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2012年11月30日 (金)

就職内定率 新卒者へ一層の支援が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 30, 2012)
Graduates-to-be need more help in employment search
就職内定率 新卒者へ一層の支援が必要だ(11月29日付・読売社説)

The worst appears to be over for the employment situation for newly graduating students, which once was so tough it went through what was called a "hyper-glacial period of finding jobs." However, the situation remains severe.

Among university students scheduled to graduate next spring, 63.1 percent had received job offers as of Oct. 1. This figure has increased for two consecutive years, a rise prompted partly by demand for reconstruction projects in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, the figure has not yet recovered to the level before the so-called Lehman Brothers shock in 2008.

The economic outlook through early next year remains opaque, as indicated by factors such as real gross domestic product for the July-September quarter recording minus growth. It is possible companies will cut down on new hires. As such, there is no room for optimism on how far the job securing rate will grow before students actually graduate next spring.

Given this, it is important for the government and each university and college to reinforce their support for graduating students hunting for jobs.


Ministry program a good start

While the trend of seeking jobs at major companies has been strong among new graduates, quite a few young people have joined small and midsize enterprises that operate attractive businesses, where they found working was worthwhile. We hope students who have not been able to find employment will see the larger picture and keep searching for a job.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been operating a "job supporters for graduates" program, under which special counselors help newly graduating students find jobs.

These counselors at Hello Work public employment agencies go to universities and introduce students to individual companies, for instance, and carefully guide the students so they can find jobs.

Thanks to these efforts, more than 160,000 graduates found work last fiscal year.

Among their policy pledges for the coming House of Representatives election, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party both mentioned improving the employment rate among new graduates.

Some policies both parties advocate--such as providing subsidies to companies that offer short-term employment on a trial basis to people unable to find permanent jobs even after they graduate, and employment counseling at Hello Work offices--have been implemented and are producing some effects. It is important for the administration that will come after next month's election to improve them further.

Among this spring's graduates, 23 percent found nonregular jobs, did not start working or did not go on to higher education. Among those who later found work, most jobs were nonregular, according to the ministry.


Protect nonregular workers

Nonregular workers, whose wages are lower than those of full-time workers, tend to become targets for restructuring when a company falls on hard times. As their lifestyle is not stable, many are unable or unwilling to get married. Most are not covered by employment pension insurance, so there are concerns they will get low pension payments--or no pension at all--when they become elderly.

Nonregular workers are cheap labor for firms, and it is not easy for them to become full-time workers. Improving the conditions of nonregular workers is a major pending policy issue for the government.

To improve the employment environment, job seekers should be encouraged to move into fields that need more manpower. For example, the medical care and nursing care fields are facing growing demand as Japan's society rapidly grays. Low wages offered to workers in these fields is one reason behind their lack of manpower. The working conditions of nursing care workers also must be improved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 29, 2012)
(2012年11月29日01時32分  読売新聞)

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日本未来の党 「卒原発」には国政を託せない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 30, 2012)
Voters must warily scrutinize new parties' vague slogans
日本未来の党 「卒原発」には国政を託せない(11月29日付・読売社説)

How could we entrust Japan's future to a political party that touts a slogan of "ending the use of nuclear power plants," which would likely weaken the nation if adopted?

Nippon Mirai no To (Japan future party) celebrated its inauguration Wednesday, with Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada being chosen as the party leader. Kada said her party will draw up a "program to achieve a nuclear-free society," seeking to gradually abolish all nuclear power plants. Kada added that she wants to achieve the goal within 10 years.

The party's slogans are merely vague concepts, listing phrases such as "stopping reliance on tax hikes," "taking the policy initiative away from bureaucrats" and "diplomacy with dignity." The party has yet to prepare concrete measures, even on important topics such as the economy, social security and national security.

People's Life First and another new party founded by former agriculture minister Masahiko Yamada are scheduled to join Nippon Mirai no To. At first glance, it would seem that Kada called the other two parties to join her. In reality, however, it was People's Life First head Ichiro Ozawa and Yamada who did the behind-the-scenes negotiations for the three parties to reach an agreement on unification.

Nippon Mirai no To's empty slogans and the disorderly shifting of allegiances among former House of Representatives members scrambling to be reelected in the coming general election are clear examples of how the quality of politicians has deteriorated.


Irresponsible energy policy

Kada's "sotsu gempatsu" slogan, which literally means "graduating from nuclear power plants," is basically no different from the "datsu-gempatsu" slogan adopted by several other parties, which literally means "breaking with nuclear power plants."

Touting such a slogan without showing a clear path to achieve the goal is a mere display of a desire, which obviously is irresponsible.

Nippon Mirai no To should prepare a concrete plan on how to stably supply electricity and secure an alternative energy source to nuclear power as well as how to deal with the economic loss and unemployment that plant shutdowns would bring. The party also needs to explain how to deal with the continuing necessity of human resources development in the nuclear sector.

In launching itself, Nippon Mirai no To adopted the "Lake Biwa declaration," which includes a sentence that reads, "The prefecture with the greatest unrecognized risk of being damaged by possible accidents at nuclear power plants is Shiga, which is near Wakasa Bay, where a number of aging nuclear plants are located." This statement clearly lacks consideration for the feelings of municipalities where the power plants are actually located, neglecting the fact that Shiga Prefecture benefits from electricity produced by such aging nuclear plants.

We urge Kada to reconsider her intention of entering national-level politics merely for the interests of Shiga Prefecture. It is said that what obsessed Kada's mind the most in launching the new party was whether she would be able to handle the jobs of governor and party leader simultaneously. We assume she will face various hardships in carrying out her dual duties, as this is the first time for Kada to run a political party.


The man behind the curtain

It seems that Ozawa had no compunctions about putting an end to People's Life First, a party whose name was carefully chosen by Ozawa himself. However, this is no surprise, as it is apparent that Ozawa wished to avoid entering the election campaign as a party leader, considering his image. In exchange, Ozawa's opinions were reflected in the draft of Nippon Mirai no To's election platform.

The efforts of People's Life First to form an alliance with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) failed, and a new party comprising only former Democratic Party of Japan members would be unlikely to receive attention in the election campaign. We assume Ozawa's intention was to rally from behind by installing Kada, who has a clean image, as leader of the new party. Another display of Ozawa's tactical mastery.

The public's discontent against conventional parties has soared after a prolonged period of political paralysis. As a result, various new parties have been emerging and merging in the political arena, in a rather haphazard way. However, we have to put a question mark on their abilities to take the helm of the nation. Their policies have a strong flavor of pandering to the masses.

We ask voters to pay sufficient attention to such tendencies of the new parties and scrutinize their real value in the general election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 29, 2012)
(2012年11月29日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月29日 (木)

「国防軍」 本質的な憲法論議に踏み込め

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 29, 2012)
Step up constitutional debate on 'national defense force'
「国防軍」 本質的な憲法論議に踏み込め(11月28日付・読売社説)

The Liberal Democratic Party has pledged in its manifesto for the upcoming House of Representatives election that it will revise the Constitution to enable Japan to possess a national defense military force. This has emerged as a key issue in the coming election campaign.

At this juncture, each political party should wade into more fundamental discussions on revising the Constitution.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was quick to take a swipe at the LDP pledge. "I don't understand the significance of revising the Constitution to position the Self-Defense Forces as a military force, by venturing to change the name to a defense military force," he said. Noda's comments ignited a debate on this issue.

LDP President Shinzo Abe countered Noda's criticism, saying the problem is that the SDF are regarded as a military force under international law, but they are not a military force according to the government's interpretation of the Constitution. Abe went as far as saying that if the SDF are not a military force, SDF personnel would not be handled as prisoners of war if they are captured.

We think Abe's point is quite reasonable.


Defining the SDF

The first paragraph of Article 9 of the Constitution stipulates the nation's renunciation of war. The second paragraph says, "In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." Thus, it spells out that Japan will not possess military forces.

The LDP pledge mirrors a draft for revising the Constitution it announced in April when Sadakazu Tanigaki was the party's president. According to the draft, the first paragraph of Article 9 will be maintained, but the second paragraph will be deleted. The draft then stipulates the nation's maintenance of a "military force for defense," saying the preceding paragraph "does not prevent the country from invoking its right to self-defense."

It is only natural for the Constitution to clearly define the organization that will defend this country. We think it is time to end the ambiguity over the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

In 2004, The Yomiuri Shimbun proposed several revisions to the Constitution. One change we suggested was the maintenance of a "military force for self-defense."

When Noda's Democratic Party of Japan was an opposition party, he himself said in his book that the SDF are "a military force to the eyes of foreign nations," and they "have to be clearly defined [as a combat force] in the Constitution."

We cannot understand why Noda recently made a statement that flew in the face of his own argument.


Noda rejecting own theory

It is also problematic that the prime minister said such things as, "Does this mean Japan should transform the SDF into an organization that launches intercontinental ballistic missiles?" This is nothing but an electioneering tactic to affix a "hawk" label to the LDP under Abe and unnecessarily stir up voters' anxieties.

On the other hand, the previous DPJ manifesto's reference to planned discussions on revisions to the Constitution has vanished from its policy pledges for the coming election. This gives the strong impression that the party has retreated from its position three years ago, when it called for "free and unrestricted constitutional debate."

Given that the DPJ initiated the latest debate over the "defense military force," it must present its policy for defining the SDF and the right to self-defense in the Constitution.

We hope the election campaign will feature lively debate on whether the right to collective self-defense can be exercised, and how the SDF should conduct its international activities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2012)
(2012年11月28日01時23分  読売新聞)

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民主党政権公約 「現実化」と具体策を聞きたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 29, 2012)
DPJ's manifesto lacks realistic visions, policies
民主党政権公約 「現実化」と具体策を聞きたい(11月28日付・読売社説)

The Democratic Party of Japan must have spent time and effort on a sweeping review of its manifesto for the 2009 general election, which came in for severe public criticism. But will the contents of the new manifesto be applauded by the people?

The DPJ has finally come up with the new manifesto for next month's House of Representatives election.

The campaign platform unveiled by the DPJ lists five areas as policy priorities: social security, economy, energy, diplomacy and national security, and political reform.

Reflecting on the failure of the previous manifesto, which was filled with unrealistic campaign pledges, including somehow squeezing out 16.8 trillion yen in fiscal resources, the party kept mentions of numerical targets and deadlines to a minimum. This is natural. But the new manifesto still contains many policy goals with slim chances of being achieved.


Pension folly persists

On social security, the new manifesto, like the previous one, calls for establishing a minimum pension payment system and abolishing the special medical insurance system for people aged 75 or older. Concerning the minimum pension idea, the DPJ stopped short of mentioning a "monthly payment of 70,000 yen." But the party estimates that an additional consumption tax increase of up to 6.2 percentage points would be required to guarantee this amount of minimum monthly pension payments.

The party says the minimum pension payment will be decided after discussions by a planned national conference on social security system reform. But it is obvious that the policy lacks realism at a time when restraints on welfare benefits are increasingly called for amid the aging of the population combined with the nation's chronically low birthrate.

Regarding energy policy, it is irresponsible for the party to adhere to a policy of ending reliance on nuclear power generation in the 2030s, which has been put forth by the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

The manifesto lists various measures to achieve the zero nuclear option, including a review of the nuclear fuel cycle, maintenance of human resources and technology, international cooperation and the dramatic spread of renewable energy. But the manifesto stops short of presenting concrete measures and road maps to realize these policy targets.

Such a manifesto is tantamount to a campaign pledge backed by no fiscal resources. As such, it lacks power to win over the voters.


A retreat on TPP issue

On the issue of Japan's participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, the DPJ avoided presenting a clear stance.

Its campaign pledge only mentions that the government will judge whether to join the TPP talks after promoting discussions on the issue together with a tripartite free trade agreement with China and South Korea and a regional comprehensive economic partnership for East Asia.

In doing so, the manifesto stresses that the government has yet to decide on the matter out of consideration to DPJ peers who are wary of or opposed to TPP entry. This represents a retreat from Noda's policy speech to the Diet in October in which he clearly mentioned a push for entry into the TPP talks.

It is also problematic that the manifesto was decided in line with the intentions of a small number of party leaders, something it has in common with the previous campaign platform, the compilation of which was led by former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa. But the party's failure to present a TPP policy along the lines desired by Noda even after extensive intraparty discussions on the matter inevitably makes us feel uneasy about the DPJ as a ruling party.

On diplomacy and security issues, the DPJ's manifesto consists of abstract arguments from beginning to end, including rhetoric about "deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance."

If the manifesto is left as it is without mentioning concrete visions such as enabling Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense--as mentioned in the Liberal Democratic Party's campaign platform--and revision of Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, it is nothing but pie in the sky.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2012)
(2012年11月28日01時23分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月28日 (水)

電気料金値上げ 再稼働と合理化で負担抑えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 28, 2012)
Realistic policies the only way to hold down electricity rates
電気料金値上げ 再稼働と合理化で負担抑えよ(11月27日付・読売社説)

It will be necessary for electric power companies to raise their rates to a certain degree for the sake of a stable electricity supply.

Kansai Electric Power Co. on Monday applied for the approval of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry for a hike of about 12 percent on average in household rates. KEPCO also plans to raise the rates for corporate customers--a move that does not require prior ministry approval--by about 19 percent on average. The utility plans to implement the hikes in April next year.

In the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, the nation's only currently operating nuclear reactors are a pair at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. These reactors resumed operation after safety checkups of the plant, which supplies power to KEPCO's service area.

As fuel costs for operating thermal power plants as an alternative to the suspended nuclear plants have risen, KEPCO has been unable to keep its deficit from expanding.

In applying for the rate hikes, the utility said, "If things are left as they are, we may face difficulty carrying out our primary mission of providing a steady supply of electricity."


Cost-cutting good, but not enough

In step with the rate hike application, KEPCO has also quite appropriately come up with a plan to cut its operational costs, including labor costs, by 150 billion yen a year. We hope the utility will make further streamlining efforts.

To encourage public acceptance, it will be important for the government to carefully check whether costs used for calculating the rates set by KEPCO are correct when considering whether to approve the proposed hikes.

Following KEPCO, Kyushu Electric Power Co. is set to apply for rate hikes on Tuesday. Hokkaido, Tohoku and Shikoku electric power companies may follow suit, depending on the circumstances.

Since TEPCO raised its rates in April, other power companies have managed to avoid rate hikes by tapping into reserve funds. But they seem unable to do so any longer.

Of course utilities should try to limit the size of any rate hikes by thoroughly rationalizing their operations. But it will be difficult for them to hold down rates through restructuring alone. Therefore, it is necessary to utilize those nuclear reactors whose safety has been confirmed.

KEPCO has calculated its requested rate hikes on the assumption that two reactors at its Takahama nuclear plant will resume operation. Kyushu Electric Power Co. likewise is to come up with its rate hike figures on the assumption that it can start up three or four of its reactors again.


Face reality of need for N-power

The government's Nuclear Regulation Authority will decide on new safety standards no sooner than next summer. The government, meanwhile, should waste no time in preparing procedures to enable nuclear reactors to resume operations without a hitch once their safety has been confirmed. It is also necessary to make efforts to build up the acceptance and confidence of local communities regarding the resumption.

If the reactors remain idle, fuel costs will rise above currently assumed levels, making it likely that electricity users will be asked to accept additional rate hikes.

Should rates soar, the impact on ordinary households will be great. The additional pressure on small and midsize businesses whose financial situation is weak may push them to the brink of failure--or over it.

As the hollowing-out of the nation's industry accelerates, with more businesses shifting their plants abroad, it is feared that domestic jobs will rapidly disappear.

As another measure that should be promoted to prevent utility rates from soaring is a strategy of cheaply procuring thermal fuels such as liquefied natural gas. The government has a major role to play in negotiating with resource-producing countries and promoting joint resource development.

However, as long as Japan sticks to the slogan of "a nuclear-free society," it will be at a disadvantage in negotiations with resource-producing nations, who would naturally take advantage of Japan's weakness.

It is thus a matter of great urgency for the government to shift to a realistic energy policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2012)
(2012年11月27日01時12分  読売新聞)

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韓国大統領選 対日・「北」政策を注視したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 28, 2012)
How will S. Korea's presidential election affect ties with Japan?
韓国大統領選 対日・「北」政策を注視したい(11月27日付・読売社説)

South Korea's presidential election campaign has officially kicked off. Voting is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Under the current Lee Myung Bak administration, the country's relations with North Korea and Japan have become severely strained. Will the new administration be able to rectify this situation? The outcome of the race will definitely affect Japan's future.

The election, the first in five years, is expected to be a virtual head-to-head battle between Park Geun Hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae In of the main opposition Democratic United Party. It has become a straightforward conservative versus liberal choice after independent Ahn Cheol Soo, who was considered a powerful rival, dropped out of the race. The contest is expected to be a neck-and-neck race.

Park, representing the conservative camp, seeks to become the first female president of South Korea. Her father, Park Chung Hee, made the bold decision to normalize relations with Japan and paved the way for the nation's high economic growth during his presidency.

Moon, who represents leftists whose origins can be traced back to those who served in the Kim Dae Jung administration, was imprisoned for opposing Park Chung Hee's long authoritarian rule, and has served as a human-rights lawyer and chief secretary of former President Roh Moo Hyun--Lee's predecessor.

Although Park and Moon belong to the same generation, they have contrasting careers and their policies differ widely. We should pay close attention to their verbal battles.


Economic growth main issue

The campaign's main point of contention will be economic policy.

Lee has succeeded in significantly boosting South Korea's exports through economic policies based on free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union and other countries. However, his policies have also resulted in a widening rich-poor gap. Unemployment among the younger generation also has become a persistent problem. The South Korean public has strongly criticized Lee for only focusing on big companies.

As a result, both candidates have pledged to narrow the rich-poor gap under the slogan of "economic democratization." Moon, for example, is focusing on reforming chaebols--South Korea's conglomerates--and placing more emphasis on helping ordinary workers. The two candidates will be tested on whether they can come up with concrete measures to ensure the nation's economic growth.

The second issue will be North Korea.

Moon has said he will adopt the conciliatory "Sunshine Policy" that the Kim and Roh administrations used in dealing with North Korea, indicating that he was prepared to resume large-scale food and fertilizer aid to the reclusive country. Moon also has declared he wants to hold summit talks between Seoul and Pyongyang next year.

We would like to know how Moon plans to approach North Korea to have that country abandon its nuclear development program.

Park said she would not hesitate to hold a summit meeting if it led to better ties between the two countries. However, she is taking a gradual approach on the issue, which is to deter North Korea from taking provocative actions on one hand while working on confidence building on the other. We believe her approach is more practical than Moon's.


Concern over bilateral relations

The two candidates' policies in regard to Japan are also important.

Japan-South Korea relations deteriorated rapidly after Lee's visit to the Takeshima islands and his call for an apology from the Emperor. The two candidates are in favor of rectifying strained relations with Japan, as they have talked about building "future-oriented" ties between the two countries. Park has also referred to the resumption of FTA negotiations between Japan and South Korea.

