who forecast in late 2009. No company predicted that conditions would improve in the first half of this year.


毎日新聞 200914日 東京朝刊

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3(IHT/Asahi: January 5,2009)

EDITORIAL: Job training important


In the final days of 2008, job seekers rushed to temporary counters at government Hello Work employment centers set up on an emergency basis. We suspect there were many desperate people, seeking any job they could find to make it through another day.


However, it would be better if there were more options for job seekers so people who lost their jobs could learn new vocational skills. This would help them embark on a new path with their futures in sight.


In recent years, European countries have placed job training at the center of their employment policies. The aim is to reduce dependence on the dole while building a skilled labor force to help expand the job market.


If unemployment benefits funded by employment insurance are like a safety net that catches and saves people that fall off a rope, then job training might be called a trampoline that helps people jump back onto the rope after they fall.


In Japan, however, the safety net is torn, and job training, which should serve as a trampoline, does not fully work.


On the frontline of Japan's manufacturing industry, the skills to make things have been handed down at each individual company.


However, those companies do not offer training to their temporary workers. Non-regular workers in the service industries are given only simple tasks, and there is little opportunity to acquire sufficient skills.


On the other hand, there are about 150,000 people that receive public job training each year. There are job training courses that teach mold-making, welding, housing improvement, bookkeeping and others.

In recent years, there are also training courses that teach nursing care services. Only 30 percent of the courses are provided at facilities owned by the central or local governments themselves, and the rest are being increasingly outsourced to the private sector.


The problem is how to support oneself during training. There are about 17 million nonregular workers now, as many as a third of the entire workforce. Yet, a majority of these nonregular workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance. So, they must be concerned with living expenses from the day they start their job training.


Many of these nonregular workers have no chance to improve their job skills, and have no choice but to flit from job to job, always anxious about their future. Japan's economy will lose enormous potential for years ahead if this continues.


To overcome these difficult times and for society to regain its peace of mind, the hole in the employment safety net must be mended and a system must be created to provide job training to anyone who wants it.


Measures should also be taken to make it easier for nonregular workers to join the employment insurance scheme.


While much broader opportunities for job training are a must, there must also be a system to provide trainees with living expenses during training. We urge the government to implement these policies without fail.


The government earlier decided to merge the Employment and Human Resources Development Organization of Japan (EHDO), an independent administrative agency, with another independent administrative agency after EHDO was roundly criticized for building expensive leisure resorts. The combined entity will specialize in providing job training for the manufacturing sector.


The organization wasted vast amounts of money. Continued reform is necessary while removing superfluous, overlapping central and local government activities.


Since Japan is a country with few natural resources, it has no choice but to become a country built on skilled labor. The country should try to turn this recession into an opportunity for the future.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3(IHT/Asahi: January 5,2009)

EDITORIAL: The global recession


This is going to be a hugely challenging year for the world economy. It faces a critical choice: Will it turn its back on globalization and move toward protectionism, or will it reject protectionism and maintain free trade?


The world has been caught up in a full-blown financial crisis since last autumn and is now sinking deeper into synchronized recession. To mitigate the painful effects of the global downturn on their economies, many countries are making moves that smack of protectionism. Symbolizing this trend are responses by key economic powers to the predicament of their domestic auto industries.


Last month, the U.S. government decided to provide $17.4 billion (about 1.5 trillion yen) in emergency loans to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC., which are on the verge of bankruptcy.


The European Union, Britain, Sweden and China have also started providing public aid to their troubled auto industries. Russia is set to raise tariffs on car imports this month to protect its own industry.


It is difficult to criticize a country that feels it cannot allow its auto industry, which provides so many jobs, to collapse amid this harsh recession.


But what should be borne in mind is that protecting domestic industries could lead to even more serious problems in the long run.


By providing financial assistance to car manufacturers, governments in effect are offering export subsidies that help bolster the competitiveness of their exports.

But countries targeted in export drives by carmakers that are receiving government support tend to adopt defensive measures, such as subsidies to domestic makers and hikes in car import tariffs.

Such policy actions, coupled with tit-for-tat responses, could eventually escalate into a global wave of protectionism.


That is exactly what happened during the Great Depression, which started in 1929 in the United States.


At the time, the U.S. government moved to protect domestic industries amid surging unemployment by raising tariffs on a wide range of imports. This triggered similar tariff increases by countries in Europe and elsewhere.


The wave of protectionist moves caused all the countries involved to enter a long and damaging recession, ushering in the gloomy era that led to a devastating world war.


There was no winner in the trade war. Nations should not repeat this mistake. They should not allow the world economy to fall into the same abyss by succumbing to the temptation to retreat behind the protective walls of trade barriers.


It will take at least several years for the world economy to regain health. Preventing protectionism from raising its ugly head requires strong political will on the part of world leaders.


The leaders of the Group of 20 major countries sent an encouraging signal in their emergency meeting on the financial crisis in November, when they pledged to work out by year-end an outline of a new trade agreement under the Doha Round of global trade talks that are still continuing.


But they failed to strike a deal by the end of the year, dimming the prospect for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.


Japan should strongly urge major trade powers such as the United States, Europe, China and India to reopen the trade talks as quickly as possible.