However, Park and Moon both take uncompromising attitudes against Japan on certain issues, such as Takeshima. Moon's stance is especially worrying, as he says he will no longer allow Seoul to continue "quiet diplomacy" on the issue. He also suggested he will pursue Japan's legal responsibility on the issue of so-called comfort women if he becomes president.

We are concerned that if Moon takes office, he would emulate the diplomacy of the Roh administration, which took an unyielding hard-line stance against Japan and stalled relations between the two countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2012)
(2012年11月27日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月27日 (火)

社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 27, 2012)
Parties must deepen debate on sustainable welfare system
社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ(11月26日付・読売社説)


Political parties must engage in policy discussions on how to build a sustainable social security system.

The nation's population is aging quickly amid a chronically low birthrate. The present "cavalry-type" society in which every senior citizen is sustained by 2.4 people of the working population will change into a "piggyback-type" one in 30 years in which there will be only 1.3 people for every retirement-age Japanese.

If nothing is done to prevent this, the collapse of Japan's welfare system will only be a matter of time.


To help reconstruct state finances while covering rising social security costs, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito joined hands to pass the bill on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems. The centerpiece of this bill was a planned doubling of the consumption tax rate.

People's Life First and some other parties, however, want the planned tax increase rescinded. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), on the other hand, says the social security system should not be sustained with the consumption tax." This is a questionable argument.

The DPJ, the LDP and Komeito need to elaborate on the significance of the welfare and tax system reforms during campaigning for next month's House of Representatives election.

It is disconcerting that every party tends to trumpet only support for increasing welfare benefits and lessening the burdens on the public as they try to pander to voters during the election campaign.

If welfare benefits are expanded without a clear objective, the inescapable result will be an endless rise in the consumption tax rate.


Benefit outlays must be cut

Parties have a responsibility to explain how they will cap social security benefits.

The revised National Pension Law enacted during the recent extraordinary Diet session was aimed at reining in pension payments. This should be applauded. The law revision will ensure pensions that had been overpaid by 2.5 percent will return to originally set levels.

To ensure pensions can be stably provided, payment levels must be lowered further in accordance with the shifting demographics and changes in wages.

Given the declining working population and erosion in wage levels caused by the sluggish economy, workers who pay pension premiums are shouldering heavier financial burdens. This will widen the generational gap in pension payments and make it inevitable that younger generations will receive smaller payments compared with their contribution of premiums and taxes. This will make it difficult to maintain the pension system.

We urge the parties to also discuss how to expand the application of the corporate employees pension plan to nonregular workers, who have been increasing sharply, and what can be done for people who receive small pensions or none at all.

In its effort to overhaul the pension system, the DPJ calls for establishing a guaranteed minimum pension payment. If this minimum monthly payment of 70,000 yen is to be covered by tax revenue, the consumption tax will have to be increased by up to another 6.2 percentage points. The likelihood that this proposal will be implemented is low.

The draft of the DPJ campaign platform for the upcoming election does not mention any concrete figure for the minimum pension payment, apparently a reaction to the criticism it received on this issue.

On the other hand, the LDP and Komeito want the current system maintained, but neither has shown enough concrete steps to keep it intact.

We urge each party to present its vision for the public pension system and ways to improve it.


Health insurance facing crisis

As baby boomers will be 75 or older in 2025, demand for health and nursing care will rise. It can safely be said that the improvement of at-home medical and nursing care and the upgrading of nursing care facilities are needed urgently.

The DPJ asserts that the medical insurance system for elderly people 75 or older should be abolished, and people in this age group transferred to the national health insurance program.

But this medical insurance system has taken root, and there is little need to ax it.

The LDP claims "the current system will be the base" of its plans. But some points need to be corrected.

Due to the sizable contributions paid to the medical insurance system for the elderly, the finances of health insurance programs have fallen into a critical state. One such case is the National Health Insurance Association, which chiefly covers workers at small and midsize companies and their families.

Each party needs to think harder about how the current system can be reviewed.

Time is of the essence for abolishing a special measure limiting out-of-pocket payments for medical bills people aged 70 to 74 pay to 10 percent of the total, and raising the limit to 20 percent as prescribed by law.

Medical costs have been creeping up partly because elderly patients often have medical consultations and checks at more than one institution and receive duplicate medication, and due to soaring dispensing fees. These costs must be brought down to reasonable levels.

Nursing care services are also being provided to some people whose need for it is not so pressing. Issues that need to be discussed include whether the out-of-pocket burdens of nursing care service bills should be raised and making sure people who need these services most are given priority.


Roles of new council

Our society also needs to do more to rectify the low birthrate. The total fertility rate--the average number of children each woman has in her lifetime--was just 1.39 in 2011.

Under the comprehensive reform of the social security and tax systems, 700 billion yen of the revenue generated by the consumption tax increase will be allocated to child-rearing support. It is also important to consider how to find money for steps to boost the birthrate. The nation will still spend less on this than European countries do.


The soon-to-be established national council on social security system reform will have crucial roles to play. It needs to discuss how to build a solid social security system and to prepare ways to hold down benefit payments.

Unless the social security system is stable, people will remain anxious about their future. Regardless of which party holds power, it should maintain the current system while making modifications to accommodate the changing state of society. With this in mind, we hope each party will take part in constructive debates on this matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2012)
(2012年11月26日01時20分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月26日 (月)

エネルギー政策 「脱原発」の大衆迎合を排せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 26, 2012)
Parties should base N-policies on realism, not popular emotions
エネルギー政策 「脱原発」の大衆迎合を排せ(11月25日付・読売社説)


How should Japan achieve a stable supply of power, which is indispensable for people's livelihoods and economic growth? Energy policies will become a major issue in the House of Representatives election to be held Dec. 16.

Nuclear power policies by the ruling and opposition parties have come under the spotlight due to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

It will be difficult to resolve many issues facing Japan, a country poor in natural resources, if the nation is divided simply between two camps--those seeking the abandonment of nuclear power and those wanting to keep it. All parties should hold in-depth discussions on the issue from various points of view, ranging from the economy and employment to the global environment and nuclear nonproliferation.


The Fukushima crisis has resulted in the public becoming increasingly anxious over the safety of nuclear reactors. The government has to take all possible measures to boost their safety and prevent a similar crisis from occurring.

Considering that Japan's self-sufficiency in energy stands at just 4 percent, it is unrealistic for the nation to immediately abandon nuclear power, which supplies about 30 percent of the nation's electricity.

The nation's system for supplying electricity--often described as the "lifeblood of the economy"--would be weakened if the government gets emotionally carried away by attempts to ditch nuclear power generation. Such a stance could create problems for the nation's economy in the future.

In campaigning for the election, each party should be aware that Japan stands at a crossroads in making an important choice--so should voters in casting their ballots.

It is a cause of concern that so many parties advocate denuclearization. We suspect they are just making policy promises that appeal to voters to win more support by taking advantage of people's anxiety over nuclear power generation.


DPJ's irresponsible pledge

When compiling its manifesto for the upcoming general election, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan reportedly will include a target of "zero nuclear power plants" operating in the 2030s--a policy stated by the government's Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment. However, this strategy is flawed, because it fails to take into account the serious blow denuclearization would have on the nation's economy, and it is troubling that the DPJ would base a campaign pledge on it.

Under the zero-nuclear power policy by the DPJ-led government, most nuclear power reactors' operations have remained suspended. Moreover, Japan's national wealth has been flowing out of the country at a rate of 3 trillion yen every year because of a surge of imports of liquefied natural gas and other fuel at a time when power suppliers are walking on a tightrope by operating aging thermal power plants at full capacity.

Japan's industrial hollowing-out is accelerating as more and more companies move their factories overseas. This has had a serious impact on the nation's employment. However, the DPJ has done insufficient soul-searching over its own political missteps in the electricity field.

Shinzo Abe, president of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, has criticized the DPJ as "really irresponsible" by proposing a zero-nuclear power policy. It is reasonable for the LDP--as a party aiming to return to power--to make clear in its campaign platform that an LDP government would take responsibility in reactivating nuclear reactors once their safety has been scientifically proved.

However, the LDP's election platform states that the nation's energy source structure for mid- and long terms should be mapped out in the next 10 years. This shows it badly lacks a sense of urgency.

The party must hammer out a clear-cut approach to effectively utilizing nuclear power generation. At the same time, it is essential to study ways to adequately dispose of radioactive waste.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which showed how eager it was to form a "third political force" to take on the DPJ and the LDP when it merged with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), made the right decision by saying it would abandon its policy of "eliminating nuclear power generation altogether in the 2030s."

However, Ishin no Kai's new energy platform, which calls for nothing more than "building a new supply-demand framework of energy," is regrettably equivocal.


Renewable resources can't fill bill

Other parties, such as People's Life First and the Japanese Communist Party, have argued for the immediate or early cessation of the nation's nuclear power generation.

Foes of nuclear power generation have insisted this country's need for electricity can be met without nuclear power plants on the ground that there was no blackout during the peak power consumption period in summer. Their argument, however, ignores such adverse consequences as the decline in the nation's production and hikes in electricity rates.

The parties calling for the abandonment of nuclear power generation lack sincerity if they fail to explain to the voters the negative impacts that would accompany such a move.

As alternative sources of energy, most parties have stressed the importance of such renewable energy sources as solar power and wind power.

Although we would like to see the proliferation of such resources, renewable energy sources, with the exception of hydroelectric power generation, currently account for little more than 1 percent of the country's entire electricity output. It is far too optimistic to believe renewable energy sources would grow into a major source of electricity large enough in the near future to replace nuclear power generation.

The dearth of electricity, at least for now, cannot help but be addressed by the augmentation of thermal power generation using such fuels as coal and LNG.

It is nothing but an expedient, opportunist line of argument to advocate the abandonment of nuclear power while failing to mention such environmental problems as increases in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution due to an expansion of thermal power generation.

The lessons left behind by the two "oil shocks" in the 1970s and early 1980s, in which Japan, heavily dependent on oil for power generation, could have faced blackouts. It is imperative to secure a wide range of energy alternatives, including nuclear power generation.


Diplomatic, security ramifications

The zero-nuclear power policy of the government and the DPJ has puzzled the United States and European countries as it appears to contradict the government's stance of promoting at the same time the nation's nuclear fuel recycling program.

Washington, for that matter, has expressed strong concern that impediments may arise to ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation.

This is because spent nuclear fuel, if unused for power generation purposes after being reprocessed, would continue to be amassed, meaning that Japan's stockpile of plutonium, which can be diverted for the production of nuclear weapons, would keep increasing.

There could even be a possibility of this country losing both the special right to stockpile plutonium as stipulated by the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Power Cooperation Agreement and the nation's status as a partner of the United States in its nuclear policy in Asia.

From the standpoint of the nation's diplomatic and security priorities, the irresponsible argument for eliminating nuclear power generation must be abandoned.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 25, 2012)
(2012年11月25日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月25日 (日)

郵政新規事業 管理体制の立て直しが急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 25, 2012)
Management of Japan Insurance must be rebuilt--solidly and soon
郵政新規事業 管理体制の立て直しが急務だ(11月24日付・読売社説)

Japan Post Group has taken a step toward moving into new business fields.

A government panel on privatization of postal services reached a consensus among its members that approval should be granted to a new education insurance product for which Japan Post Insurance has been seeking a green light.

This is the first time the panel has endorsed a new business plan of Japan Post Group since it was reorganized in October, reflecting the revision of the postal service privatization law.

Since Japan Post Group has presented a road map to advance its privatization, including steps such as a listing on the stock market in autumn 2015, the panel apparently has judged it appropriate for the group to expand the variety of its products and services in phases.

Education insurance has long been a hallmark product for Japan Post Insurance, a member company of the group. Since its sales recently have been losing ground to rival products of private firms, Japan Post Insurance wants to boost them by introducing a new type of such insurance that charges a lower fee in return for a lower death benefit.


A reasonable first step

For privatization to go smoothly, improved user-friendliness and stable sources of business income are essential. In terms of assessing effects on the private sector, we can understand why the panel has endorsed improving the product's marketability as the first among Japan Post Group's new business projects, as it would be a first step with a small impact.

Following the panel's endorsement, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Financial Services Agency, which have the right to authorize Japan Post Group enterprises, will decide on whether to officially approve the new business plan.

However, the Financial Services Agency is wary of approving it officially because the agency's investigation has found that Japan Post Insurance may have failed to pay a huge amount of insurance benefits in the last five years.

The number of cases in which benefits owed to policyholders were not paid could reach 100,000. The total amount of failed payments is said to be 10 billion yen. Moreover, Japan Post Insurance had failed to pay benefits totaling 35 billion yen during its time as a public corporation, which ended in 2007.


Persistent institutional flaws

Even after privatization, Japan Post Insurance could not improve the situation. It appears likely that its degree of legal compliance is seriously lacking.

The agency has demanded Japan Post Insurance file a report on the issue because it suspects the insurance firm did not appropriately manage its customers' data. To win official approval for its new product, Japan Post Insurance should seriously reflect on why similar mistakes were repeated, and must strengthen discipline within its organization.

Meanwhile, Japan Post Bank, also a member of Japan Post Group, is applying to enter loan businesses such as housing and credit-card loans for individuals and lending to companies. The panel will scrutinize the application and decide whether to endorse it.

Japan Post Bank must develop its own management system that can check whether a loan should be extended, and can control risks and collect money. It will be required to make every possible preparation, such as training employees who work at post office counters in addition to enhancement of functions at its headquarters.

However, private banks and insurance firms are loudly voicing concerns that the Japan Post firms would put undue pressure on private-sector businesses. To alleviate their concerns, the government must sell its stock in Japan Post Holdings as soon as possible, and also should steadily proceed with the disposal of stock in Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 24, 2012)
(2012年11月24日01時34分  読売新聞)

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アジア経済連携 TPPテコに日本が主導せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 25, 2012)
Japan should take lead in regional trade pacts
アジア経済連携 TPPテコに日本が主導せよ(11月24日付・読売社説)

New initiatives have been launched to create two huge free trade blocs in Asia. Japan will face a test as to whether it can work out a strategy to expedite such moves to boost its economic growth.

In Phnom Penh, 16 countries--Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand, South Korea and the 10 members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations--announced the start of negotiations under a regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP).

The 16 nations are scheduled to begin the negotiations in early 2013 and aim to conclude terms, such as on tariff cuts and partial liberalization of investment in the region, by the end of 2015.

The combined gross domestic products of the RCEP nations total 20 trillion dollars, accounting for 30 percent of the global economy. This trade initiative is based on a vision Japan proposed. It would be significant to create a free trade zone that would include new economic giants China and India.

Hopes are high for the RCEP because the outcome of its negotiations could help Japanese companies expand their exports. The firms could also find it easier to develop international supply chains, which would link their production bases at home and in the RCEP region. This could pave the way for them to exploit Asia's dynamics to shore up their businesses.


Trilateral talks start next year

Japan, China and South Korea have also agreed to start trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations next year.

Japan and China remain in a state of confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, while Japan's relationship with South Korea has become tense over the Takeshima islands. It is reasonable for the Japanese government to separate such territorial rows from trade issues and enter the negotiations, giving priority to the economy. We hope the government will seek early trade agreements.

The launch of negotiations under these two trade frameworks was apparently prompted by China's concerns. Beijing appears to be wary about the strategy of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to increase his country's influence in Asia by promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade talks.

To counter the TPP framework, which excludes China, Beijing has made its stance clear that it will push for the RCEP and the trilateral FTA, which do not involve the United States.

Apart from these, China has also agreed to create a free trade bloc under a framework, called the Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which comprises 21 members such as Japan, China and the Untied States.


U.S., China rivalry to intensify

The FTAAP has no clear prospects. In the meantime, the tug-of-war between the United States, which is focusing on the TPP, and China, which is attempting to make the RCEP central to the region's economic activities, is expected to intensify.

Meanwhile, Japan has come under pressure over its trade policies. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has repeatedly said his government "will pursue the TPP, the FTA among Japan, China and South Korea and the RCEP at the same time."

First of all, Japan should speed up work to join the TPP talks as early as possible. The government then should use the TPP participation as a catalyst to proceed with negotiations for the RCEP and the trilateral FTA for the nation's benefit. We also hope Japan will win the terms it is seeking in the TPP negotiations.

Amid competition between the United States and China, Japan needs to take the initiative in forming economic partnerships in Asia while protecting its interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 24, 2012)
(2012年11月24日01時34分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月24日 (土)

自民党政権公約 国論二分の政策でも方向示せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 24, 2012)
Now is the time for the LDP to take courageous policy stands
自民党政権公約 国論二分の政策でも方向示せ(11月23日付・読売社説)

What lessons has the Liberal Democratic Party drawn from the past administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which lasted from September 2006 to September 2007, and its three years of being an opposition party?

Titled "We'll restore Japan," the LDP's platform for the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election includes a number of conservative policies reflecting the political leanings of Abe, who is once again the party's head.

One key pledge involves creating a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, which was a primary, though eventually unrealized, goal of Abe's past administration.

The country's national security environment has become increasingly severe in the face of China's rapid military buildup and North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Some mechanism to allow the country to cope rapidly with emergencies by blueprinting a comprehensive set of strategies is urgently needed.

We see the proposal to create something like the NSC to serve as a control tower for coordinating diplomatic and security policy, which should be crafted so the Prime Minister's Office plays a central role, as entirely reasonable.


Bold stand on security, education

We also support the LDP platform's calls for creating a "Basic Law on State Security" that would enable the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

This is a long-standing problem, and resolving it would do much to bolster Japan's alliance with the United States, which was marred by the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The LDP election platform also presents an education policy representative of Abe's political principles.

The platform argues, "Due to the strong influence of Nikkyoso (the Japan Teachers' Union) on the Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ will never be able to address the challenge of truly restoring the nation's education system."

In terms of specific measures, the platform calls for changing the textbook authorization system to conform with the Fundamental Law of Education, which stipulates the principle of "love of country and community." It also calls for reviewing the board of education system.
The education platform proposed by the LDP is sure to become one of the focal points of the election.

To stimulate the economy, the LDP platform advocates a basic law to "make Japan's territory resilient" to disasters, which would consist of a hefty package of antidisaster programs.

The DPJ has strongly criticized the LDP's proposed objectives, calling them "typical of the old style of pork-barrel public works projects."
The LDP needs to respond to the DPJ's criticisms by clarifying its proposals, especially about how to balance public works projects with the need for fiscal discipline.


Still muddy on nuclear power

Regarding the nation's idled nuclear power plants, the LDP platform calls for making judgments step by step, with the goal of solving the issue within three years.

The party needs to explain in detail how bringing nuclear plants back online is indispensable to preventing hikes in electricity rates and ensuring a stable power supply.

The LDP's platform punted on the future make-up of the country's energy supply, only saying the party would "establish the best mix of electricity sources." Obviously, a more clear-cut path toward utilizing nuclear power is needed.

Further, the platform's references to negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade pact are hardly sufficient.

Although Abe has stated that Japan's participation in the TPP talks "should be a matter of course if the national interests can be safeguarded," the party has backpedaled to its initial position of "opposing [the TPP] as long as negotiations are premised on the elimination of all tariffs without exception."

How long will the LDP believe it is acceptable to retain this irresponsible attitude as an opposition party over this issue? The party needs to move in a new direction that promotes participating in the TPP negotiations.

The LDP must have the courage to present clear, unequivocal policies, even if they carry the risk of splitting public opinion.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 23, 2012)
(2012年11月23日01時49分  読売新聞)

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いじめ緊急調査 子供をしっかりと見守りたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 24, 2012)
Children need to be watched over attentively
いじめ緊急調査 子供をしっかりと見守りたい(11月23日付・読売社説)

It is important for teachers in the classroom to continuously watch children attentively, rather than haphazardly doing so.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of an emergency survey on bullying in school. The survey was conducted this summer following an incident in which a middle school boy, who had been viciously bullied, committed suicide in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture.

The number of bullying cases confirmed at the nation's primary, middle and high schools totaled about 144,000 in about six months since April, more than twice the number for all of the last academic year.

The education ministry explains the sharp increase is due to the fact that "teachers have become more aware of bullying in school, helping schools grasp the real situation."

On the basis of the latest findings, schools and education boards must bring to light problems related to student guidance and correct them to deal with bullying.

Put another way, however, it seems teachers had been insensitive to school bullying.


Increase in violent bullying

The current situation at primary schools is worrisome. The number of school bullying cases has increased by as much as about 50,000 so far this year, compared to the total logged last academic year.

Marked increases are seen in bullying such as "ridicule" and "ostracism or snubbing." Also on the rise are such malicious acts as "extortion of money or goods" and "severe beatings."

Even if they may initially be mere pranks, they often escalate into more malicious actions if left uncorrected. Early responses are important.

If a bullying incident is serious, which may also be a criminal act, schools should not hesitate to report the case to the police.

The number of cases the schools judged as possibly putting a child's life at risk was 278. Bullied children must be suffering serious psychological trauma, and continuous mental care and guidance is needed by them.

The roles to be assumed by teachers who deal with children are extremely important.

Regrettably, however, there appears to be no end to teachers who can be labeled as "lacking both awareness of bullying and leadership abilities."


Teachers must respond

A typical case was one in which a first-year boy at a public middle school in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, committed suicide in September.

Despite having been aware the boy had often been called "creepy" and had his school supplies damaged, his teacher did not take the case seriously and failed to deal with it appropriately.

Such blunders should not be repeated. It is also essential for teachers to create an environment in school where bullying is discouraged, through daily classwork and extracurricular activities.

Some ways to address the issue include having students read a court judgment of a bullying case, and helping them learn what sort of action may constitute bullying. Also, senior students can be given the task of taking care of junior ones at school events such as sports meets. During class, students are encouraged to praise each other's good points. These are efforts being made in various parts of the country.

We hope that by making these efforts continuously, bullying in school can be nipped in the bud.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 23, 2012)
(2012年11月23日01時49分  読売新聞)

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barack obama victory speach

バラク・オバマ米大統領、再選のスピーチ 英語全文

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election; whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time, by the way, we have to fix that. Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone, whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.

Sasha and Malia; before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I am so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now, one dog’s probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics, the best..., the best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together.  And you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, to every hill, to every valley. You lifted me up the whole way, and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you’ve put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers, a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all of the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known, but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag, to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner, to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.

That’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go: forward. That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.

But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together -- reducing our deficit, reforming out tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us, it’s about what can be done by us together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self- government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared, that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I have seen this spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.  I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.

And I saw it just the other day in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd, listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes because we knew that little girl could be our own.

And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president. And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunities and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.
こういう未来を、みんな一緒につかめると私は信じています。この国の政治が言うほど、私たち国民は分断していないからです。評論家たちが言うほど、私たちはシニカルではないからです。私たちは、個々人の野心の総和よりもはるかに大きい。そして赤い州や青い州の寄せ集めよりも大きい。私たちはこれまでも、そして永遠に、諸州が団結したアメリカという国(the United States of America)なのです。

And together, with your help and God’s grace, we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.
ありがとう、アメリカ。神様の祝福がみなさんにありますよう。この団結した諸州(united states)を神様が祝福してくれますように。


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2012年11月23日 (金)

金融政策 デフレ脱却の具体策で競え

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 23, 2012)
Parties must show concrete steps for conquering deflation
金融政策 デフレ脱却の具体策で競え(11月22日付・読売社説)

How to conquer deflation will be a major campaign issue for the looming House of Representatives election. Before parties even begin exchanging verbal blows on this issue, Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe's recent remarks have caused a stir.

At a lecture meeting held Saturday in Kumamoto, Abe said if his party comes to power, he would ask the Bank of Japan to conduct unlimited monetary easing measures. Abe also touched on government bonds issued for public works projects--so-called construction bonds--saying he would "eventually ask the central bank to buy them all."

Abe's remarks drew heavy criticism from various quarters, including the government. "Asking the Bank of Japan to directly buy government bonds is an impermissible step," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said.

The Bank of Japan can issue paper currency limitlessly if it wishes to do so. Thus problems will arise if Abe actually demands the central bank directly buy government bonds. This could lead to the unlimited issuance of government bonds, just like what happened during World War II. Eventually, fiscal discipline will collapse, unleashing hyperinflation.

However, during the Kumamoto lecture, Abe said he will ask the bank to buy construction bonds through open market operations, which is a typical monetary control measure conducted by the central bank. At a press conference Wednesday, Abe said, "I've never talked about asking [the Bank of Japan] to buy bonds directly."

Even so, we have a nagging concern that the LDP, if it returns to power, might ask the central bank to cover the government's deficits. We want Abe to explain his intentions more specifically.


Japan needs bold policies

The problem stems from the failure of past administrations to beat deflation and rectify the extreme appreciation of the yen. No matter which party wins next month's election, the government needs to implement drastic monetary and financial steps that go beyond conventional thinking.

Japan's inflation rate has been hovering around zero for years. The nation's nominal gross domestic product has dropped by more than 30 trillion yen from five years ago. The central bank has been conducting monetary easing measures aimed at lifting prices by 1 percent annually, but they have produced few tangible results.

Markets reacted positively to Abe's remarks. Stock prices rose and the yen fell. This shows the market has high expectations for government monetary measures to be conducted after the election.

Political parties should show their concrete plans for defeating deflation and actively debate this topic in the election campaign.


Risk of excessive intervention

On Wednesday, the LDP announced its election campaign platform, which contained monetary policies bolder than measures taken by the current administration, such as setting an annual inflation target of 2 percent. Setting the inflation target was aimed at making both the government and the central bank responsible for achieving the goal. We can see the point of this plan.

The LDP also stated in its platform it will strengthen government cooperation with the central bank and implement bold monetary easing measures. These measures are also appropriate.

However, we are uncomfortable with the party's suggestion it might revise the Bank of Japan Law if it takes power. Some LDP members even plan to give the government the power to dismiss the bank governor.

The central bank's independence will be undermined if the government forces it to implement policies by waving around threats to sack the governor. The government should resist foolishly throwing the markets and the economy into chaos by excessively intervening in the bank's policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 22, 2012)
(2012年11月22日01時14分  読売新聞)

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鳩山氏不出馬 政権迷走の「第一走者」が退場

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 23, 2012)
Hatoyama's political retirement a welcome development
鳩山氏不出馬 政権迷走の「第一走者」が退場(11月22日付・読売社説)

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has announced that he will not run in the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election, long after his leadership was harshly and incessantly called into question.

Hatoyama played the main role in helping his Democratic Party of Japan win the 2009 lower house election, thus bringing a change of government. However, he is also the one who amplified the public's distrust in politics by making a plethora of irresponsible off-the-cuff remarks, mostly over a plan to relocate the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

Now that the DPJ-led government is about to be tested by the public in the upcoming general election, Hatoyama should not have fled in the face of the "enemy."

When he held a press conference in Hokkaido on Wednesday, Hatoyama said he had made up his mind not to run in the election and to retire from politics because the party leadership decided not to officially endorse members unless they signed a written pledge to follow its policies. "I couldn't run in the election with the party's official endorsement" if he maintains his own beliefs, Hatoyama said.

But in reality, Hatoyama apparently expressed his intention to retire from politics only to avoid facing a loss in his home Hokkaido Constituency No. 9, in which he was expected to have an uphill battle.


An agent of chaos in the DPJ

It is natural for the DPJ leadership to have decided not to officially endorse party members unless they change their rebellious attitudes.

Hatoyama voted against bills for integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, passage of which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his determination to stake his political life on. He kept dragging Noda down even after former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa and his followers left to form a new party.

Hatoyama also opposes Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

If the DPJ yielded to opinions like Hatoyama's, its decision-making process would be thrown into chaos following the election. Such confusion could become an obstacle to working with the two main opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

The DPJ has been riven by repeated internal battles due to differing opinions among members over key issues. Considering the fact, demanding that the party's prospective candidates follow its policies is an effective means of improving its nature as a party.


A thick catalog of errors

Hatoyama made too many missteps to list.

As soon as the DPJ took the reins of government, Hatoyama promoted a misguided "politician-led decision-making" principle without taking his lack of knowledge and experience into consideration. Abolishing meetings of administrative vice ministers was a typical example of how he put the principle into effect. The result was the stagnation of government administrative functions and demoralization of bureaucrats.

On the Futenma issue, Hatoyama said he would transfer the base's functions "at least" outside Okinawa Prefecture even though he had no clear prospect for doing so. His remark not only undermined the Japan-U.S. alliance--the cornerstone of the nation's diplomacy--but also triggered a backlash from local residents when he eventually returned to the original plan to relocate the functions within the prefecture. Such resentment still lingers there.

Hatoyama also has not provided clear explanations over a scandal in which his mother gave him sizable "allowances" in political funds. Moreover, he has engaged in a great deal of inappropriate behavior for a former prime minister, such as joining an antinuclear rally held in front of the Prime Minister's Office.

Hatoyama said he would not run in the next general election when he stepped down as prime minister, but he later retracted the remark.

Hatoyama has reportedly said he will live his "third life" from now on. We hope that he will play an active role in a world unrelated to politics so as not to cause confusion anymore.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 22, 2012)
(2012年11月22日01時14分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月22日 (木)

米・ミャンマー 関係強化は中国へのけん制だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 22, 2012)
Japan, U.S. must join hands to aid Myanmar's reform drive
米・ミャンマー 関係強化は中国へのけん制だ(11月21日付・読売社説)

Recently reelected Barack Obama on Monday became the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar, a historic move in line with the U.S. strategy of attaching greater importance to Asia.

After meeting Myanmar President Thein Sein, Obama stressed the United States would support reform in the Southeast Asian nation, saying, "A process of democratic and economic reform here in Myanmar that has been begun by the president is one that can lead to incredible development opportunities."

Obama also met with Aung San Suu Kyi, president of Myanmar's largest opposition party, and applauded her efforts in leading the pro-democracy movement.

Myanmar was subject to tough economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States for many years while it suppressed human rights under the junta's rule.

But since the change to democratic rule in spring last year, the Myanmar government led by President Thein Sein has made steady efforts to promote democracy. Given this, the Obama administration has relaxed sanctions in phases since the start of this year. As a result, relations between the two countries have improved rapidly.


A bulwark against China

The United States went ahead with Obama's trip to take ties to a new level. The visit can also be regarded as a check against China, which has been expanding its military and economic presence. China cozied up to junta-ruled Myanmar, thereby boosting its influence over that country.

That Obama chose Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand as the first countries to visit after his reelection is significant.

By doing so, Obama sent a strong message that he will seek, in his second term too, to deepen cooperative relations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in both economic and security fields.

China will certainly be stewing over the U.S. move. It seems inevitable that Washington and Beijing will intensify their tug-of-war over Myanmar.

The United States plans to provide Myanmar with about 13.7 billion yen over the next two years to assist its education and democratization programs. We hope the Thein Sein administration will use this U.S. support as a springboard to further promote reforms in various fields.


Crucial moment ahead

Myanmar will chair ASEAN in 2014. The country will face a crucial moment in its economic reconstruction as it seeks to shake off its status as the poorest nation in ASEAN. The road to further democratization likely will be bumpy. It will not be easy to reconcile with minority ethnic groups that still are at odds with the government.

Tokyo and Washington must work together to support democratization and economic reform in Myanmar. In October, Japan hosted a conference of industrialized nations and the World Bank in Tokyo, where arrangements for assistance to Myanmar were set.

In his meeting with Thein Sein in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced his government plans to offer yen credits to the tune of 50 billion yen next year.

Myanmar can become a new production base for Japanese firms. The Japanese government, for its part, must expedite its assistance to expand that country's economic infrastructure.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 21, 2012)
(2012年11月21日01時50分  読売新聞)

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日米首脳会談 TPP参加へ環境整備を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 22, 2012)
Create suitable environment to join TPP negotiations
日米首脳会談 TPP参加へ環境整備を急げ(11月21日付・読売社説)

It is crucial to promptly create an environment to allow Japan to participate in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreement.

During a summit meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to accelerate bilateral talks toward Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations.

Noda expressed his eagerness to join the TPP talks, saying his resolve had not changed since he decided a year ago to hold preliminary talks with the countries concerned.

Bilateral talks on the TPP started in February but have stagnated since then because the Japanese government delayed an official decision to participate in them due to outright opposition or wariness among members of the Democratic Party of Japan. The U.S. auto industry also has expressed concern over Japan's participation in the TPP and Obama gave consideration to automakers during the presidential election earlier this month.

To harness the vigor of the Asia-Pacific region to ensure Japan's economic growth, this country needs to become involved in formulating new free trade rules to have its opinion reflected appropriately.

The TPP is a top-priority issue that would lead to a more solid Japan-U.S. relationship and create a foundation to pressure China to abide by international trade rules in future.


Criterion for DPJ candidates

Noda plans to make "promotion of the TPP" one of the criteria for candidates running on the DPJ ticket in the upcoming House of Representatives election. Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe also has shown a positive attitude toward Japan's participation in the TPP talks.

However, some members of both the DPJ and the LDP oppose Japan's participation.

Political parties should deepen discussions on Japan's participation in the TPP talks so whatever administration is inaugurated after the lower house election will be able to join the talks at an early date. It is indispensable for the government to press ahead with measures to support the domestic agricultural industry while accelerating talks with the United States on automobiles and other products.

During his talks with Obama, Noda referred to disputes over the sovereignty of South China Sea islands between China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He said the South China Sea issue is of common concern for the international community, which has a direct impact on the peace and stability of Asia, and that it was important to observe international law.


Press China for self-restraint

For Japan, the South China Sea issue is not someone else's affair. After three of the Senkaku Islands were nationalized, China has dispatched government ships on a daily basis in an attempt to forcibly undermine Japan's effective control over the islands.

It is vital to have the international community recognize that China's approach is not only Japan's concern but a common concern for Asian countries. Also, it is important that Japan and the United States cooperate in pressing Beijing to exercise self-restraint.

During Tuesday's summit talks, Noda also mentioned the recent series of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa Prefecture and asked Obama to thoroughly enforce discipline on the U.S. military.

The U.S. military imposed an overnight curfew on U.S. servicemen in Japan in the wake of the alleged rape of a Japanese woman by two U.S. sailors in the prefecture in October. Since then, however, U.S. servicemen have violated the curfew and on two occasions have broken into people's residences. These problems cannot be overlooked.

The U.S. military should take more effective preventive measures. We call on the United States to make a more serious effort to prevent crimes and accidents involving U.S. servicemen to ensure the stable stationing of U.S. forces in Japan, which is a cornerstone of the bilateral alliance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 21, 2012)
(2012年11月21日01時50分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月21日 (水)

衆院選主要な争点 日本の国家像を具体的に語れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 21, 2012)
Political parties must spell out their visions for Japan
衆院選主要な争点 日本の国家像を具体的に語れ(11月20日付・読売社説)


Japan stands at a crossroads. The direction it takes will be critical to determining whether Japan can remain one of the world's leading nations.

As political gridlock continues and the economy staggers along, the people's sense that the country is stagnating has been growing. How can the nation overcome this situation?

During the upcoming House of Representatives election campaign, we urge each party to present the course they want Japan to pursue and a new "vision" for this nation. Each party then needs to provide voters with detailed policy proposals based on these ideas.


How to overcome deflation?

In his book, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano pointed out that the nation must wake up from its dreamlike "growth illusion" and face up to reality. Edano argues that Japan, which has become a mature society, can no longer expect growth to just happen. Even maintaining Japan's economic vigor is not an easy task, he says.

Behind the failure of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration to hammer out an effective growth strategy and economy-boosting measures, we suspect "pessimism" like Edano's is rooted in people's minds.

But if economic sluggishness and deflation continue, which leads to negative growth, it might further hollow out the nation's industry and shake the foundation of social security systems and national security.

Consequently, we believe it essential for the nation to pursue stable growth and enhance its international competitiveness so it can maintain its national strength.

How to overcome deflation, reignite the economy and rectify disparities are probably the issues of most interest to people ahead of the election.

Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe has said his administration, if realized, would work closely with the Bank of Japan in policy coordination to implement bold monetary easing measures. He also said the LDP-led administration would reinvigorate regional economies by "improving infrastructure to serve as investment for the future."

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had few kind words for the LDP plan, saying, "I don't think Japan can be revitalized through a policy of promoting lavish public works projects." Instead, he again trumpeted his government's revitalization strategy aimed at fostering new markets in such fields as the environment and medicine and creating jobs.

But this strategy has so far produced little. The DPJ should present more convincing economic measures.

Japan's future will be swayed by whether it participates in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade framework to harness the vigor of rapidly growing Asian economies. The DPJ and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) are set to vocally support joining the TPP talks.


TPP, nuclear energy key issues

The LDP has taken a cautious stance on the TPP. It opposes the nation's participation in TPP negotiations as long as the pact is premised on the elimination of all tariffs "without sanctuary." But Abe, stressing the LDP's bargaining leverage, is poised to shift to a stance that supports participation in the talks. This change of tack is reasonable since the party seeks to return to power.

In preparation for further market liberalization, deeper discussions should be held on how to strengthen the international competitiveness of Japan's agricultural sector.

Deciding on an energy policy--especially what to do with the nation's nuclear power plants--also will be essential in designing Japan's future.

The DPJ has declared a policy of achieving "zero nuclear power generation" by the 2030s.