As a resource-poor nation with a shrinking population, Japan will have no choice but to continue to rely on global trade for its economic well-being. Japan can contribute to the welfare of the world as a whole while protecting its own interest by working to keep global trade flowing freely.


But it will take a lot of time to forge consensus among the 150 or so countries taking part in the Doha Round. It might be a good idea for the government to first try to establish an idealistic model for free trade agreements.


One potential candidate for such a model is the U.S.-proposed free trade zone encompassing the countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.


As a first step in such efforts, the Japanese government should start negotiations for participation in the economic partnership agreement envisioned by countries in the region, including the United States, Singapore and New Zealand.


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急変する世界 「トヨタショック」克服の道は、不況のツナミに襲われた日本

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 5, 2009)

Fundamental change needed to lift economy

急変する世界 「トヨタショック」克服の道は、不況のツナミに襲われた日本(15日付・読売社説)

The traces of sunlight that only a short while ago greeted Japan's economy have disappeared behind dark clouds that have gathered in little more than the blink of an eye, and which are now battering the nation's economy with stormy conditions as it sets sail in the turbulent seas of 2009.



If Japan is to reach the port of recovery, it will need a well-devised map to help it navigate this once-in-a-century tempest.


First, the government must establish what the weaknesses are in the nation's economy and consider countermeasures.


A major problem is that domestic and foreign demand, the two engines powering Japan's economic growth, are out of kilter.


Through processing trade, in which imported raw materials are manufactured into goods that are then sold to foreign countries, Japan realized rapid economic growth after World War II.


This model depends heavily on foreign demand, especially from the United States and advanced nations in Europe. But although efforts have been made to expand the operations of Japanese firms through overseas factories, there have been no substantial changes in the fundamental reliance on overseas markets.




Finding new markets

The financial crisis has been growing in the United States and European markets--the main drivers of foreign demand--which has caused a dramatic slowing in one of the two engines of demand.


Toyota Motor Corp., which enjoyed an operating profit of more than 2 trillion yen in the last business year, is struggling this year, forecasting operating profits will fall into the red by 150 billion yen.


This "Toyota shock" highlights the unprecedented woes facing Japan's export industry as it is engulfed by the global economic downturn.



And although they had enjoyed high growth, emerging markets in Asia, particularly China and India, are seeing their growth prospects cloud over, too. Japanese companies must now actively seek major new markets in an effort to secure more balanced foreign demand.


However, it is a tall order selling high-end, expensive Japanese products on a large scale to developing countries. A new business model should therefore be developed that allows the country to profit from passing on the benefits and know-how of its production technology.


Because Japanese firms depend so heavily on foreign demand, the nation's economy is vulnerable to foreign exchange fluctuations. The yen has, for example, risen to about 90 yen per U.S. dollar, slashing the profits of export-dependent companies.



New opportunities

However, the yen's rising value could open up new strategies for Japanese firms, such as making it possible to acquire healthy foreign companies. The strengthening yen should therefore be seen not as a jam, but as an opportunity to take advantage of the current turmoil.


From a medium- to long-term perspective, the country's aging society, with its declining birthrate and falling population, also will make it difficult to chart an effective economic course.



A shift to domestic demand-led economic growth has long been called for. But in the long run, the size of the domestic economy is tending to shrink.


Under these circumstances, the key to activating domestic demand lays in Japan's savings ratio--one of the highest in the world, and a point of pride for the country.

An estimated 1.5 yen quadrillion is effectively kept under mattresses. Boosting domestic demand and preparing for future generations can both be realized if this huge supply of money is utilized for investment in social infrastructure.



Beating negative growth

The government downgraded its forecast for the nation's real gross domestic product in fiscal 2008 to minus territory--the first negative growth in seven years.


The government is aiming for zero growth in real GDP in fiscal 2009, a goal it has set in order to try and prevent negative growth. But many analysts in the private sector expect the economy to register negative growth for two straight years.

The government also has predicted that consumer prices will drop by 0.4 points in the next fiscal year, sparking concerns of deflation.


With it becoming increasingly difficult to secure loans, even some companies turning a profit have gone bankrupt because of cash flow problems. To avoid deflation being exacerbated by tighter constraints on credit as happened 10 years ago, the government should implement policies that will be effective in preventing such aggravated deflation.


The government will implement economic stimulus measures worth 75 trillion yen through two supplementary budgets and the fiscal 2009 budget. The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, lowered its key interest rate by 0.2 percentage points to 0.1 percent.



Stimulus might not suffice

This may not be enough. The state's finances now face a further crisis as tax revenues fall due to the recession. But this is not the time to hesitate in increasing public spending on necessary measures to boost the economy.


Without first restructuring the economy, the conditions necessary for a hike in the consumption tax rate, which is aimed at securing the stable financial resources for social security, will remain elusive.


However, a boost in public spending should not merely be an excuse for pork-barrel spending.


What is initially necessary are measures to ease the pain caused by the economic downturn, such as properly addressing unemployment. Also, the government should be quick to plug damaging holes left by social security expenditure cuts, such as to emergency medical services.


The number of public works projects, meanwhile, should be narrowed to areas linked to public safety and improving the quality of the nation's infrastructure, such as increasing earthquake resistance.