However, it is naive to expect that renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, will smoothly become more widely used. Japan's trade deficit has reached a record high, partly due to increased costs for fuel for thermal power generation as a substitute for idled nuclear reactors. It seems unavoidable that electricity charges will be raised further.

There also are fears that abolishing nuclear plants will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which will have an adverse impact on the environment.

It is irresponsible to tout the "zero nuclear" policy without showing a concrete path to achieve this goal. The business world and the United States, which concluded a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Japan, have expressed strong concern over the nation's energy policy.

On this point, we applaud the LDP for declaring it will "act responsibly" to restart idled nuclear plants after it returns to power. We urge the party to reveal its medium- to long-term energy policy as well.

Integrated reform of the social security and tax systems will also be a major issue in the election, as some parties have called for the consumption tax increase to be annulled or frozen.

Under the law on the integrated reform, which was enacted through concerted efforts by the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito, the consumption tax rate will be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014, and to 10 percent in October 2015.

In our view, parties are just pandering to the public if their objective is only to prevent the consumption tax from being raised. They need to clarify how else they could fund social security costs, which are increasing by 1 trillion yen every year, and rebuild the nation's finances.

In its campaign manifesto for the Dec. 16 election, Komeito included a pledge to introduce a reduced consumption tax rate for daily necessities to alleviate the burden the tax hike would impose on low-income earners. We believe this reduced rate issue also might become a major topic during the campaign.


Debate security matters actively

Depending on the outcome of the election, a new administration could come to power. However, the nation's basic policies on diplomacy and national security, which have their foundations in the Japan-U.S. alliance, should be resolutely maintained.

Parties should spell out their plans for rebuilding ties with China and South Korea, which have been seriously strained by tensions over the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima islands, respectively. They also should actively debate issues such as whether to enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense and to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

Regarding reform of the lower house electoral system, various problems have been pointed out in the current system that combines single-seat constituencies with proportional representation. We expect parties to address this matter, including whether to reintroduce a multimember constituency system.

Parties must not skirt the issue of the division of roles between the two houses--a point that has plagued the bicameral system. The House of Councillors, which wields too much power, is urgently in need of reconstruction, and the nation's political functions must be restored.

Finally, we want to remind all parties that whether to amend the Constitution also is an important topic that deserves to be debated in the election campaign.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 20, 2012)
(2012年11月20日01時10分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月20日 (火)

ストーカー殺人 被害者守れぬ警察は猛省せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 20, 2012)
Police must reflect on fatal stalking case
ストーカー殺人 被害者守れぬ警察は猛省せよ(11月19日付・読売社説)

Police were unable to protect the life of a stalking victim who had been terrorized by her stalker and complained to police, saying she feared he would physically harm her. They must seriously reflect on their handling of the case and take measures to prevent such incidents from recurring.

The victim was a female designer who was murdered by her former boyfriend in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture. In June last year, the Zushi police arrested the man on suspicion of intimidating the woman by sending her e-mails threatening to kill her.

When arresting him, a police officer read aloud her new surname and address after her marriage when reading the arrest warrant to the suspect. The woman had earlier asked the police not to reveal her new surname or address to the man. As the police officer read them aloud, the man was highly likely to note the information about the victim.

On Nov. 6 while he was on probation, the man broke into the woman's apartment, murdered her and then committed suicide.

Reading aloud an arrest warrant is meant to explain to the suspect why he or she was arrested. But there is no need to tell the suspect everything written on a warrant.


Victim's welfare disregarded

The Zushi police officer who read the warrant thoughtlessly disregarded the victim's welfare.

Yutaka Katagiri, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, announced that the NPA will review the way entries in arrest warrants are made. The review is necessary, but the agency should, first of all, rigorously investigate how the Zushi police dealt with the latest case.

About six months before the murder, the man allegedly sent the woman more than 1,000 e-mails in about 20 days. In the e-mails, the man reproached her for breaking off their engagement. But the Zushi police decided not to prosecute the case as a violation of the anti-stalking law.

The anti-stalking law stipulates that following someone is unlawful only when accompanied by "defamatory remarks" or "extremely aggressive or violent behavior and abusive language."

Surely the man's actions came under these categories. We cannot help but question whether the Zushi police dealt with the case properly.

A review of the anti-stalking law is also a matter of urgency. Although the current law prohibits one from making phone calls or sending faxes repeatedly and persistently, e-mails are not subject to the law.


Laws must change with times

In light of the fact that the means of telecommunications have diversified, in line with the popularity of the Internet, provisions of the law should be amended to reflect the current situation.

The number of police warnings based on the anti-stalking law issued to suspected stalkers nationwide from January to August totaled 1,511, already exceeding the annual record of 1,384 logged in 2007, according to the NPA.

To protect victims involved in stalking cases, whose number has been soaring lately, the agency may also need to take new countermeasures.

In the anti-domestic violence law, which is designed to protect victims from violent acts of their spouses, a suspected offender can be prohibited by a court injunction from coming close to the victim. Violators of such injunctions are subject to arrest.

The adoption of a similar system should be studied for dealing with the stalking case as well.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2012)
(2012年11月19日01時30分  読売新聞)

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「第3極」 政策のあいまいさ放置するな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 20, 2012)
Ishin no Kai must clarify policies to vie with DPJ, LDP
「第3極」 政策のあいまいさ放置するな(11月19日付・読売社説)

If a new party aspires to become a third major force in national politics and take on the two main parties--the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party--it will need to present clear proposals for addressing this nation's challenges.

Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) has decided to merge into Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. The new party will be led by Ishihara, with Hashimoto as acting leader.

Hoping to capitalize on the high name recognition of both Ishihara and Hashimoto, Ishin no Kai is looking to fare well in the upcoming House of Representatives election, not only in proportional representation blocs but also in single-seat districts where large parties are seen as holding an advantage.

However, the two parties' merger was announced abruptly after Ishihara dropped an already announced plan to join forces with tax-slashing Genzei Nippon. The move thus smacks of a mutual-aid deal designed only to win the election.


Accord full of problems

The policy agreement put together by Ishin no Kai and Taiyo no To is fraught with problems.

On nuclear power generation--a central issue in the election--the accord merely mentioned a need to set rules on safety standards. This likely was the result of disagreement between Ishin no Kai, which supports ending the nation's reliance on nuclear power in the 2030s, and Taiyo no To, which has been critical of the zero nuclear option.

We agree with Ishihara's assertion that nuclear power policy needs to be discussed from a multifaceted viewpoint that takes economic and industrial factors into consideration. A zero nuclear policy is unrealistic at this point.

The proposal to make the consumption tax a local tax, a centerpiece of Ishin no Kai's platform, did make it into the agreement, although it was widely believed that Ishihara was less than enthusiastic about putting the consumption tax under local government control. If Ishihara has made an about-face, he needs to explain himself.

Concerning the Senkaku Islands, the accord called for urging China to make its case before the International Court of Justice. We question whether this position amounts to Japan admitting there exists a territorial dispute with China.

Regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, the accord "supports participation in the TPP negotiations but opposes entry if the talks show it is not in the national interest." This appears to be a blending of the pro-TPP stance of Ishin no Kai and the anti-TPP position of Taiyo no To.


A merger of convenience?

Other parties have denounced the tie-up as "a merger of convenience without policy." Hashimoto has refuted this. "We are much closer [on policy matters] than other conventional parties are," he said.

Even so, we worry that after the election, Ishin no Kai would be continually enveloped in chaos over internal policy differences, as has been the case with the DPJ.

Your Party has been lobbying to join forces with Ishin no Kai in next month's general election, also hoping to increase its national presence as a part of a third political pole. Furthermore, the People's Life First party is exploring ways to join hands with other parties by trumpeting its opposition to the planned consumption tax increase and its support of a zero nuclear policy.

These are moves intended to sway non-affiliated voters, who have increased due to a decline in people's trust in politics during the three-plus years of the DPJ-led administration.

We urge political parties to avoid promoting policies aimed only at pandering to the people, and to sufficiently scrutinize their platforms.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2012)
(2012年11月19日01時30分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月19日 (月)

民主党政権総括 政治の劣化を招いた「脱官僚」

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 19, 2012)
Political system damaged by DPJ's aversion to bureaucracy
民主党政権総括 政治の劣化を招いた「脱官僚」(11月18日付・読売社説)


The first thing the Democratic Party of Japan should do before the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election is review its past three years and two months in power. Can the DPJ do serious soul-searching on the plethora of issues it has mishandled and reflect the lessons learned in its campaign pledges for the upcoming election?

The public approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was as high as 75 percent when it was inaugurated after the 2009 lower house election. Public approval of the current administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has declined to just 24 percent, showing how the public's initial high expectations of the DPJ were dashed after the change of government.

Under the DPJ government, the nation's politics have continued to suffer from confusion and stagnation, and this is not just because the Diet is divided. It is mostly because the party is incapable of managing the government.


This was symbolized by the DPJ's failed manifesto for the last general election. After reviewing its pledges, the party concluded that only 53 of them--including making tuition at public high schools free--had been implemented during its tenure. The figure represents only about 30 percent of the 170 original promises.

The DPJ has many things to reflect on. Among its blunders, it was extremely optimistic to believe it could secure 16.8 trillion yen a year just through tweaking spending plans. It also suffered a setback in seeking to cancel construction of the Yamba Dam in Gunma Prefecture because it made the decision without consulting parties involved.

The DPJ's misguided "politician-led policymaking" have caused the administration to repeatedly malfunction.


DPJ should reflect on blunders

Its budget screening initiative turned out to be nothing more than politicians playing to the gallery by bashing bureaucrats, and the process squeezed out only a limited amount of fiscal resources.

Based on an opposition-like stance, the DPJ took a hostile of view of bureaucrats and shunned the bureaucracy in deciding and carrying out policies. This weakened both the political and bureaucratic systems because public servants only awaited instructions from ministers, and politicians were not informed of important matters.

This problem became particularly apparent following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, when Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet failed to respond promptly. This caused confusion in helping the people in the disaster-hit areas and in dealing with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Politicians are supposed to fully utilize bureaucrats and try to bring out their best.

When it comes to nuclear energy, the DPJ initially said operations of reactors should be resumed once their safety was confirmed. However, the party abruptly proposed an infeasible zero-nuclear power policy instead, and caused widespread confusion due to insufficient coordination with the United States and domestic local governments that host nuclear power plants.

On the economic front, the DPJ could not propose an effective growth strategy even though it promised to revive the nation's economy. It also failed to work together with the business community.

Under the slogan "from concrete to people," the government has slashed spending on public works projects from 7.1 trillion yen for fiscal 2009 to 4.6 trillion yen for fiscal 2012--a decrease that has battered local economies.

Furthermore, because of other problematic policies such as those for budgetary handouts, the general account appropriations in the initial fiscal 2012 state budget have swollen to 96.7 trillion yen, including budgets for restoration from the Great East Japan Earthquake and related expenditures, from 88.5 trillion yen in fiscal 2009.

With the issuance of deficit-covering bonds having exceeded 30 trillion yen every year in recent years, government finances have deteriorated steadily as shown by the fact that the outstanding balance of government debts is expected to reach 709 trillion yen at the end of this fiscal year--a drastic jump from fiscal 2009's 594 trillion yen.

Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, meanwhile, has failed to take responsibility even after his former secretaries were found guilty in September 2011 of charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, tarnishing the public's image of the DPJ as a clean party.


Persistent intraparty wrangling

Within the ruling party, there was nonstopwrangling between pro-Ozawa and anti-Ozawa party members regarding DPJ's policies.

The intraparty disarray stemmed mainly from the party's failure at the time of its 2003 merger with the Liberal Party, in which top priority was placed on cobbling together non-Liberal Democratic Party political forces without the spadework of reconciling political ideals and key policies among them.

An opposition party can cover up intraparty policy differences, but a party in power, charged with implementing policies, cannot.

The split within the DPJ in early July over the issue of raising the consumption tax rate showed the party's internal contradictions had reached a critical point.

None of the party executives, including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, made any move to assume responsibility for the party's split.

The DPJ's policymaking process continued to falter as shown by a decision to abolish the Policy Research Committee, which was subsequently reversed by another decision to reinstate the panel, ostensibly to beef up its functions.

Although animated intraparty discussions were held, they often ended up failing to reach a timely conclusion.

DPJ legislators frequently turned their backs on what had earlier been decided within the party, revisiting issues that had been settled once.

And because the party did not take minutes of its meetings, intraparty discussions failed to be cumulative, resulting in superficial debates. Almost every time policies were discussed within the party, its immature political culture was brought to light.

In addition, the DPJ's confused handling of diplomatic policy harmed the country's national interests.

The muddle involving the issue of relocating functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture because of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's mishandling of the matter weakened the Japan-U.S. alliance and created distrust among the people of Okinawa Prefecture. The scars remain unhealed even now.

The diplomatic blunders of the DPJ administration were exploited by neighboring countries, as shown by the ramming of Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands in September 2010 by a Chinese fishing boat, the sudden visit in July 2012 by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the northern territories off eastern Hokkaido and the visit in August this year by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to the Takeshima islets.


Noda's historic achievements

Nevertheless, the DPJ-led administration can be credited with the historic achievement of realizing the passage of legislation on comprehensive social security and tax system reform.

Although the major opposition LDP played an important role in the legislation, the driving force behind the reform was the resolve of Noda, who risked his political life fully realizing the danger of a split in the party.

The prime minister also gave full play to his leadership in bringing the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture of Kansai Electric Power Co. back online and announcing his support of Japan's participation in multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations.

Noda should be credited for attaining a degree of results in spite of the pile of "adverse legacies" left by the administrations of his two predecessors, Hatoyama and Kan.

On the diplomatic and national security front, the Noda Cabinet rightly revealed Japan-U.S. secrets, including one on Japan's tacit agreement to allow U.S. nuclear arms to be brought into this country, and relaxed Japan's three-point principles concerning weapons exports.

These had been long-pending tasks that the LDP and New Komeito did not accomplish when they were in power, and they can safely be called positive results of the change of government.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 18, 2012)
(2012年11月18日01時24分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月18日 (日)

衆院解散 問われる各党の公約と実行力

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 18, 2012)
Political parties to be tested on their ability to deliver
衆院解散 問われる各党の公約と実行力(11月17日付・読売社説)


The public's attention has recently been directed to whether the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will continue to lead the government or the two main opposition forces, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, will return to power. The focus has also been on the extent to which Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other new political parties can expand their influence.

The upcoming House of Representatives election is expected to be critical as it could chart the course for the nation's future.

On Friday, the lower house was dissolved. The general election is set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4. For all intents and purposes, the election battle has effectively kicked off.

In the election, the DPJ will be evaluated on its performance during its three-year rule by three prime ministers since Yukio Hatoyama.


Noda recognized for bold acts


During the 2009 lower house election campaign, the potential for a change in government was high, and the DPJ earned a stunning victory. But many voters appear to be suffering from the present political disorder and a decision-making stalemate as result of the party's win.

There are plenty of issues that the DPJ has mishandled. These include diplomatic missteps by the Hatoyama Cabinet when it pursued politician-led handling of state affairs in the wrong way and the ineptitude of Naoto Kan's administration in addressing the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At a press conference Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said: "I previously said I would ask for a public mandate once the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems was achieved. I dissolved [the lower house] to fulfill this promise."

It is indeed a historic accomplishment that the prime minister was able to pass integrated reform bills, which center on bills to raise the consumption tax rate, in the divided Diet, where the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition. We can understand that he respected an agreement with the LDP and Komeito, which cooperated with Noda's party to enact the historic bills.

We also applaud Noda for following through with the dissolution even though many of DPJ members, including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, opposed the breakup of the chamber and election prospects were dim for the party.

The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has also been declining. In a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey, the rating plunged to 19 percent, the lowest since the Cabinet's inauguration in September of last year. Furthermore, DPJ members continue to leave the party, with no end in sight to the defections.

Noda said at the press conference Friday: "We have an ongoing political situation in which we are unable to make decisions. By dissolving [the lower house], I'd like to put an end to this evil practice."

Regardless of the election outcome, the Diet will remain divided at least until next summer's upper house election, as no party holds a majority of seats in the chamber. To move politics forward, it is essential for parties to cooperate with one another or form a coalition.


Interparty cooperation needed


The increase in the consumption tax is only halfway complete based on the agreement by the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. To achieve the intended reform of the social security and tax systems, the three parties are likely to be urged to maintain their cooperative stance after the election.

A stable government with either of the two major parties at its center is needed most for Japan's revival. We consider it unfavorable to have a coalition government consisting of multiple parties since consensus building would be slow going.

However, several new parties, including Ishin no Kai and Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), recently have emerged one after another, aiming to become a third political force following the DPJ and the LDP.

With the unprecedented number of more than 10 parties campaigning, efforts are also under way to unite them. The new parties aim to attract voters frustrated with established political parties.

Many former lower house members who have just lost their Diet seats due to the dissolution are quitting the parties they belonged to and joining new parties, in an apparent attempt to survive the upcoming general election. We must seek to find the true value of a potential third political force.

We expect each party to clarify its vision for the future of Japan and list its policies according to priority.

The public has completely lost faith in the DPJ's manifesto made in the 2009 lower house election. The party's unfulfilled handout policy pledges, such as the child-rearing allowance of 26,000 yen per month and the abolition of expressway tolls, have failed to materialize due to a lack of financing. This has only led to an amplification of voters' distrust in politics.

Parties must not repeat the mistake of competing with each other to win an election by making policy promises that appeal to voters, but which are unfeasible.

In drafting new election pledges, parties should consider that a bill could fail without the cooperation of other parties in the divided Diet. Only setting deadlines for realizing election promises and other numerical targets is meaningless.

Noda again stressed his policy to achieve zero nuclear power generation in the 2030s.

The upcoming election will determine "whether the party aiming to depart from the nation's dependence on nuclear power or the party promoting the conventional energy policy will win," said the prime minister.


Policies must be scrutinized

People's Life First, Your Party and Ishin no Kai also advocate denuclearization as one of their policies.

However, we doubt zero nuclear power generation is a realistic policy. Many issues must be resolved before such a target can be achieved, such as securing alternative energy sources, raising electricity rates, and addressing the negative effects on the economy and employment.

The LDP plans to support nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed, with a pledge by the government to accept responsibility for their reactivation. We expect the LDP to present its medium- to long-term energy policy in detail.

Additionally, there are a number of other important issues that should be addressed, such as a growth strategy for reviving the Japanese economy; Japan's possible participation in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact; social security; territorial and sovereignty matters; and national security.

Voters should carefully scrutinize the respective candidates' policies and capabilities to execute them so they can make an informed choice without regret.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 17, 2012)
(2012年11月17日01時30分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月17日 (土)

きょう衆院解散 民自公協調が「条件」を整えた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 17, 2012)
DPJ-LDP-Komeito cooperation must survive general election
きょう衆院解散 民自公協調が「条件」を整えた(11月16日付・読売社説)

As the three "preconditions" set by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for dissolving the House of Representatives have largely been met, the lower chamber is expected to be dissolved Friday so a general election can be held.