Toward the end of last year, automakers and other major companies decided one after another to reduce production. As a result, many people have lost their jobs and accommodation simultaneously, and have been left homeless.


Yet measures to boost employment submitted separately by the ruling and opposition blocs were uncoordinated, meaning they could not be realized before the new year.


If the ruling and opposition parties want to nail their colors to the mast of prioritizing the economy they should cooperate in an effort to speed up the realization of appropriate policies.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 5, 2009)

2009150131  読売新聞)

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2009年1月 4日 (日)


(Mainichi Japan) January 3, 2009

Learning lessons from the animal world


The famous Japanese story of a faithful dog called Hachiko, who waited for its deceased owner's return in vain, is to be made into a Hollywood movie. The film will be set in the United States, not in Tokyo, and feature American actors, but the dog in the title role will be an Akita-inu breed, true to the original story. Amid these turbulent times of financial crisis and employment insecurity, ingenuous actions by animals strike a chord among people the world over.


Dogs were also the talk of the town in Chongqing, China; a pair of white dogs, to be exact, who settled in the town after being swept away by a flash flood. Since the female was unable to walk due to leg injury, the male dog was busy bringing food to her, earning himself the nickname Goat.


One day, a local resident took Goat home, but he managed to escape from the house and returned to his partner. The resident forcibly took the male dog back home, but the result was the same, as it was when another resident tried the same thing.


Locals were struck by learning how strongly the two dogs were bonded, and they chipped in to feed the pair in turn. The story became popular on the Internet, and Goat was ranked the 10th in an online vote for China's most moving animals.


Topping the ranking was a pig that was buried under a house in Chengdu after the Sichuan earthquake, and survived 36 days by nibbling charcoal. Its 200-kilogram weight was reduced to a mere 50 kilograms by the time it was rescued, but the pig's strong survival instinct encouraged people who were devastated by the quake disaster. The pig was nicknamed Tenacity, and is currently kept at a local museum as a living witness to the quake.


Now the pig has got fatter than before the quake and is walked every morning to lose weight. Individual investors whose asset values were reduced due to the sharp fall in stock prices and entrepreneurs struggling with the recession are reportedly waiting for the economic recovery by telling each other that they will make their day again if they persevere like the pig. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 200913日 東京朝刊

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急変する世界 国際秩序安定をどう図るか、米新政権が背負う重い課題

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 4, 2009)

Ensuring global stability rests with Obama

急変する世界 国際秩序安定をどう図るか、米新政権が背負う重い課題(14日付・読売社説)

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, advocating "change," will take the oath of office on Jan. 20 against a backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating global economy.


The most pressing task he faces is to reconstruct the shattered U.S. economy. He also needs to tackle a number of difficult issues, including the two wars that the United States is engaged in--in Iraq and Afghanistan--while preventing nuclear proliferation and trying to secure peace in the Middle East.


The policies to be adopted by the Obama administration in its bid to reestablish the U.S.-led global order will have a decisive impact on the course of world events this year.


Under the eight-year administration of President George W. Bush, U.S. credibility and prestige have been badly tarnished by turmoil in Iraq and the ongoing financial crisis. The unipolar world of U.S. domination that seemed to have been ushered in after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union is now looking decidedly shaky.


New players have been emerging and remerging on the world stage. These include Russia, which hopes to regain its status as a major power; China, which is boosting its international presence with its increasing economic and military clout; and India and Brazil, which have the potential to become major regional powers.


Meanwhile, new frameworks have begun to settle into place to deal with global problems. The Group of 20 nations, comprised of the Group of Eight major nations plus China, India, South Africa, South Korea and others, is tackling the ongoing financial crisis, while a meeting of the biggest 16 emitters of global warming gases is working to combat climate change.


However, all these countries are hamstrung by recessions brought on by the financial crisis that began last year. As a result, there have been growing conflicts of interest between leading and emerging countries, which is making it difficult for them to reach consensus on pending issues.


Obama has said he will tackle important and pressing issues by making full use of the range of U.S. powers--its incomparable military strength, as well as its economic and diplomatic prowess--to revive U.S. leadership in the world.


Indeed, there apparently is no other major and responsible country capable of assuming a leading role and guiding the world to stability and prosperity.


Obama is responsible for delivering on his various pledges by crafting appropriate policies and implementing them decisively.



Attention on China, Russia

The world is currently in flux, economically and politically, with the situation apparently becoming ever more fluid.



China has been boosting its military might and indicated its desire to fulfill its international responsibilities by dispatching naval vessels for an antipiracy mission off Somalia late last year. Beijing's decision appears to have been aimed at showcasing its ability to deploy naval vessels on the high seas.


At home, however, there seems to be growing social unrest. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of modern China. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan revolt and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident in which the Chinese government forcibly suppressed the democratization movement.


Chinese have become increasingly frustrated with the hardships they face as the U.S.-triggered economic slowdown bites following the successful 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Some believe there is increasing potential for mass action demanding the government correct social disparities.


Meanwhile, Russia's once healthy economy has deteriorated on the back of plunging oil prices. Russia was forced to tap its foreign currency reserves, and the vulnerabilities in its economy, which is heavily dependent on the country's natural resources, have been laid bare.