One of the focal points, reforming the lower house's electoral system, moved forward as a bill that would eliminate five single-seat constituencies to rectify vote-value disparities between the most and least represented electoral districts passed the lower house with support from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and opposition parties including the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

The legislation to rectify vote disparities is expected to be enacted into law Friday by the House of Councillors.

Further, an accord has been reached on a proposal Noda made to the LDP and Komeito to cut the number of lower house seats elected through proportional representation. The agreement would see the three parties join hands to pass a bill in an ordinary Diet session early next year.

The ruling and opposition parties are also in agreement on another bill expected to pass on Friday that would slash Diet members' annual salaries by 20 percent. The legislation is looked upon as a gesture by lawmakers that they can "set an example by enduring suffering" until the number of legislators has been reduced.


Poll in 'state of unconstitutionality'

These agreements between the ruling and opposition camps have realized what Noda referred to as the "minimum acceptable accord" in one-on-one debates in the Diet with opposition party leaders Wednesday.

It will likely take several months to rezone the relevant single-seat constituencies to eliminate the five seats and to inform the public about the electoral change. The lower house election expected for next month will therefore be carried out in what the Supreme Court called in a ruling last March a "state of unconstitutionality."

Indications are that lawsuits will be filed sometime after the general election seeking to nullify its results, and the courts will most likely hand down exacting decisions on the election's outcome.

It also appears likely that yet another condition for dissolving the lower house--passing a bill to allow the issuance of deficit-covering bonds--will soon become law.

The legislation in question would enable the government to issue the bonds until fiscal 2015, on the condition that it gives due attention to the need for fiscal discipline.

The three major parties have also agreed to establish by the end of the month a national council to outline social security system reform. There are of course a large number of issues that must be solved, such as how to keep the pension system sustainable.

Although it was not a condition for dissolving the lower house, a bill that would revise the National Pension Law to allow pension benefits to be lowered to a level that reflects recent price declines appears assured of enactment through cooperation between the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito.


Partnership vital in divided Diet

It is highly significant that the problem of excess pension payments--an issue that has lingered since the time when the LDP and Komeito were in power--has finally been rectified.

This signifies that important legislation can be passed even in a divided Diet, where the ruling bloc lacks a majority in the upper house, if the ruling and opposition camps make a concerted effort to find common ground.

Nevertheless, several key bills have been scrapped in the current Diet session, including one that would create a numbered citizen identification system, known as the My Number bill, which is essential for effectively carrying out comprehensive social security and tax reform. Also, joining of the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction, which lays out how child custody should be dealt with when international marriages break up, will be delayed. These bills should be enacted without fail in the next ordinary Diet sitting.

As the configuration of parliamentary groups in the upper house will remain basically the same after the coming lower house election, maintaining the framework of cooperation between the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito will still be needed to continue moving national politics forward.

Lower house elections, where the survival of each party is at stake, are prone to devolving into intense mudslinging contests. However, the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito must keep in mind the danger of smear campaigns during the next lower house contest.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 16, 2012)
(2012年11月16日01時38分  読売新聞)

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習近平体制発足 膨張中国と向き合う戦略築け

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 17, 2012)
Japan needs sound strategy to deal with Xi administration
習近平体制発足 膨張中国と向き合う戦略築け(11月16日付・読売社説)

The Chinese Communist Party held the first plenary session of the 18th Central Committee on Thursday and made enormous changes to its leadership. The session marked the beginning of the Xi Jinping regime that will steer China through the next decade.

Xi, the new party general secretary, held a press conference on the day. "Our responsibility is to unite and lead people of the entire party and of all ethnic groups around the country while...continuing to work for realizing the great revival of the Chinese nation in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world," he said.

In line with Xi's words, it seems evident that China will continue to advance along its path of reform and opening-up while maintaining a political system dominated by a single party. China will also seek to further expand its economic and military might, aiming at becoming a superpower on par with the United States. Its policy of expansion both militarily and economically will not change anytime soon.


Can Xi exercise leadership?

Xi, the son of a former vice premier, is known as the leader of the so-called princelings, the influential offspring of high-ranking party officials. However, with his elders still holding sway in the party, it remains unclear to what extent he can exercise his leadership.

Noteworthy in the latest leadership appointments is that Hu Jintao, who led China for 10 years during his two terms, not only vacated the general secretary post but also stepped down as chairman of the Central Military Commission, handing over both posts to Xi.

When Jiang Zemin stepped aside to make way for Hu as party leader, he remained military chief for nearly two more years. By giving up both posts, Hu likely is trying to end the dual-rule framework that has complicated decision-making by top leaders.

Yet, Hu appears to have retained influence by promoting senior military leaders close to him as vice chairmen of the commission before the party's National Congress. He also placed members of his faction in the Politburo. These actions point to a desire by Hu to retain power in the party leadership even after he retires from his leadership posts.

This becomes even more clear considering that Hu's "scientific development concept," which aims to engineer balanced, sustainable development, was promoted to an official guiding socio-economic ideology at the congress, and is now enshrined in the party's charter.

Also, the Politburo Standing Committee was reduced from nine members to seven. More than the desires of Xi, the line-up of the committee reflects a power struggle between Jiang and Hu.


Taming social problems urgent

Xi is scheduled to become president next spring and with that will attain China's leadership trifecta--party, state and military.

The top priority of the Xi administration is likely to be easing the social strains that have been intensifying in the nation. China needs to get serious about dealing with expanding income and other disparities, corruption in high-ranking officials, and environmental destruction--all problems that have accompanied rapid economic growth.

The boycott against Japanese goods being staged in protest of Japan's nationalization of some of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture has impacted not only the Japanese economy but also Chinese businesses. The Xi administration should immediately exert self-restraint regarding coercive diplomatic tactics.

How should the Japanese government grapple with China's policy of military and economic expansion? We believe a calm grasp of the situation is essential to consolidate strategy toward China.

Through a multipronged approach via the East Asia Summit and other frameworks, Japan should step up its efforts to engage China to ensure it will fulfill the international responsibility that comes with national power.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 16, 2012)
(2012年11月16日01時38分  読売新聞)

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衆院解散表明 首相の重い決断を支持する

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 16, 2012)
Prime minister's gutsy decision deserves credit
衆院解散表明 首相の重い決断を支持する(11月15日付・読売社説)


Out of the blue, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced he will dissolve the House of Representatives. Amid simmering opposition to an early dissolution within his Democratic Party of Japan, Noda has put everything on the line in a bid to bring an end to the nation's political gridlock.

During a Diet debate with Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Noda said he would dissolve the lower house Friday if the opposition promises to pass a bill to reduce the number of lower house seats during next year's ordinary Diet session.

Abe initially gave no clear response to Noda's offer. But after the debate and a meeting with senior LDP figures, Abe said, "We'll do our best to conclude the issue in the ordinary Diet session." This paved the way for the lower house to be dissolved Friday.

The lower house election is now set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4.


Prevent further distrust

The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has been languishing for months, so the DPJ could suffer a crushing defeat in the election. However, we applaud the prime minister's sensible and weighty decision to dissolve the chamber for a general election.

In August, Noda expressed his intention to dissolve the lower house "sometime soon." If he had let the year end without settling the dissolution issue, questions would have been raised over the credibility of his remarks. That could have fueled public distrust with politics.

The prime minister apparently wanted to initiate the dissolution on his own terms, rather than having his hand forced. Noda also probably felt it was to his advantage to hold the election before Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other smaller parties can unite and form a third major political force.

Noda's decision drew howls of protest from DPJ members who oppose the dissolution and currently dominate the party. They fear the dissolution could lead to a political vacuum.

However, if Noda puts off tackling key policy issues and unnecessarily attempts to cling to power at a time when his administration is standing on shaky ground, the nation would end up confronting an even more serious political vacuum in both domestic and foreign affairs.

Some DPJ members who oppose Noda's decision are openly preparing to leave the party. Dissolving the lower house is a prerogative given to a prime minister. If DPJ members cannot accept their leader's decision, they have no choice but to walk away.

Among people who assumed that the lower house would be dissolved within the year, concern grew as time passed that stalling on the dissolution would cause delays in formulating next fiscal year's budget and its enactment.
From the standpoint of staving off any negative impact on the economy that would inevitably arise if the budget were delayed, we consider Noda's setting the dissolution for Nov. 16--the earliest possible date--as reasonable.

A new administration is certain to be launched by the end of this year. We want it to formulate the budget for the next fiscal year and deal with pressing issues, such as measures to shore up the nation's economy and revamp its diplomacy.

Irrespective of whether it was acceptable for Noda to push Abe to accept conditions for the dissolution during their debate--like forcing him to step on a cherished picture in a "fumie" allegiance test from long ago--we support the prime minister's exercise of his right to dissolve the chamber without flinching, even while his own party is torn over the issue.


Trust among 3 parties crucial

The Diet likely will remain divided even after the upcoming election. Accordingly, it will be very significant if the DPJ, the LDP and the other main opposition party, New Komeito, can maintain a relationship of trust to some extent and build a cooperative framework.

Although there is not much time before the lower house is broken up, the ruling and opposition camps should work together to tidy up some urgent issues.

The three parties have agreed to pass Friday a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-covering bonds. To avoid the depletion of state coffers, the parties must make sure the bill passes before the lower house is dissolved.

Another crucial task is narrowing the disparity in the value of votes between the House of Representatives' most- and least-populated districts, thus putting an end to the electoral system's "state of unconstitutionality."

The DPJ should be blamed for not fulfilling its responsibility to seriously address the issue just because it wanted to postpone the dissolution.

The party still insists on handling two issues--reducing single-seat constituencies by five and cutting the number of seats in the proportional representation system--as a set.

This posturing appears to be a DPJ attempt to show its resolve to cut the number of lower house seats--a stance that will go down well with voters because it shows Diet members are willing to sacrifice themselves to save money before the consumption tax rate is increased. However, there is not enough time for the Diet to reach a consensus on this issue before the dissolution.

To rectify the electoral system's unconstitutional state, the lower house should first pass a bill to reduce single-seat constituencies by five, and then rezone constituencies before holding a general election under the new system. This whole process, however, would take several months.

A more realistic option would be for the lower house to pass the bill before its dissolution and cut the number of seats in the proportional representation bloc and make other reforms during next year's ordinary Diet session. This is the minimum responsibility it should fulfill.

If a general election was held without passing the electoral reform bill, judicial authorities might rule the election was unconstitutional and therefore invalid. Lawmakers must ensure this does not happen.


TPP, N-power should be debated

The upcoming election will be a public evaluation of the DPJ's three-plus years in power. Another intriguing element will be whether the political system dominated by the DPJ and the LDP remains entrenched--even though they have become entangled in indecisive politics under the divided Diet--or an emerging third force will gain enough seats to seriously challenge this order.

On the policy front, Noda will propose Japan participate in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade framework, aiming to make the TPP a major campaign issue. The LDP and other parties should not leave any doubt about their positions on this issue.

We urge all parties to make campaign pledges that clarify their stances on the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, nuclear power and energy policies, as well as diplomatic and security policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 15, 2012)
(2012年11月15日01時38分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月15日 (木)

GDPマイナス 景気の失速回避に全力あげよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 15, 2012)
All-out efforts needed to reverse business slowdown
GDPマイナス 景気の失速回避に全力あげよ(11月14日付・読売社説)

The fall in the nation's gross domestic product for the July-September quarter should be considered a sign of business slowdown. The nation faces a crucial moment of determining whether the economy will be able to avoid weakening even further.

The real-term GDP for the July-September period dropped 0.9 percent from the previous quarter, marking the first negative growth in three quarters. The slide translated into an annualized 3.5 percent decline. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed a sense of crisis, saying, "It's a dismal figure."

This contraction is attributable to two chief factors: the drop in foreign demand caused by the slowdown of foreign economies; and a fall in personal consumption and investment in plants and equipment that together account for core domestic demand. A boost in public investment for rebuilding from last year's earthquake and tsunami disaster stopped short of making up for the overall decline.

Domestic automobile sales have slackened due to the end of government subsidies for eco-friendly car purchases, and sales of household electrical appliances such as flat-screen TVs have remained sluggish. Increased uncertainty over corporate performance also has restrained corporate investment in plants and equipment.


Inaccurate recovery scenario

The government and the Bank of Japan sketched out a scenario in which they would wait for foreign economies to recover while sustaining demand at home through reconstruction projects in the hope that this would eventually lead to full-scale growth.

However, as the slowdown in domestic demand has come earlier than they expected, their scenario is not playing out as they imagined. They must increase their vigilance and make all-out efforts to sustain the economy.

Of major concern is that there seems to be slim hope of an early recovery in foreign economies.

Europe has fallen into a negative growth phase. The United States, meanwhile, is heading for a "fiscal cliff" from year-end to early next year that involves an end to various tax breaks including last year's temporary payroll tax cuts, thereby threatening to deal another blow to the global economy.

Also of major concern is a sharp drop in Japan's exports to China due to a slowdown in the Chinese economy and strained bilateral relations over the Senkaku Islands.

A government-planned small-scale emergency economic package using reserve funds is not strong enough to cope with such adverse conditions. The government must compile a supplementary budget as soon as possible and put together a full-fledged stimulus package.

However, as fiscal conditions remain strict, it is necessary to allocate budgets on a priority basis to public works projects that will have the greatest economic impact.


Use private sector as spur

The development and successful commercialization of private-sector innovation is the biggest driving force for economic growth. Future business opportunities can be expected in such growth industries as environment-related businesses and medical services.

We hope such moves will receive sufficient support for research and development projects through an investment tax credit and easing regulations that are hampering new business ventures. Adequate measures must be carefully devised after listening to the private sector's needs.

To make the most of the private sector's vigor, the domestic business environment must be improved first and foremost.

Concrete measures to achieve this include correcting the strength of the record-high yen; lowering the corporate tax rate, which is high compared to international standards; and restarting idled nuclear reactors to avert a possible power shortage.

Not least of all, the political situation must be stabilized to help shore up economic growth.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 14, 2012)
(2012年11月14日01時20分  読売新聞)

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赤字国債合意 ねじれ国会の暫定休戦協定だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 15, 2012)
Accord on bond bill a welcome ceasefire
赤字国債合意 ねじれ国会の暫定休戦協定だ(11月14日付・読売社説)

An exit from the battle between the ruling and opposition parties is finally in sight.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito must create an environment for the dissolution of the House of Representatives based on their latest agreement.

The three parties have formally agreed to revise a bill that will enable the government to issue deficit-covering bonds. The revised bill will introduce a system that allows deficit-covering bonds to be automatically issued until fiscal 2015 once the budget passes the Diet.

Under the divided Diet, the opposition parties, which dominate the House of Councillors, have put pressure on the government by taking the deficit-covering bond bill hostage, but further unproductive political strife can now be avoided because of the latest agreement. We commend the ruling and opposition parties for formulating new rules on the issue.

Last year, the passage of a similar bill was used as a bargaining tool to bring about the resignation of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

This year, it was used by the opposition parties as a "weapon" to press Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to dissolve the lower house. However, the delay in Diet passage of the bill led the government to restrain the implementation of the budget, and the distribution of tax grants to local governments fell into arrears. It is only natural that local governments reacted angrily to the delay, with officials saying things like, "It could affect people's lives."


Bond issuance inevitable

As Noda said, any administration, under the current fiscal situation, would be unable to secure financial resources sufficient to cover the government's spending without issuing deficit-covering bonds.

Even if the LDP and Komeito return to power after the next lower house election, they still will not hold a majority in the upper house. So the agreement that the three parties will not use the bill as a political football is not a bad deal for the LDP and Komeito, too.

However, one concern still remains in the latest agreement.

The issuance of deficit-covering bonds is an exceptional measure to cover shortages of financial resources. It was originally "a prohibited tactic."

The passage of the bill has been a must, separately from the budget, with the aim of maintaining fiscal discipline and preventing the government's deficit from ballooning out of control.

Under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Takeo Miki (1974-76), Finance Minister Masayoshi Ohira stressed the significance of deliberating a deficit-covering bond bill every year, saying in the Diet, "It is conducive to vigilant management of state finances." Nevertheless, deficit-covering bonds have continued to increase, causing serious deterioration of public finances.

If it becomes possible to issue deficit-covering bonds automatically in the future, won't fiscal discipline become lax?


Restraint must be the watchword

The DPJ-LDP-Komeito agreement is based on the premise that the government will work on restraining the amount of deficit-covering bonds it will issue. Even if there is a change in government, the government must keep this in mind when it compiles a budget.

A remaining issue to be solved before the lower house dissolution is reform of the lower house electoral system. The DPJ plans to submit to the Diet a bill to rectify the vote-value disparity and trim the number of lower house seats at the same time.

However, what is most called for now is to resolve "a state of unconstitutionality."

Noda said in the Diet, "the vote-value disparity, which is related to the Constitution, is the top priority." The DPJ, the LDP and Komeito should also quickly agree to reduce the number of lower house single-seat constituencies by five as a first step in the electoral reform.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 14, 2012)
(2012年11月14日01時20分  読売新聞)

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GDPマイナス 景気の失速回避に全力あげよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 15, 2012)
All-out efforts needed to reverse business slowdown
GDPマイナス 景気の失速回避に全力あげよ(11月14日付・読売社説)

The fall in the nation's gross domestic product for the July-September quarter should be considered a sign of business slowdown. The nation faces a crucial moment of determining whether the economy will be able to avoid weakening even further.

The real-term GDP for the July-September period dropped 0.9 percent from the previous quarter, marking the first negative growth in three quarters. The slide translated into an annualized 3.5 percent decline. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed a sense of crisis, saying, "It's a dismal figure."

This contraction is attributable to two chief factors: the drop in foreign demand caused by the slowdown of foreign economies; and a fall in personal consumption and investment in plants and equipment that together account for core domestic demand. A boost in public investment for rebuilding from last year's earthquake and tsunami disaster stopped short of making up for the overall decline.

Domestic automobile sales have slackened due to the end of government subsidies for eco-friendly car purchases, and sales of household electrical appliances such as flat-screen TVs have remained sluggish. Increased uncertainty over corporate performance also has restrained corporate investment in plants and equipment.


Inaccurate recovery scenario

The government and the Bank of Japan sketched out a scenario in which they would wait for foreign economies to recover while sustaining demand at home through reconstruction projects in the hope that this would eventually lead to full-scale growth.

However, as the slowdown in domestic demand has come earlier than they expected, their scenario is not playing out as they imagined. They must increase their vigilance and make all-out efforts to sustain the economy.

Of major concern is that there seems to be slim hope of an early recovery in foreign economies.

Europe has fallen into a negative growth phase. The United States, meanwhile, is heading for a "fiscal cliff" from year-end to early next year that involves an end to various tax breaks including last year's temporary payroll tax cuts, thereby threatening to deal another blow to the global economy.