Russia also remains unchanged in its vehement opposition to the United States and European Union extending their influence eastward.


As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and Russia must establish a cooperative relationship with the next U.S. administration and act responsibly for the sake of global stability.



Terrorism fight continues


The fight against terrorism also remains an important issue for the international community to address this year.


Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq while sending more troops to Afghanistan, arguing that the front line in the fight against terrorism is not Iraq, but Afghanistan.


Is it possible to ensure stability in Iraq with U.S. troops being withdrawn as currently envisioned? It will be important to step up support for Iraq's reconstruction so that intensifying religious strife in the country does not escalate into civil war.


A number of important questions also remain to be answered, such as the degree to which North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries, including Britain, Germany and France, would accept a request by the United States to boost their troop levels in Afghanistan. And is it possible to eliminate terrorist strongholds in Pakistan in cooperation with the Pakistani government?


Another concern is the deep-rooted animosity between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which is being rekindled following a series of indiscriminate terrorist attacks in both countries last year.


Getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and halting Iran's nuclear development also are pressing issues.


With the ultimate goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, Obama has stressed a diplomatic strategy based on "unconditional dialogue," even with autocratic regimes. However, there remains some doubt over whether he will be able to achieve much in nuclear negotiations without resorting to the sticks of economic and military power.


Meanwhile, there is increasing uncertainty surrounding North Korea, including questions over who will succeed Kim Jong Il as leader following speculation about his health.


Japan, which must quickly settle the abduction issue and help realize a nuclear-free North Korea, needs to more actively deal with these issues as it negotiates with Pyongyang, while still maintaining close cooperation with the United States.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 4, 2009)

2009140134  読売新聞)

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2009年1月 3日 (土)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 31(IHT/Asahi: January 3,2009)

EDITORIAL: Nonprofit activities


Nippon Pro Baseball, the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Amnesty International Japan and the Japan Parking Facilities Promotion Organization have one thing in common: They are all koeki hojin or public interest corporations overseen by government authorities.


The basic legal framework for the operation of koeki hojin entities, including shadan hojin (incorporated associations) and zaidan hojin (incorporated foundations), was reformed in December for the first time in about 110 years.


Also in 2008, the NPO Law (law to promote specific nonprofit activities) turned 10 years old. Although the two systems involving private-sector public interest activities have reached milestones, there is still much room for improvement.


This past spring, a corporation under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism was found to have squandered its road-related budget on wasteful projects, such as building little-needed parking lots. However, most of the nation's 25,000 koeki hojin entities are doing fine work in the fields of culture, sports, international exchanges and others.


Under the former system, which had continued from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), public interest corporations could not be established unless they were approved by the central or prefectural governments. The authorities also had jurisdiction over the entities after their establishment.


This system stood in the way of cross-ministerial activities, and even turned some corporations into "depositories" of government subsidies or destinations for retired bureaucrats.


The 2000 bribery scandal involving mutual aid society KSD, an incorporated entity, prompted the latest reforms that aim to eliminate political-bureaucratic collusion.


The reformed system does away with the need to obtain government approval to start a public interest corporation. As a rule, all one needs to do is register the incorporation.


If a planned new third-party committee recognizes the public service nature of the intended activities, the corporation will be eligible for generous tax breaks, such as tax exemptions on donations received.


The architects of the reformed system boast that this will eliminate bureaucratic red tape and bring greater freedom to public interest activities. However, the system is being given the thumbs down by the corporations.


They argue that the conditions are too strict and that registration requires a huge amount of paperwork. While they agree that entities of dubious nature should obviously not be approved, they say the system could result in proverbial cases of the cure being worse than the disease.


Meanwhile, the NPO Law was initiated by Diet members with support from citizens groups. Under this law, as many as 36,000 NPOs have been established over the last decade. But many are now struggling financially, and some dubious ones have emerged.


The establishment of NPOs is subject to approval from the Cabinet Office and other authorities. If they meet National Tax Agency requirements, they become "designated NPOs" eligible for tax breaks, such as tax-free donations.


Although the pertinent legislative provisions are revised every year, the hurdle is still high for designation as an NPO eligible for favorable treatment. Only about 90 have received that status so far.


The government insists that public interest corporations and NPOs alike must meet strict standards to qualify for tax breaks. While this argument is understandable, setting too high a hurdle would defeat the purpose of the law and will not help nurture a culture that encourages citizens to donate to public interest activities.


Both the reformed system and the NPO Law place too heavy a burden on public service corporations.


Private nonprofit activities are growing in importance. To support and encourage such activities, further reviews of the system are urgently needed, including easing the conditions under which those corporations will be able to receive tax-free donations.


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--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 31(IHT/Asahi: January 3,2009)

EDITORIAL: China-Tibet dialogue


The year 2008 was shaken by turmoil in Tibet, where riots erupted last March and protests targeting the torch relay for the Beijing Olympic Games spread around the world.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current national chair of the European Union's rotating presidency, enraged Beijing in December when he had talks for the first time with the 14th Dalai Lama, the top leader of Tibetan Buddhism.


A Chinese Foreign Ministry press secretary said Sarkozy's meeting with a political exile determined to break up the homeland is an outrageous interference in China's internal affairs and has deeply hurt the people's feelings.


Some among the Chinese public criticized Sarkozy's meeting as tantamount to former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine.


The Chinese, who issued repeated warnings against a meeting with the Dalai Lama, postponed a summit with the EU scheduled in Lyon, France.


With the impact of the global financial crisis extending into the real economy, the failure to hold the summit between China and the EU, two powers expected to play key roles in getting the world economy back on track, is extremely regrettable.


Sarkozy's decision to proceed with the meeting over Beijing's protests reflected not only the French public's concerns about human rights but also France's aim to again appeal to Beijing for the importance of talking with the Dalai Lama.


Since the turmoil in March, talks between the Dalai Lama's envoy and Chinese authorities, which began under prodding from international opinion, remain stalled.


The Dalai Lama has not shifted his moderate policy line that reportedly favors a higher degree of autonomy, but not independence, for Tibet.


Yet Beijing refuses to accept that line, claiming that the religious leader has his sights set on virtual independence. China's stance was so rigid that we believe its resumption of dialogue was a pose intended to avoid undermining the buildup to the Summer Olympics.


Reacting to such a stance from China, an increasing number of hard-liners in Tibet, primarily young people, are demanding independence.


At a conference of exiled Tibetans convened in November, participants agreed to maintain the middle-of-the-road path. But the prevailing view was that Beijing's failure to take positive steps would leave no choice but to push for independence.


Beijing bureaucrats may doubt the true extent of "autonomy" sought by the Dalai Lama because of the Tibetans who live outside the autonomous region and non-Tibetans who follow the Tibetan Buddhism faith.


Nonetheless, Chinese authorities would be well advised to proceed with talks with the Dalai Lama, who is widely supported in Tibetan society.


Some Chinese officials appear intent on delaying discourse in light of the Dalai Lama's age, 73. But actions based on such motives would block the existing lines of communication between the two sides, running the risk of sparking another round of riots.


2009 is also a sensitive milestone--the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Revolt.


Following the turmoil in March, the Japanese government, in a quiet and resilient fashion, urged Beijing to agree to dialogue. Japan was not as loud as Western countries in this regard.


This approach resulted in some Chinese saying that Japanese diplomacy valuing face bore fruit. This Japanese-style approach should be carried on.


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(Mainichi Japan) January 2, 2009

Hope in a winter daffodil


On New Year's Day in 1931, during the Showa Depression, the wandering haiku poet Santoka Taneda composed a verse describing his impoverished situation: "New Year, with a single daffodil." He wrote the verse after spending his last 4 sen (hundredths of a yen) on a bath the previous day.


After running out of cash, the poet borrowed some money from an acquaintance and prepared for a modest New Year: "10 sen for a cut-price pair of socks, 2 sen for a single daffodil, and one yen for a bottle of sake -- OK New Year, I'm ready for you!"


During that New Year, Santoka composed haiku about daffodils almost every day: "Daffodil flower, praying for the souls of ancestors," "When I return, the daffodil is in full bloom," he wrote.


"I think that the daffodil as a flowering grass plant is truly Japanese. The flower, the leaves and the smell are all simple, neat and elegant. It possesses modesty, familiarity and beauty, and is one of my favorite grass flowers."


At this cold time of the year, when the hills and fields lose their hues, some people may celebrate New Year with a single daffodil, which can capture one's heart with its lonely beauty. But even though we are past 2008 -- which saw the greatest economic downturn since the Second World War -- the prospects for the start of this year are so bleak that it is difficult to celebrate with any conviction.


An alternative name for the daffodil in Japanese translates as "flower in the snow." Daffodil flowers do not lose their dignified appearance even when it is bitterly cold, and they are often held up as a symbol of hope. No matter how difficult the situation is at New Year, like the daffodil, we should always hold a stem of hope in our hearts.


Amid the bleak winter scenery, there is a place somewhere where daffodils are blooming. Can we say that our society, like that clump of flowers, has maintained its dignity when faced with an icy wind, and that it is steadily heading on a path toward spring?


Another one of Santoka's haiku comes to mind.

"With a thought, daffodils start to bloom." ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)


毎日新聞 200911日 東京朝刊

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急変する世界 カギ握る米国経済の再生

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 3, 2009)

Global economic revival hinges on U.S. recovery

急変する世界 カギ握る米国経済の再生(13日付・読売社説)


As if rolling down a steep hill, the global economy has deteriorated rapidly since being hit by the financial crisis that started in the United States.


Trying times will no doubt continue in 2009.


Developed countries, including the United States, European nations and Japan, entered into economic recessions last year, while the four big newly emerging countries, including China and India, saw their booming economies slow down significantly.


The International Monetary Fund predicts that the global economy will further slow this year, with global economic growth rate in real terms to be only about 2 percent. It is the first time since the end of World War II that Japan, the United States and European countries will all register negative economic growth at the same time. China meanwhile is expected to see single-digit economic growth for the second consecutive year.