Also of major concern is a sharp drop in Japan's exports to China due to a slowdown in the Chinese economy and strained bilateral relations over the Senkaku Islands.

A government-planned small-scale emergency economic package using reserve funds is not strong enough to cope with such adverse conditions. The government must compile a supplementary budget as soon as possible and put together a full-fledged stimulus package.

However, as fiscal conditions remain strict, it is necessary to allocate budgets on a priority basis to public works projects that will have the greatest economic impact.


Use private sector as spur

The development and successful commercialization of private-sector innovation is the biggest driving force for economic growth. Future business opportunities can be expected in such growth industries as environment-related businesses and medical services.

We hope such moves will receive sufficient support for research and development projects through an investment tax credit and easing regulations that are hampering new business ventures. Adequate measures must be carefully devised after listening to the private sector's needs.

To make the most of the private sector's vigor, the domestic business environment must be improved first and foremost.

Concrete measures to achieve this include correcting the strength of the record-high yen; lowering the corporate tax rate, which is high compared to international standards; and restarting idled nuclear reactors to avert a possible power shortage.

Not least of all, the political situation must be stabilized to help shore up economic growth.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 14, 2012)
(2012年11月14日01時20分  読売新聞)

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「TPP解散」 首相は交渉参加の旗を掲げよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 14, 2012)
Noda should hoist flag of TPP participation
「TPP解散」 首相は交渉参加の旗を掲げよ(11月13日付・読売社説)

It is vital that Japan promote free trade and boost its economic growth. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda should decide that the nation will join negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade framework.

At the House of Representatives Budget Committee, the prime minister again indicated that joining talks on the U.S.-led TPP would be among the Democratic Party of Japan's policy pledges for the next lower house election. He said discussions on the matter would be held within the party.

A year has passed since Noda announced Japan would enter talks with nations concerned with an eye to eventually taking a seat at TPP negotiations. It is problematic that he has kept delaying a decision on TPP participation and failed to take necessary steps for joining the trade pact, such as strengthening the international competitiveness of the agriculture sector to brace it for further market liberalization.

Now, more than ever, it would be significant to clearly show a resolve to accelerate Japan's economic growth by harnessing the dynamism of other parts of Asia through joining the TPP.


Key election issue

The TPP issue will be a hot topic in the lower house election likely to take place at the year-end or early next year. Detailed discussions should be held on the issue.

Some DPJ members remain firmly opposed to signing on to the TPP. Maneuvering to block Noda from dissolving the lower house after making the TPP a key campaign issue has become increasingly active.

However, nothing will be initiated unless Japan sits at the negotiation table. We hope Noda will not wilt in the face of this opposition and exerts strong leadership.

The Liberal Democratic Party, on the other hand, maintains a cautious stance. It opposes TPP participation if it is premised on eliminating all tariffs.

But if the LDP is serious about regaining power, it will need to map out concrete steps regarding how Japan as a trading nation can expand trade and invigorate its economy.

Some LDP members support TPP participation. The party should hold exhaustive discussions and hammer out a convincing policy course.


A security issue, too

Of concern to us is that Japan could be left completely behind while it dithers over making a decision.

It already has been decided that Canada and Mexico would join TPP negotiations. As U.S. President Barack Obama, a vocal advocate of the TPP, has recently been reelected, negotiations involving 11 nations will likely accelerate through next year.

Under the current circumstances, negotiations could proceed without Japan's participation on issues including the elimination or lowering of tariffs and formulation of trade and investment rules. The fate of Japan's national interests will hinge on whether the nation is engaged in these rule-making processes and can reflect its opinions.

Participation in the TPP is also important in terms of national security. It will lead to stronger Japan-U.S. relations, and also could help restrain the behavior of China, with which the nation has been at odds over the Senkaku Islands.

In parallel with the TPP, Japan should strive to seal a free trade agreement with China and South Korea and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia, among others. It is time to pursue wise, robust trade strategies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 13, 2012)
(2012年11月13日01時32分  読売新聞)

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小沢氏再び無罪 検察審制度の見直しは早計だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 14, 2012)
It's too early to review mandatory indictment system
小沢氏再び無罪 検察審制度の見直しは早計だ(11月13日付・読売社説)

Ichiro Ozawa, head of the People's Life First party, was once again found not guilty by a court.

The Tokyo High Court dismissed an appeal lodged by court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors and upheld a lower court ruling acquitting Ozawa of violating the Political Funds Control Law over his alleged role in a suspicious land deal conducted by his fund management body, Rikuzan-kai.

The high court ruling acknowledged that the 400 million yen provided by Ozawa to the fund management body to purchase land was not registered with Rikuzan-kai, underscoring the sloppy accounting process of its political funds.

On the other hand, the ruling concluded Ozawa did not receive a detailed report on the land deal from his secretary at the time. "There is a possibility Ozawa believed the contents of [Rikuzan-kai's] political fund reports were legitimate," the ruling said.

The court-appointed lawyers said they will discuss whether to lodge a final appeal, but appeals to the Supreme Court are limited to cases in which rulings contain constitutional violations or inconsistencies with past top court rulings. It is more likely the not-guilty ruling will become final.


Committee decision has a point

Ozawa's trial is the first of its kind in which a politician has been indicted under the mandatory indictment system following decisions by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, which is composed of ordinary citizens. It is likely debates on whether to review the system will ignite again as Ozawa has been twice ruled not guilty.

However, the committee was justified in demanding the court--which was open to the public--uncover all the facts of the case, as Ozawa had failed to provide reasonable explanations on the political funds scandal.

The government has established a public disclosure system on political funds under the Political Funds Control Law to ensure an environment that would allow free and fair election campaigns.

As taxpayers' money has been poured into political funds after the enactment of the Political Party Subsidies Law, there is a growing demand for transparency in the flow of political funds.

Rikuzan-kai's land deal involved money transactions totaling hundreds of millions of yen, but the political fund management body made false statements in its reports. This clearly goes against the spirit of the Political Funds Control Law.

One purpose of the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution system is to reflect the view of people in criminal justice in a similar way to the lay judge system. So far, only six mandatory indictments have taken place since the system was established. What is important now is for the mandatory indictment system to be used in more cases. It is too early to review the system at this stage.


Prosecutors must be blamed

However, experts have pointed out that this places a heavy burden on court-appointed lawyers, who have to present their cases based on limited evidence. The system should be examined with the aim of improving it.

In the Ozawa trial, the public prosecutors should be criticized for submitting a falsified investigative report to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, which led the people to question whether it was appropriate for the committee to indict Ozawa. It was also discovered during the trial that prosecutors had coerced and coaxed Ozawa's former secretaries to provide statements in line with the aims of the prosecutors. The prosecutors must take to heart the lessons learned from the trial.

The prosecutors have decided not to indict a former prosecutor who falsified the investigative report, and other prosecutors involved in compiling the report, prompting a citizens group to file a complaint against the decision with the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution. We urge the committee to examine it strictly and fairly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 13, 2012)
(2012年11月13日01時32分  読売新聞)

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民主党政権公約 原発ゼロでは反省に値しない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 13, 2012)
'Zero nuclear power policy' has no place in DPJ's manifesto
民主党政権公約 原発ゼロでは反省に値しない(11月11日付・読売社説)

The Democratic Party of Japan at long last has uttered words of self-reflection over its manifesto for the 2009 House of Representatives election.

The party said, "We were arrogant to believe we could do everything if we came to power and immature as we didn't realize the severity of steering the government."

This humble stance marked an about-face from its past position. This change appears to reflect its concern over the uphill battle it faces in the next lower house election.

The party held meetings in Osaka and Fukuoka on Saturday to report on its self-examination of the manifesto. "While reflecting on it, we want to put together a more realistic manifesto that can be carried out as promised," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said.

The party plans to hold similar meetings in nine other locations across the country until Sunday.

The items listed in the party's campaign platform for the 2009 general election were nothing short of slapdash. They included a handout of child-rearing allowances, abolition of the temporary gasoline tax rate, making highways toll-free and securing 16.8 trillion yen in fiscal resources by eliminating wasteful spending. The party had insisted on steadily realizing the manifesto pledges, rather than examine them for shortcomings.


Change comes too late

With the dissolution of the lower house for a general election close at hand, the party decided to make a fresh start after reflecting on the manifesto. But it comes too late. Its self-reflection meetings across the country may be considered an election campaign in the guise of an "apology tour."

Of concern is whether the DPJ can make the most of its experience as a ruling party in formulating a manifesto for the forthcoming election.

Noda told reporters accompanying him on his inspection tour of Fukuoka on Saturday the party is considering the inclusion of an official bid to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework in the new manifesto.

Participation in the TPP is indispensable for Japan if this country hopes to open up future prospects through free trade. We think the party should clearly mention in the manifesto that Japan will officially apply to join the TPP negotiations.

Seiji Maehara, state minister for national policy, said he favored Japan's entry in the TPP and it "should be made a major DPJ campaign pledge" in the forthcoming election. TPP entry will become a bone of contention in its election campaign against the Liberal Democratic Party, which takes a cautious view on the subject.


Break with previous mind-set

The DPJ, however, has yet to break with the mind-set it had as an opposition party when it comes to energy policy.

The party said its manifesto would incorporate a policy to end reliance on nuclear power generation in the 2030s. How will the party secure alternate energy if it does this? No solutions have been offered in regard to such pending issues as increases in utility rates caused by the zero nuclear policy, continuing industrial hollowing-out and the brain drain of nuclear engineers heading overseas.

If the DPJ only continues to emphasize the zero nuclear policy, its irresponsibility will be similar to that seen in the previous manifesto. Its policy, it can be said, is unrealistic compared with that of the LDP, which calls for utilizing nuclear energy for the time being.

Regardless of the results of the next lower house election, a divided Diet will continue until next summer when a House of Councillors election is scheduled. No party will be able to realize its policy goals without the cooperation of other parties. It will be meaningless to make campaign pledges on the numerical targets of policies and timetables for their implementation without considering cooperation with other parties.

The parties should compile manifestos with realistic points of contention.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 11, 2012)
(2012年11月11日01時19分  読売新聞)

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地方公務員給与 自治体はもっと削減努力を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 13, 2012)
Local govts need bigger ax to slash personnel costs
地方公務員給与 自治体はもっと削減努力を(11月11日付・読売社説)

Slashing personnel costs is a crucial task for local governments and from the viewpoint of rebuilding the central government's finances. It is essential that local governments redouble their efforts to cut expenditures.

With preparations for compiling a state budget for fiscal 2013 under way, the Finance Ministry announced provisional calculations regarding salary levels of local government employees.

The Laspeyres index--an indicator that compares local government employees' salaries against a base of 100 for salaries of central government workers--stood at 106.9 for fiscal 2012, marking a reversal for the first time in nine years, according to the estimates.

Salaries in more than 80 percent of about 1,800 local entities across Japan exceeded the pay pocketed by central government employees.

This seems partly due to the fact that the central government decided to cut its employees' salaries for two years from fiscal 2012 to raise funds for budgetary appropriations for reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Salaries of local government employees are stipulated by ordinances, mainly after consultations between municipalities and trade unions of their workers. The central government has no say in pay scale decisions by local governments.


Averse to pay cuts

However, local government employees' salaries are paid from local tax grants allocated by the central government, in addition to local tax revenues.

These tax grants, which are designed to help local governments make up for budget deficits, have reached more than 17 trillion yen a year. The central government funds these grants by incurring debts. Providing cash for local tax grants has been a major cause of the central government's fiscal crunch, along with fast-ballooning social security costs.

Personnel costs account for about one-fourth of the more than 80 trillion yen in total expenses of local governments throughout Japan. Curtailing employees' salaries is essential for turning around the finances of chronically debt-ridden local governments.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who chairs the Association of Prefectural Governors, has bristled at the Finance Ministry's suggestion that local government workers' salaries must be cut. He said the central government "should recognize the efforts being made by local governments" to reel in budget deficits.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shinji Tarutoko also joined the chorus of criticism, saying the Finance Ministry was "making figures arbitrarily, apparently with the aim of misleading public opinion. This is extremely inappropriate."

The way salaries of local government employees are determined is baffling for several reasons.

Salary levels for a local government are decided, in principle, after checking salaries of other local entities and the central government, as well as salary trends in the private sector.


Fringe benefits too generous

According to the Finance Ministry, workers at local governments in every prefecture earned larger pay packets than the average monthly pay of private business employees. Local government monthly salaries were more than 100,000 yen higher than company employees' salaries in Aomori, Akita and Ehime prefectures, the ministry noted.

Aside from regular administrative positions, local government employees handling cleaning and bus-driving duties are paid 1.5 times the amount their private-sector counterparts receive. The figures are 1.9 times higher for security guards and and 1.8 times for telephone operators.

Some local entities pay employees housing allowances--a perk already abolished for central government employees. Others give special allowances to teachers for accompanying school excursions and supervising high school exams.

Both the ruling and opposition camps appear reluctant to take up the issue of local government salaries. They seem afraid of antagonizing local entities when a House of Representatives election is likely to be held soon.

Community residents and assemblies should press harder for administrative reform of local governments.

When the consumption tax rate is raised to 10 percent from October 2015, revenue from 1.54 percentage points of the five-point hike will go to local governments' coffers, which they can use at their discretion.

Given this, local governments should remain aware of their responsibility to further cut expenditures to ensure fiscal matters are handled effectively and properly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 11, 2012)
(2012年11月11日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月12日 (月)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:強がりな人ほど心に弱さ /東京

November 11, 2012(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Feeling upbeat and one's true character
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:強がりな人ほど心に弱さ /東京

Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, on his final day at work, was asked by reporters for his feelings. He responded, "I don't have any (sadness), I feel upbeat."

Hearing this, I was probably not the only one to think, "When was the last time I felt upbeat?" Asking this to a university senior who still hasn't secured a job, they told me, "When I open e-mail it's a notice that I've been turned down and my family gets depressed. Even the soccer team I like isn't doing well. There isn't a single bit of good news."

Then, why does Ishihara feel upbeat? There may be a feeling of freedom from dropping the burden of governor, but I don't think that is all. The Japan Restoration Party's leader Toru Hashimoto said at the party's formation, "A big battle is coming," and Ishihara, too, may be feeling excitement about forming his own party and leading it into national politics amidst the current political turmoil.

Should we feel strength in seeing such political leaders, or be unsettled by how far removed they are from regular people's lives? I am of the latter.

Harold Dwight Lasswell, a political scientist who was influenced by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, writes something interesting in his book "Power and Personality." There are people in the world with a love for power, and they often become politicians, and according to Lasswell, many of them work for personal motives, such as overcoming unpleasant memories from childhood. He writes that these politicians cleverly use arguments for the public good to justify their personal motives.

I don't want to think that all the world's politicians are seeking power for personal reasons like overcoming inferiority complexes from their childhood and showing up the world. However, when I wonder if the fact that the stronger one looks, the weaker they are inside applies to politics as well, I find myself worrying about some politicians.

Of course, we cannot have only weak-willed politicians, but in these difficult times, I would like someone who doesn't forget kindness and compassion to lead society. Am I mistaken to want such a thing?

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年11月06日 地方版

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2012年11月11日 (日)

「年内解散」検討 環境整備へ与野党は歩み寄れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 11, 2012)
Ruling and opposition parties should meet halfway
「年内解散」検討 環境整備へ与野党は歩み寄れ(11月10日付・読売社説)

By speeding up efforts to settle key issues, both ruling and opposition parties should create an environment conducive to a decision by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to dissolve the House of Representatives within the year.

Noda is currently mulling dissolution of the lower house for a general election. As some members of his Democratic Party of Japan are considering leaving the party, the prime minister is well aware of the risk that the DPJ may no longer retain a lower house majority. Given the situation, Noda apparently is looking for ways to gain the upper hand in dissolving the lower house rather than being forced to dissolve it.

It has been about three years and two months since the last lower house election. It is about time to seek a public mandate.

The prime minister was apparently prompted to consider dissolution by a change in the stance of the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party. LDP President Shinzo Abe recently said his party is ready to cooperate on passing a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds and resolving other key issues even though Noda has not set a definite date for the dissolution.

The bill is expected to be passed in the lower house Thursday and be enacted by the end of this month.


LDP, Komeito cooperation

The LDP has concluded that holding the matter closely linked to the people's daily lives "hostage" is not the proper thing to do. We view this as reasonable.

Under the divided Diet in which the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition camp, the opposition's act of urging Noda to specify the timing of the dissolution in return for its cooperation in passing important legislation could restrict the prime minister's constitutional prerogative to dissolve the lower house.

If such maneuvers were to be repeated, no administration would last long, and politics would be thrown into chaos. We believe Abe's compromise would be to the advantage of the LDP, which is seeking a return to power.

The smaller opposition party New Komeito has also fallen in line with the LDP without calling on Noda for a definite time for the lower house dissolution. Although they have not fully come to terms, it is significant that the three major parties are back on the same page for now.

The three parties have also agreed to have party leaders debate in the Diet as well as convene a meeting of the lower house's budget committee next week. We hope they will have serious debates over the Senkaku Islands issue and Japan's participation in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade framework. Noda supports TPP participation.


It's time for DPJ to shift stance

Meanwhile, the DPJ has maintained a firm attitude on lower house electoral system reform--one of the conditions set by Noda to dissolve the lower house--by continuing to handle the two issues of reducing single-seat constituencies by five and cutting the number of seats in the proportional representation system together. However, the DPJ is unlikely to win cooperation from the opposition with such a stance, and this would leave the passage of the key legislation up in the air.

To prevent a lower house election from being held "in a state of unconstitutionality," it is essential for the DPJ to accept the LDP's proposal of handling the issues separately and reducing single-seat constituencies first. The DPJ executive led by Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi should be aware a position shift is necessary.

The opposition camp in the upper house, meanwhile, remains combative with the Noda administration, citing the censure motion against Noda passed in the previous Diet session as the reason.

The three parties have also broadly agreed on the passage of a bill in the lower house to revise the National Pension Law to set pension payments at levels reflecting the current decline in prices. They should also work together in approving necessary legislation in the upper house.

Upper house DPJ members have called on the opposition parties to allow the prime minister to deliver his policy speech in the chamber's plenary session as the opposition blocked Noda from doing so. But the DPJ should refrain from unnecessarily provoking them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 10, 2012)
(2012年11月10日01時18分  読売新聞)

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東電支援要請 現実的な再建計画に改めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 11, 2012)
Govt must make assistance to TEPCO more realistic
東電支援要請 現実的な再建計画に改めよ(11月10日付・読売社説)

The prospects for rehabilitating Tokyo Electric Power Co. have gotten murkier.

TEPCO, the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, announced Wednesday it will ask the government to consider extending a new package of support measures for the utility.

TEPCO has concluded it cannot singlehandedly cover snowballing compensation for residents affected by the nuclear crisis and the decommissioning of reactors at the plant.