Rise together, fall together

The so-called decoupling theory, which posits that the economic doldrums of developed countries can be covered by the high growth of the newly emerging economies, has crumbled like cookies. The world cannot find a way out of simultaneous recessions in the absence of an economic engine. When will recovery of the global economy come? Even optimistic economists say the latter half of 2010 or later.



The key factor is the recovery of the U.S. economy. In the United States, housing market conditions continue to deteriorate and the number of unemployed is sharply increasing. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, also remains sluggish.


Taking such situations into consideration, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board introduced an essentially zero-interest-rate policy at the end of December. It also has taken quantitative easing measures such as the outright purchase of long-term government bonds.



The Fed has shown its determination to prevent the economy from weakening further and to stop deflation by taking unconventional crisis response measures. However, the Fed's monetary measures alone are not enough. The Fed must coordinate its actions with fiscal measures from the federal government.



Will Obama's stimulus deliver?

Barack Obama, who becomes U.S. president on Jan. 20, is planning to take large economic stimulus measures worth more than 800 billion dollars (72 trillion yen), including tax reductions and public investments such as the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges. He also plans employment measures aimed at creating jobs for 3 million people over two years.


The future 44th president is said to have taken a cue from the New Deal program implemented by the 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to tackle the Great Depression that started in 1929. Immediately after he takes office, Obama will be tested on whether he can revive the U.S. economy.


The first challenge for the new president is the rehabilitation of the Big Three automakers--General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co.


U.S. President George W. Bush decided last month to offer huge emergency loans for GM and Chrysler to save them, at least temporarily, from bankruptcy.


The two automakers are required to come up with restructuring plans by the end of March. But, if the plans are found insufficient to make them viable, there will be a possibility that the automakers will have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.


If the automakers go bankrupt, its impact on the global financial market and the world economy will be enormous. The next president will have to make very difficult decisions regarding this.


Measures to deal with the global financial crisis, including a bailout plan for the auto industry and a major economic stimulus package, are expected to inflate the U.S. budget deficit to more than 1 trillion dollars in fiscal 2009. This fiscal deficit will be a heavy burden on the U.S. economy.



Dollar needs to be supported

Major countries must enhance cooperation and act quickly with the United States to rehabilitate the global economy.


European countries, Japan and newly emerging countries such as China are already coordinating fiscal and monetary policy measures in accordance with an agreement reached at the financial summit meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 major industrialized and developing economies in November.


The G-20 leaders are required at the second financial summit to be held in Britain in April to reach agreements on more concrete measures such as restrictions on globally operating financial institutions. They also will focus on the present key currency system based on the U.S. dollar as an increasing number of economists believe the rapid inflation of the U.S. fiscal deficit could undermine confidence in the greenback.



However, it is a fact that there is no other currency that can fill the U.S. dollar's shoes. The presence of the euro, the single European currency, has been increasing since it was first introduced in 1999, but it is still not as strong as the dollar. Discussions at the summit will probably focus on how G-20 countries can help support the U.S. dollar.



Keep protectionism at bay


While the world economy is becoming increasingly jittery, there is an alarming amount of pressure for more trade protectionism.


As if responding to the U.S. government's rescue plan for the Big Three automakers, Russia has raised its import tariffs on automobiles and European countries and China have begun to assist their respective auto industries. Some economists are concerned that if nothing is done the countries could slip into protectionist wars to defend their industries.


The promotion of free trade is needed more than ever in times like today. But, members of the World Trade Organization failed to reach a broad agreement in the Doha Round of trade liberalization talks, which was initially targeted for completion by the end of the year. Japan, the United States, European countries and developing nations failed to resolve their differences.


A bitter lesson can be drawn from the Great Depression, in which bad situations were made worse by many countries turning to protectionism.


WTO members must try hard to reach an agreement in this round of multilateral trade talks as early as possible. In the process, Japan also must voluntarily fulfill its responsibilities.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 3, 2008)

2009130223  読売新聞)

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2009年1月 1日 (木)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 1(IHT/Asahi: January 1,2009)

EDITORIAL: A stormy start for 2009


What a gloomy start to the new year.


The financial earthquake that first rocked Wall Street, the glittering symbol of American prosperity, 100 days ago continues to shake the world. The effects of the financial crisis could be greater than even the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which felled the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the same city in 2001.


With credit tightening in the global financial system, consumer spending, investment and trade are all shrinking around the world. The world economy is sinking at an unprecedented speed. Stock prices in most major countries have been sliced in half.



Anxiety about the future is crushing consumer and business confidence. The bottom is nowhere in sight, which makes the situation even more frightening. The world is now shuddering at what appears to be shaping up as a deflationary spiral.


But we must not be too upset. To help us weather this economic downturn, we should take a deep breath, ponder the meaning of the crisis and learn the lessons it offers for ushering in a new era.


Free markets that are supposed to make people wealthier can, at times, cause economic disasters. This risk inherent in the capitalist economic system exploded accidentally in the U.S. market under the administration of President George W. Bush, who brought financial deregulation to extremes. The resultant crisis has quickly engulfed the globalized world. That's the long and short of this crisis. Market failures


This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which graphically symbolized the collapse of the world order during the Cold War era of East-West rivalry. Since that time, the world has been turned into a huge integrated market. A liberalized flow of capital and goods as well as information, which was accelerated by progress in information technology, has greatly increased wealth and convenience.


The United States has been the principal driving force of this globalization. Its economic creed has placed the highest importance on the interests of shareholders and investors. It views the ability to generate profits efficiently as more important than workers' well-being and corporate social responsibility.


The market-oriented system has been supported by neo-liberalism, which started in the 1970s and was the guiding principle for former President Ronald Reagan's economic revolution in the 1980s. The system has now spread all over the world.


But this doctrine--the free market can act as an infallible guide for economic activity--created the excesses that have resulted in this catastrophe.


The dramatic economic downturn has caused tremendous numbers of Americans to lose their jobs or homes, widened the economic gap in society and devastated the country's key manufacturing industries, especially the auto industry, which was once the icon of America's economic might.


The situation in the United States is a natural consequence of an economic system that puts more importance on the profit-generating market itself than on individuals and social harmony. Gap widens between rich and poor



What has happened in Japan in the meantime?


About 10 years ago, the nation started a sweeping deregulation campaign based on U.S.-style market principles as part of efforts to pull the economy out of the prolonged slump following the collapse of speculative bubbles. The structural reform driven by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi accelerated the process.


The reform enhanced the efficiency of the old Japanese-style economic structure to some extent, leading to the longest economic expansion in the postwar era and record corporate profits.


At the same time, the decade of reforms has produced some totally unexpected disastrous social effects. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened markedly amid the loud chorus of calls for self-responsibility. The ranks of the "working poor," or low-wage workers who can barely make a living, have grown rapidly.


Temporary, part-time and other nonregular workers now account for 30 percent of the nation's work force, a consequence of labor market deregulation. More than 10 million workers are earning less than 2 million yen a year.


The middle class that was once the backbone of stable society has all but disappeared.


Broad spending cuts made under the banner of fiscal rehabilitation have significantly weakened the social safety net, including such vital social security services as unemployment insurance benefits, health care and public financial aid.


People who become stuck in the trap of poverty cannot easily escape the hole. This grim reality has become a familiar part of life in this nation. The economic crisis has hit Japan just as it is struggling to deal with these problems.


We have to look squarely at the reality and no optimism is warranted under the current circumstances. However, excessive pessimism would cloud our vision for the future.


Former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan described the current financial crisis as a "once-in-a-century credit tsunami." Many people now quote that phrase.


But we must not shrink back. Japan successfully rode two other serious crises during the past nearly 150 years that could have ruined the nation.


Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), an author and political theorist, said he felt as if he had lived two different lives, referring to the turbulence he experienced when the feudal reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate ended to usher in the cultural enlightenment in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).


The nation overcame another crisis only 60 years ago when its defeat in World War II brought an end to militarist Japan and paved the way for a restart as a democratic nation.


In both crises, the nation survived by achieving fundamental reforms. Drastic overhaul needed



The situation now facing the nation is a multiple crisis caused by a mixture of the global-scale credit crunch and the stalling domestic economic and fiscal system, which is plagued with problems.


Overcoming the current crisis will be a formidable challenge, requiring huge efforts to drastically overhaul the nation. In addition, Japan must fulfill the task with its own wisdom and abilities, instead of caving in to outside pressure for the nation to introduce Western technologies and democracy in the two previous crises.


Japanese people long for a bold policy vision that transcends simple short-term measures to stimulate job creation and economic growth. They also want strong political leadership that will realize the vision.


The age when economic growth was the top priority has ended. Japan should be rebuilt in line with a drastic change to our sense of values.


Such a grand vision could focus on the environment, education or welfare. It should be designed to concentrate resources on crafting a decent future for the nation and job creation. Again, strong political leadership is essential to realize this grand vision.


The unipolar world dominated by the United States is now being replaced by a multipolar world where countries like China and India are gaining increasing clout. Given the growing importance of international cooperation to overcome the crisis and protect the environment of the planet, political leadership has a crucial role to play.


American people have entrusted President-elect Barack Obama with the task of correcting the imbalances created by market fundamentalism and financial bubbles. They are trying to ride out the crisis under a new leadership.


Will the upcoming Lower House election in Japan, which must be held this year, shape up as a similar sea change for the nation? The 20 years since the end of the Cold War have led the nation from the heyday of the bubble economy to this glum new year, a period of constant turmoil.


Voters must now be more critical of the nation's politics than ever before.


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社説:08年を振り返る 国家のきしみが聞こえる 内向き姿勢、薄れた日本の存在感

(Mainichi Japan) December 31, 2008

Is Japan undergoing a downhill slide like ancient Rome?

社説:08年を振り返る 国家のきしみが聞こえる 内向き姿勢、薄れた日本の存在感

Invisible wild waves appear to be hitting Japan. An economic tsunami emanating from the United States is making the furious inland sea even rougher. As 2008 nears an end, one cannot help but wonder whether Japan can ride out the rough waves that hit the country one after another.


The financial crisis that started in the United States has struck Japan, and is complicating the already serious economic situation here. Numerous people are obviously feeling uneasy as if they were aboard a ship in rough seas and hear the vessel creaking.