In May, the government endorsed a special rebuilding plan for TEPCO that effectively put the utility under state control. A financial assistance plan was also approved under which the government will temporarily pay up to 5 trillion yen in compensation on TEPCO's behalf.

The utility, however, has calculated compensation expenses will likely swell to about 10 trillion yen, which it says it will be unable to pay off without additional government assistance.

There are growing fears TEPCO's business performance could decline, possibly causing key company employees to leave. This could impede a stable supply of electricity, which would deal a heavy blow to the economy and people's livelihoods.


Sloppy from the beginning

Shortcomings in the government's support have emerged because the program, from the very beginning, was poorly thought out.

The government should be held heavily responsible for having obligated TEPCO to ultimately cover the full expenses of compensation payments and decommissioning reactors, apparently out of fear that the government might earn the public's wrath if it "rescued TEPCO" with public funds.

Under the current support framework, the utility must eventually pay back funds it received from the government. But the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan have decided on one plan after another that increases compensation payments and expands areas requiring decontamination from radiation that leaked from the crippled nuclear plant.

The government, which has effectively nationalized Japan's largest power utility, should compile a more realistic relief framework in which it bears a burden commensurate with its own responsibilities.

TEPCO's business turnaround plans set a target of putting the company's balance sheet in the black in the settlement of accounts for fiscal 2013. Achieving this goal is premised on TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture coming back online from the next fiscal year.

However, plans to resume operations at this plant have been shackled by the policy of "reducing nuclear power generation to zero" drawn up by the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, who approved the special rebuilding plan, has irresponsibly left the decision on whether to give the go-ahead to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant's restart entirely up to the newly formed Nuclear Regulation Authority.


Stop delays in compensation

The slipshod energy policy is at the heart of the problems holding back TEPCO's recovery. The government must rescind the "zero nuclear power generation" target and instead promote the restart of reactors that are confirmed safe to operate.

Failure to prevent TEPCO's business from deteriorating could force the utility to again hike electricity rates, which were raised by stages from April. The government's mismanagement of energy policy could eventually hit the public in the pocket.

Naturally, TEPCO must do more to cuts its expenses.

TEPCO, in tandem with the requests for additional government assistance, has compiled a new managerial improvement plan. The company will set up its disaster recovery headquarters in Fukushima Prefecture, which will be staffed by about 4,000 employees to beef up the firm's payment of damages and decontamination activities.

People affected by the nuclear disaster have been infuriated by delays in compensation payments and related matters. This situation must be urgently rectified.

TEPCO's plans to reduce costs by an additional 100 billion yen a year should be considered reasonable. We urge TEPCO to accelerate its cost-cutting by wiping out any hint of complacency that might come with being a regional monopoly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 10, 2012)
(2012年11月10日01時18分  読売新聞)

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田中文科相問題 一転認可に反省と謝罪がない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 10, 2012)
Tanaka neither sorry nor reflective over her about-face
田中文科相問題 一転認可に反省と謝罪がない(11月9日付・読売社説)

Was it the cabinet minister, rather than the universities, who should have been "disapproved"?

In an about-face, education minister Makiko Tanaka has decided to approve the establishment of the three universities, including one to be named Akita Municipal College of Fine Arts, after her earlier rejection of their establishment.

As the confusion caused by Tanaka has now been resolved, the three universities will be able to open in spring as scheduled.

Due to her misunderstanding of political leadership, Tanaka threw the universities' operators and prospective students into confusion and damaged people's trust in educational administration.

We believe Tanaka should bear the brunt of the responsibility for the matter.

Yet she does not seem to have seriously reflected on what she has done. We find it outrageous that she has said her latest stunt turned out to be good publicity for the universities. She should apologize to the three operators immediately.

A council tasked with examining applications for opening universities submitted a recommendation of approval to the minister last week. However, Tanaka rejected the panel's recommendations, and bureaucrats at the ministry followed her decision.


A history of causing trouble

Tanaka said she rejected the applications because of an unwieldy surge in universities. This is unacceptable. Reviewing the approval system for new universities is a separate matter from the approval of the establishment of each university by the ministry itself.

After facing a barrage of criticism for her disapproval of the universities, Tanaka suddenly began pushing to reform relevant rules, saying she would reexamine the three universities' applications on the basis of new criteria for opening universities.

At the same time, she tried to talk her way out of trouble with semantics by saying, "I haven't finalized my decision, as a minister, on disapproval" of the universities. It also is disgraceful that she tried to shift the blame to the bureaucrats, saying, "These bureaucrats failed to understand what I really intended to do."

While she was foreign minister under the Cabinet led by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Tanaka sent diplomatic affairs into great confusion with her eccentric remarks and behavior, and caused discord with bureaucrats at the foreign ministry.


Noda also to blame

The problem does not end with the responsibility of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for appointing Tanaka as a Cabinet member. The managerial ability of Noda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, both of whom failed to prevent Tanaka from rejecting the universities' applications when they heard about her plans, must also be seriously put in question.

Tanaka said when she briefed Noda on her decision to reject the applications, Noda told her to do as she planned. Did Noda actually believe Tanaka's grandstanding would win her points with the public?

At a press conference Thursday, Fujimura defended Tanaka, saying, "It's unlikely people believe she has done anything wrong as a minister." Does he have a screw loose?

Prompted by the latest controversy, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will launch a review of the current system for approving the establishment of universities.

It is true that under the government's deregulatory policies, the number of universities has surged. As a result, there is concern the quality of university education has deteriorated.

But any changes to the system have to do with the fundamentals of the ministry's university policy. Therefore, the issue needs to be discussed properly, and not approached in a slipshod manner.

It is totally intolerable to continue to be at the mercy of Tanaka's spur-of-the-moment ideas.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2012)
(2012年11月9日01時21分  読売新聞)

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中国共産党大会 強硬路線の継承を懸念する

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 10, 2012)
Concern grows over China's continued hard-line policy
中国共産党大会 強硬路線の継承を懸念する(11月9日付・読売社説)

It is now obvious that China's new generation of Communist Party and national leaders will continue to pursue policies aimed at bolstering both its economic and military might, seeking to become "a rich country with a strong army."

The Congress of the Communist Party of China, which meets every five years, is under way.

During the ruling party convention, Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to be inaugurated as general secretary and a significant majority of the top echelons of China's leadership will be replaced.

The Congress is of great importance as it will set the path China will take over the next 10 years.

In a report on the party's action policy over the next five years delivered at the opening of the Congress on Thursday, President Hu Jintao, who is due to step down as general secretary, affirmed Beijing's resolve to accelerate modernization of its military to defend Chinese territory, and strongly emphasized the nation's determination to protect its maritime interests.

The remarks by Hu seemed to be addressing the heightened tensions between Japan and China over Japan's recent nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, several thorny territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and the new diplomatic policy of the United States to refocus its strategic attention on Asia.


Simmering anger over injustice

There is every sign China's hard-line stance toward Japan over the Senkakus will continue.

Japan, for its part, must support mid- and long-term strategies toward China by strengthening ties with Southeast Asian nations based on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In the speech, Hu also stated a goal of doubling China's gross domestic product by 2020 and per capita incomes nationwide in a decade, both compared to 2010 levels.

To achieve this, China must maintain a yearly growth rate of about 7 percent. Since the days of hard-charging growth appear to be in the past, fulfilling these goals will not be easy.

Over the past decade, China has successfully hosted a summer Olympics and a World Expo, as well as claimed from Japan the No. 2 spot in terms of economic size.

However, in the shadows of spectacular growth lies a widening gap between rich and poor, as well as deepening public anger over inequities in the administration of justice and rampant corruption among local bureaucrats. Violent demonstrations have erupted over these issues in many parts of China.

Hu's declaration that the government will do its utmost to shrink income disparities by "deepening reform of income allocation systems" likely came out of a strong sense of urgency over the matter.

People aged 60 or older accounted for 12.5 percent of China's population in 2009, and this number is projected to rise to 18 percent by 2020. Further delays in improving the social safety net and related matters could easily stir up social unrest.


Hidden power struggle

In the national Congress, the party's platform is set to be revised to upgrade Hu's "scientific development concept," which is designed to realize a well-balanced, sustainable society, to the level of Mao Zedong thought and the theories of other supreme leaders of China.

The move is seen as reflecting Hu's desire to retain influence even after retiring from the country's top post.

The announcement of the schedule for the Congress was delayed an extraordinary full month compared to past party conventions. The delay seems to have been primarily due to trouble in agreeing over how Bo Xilai, the former chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing, should be punished. Bo has already lost his party membership over allegations of massive corruption and other reasons.

Power struggles within the Communist Party were likely behind the delay, though what exactly happened remains murky.

It appears the Congress will not address political reform, including easing of control over freedom of speech.

Hu said in his speech that Beijing is prepared to "proceed actively as well as appropriately in the task of reforming the political system." But we cannot help but wonder how successful China will be in materializing any meaningful reform.

The new party leadership under Xi will begin its rule burdened with a heavy task load.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2012)
(2012年11月9日01時21分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 9日 (金)

東電OL事件 再審無罪で冤罪の検証が要る

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 9, 2012)
Investigators, judicial authorities should review Mainali's case
東電OL事件 再審無罪で冤罪の検証が要る(11月8日付・読売社説)

Fifteen years after a female employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. was killed in 1997, the acquittal of Govinda Prasad Mainali has been finalized at last. Investigation and judicial authorities bear heavy responsibility as they convicted an innocent person.

In a retrial, which concluded Wednesday, the Tokyo High Court acquitted the 46-year-old Nepalese man of the murder, for which he had been sentenced to life imprisonment.

It was a reasonable conclusion to reach considering the court judged it highly likely a third person was the real culprit. The prosecution abandoned its right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The decisive factor leading to the acquittal was evidence from material found underneath the victim's nails, from which DNA from a third person was detected.

The ruling placed great importance on the DNA results, saying, "It can be assumed the woman grabbed the culprit's hands and struggled hard to break his grip when she was strangled to death."

It was in January 2007, while Mainali was serving his term in prison, that the defense demanded prosecutors examine the material under the victim's nails. The prosecutors, however, went so far as to deny its existence, saying, "Nothing was found from [the victim's] nails."

Subsequently, a third person's DNA was found in bodily fluid left on the woman's breast, among other items--a finding leading to the decision to grant Mainali a retrial.


Attitudes a 'serious problem'

Prosecutors, driven into a corner by the finding, then examined the material found under the nails, even though they had earlier claimed there was no such evidence. However, the same person's DNA was found in the material.

To our chagrin, prosecutors have become defiant, claiming they never concealed evidence. They have maintained a stance to never admit their mistakes, nor review their process in prosecuting Mainali.

We find this kind of attitude a serious problem.

The public's distrust in prosecutors will only grow unless they rectify their stance of withholding evidence detrimental to their cases.

In January last year, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations made a proposal to the public, saying an organization to examine cases in which people were falsely accused of crimes should be set up in the Diet. The proposal called for the organization to be independent both from investigative and judicial authorities.

It may be difficult for prosecutors to continue to ignore the proposal if they do not undertake reforms on their own.


Courts took away freedom

It is also necessary for judicial authorities to do some serious soul-searching on this case. The high court handed down a guilty sentence to Mainali by overturning an acquittal verdict at the district court--a decision upheld by the Supreme Court. These false judgments deprived him of years of freedom.

Mainali released a statement to prosecution and judicial authorities, saying, "I'd like you to fully review and consider why I went through this." They must respond to his request.

The Metropolitan Police Department plans to reinvestigate the case. The DNA discovered before finalizing Mainali's acquittal is surely important evidence to finding the true culprit. The MPD should undertake an all-out investigation of this case.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2012)
(2012年11月8日02時00分  読売新聞)

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米大統領選 続投オバマ氏を待つ財政の崖

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 9, 2012)
Obama must confront 'fiscal cliff,' Pacific affairs in his 2nd term
米大統領選 続投オバマ氏を待つ財政の崖(11月8日付・読売社説)

Democrat Barack Obama was reelected as president of the United States on Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

The tasks Obama will face in his second term are as weighty as those of four years ago. The United States has overcome the financial crisis for the time being, but it is still in the process of revitalizing its economy. We hope Obama will realize his country's large role and great responsibility in the world and exercise strong leadership.

Obama failed to fulfill his promise to cut the country's budget deficit in half by the end of his first term. He could not make the desired progress in job creation, with the unemployment rate remaining high at nearly 8 percent.

The reason Obama was reelected despite these factors is probably because what he did achieve in the fields of economic reconstruction and national security was largely positively evaluated.


First-term highlights

Obama stabilized the country's financial system by launching a massive economic stimulus package as soon as he took office. He pulled the United States back from the brink of a major depression by rescuing General Motors Co. after it failed.

Also, Obama put an end to the Iraq War, which was a negative legacy of the country, and set a course for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Romney's defeat in the presidential race can only be attributed to the fact that he could not present a convincing economic policy of his own even while he pointed his finger at Obama's mismanagement of the economy.

The immediate top priority for Obama is balancing economic stimulus measures with reconstruction of government finances.

The "fiscal cliff" awaits. This is a situation in which big tax cuts will expire at the end of this year and the U.S. government must start to make mandated spending cuts at the beginning of next year. If no measures are taken, the country will face harsh fiscal restraints and could fall into a serious recession. The impact on the world, including Japan, would be immense.


A 'divided' Congress

To get through this ordeal, cooperation from the U.S. Congress is indispensable.

As a result of the congressional elections, there was no real change in the "divided" Congress in which Republicans hold a majority in the House of Representatives while the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. Obama should do his utmost to enact necessary bills to prevent confusion in the U.S. economy.

In foreign and security policy, there is a mountain of pending issues such as nuclear development by North Korea and Iran and the situation surrounding Syria.

We'd like to pay particular attention to U.S. policy toward China, with its growing economic and military might.

The fact that the United States, as a "Pacific nation," has adopted a strategy placing importance on Asia is of great significance for regional stability and prosperity. How will the United States regard Japan, its ally, and what kind of relationship does it plan to build with China?

Japan, for its part, needs to have a series of policy consultations with the United States in a bid to join the Washington-led talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework at an early date.

Japan must further cement the Japan-U.S. relationship by taking necessary steps.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2012)
(2012年11月8日02時00分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 8日 (木)

「第3極」 主導権争いが映す政治の混迷

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 8, 2012)
Struggles over '3rd force' reflect political disarray
「第3極」 主導権争いが映す政治の混迷(11月7日付・読売社説)

Political struggles are intensifying over who will become the main actor in an emerging "third force" to challenge the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party.

If the basic ideas and policy stances continue to differ significantly among those expected to form such a force, there will be little prospect of it emerging before the next House of Representatives election.

First of all, we wonder about the real aims of a third force. Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has expressed his intention to shortly launch a new party with Takeo Hiranuma, head of the Sunrise Party of Japan, and others, and work to reorganize the political landscape by forming an alliance with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other conservative forces.

Toru Hashimoto, the head of Ishin no Kai, is positive about forming an alliance with Ishihara, but wants to keep his distance from the Sunrise Party's "genuine conservatism." This must be hard for the public to understand.


Policy differences

Let's look at the policy issues.

Ishihara and the Sunrise Party have accepted a consumption tax rate hike to secure fiscal resources for social security. Ishin no Kai and Your Party, on the other hand, want to make the consumption tax a local tax.

On energy policy, the Sunrise Party has the realistic approach that nuclear energy should be maintained as long as safety management systems are improved. Ishin no Kai and Your Party both want this country to abandon nuclear power.

Consumption tax and nuclear energy policies are significant in determining Japan's future course. Ishihara has described the policy stance differences as "minor problems" that will not prevent the formation of a viable political force. But we consider it absurd to bend on policy measures favored by the public.

Both of these issues will certainly be hot potatoes in the next lower house election. Voters will be puzzled if parties form an alliance or cooperate in the election by covering up their differences on important policies and call for drastic reforms of state organizations and bureaucracy systems. (この部分の英訳は不完全です^^)

Ichiro Matsui, secretary general of Ishin no Kai, has indicated the party will officially endorse candidates in the lower house No. 1 single-seat constituency of each prefecture, which includes the prefectural capital. The party apparently aims to win seats in those constituencies, where there are many floating voters, and garner as many votes as possible in the proportional representation segment of the election.


Fruitless tug-of-war

This seems to be a promising strategy for Ishin no Kai, which lacks organizational strength, but all parties will want to field candidates in the No. 1 constituencies. It is understandable that Ishin no Kai's unilateral approach has caused consternation among other parties.

The move to forge a third force has been the focus of attention because the DPJ and the LDP have continued a fruitless political tug-of-war that has led the nation's politics to languish in indecisiveness.

In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion survey conducted earlier this month, respondents who said they support no particular political party rose to 53 percent, up 10 percentage points from the previous survey. Regarding a third force alliance involving Ishihara's new party, Ishin no Kai and others, 52 percent of respondents said they had high expectations for such an alliance.

This is probably because of the popularity of Ishihara and Hashimoto, rather than any other factor.

But the rise of a third force likely means there will be a large number of newly elected lawmakers without experience in national politics. What would this portend for Japan's politics? The public must think about this as well.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 7, 2012)
(2012年11月7日01時20分  読売新聞)

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原子力の人材 高度な技術力の継承が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 8, 2012)
Nuclear industry must foster personnel for the future
原子力の人材 高度な技術力の継承が必要だ(11月7日付・読売社説)

The Cabinet Office's Atomic Energy Commission has proposed 12 recommendations it believes will help secure and foster personnel for the field of nuclear power.

The commission recommended the government first estimate how many experts will be needed in fields such as nuclear plant operations and reactor decommissioning, and when these needs will come about.

It seems likely the commission released its proposals because it was spooked by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government's haphazard and inconsistent nuclear policy.

We urge the government to fully respect the view of the expert commission and prepare for the future by tackling the task of securing the necessary personnel.

The root cause of the government's wandering nuclear policy is its "Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment."

The strategy says the government will continue to regard nuclear power plants that have been confirmed safe as important sources of electricity, while also trumpeting a goal of ending the nation's reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s. However, it does so without clarifying what energy sources will replace nuclear. In addition, the strategy calls for maintaining nuclear fuel cycle programs to recycle spent nuclear fuel.


Contradictions abound

Fraught with contradictions, the government's policy does not deserve to be called a strategy. If the zero nuclear policy remains in place, nuclear-related industries will shrink--and doomed industries cannot attract skilled personnel.

Effects are already being felt by utility companies and manufacturing firms, where turnover rates have reportedly increased. There is also growing concern about a brain drain of trained engineers leaving for jobs overseas.

Further, it is feared that restarting the nation's idled nuclear power plants, something that must happen quickly, will be adversely affected.

Running a nuclear power plant is said to take about 3,000 engineers, including those for inspection and maintenance.