The Nobel prizes awarded to four Japanese researchers was encouraging news, but some people point out that they were awarded for their past research achievements and that it is highly doubtful if more Japanese scientists will win Nobel prizes in the future. The four laureates' feats highlight the dismal situation in Japan's academic circles.


Japan's system as a state is showing signs of cracks. Replacing parts and fresh paint is not enough. We must consider a drastic overhaul of the entire ship and replacing its skipper.



In September, then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda suddenly stepped down, and the approval rating for his successor, Taro Aso, remains low. The dismissal of administrations by Fukuda and his predecessor Shinzo Abe has heightened the public's distrust in politics, particularly the ruling coalition.


Moreover, Aso, who was expected to dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap general election shortly after taking office, has been unable to do so because the ruling coalition remains unpopular. He is barely staying afloat, like a boat without a rudder, hoping to increase his popularity by implementing economic stimulus measures.


What has gone wrong with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)? Novelist Nanami Shiono has pointed out that Japan, in which the LDP picks the nation's prime minister, is similar to ancient Rome, in which its consul was named by the Roman Senate. Such a system in which a small number of people are involved in the leadership functions may work if a country is growing, but if the environment changes, its mechanism of utilizing human resources goes out of order. Shiono's comment in her book, "Roma kara Nihon ga Mieru" ("Japan viewed from Rome") that "even though the leader believes he is doing well, he is only impeding governance" is noteworthy. Is Japan undergoing a downhill slide like ancient Rome?


The scandal-tainted Social Insurance Agency has come under fire for falsifying numerous pension premium payment records as an entity, and the corrosion of Japan's function as a state is unbearable to watch.


The new medical system has also angered people. Senior citizens' protest at the phrase, "late-stage elderly people," is their quiet uprising, so to speak.


A "grass-root uprising" also occurred in the labor field. The number of temporary workers dispatched by employment agencies to various firms hit a record high this year. In the face of the economic downturn, many employers unilaterally terminated their employment contracts with such workers or cancelled their job offers to those who are expected to graduate this coming spring. Strikes staged by temporary workers and others who are trapped in an insecure employment situation are a major expression of resistance in Japan, where labor movements are not generally active.


Problems involving the employment and social security situations have become serious as the social divide into "winners" and "losers" is expanding. This year saw a spate of heinous crimes, such as a stabbing rampage in Tokyo's Akihabara district that left seven people dead and 10 others injured and attacks on the homes of two retired top bureaucrats in the Health and Welfare Ministry.


Japan's national security system also appears to have become fragile. Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Toshio Tamogami was forced to step down after he released a controversial essay that denied Japan was an aggressor in World War II, raising serious questions about Japan's civilian control on the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Even if he exercised the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, his freedom of thought and his responsibility relating his official duties are completely different matters, as National Defense Academy President Makoto Iokibe points out. Japan is in a bind as a top-ranking uniformed SDF officer, who is in a position to control SDF personnel and equipment, publicly disagrees with the government's official position.


Japan's actual security situation has also worsened. Even though the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush cannot solve problems involving North Korea's nuclear program, it removed Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Nuclear weapons and missiles that pose a direct threat to Japan remain intact, and there has been no progress on the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Many Japanese people do not appear fully aware of the danger.


There have not been in-depth discussions on Japan's role in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Japan has not adopted a specific response to the Palestinian issue, where bloodshed continues. Even though Japan was busy responding to numerous domestic issues, Japan apparently stuck to its inward-looking stance and refused to look at what it didn't want to see.



While China increased its presence by hosting the Beijing Olympics, Japan's global presence is becoming less visible. Japan-U.S. relations continued without any major conspicuous events. Nowadays, phrases like, "Japan nothing" and "Japan missing" are frequently heard in the United States and other countries. Japan seldom mentions the phrase, "the Japan-U.S. alliance in the world," which was frequently heard during the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.


Japanese officials are apparently preferring to hold dialogue with President-elect Barack Obama rather than unpopular and outgoing President Bush. Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr., who served as an aide to the late President John F. Kennedy, said the United States has never been more unpopular, distrusted, feared and hated than under the Bush administration.


However, we must bear in mind that Japan is one of the countries that promptly expressed support for the U.S. war against Iraq. If Japan fails to evaluate its relations with the Bush administration, which is now nearing an end, it should be called a moral hazard as a state.


毎日新聞 20081231日 東京朝刊

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急変する世界 危機に欠かせぬ機動的対応、政治の態勢立て直しを

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 1, 2009)

Global crisis requires flexible response

急変する世界 危機に欠かせぬ機動的対応、政治の態勢立て直しを(11日付・読売社説)


The world is being jolted by the collapse of U.S.-style financial business models that have symbolized neoliberalism and market fundamentalism.


The sudden credit crunch has dealt a blow to the real economy as signs grow stronger that the whole world is plunging into a recession.


The ongoing business slump has even been dubbed a once-in-a-century crisis, raising the specter of a global downturn comparable to the Great Depression that started in 1929.


Needless to say, there is a huge difference between the current global situation and the world as we knew it 80 years ago.


Taking to heart the bitter lessons learned from previous economic crises, major industrial nations have adopted various steps to ease the current plight. For instance, coordinated interest rate cuts were introd