However, almost all of the nation's nuclear plants have been off-line for more than a year. If they remain idle, financial difficulties could put the survival of maintenance and inspection firms in jeopardy. Skilled workers could scatter, never to return.


No time to waste

Securing and training nuclear-related personnel is an urgent task.

The commission's recommendations call for bolstering education at universities and elsewhere in fields such as nuclear engineering and the effects of radiation. The panel also proposed training personnel to work in safety regulation and strengthening environmental education.

Nuclear power is one of Japan's strengths. Three of the world's top six biggest nuclear plant manufacturers are Japanese.

To hand down the technology and skills cultivated over many years to future generations, scholarships and study-abroad programs for university students must be expanded, as this will encourage students to choose to enter the field of nuclear power after graduation.

The commission also recommended establishing an educational institution in Fukushima Prefecture, which will focus on decommissioning the reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the prefecture. The proposed school would serve as a base to sustain the effort, which will take 20 to 30 years.

If Japan's advanced technology and the lessons from the Fukushima nuclear crisis are to be conveyed to the world, capable human resources must be fostered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 7, 2012)
(2012年11月7日01時20分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 7日 (水)

厚生年金基金 改革へ議論を尽くすべきだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 7, 2012)
Reform of pension fund system needs thorough discussions
厚生年金基金 改革へ議論を尽くすべきだ(11月6日付・読売社説)

How should the system of cash-strapped corporate employees' pension funds be reformed? The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry must recognize its heavy responsibility, as it has been procrastinating over reform for years.

The ministry has compiled a draft proposal on reform of the system and submitted it to an expert panel on the issue. The proposal calls for corporate employees' pension funds that have been operating in the red to be dissolved within five years and for the system itself to be phased out over a 10-year period.
The funds are designed so that corporations, rather than the government, can manage some portion of premiums paid into the national pension scheme.

Total assets in the corporate employees' pension system amount to about 27 trillion yen, but about a half of the corporate pension funds have shortfalls in their reserves for the portion in the national pension scheme--and these shortfalls total 1.1 trillion yen.

As there is no prospect for future improvement in the operation of the funds, it appears that the ministry has judged it difficult to maintain the system.


Many problems in ministry draft

However, the ministry's reform proposal has quite a few problems. We urge the expert panel to thoroughly discuss the matter for the best possible reform of the system.

Unlike the ministry proposal that calls for abolishment of the system, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party calls for the maintenance of healthy corporate employees' pension funds. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan wants to abolish the system. Therefore, twists and turns are expected for the reform before it finally achieves its final form.

The most problematic point in the ministry proposal is that it would use premiums paid into the corporate employees pension scheme, which is part of the nation's public pension system, if funds lack sufficient reserves to cover their liabilities to the public system.

Opinions cautious about using public pension money for such a salvage effort are very strong among both DPJ and LDP members.

The basic principle for corporate pension plans is "self-responsibility." Logically, a pension fund's parent company must repay the shortfall in the reserves. It is inevitable that the amount of corporate pension payments to retired employees will decrease. We believe the government should avoid thoughtlessly using public pension money to save corporate employees' pension funds.

We must, however, consider that many major enterprises left the corporate employees' pension system due to difficulties in managing such funds amid the economic downturn. As a result, most companies now involved in the system are small and midsize corporations that are financially less healthy.

If parent companies of the corporate pension funds end up going under due to the increased financial burden, their bankruptcies would have major impacts on regional economies and employment levels.


Who should bear the burden?

The reform plan does not have clear rules to save such companies from bankruptcy. If workers and corporations who are not connected to such unhealthy funds are required to help make up for the funds' faults, the conditions for extending such support must be made clear if they are to win widespread acceptance.

It has been pointed out for years that the corporate employees' pension fund system was heading for a dead end. We suspect the fact that such funds have served as places that hired retired national government employees, including officials of the defunct Social Insurance Agency, through the practice known as amakudari was in the background of the delay in reform.

The level of public pensions will unavoidably be curtailed in the future due to the chronically low birthrate and rapidly graying society.

Corporate pension programs play a major role as a system to supplement public pensions by guaranteeing income for salaried workers' post-retirement lives.

The corporate employees' pension fund system is a type of corporate pension program. Subscribers to the system are worried they will not be able to receive their corporate pension payments when the reform is put in place.

The government should also consider how to bring about an environment conducive to the transition to other types of corporate pension systems, including a defined contribution pension plan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 6, 2012)
(2012年11月6日01時32分  読売新聞)

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会計検査院報告 不適切な予算執行に猛省を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 7, 2012)
Govt offices lack awareness of critical fiscal conditions
会計検査院報告 不適切な予算執行に猛省を(11月6日付・読売社説)

Central government offices, it appears, are unaware that state finances are in a critical situation.

This is the only deduction that can be made from an annual Board of Audit report on government accounts for fiscal 2011, which lists inappropriate government spending. A total of 529.6 billion yen in state funds were misused, the second-highest on record.

The report found 89 sewage treatment plants across the country were being poorly operated after being built with subsidies from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. An excessive number of the plants were constructed due to erroneous demographic forecasts, causing spending of 25.7 billion yen to literally go down the drain.

Due to a failure in a screening system development project, the Patent Office suffered a loss of 5.4 billion yen that was paid to contractors. The board blamed this on the Patent Office's inadequate supervision and a lack of technical expertise on the part of the contractors.

Wasteful spending was also found in the income compensation system for individual farming households, which the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration trumpeted as one of its centerpiece policies. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry was found to have provided subsidies to farming families ineligible for the money due to their poor handling of fertilizers.


Soul-searching urged

Government ministries and agencies must take seriously what has been pointed out by the board and ensure they spend their budgets properly.

It has once again been brought to light that not enough financial support has reached disaster-stricken areas to promote projects for reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Of about 14.9 trillion yen earmarked in the fiscal 2011 budget for reconstruction projects, just 54 percent was spent.

Even allowing for the urgent need to secure budgets for reconstruction, in many cases budgets were formulated without confirming the actual needs of disaster-affected areas and their ability to put this money to work. A classic example was evident in projects for restoring agricultural facilities. Applications for financial support were sluggish because subsidies were limited to projects that would restore these facilities to their original condition.

The board called for the Reconstruction Agency and other government offices to work out fiscal assistance measures by assessing correctly the conditions of disaster-affected municipalities. This is a natural course of action.


Meet local needs

A questionnaire survey conducted by the board of 58 affected cities, towns and villages showed they wanted government officials with expertise in civil engineering and construction dispatched to help and long-term personnel support. They also demanded that complicated paperwork be simplified.

There is no doubt that increased burdens placed on local governments due to a shortage of employees are hampering the progress of reconstruction. The government must establish an assistance system that can meet the needs of affected local governments.

Some central government offices were found to have used reconstruction budgets for projects that did not directly help disaster-damaged areas. That the board in the first place never suspected reconstruction budgets might be diverted for other purposes and stopped short of pointing this out is just not good enough.

We want the Board of Audit to check exhaustively whether national spending has been used effectively for reconstruction in affected areas, and scrutinize budgetary appropriations themselves.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 6, 2012)
(2012年11月6日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 6日 (火)

豊作でも高値 矛盾だらけのコメ政策見直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 6, 2012)
Government should review contradictory rice policy
豊作でも高値 矛盾だらけのコメ政策見直せ(11月5日付・読売社説)

At this time of the autumn harvest, when new rice is being marketed, the contradictions of the country's rice policy have become glaringly apparent. There is no time to waste in carrying out agricultural reform.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has forecast a good harvest for this year's rice crop, the first in four years. The harvest is expected to reach about 8.2 million tons, surpassing demand by more than 200,000 tons.

However, rice prices have gone up despite the surplus. Interdealer rice prices in September were about 10 percent higher than those in the same month last year. This is because the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) increased the amount of its advance payments to rice farmers.

Zen-Noh probably aims to maintain its influence over rice farmers by purchasing their grain at high prices because the volume of rice it collects from farmers has been falling as more and more producers sell directly to major consuming areas.

Driving rice prices higher despite a good harvest is logic peculiar to agricultural cooperatives. It will never win the understanding of the public.


Imported rice drawing attention

It is also problematic that there is a shortage of reasonably priced rice used by restaurants and bento shops even though there should be enough rice to meet demand. This has made imported rice more attractive. In bidding in September, demand surpassed the 25,000 tons of imported rice to be sold by 3.6 times.

Due to the deflation that has taken root in the country, demand for cheap rice is becoming stronger year by year. As a result, price competition within the restaurant and bento industries--which currently account for 30 percent of rice demand--has become increasingly fierce. The popularity of imported rice illustrates the reality that domestically produced rice does not meet the market trend toward low-priced rice.

There is also concern over a possible shortage of rice for processing, which is used to make rice snacks and miso, among other things. Despite the fact that the production of rice for livestock feed has jumped, that of rice for processing has not increased. Last year, the production of rice for livestock feed surpassed that of rice for processing.

As a result, prices of rice for processing surged, and the farm ministry took the emergency measure of marketing about 40,000 tons of old rice produced in 2006 from the government's stockpiled rice. This is an unusual situation.


Subsidies driving crop choices

The government pays rice farmers a subsidy of 80,000 yen for every 0.1 hectare of rice for livestock feed, but only 20,000 yen for rice for processing. This is why planting of rice for livestock feed, which is easy to manage and enables farmers to receive more subsidies, is increasing.

Livestock, including cattle and pigs, raised with feed produced overseas is not recognized as having been domestically produced and is therefore not considered in calculating the country's food self-sufficiency rate. The government appears to be trying to raise this rate by giving favorable treatment to rice for livestock feed. However, it is hard to understand why old rice is used for processing and new rice is used as feed for livestock.

What is needed is a rice policy that meets consumer needs. If nothing is done, consumers may shift away from rice even further.

A fundamental problem lies in the current system under which the government and agricultural organizations maintain high rice prices through production adjustments and high tariffs on imported rice.

Simply doling out subsidies to farmers will never strengthen the country's agricultural industry. The government should quickly carry out reform to establish agricultural administration for rice whose policies will focus on farmers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2012)
(2012年11月5日01時29分  読売新聞)

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巨人日本一 プロ野球の面白さを満喫した

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 6, 2012)
Champion Giants helped enliven baseball
巨人日本一 プロ野球の面白さを満喫した(11月5日付・読売社説)

Many people likely enjoyed the pleasures of baseball to the full as they watched a series of close games worthy of deciding the nation's best team.

The Yomiuri Giants defeated the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 6 to win professional baseball's Japan Series 4-2. This was the Giants' first championship in three years and 22nd overall.

We, together with their fans, congratulate the Giants players on their victory.

During the Series, a team would string hits together to open the scoring, and then its powerful relief corps would hold on for the win. It can be said that the series was a matchup between teams with similar playing styles. In fact, all six games were won by the team that scored first.

The Giants reached the Japan Series despite three straight losses in the second stage of the Central League's Climax Series, which pushed them to the brink of elimination. Yomiuri then won three games to advance 4-3.


Enthralling Japan Series

In the Japan Series, the Giants won the first two games, but then slipped to two straight losses. Although the tide appeared to be in the Fighters' favor, the Giants turned it around. They came through with big plays in the decisive moments.

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said: "We're still a team that's developing...We'll train hard and become stronger." We look forward to seeing the team develop further.

Before the season began, many observers held few hopes for the Fighters because their dependable ace pitcher Yu Darvish had moved to a major league team in the United States.

But the team closed ranks around first-year skipper Hideki Kuriyama and filled the large void left by Darvish. In Game 6, the Fighters displayed impressive resilience to battle back from an early three-run hole to tie the score at 3-3.

Off the field, however, the two teams produced contrasting performances. In its home games this season, the Giants attracted 6.9 percent more spectators than last year. The team's solid run to the top of the league apparently boosted its pulling power.

On the other hand, the Fighters' home crowds slipped 6.6 percent from last year. The departure of the team's star player seemingly hurt its drawing power.


3rd WBC win eyed

For Japanese pro baseball as a whole, spectators at Pacific League games declined by 2 percent from last season, while Central League crowds inched down 0.02 percent. The environment surrounding pro baseball remains harsh.

Meanwhile, several veteran players who had been mainstays of Japanese pro baseball, including Hiroki Kokubo of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Tomoaki Kanemoto of the Hanshin Tigers, retired at the end of this season.

Fans are hoping to see the emergence of young, talented players who can support and excite the baseball world.

The third World Baseball Classic will be held next March. Japan will aim to lift the trophy for the third time in a row. All pro baseball organizations must support the national team's campaign.

In pennant races following Japan's WBC triumphs in 2006 and 2009, many people went to stadiums "to watch players who won the world championship."

We hope the Samurai Japan team will achieve more WBC glory next year, which will also go some way to enlivening pro baseball in this country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2012)
(2012年11月5日01時29分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 5日 (月)

領海保全策 海保の巡視船・人員の拡充を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 5, 2012)
Reinforce JCG capabilities to protect territorial seas
領海保全策 海保の巡視船・人員の拡充を(11月4日付・読売社説)

Ships of the Chinese government, which opposes Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, have repeatedly invaded the nation's territorial waters around the islands over the past 50 days.

Beijing aims to realize a fait accompli by demonstrating that Japan does not effectively control the Senkakus as a premise for claiming Chinese sovereignty over the islands. To prevent this, the government should work on medium- to long-term reinforcement of the Japan Coast Guard.

The JCG has been using its vessels from around the country to enhance patrolling activities in waters around the islands. However, the JCG also must perform such routine duties as rescuing people involved in marine accidents, fighting smuggling and guarding nuclear power plants, among other jobs.

It will be forced to take such stopgap measures as reemploying more retired officers to secure sufficient personnel.

However, it is a concern that China is sharply increasing the number of its marine and fishery surveillance ships.


China's fleet will surpass Japan's

The JCG at present surpasses China in the number of large ships with displacement of 1,000 tons or more, which have excellent navigation capabilities. However, China will certainly surpass Japan in this regard at some stage.

In principle, JCG patrol ships are replaced only due to aging. This has kept their total number at around 360. With such a conventional approach, however, the JCG will eventually become unable to deal with China's reinforcement of its surveillance ships.

First of all, the initial budget allocation for the JCG in fiscal 2012 is only 170 billion yen. This is close to the price of just one Aegis-equipped destroyer of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. This is hardly enough for the JCG to effectively patrol the world's sixth-largest maritime jurisdiction, comprising the nation's territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone.

The government decided to use 17 billion yen of its reserve fund for this fiscal year to build new patrol vessels including four large ones, among other things, ahead of schedule. We think this is appropriate in the current political situation with no prospect in sight for compilation of the supplementary budget.

The JCG is an agency affiliated with the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. It is not easy to make budgetary allocation to the JCG a high priority under the framework of the ordinary budget.


Special reserve funds needed

To prepare for what is expected to be a prolonged period of tensions with China, the government should seriously study creation of special reserves for the JCG in its budget and other countermeasures.

It takes a lot of time to train JCG officers. The government must also discuss practical measures to increase their number.

We recommend the government reinforce the JCG strategically in the future by drawing up a plan to enhance its equipment and personnel for about five years as is done for the Defense Ministry's Mid-Term Defense Program.

Protection of Japan's territorial land and seas is a task to be tackled by the whole government.

Government ministries and agencies concerned, including the JCG and the Foreign and Defense ministries, must cooperate more closely in sharing and analyzing intelligence on activities and deployment of Chinese government vessels.

The government this fiscal year is scheduled to revise its Basic Plan on Ocean Policy--guidelines for government policies on seas--for the first time in five years.

We expect the government to express the nation's determination to protect the Senkakus by clarifying in its plan ways to strengthen the JCG.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 4, 2012)
(2012年11月4日01時34分  読売新聞)

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大学新設不認可 文科相の独断が混乱を招いた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 5, 2012)
Education minister's outrageous decision generates chaos
大学新設不認可 文科相の独断が混乱を招いた(11月4日付・読売社説)

It was a baffling decision. What we feared might happen has come to pass.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Makiko Tanaka has rejected the applications for government approval to establish three new universities. Tanaka has overturned, on her own judgment, a report by the council for university chartering and school juridical persons--an advisory body to the minister--that favored endorsing the establishment of the three schools. This is apparently the first time in 30 years that an education minister has reversed the council's approval for setting up a university.

At a news conference Friday, Tanaka said, "A large number of universities have been established, but the quality of education in universities has been in alarming decline." She added that the approval system for setting up universities needs to be reviewed from top to bottom.

Tanaka, however, did not give any explicit reason why the government will not allow approval for the three universities.

Some ministry officials said Tanaka "simply made a policy decision as minister." However, we think it can only be described as an outrageous decision stemming from the misguided concept of "politician-led decision-making."


Lack of consistency

The council's report was compiled after extensively examining the planned schools' faculty and other education arrangements and their management and financial planning based on university establishment guidelines set by the education ministry.

Admittedly, the minister has the final say when it comes to accepting or rejecting the applications. But Tanaka's refusal to go along with the establishment of three new schools that the council said met the guidelines could be criticized as an abuse of power.

On top of this, the education minister gave the go-ahead to new departments and postgraduate courses at other universities--as endorsed by the advisory council. Can she clearly explain the inconsistency between these approvals and her rejection of the establishment of the three universities?

The minister's arbitrary decision will unleash immeasurable confusion.

The three universities that had been preparing to open next spring had secured teachers and constructed facilities. Mayor Motomu Hozumi of Akita city, which was planning to open one of the schools, to be named Akita Municipal College of Fine Arts, has unsurprisingly expressed his intention to urge Tanaka to rescind her decision.

Understandably, people wishing to enroll at these schools have been caught off guard at being told that the schools have been rejected so soon before they were scheduled to open.


Review of universities needed

Conditions at universities are becoming increasingly stringent.

Despite fewer students due to the chronically low birthrate, new universities have been established one after another since regulations were eased. As a result, the number of universities has swollen 50 percent more than the figure of 20 years ago.

Some universities have been struggling to stay afloat financially as enrollment falls below quotas. Just last month, the education ministry decided to order an education corporation running a university in Gunma Prefecture to be disbanded because of sloppy management.

The government's university policy needs to be reviewed. But this overhaul must be kept separate from the issue of approving or disapproving the establishment of individual universities, and be discussed in detail by such entities as the ministry's Central Council for Education from medium- and long-range perspectives.

That a conclusion reached in line with existing rules on an important matter is reversed because of grandstanding by a trouble-making minister will only deprive the administration of its continuity and generate confusion at education facilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 4, 2012)
(2012年11月4日01時34分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 4日 (日)

参院の緊急質問 これを機に問責戦術を改めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 4, 2012)
Opposition parties should drop censure motion tactic
参院の緊急質問 これを機に問責戦術を改めよ(11月3日付・読売社説)

A maneuver regarded as logical only in Nagatacho, the nation's political nerve center, has caused political stagnation in the House of Councillors. This act demeans the authority of the upper house.

On Friday, the opposition camp questioned Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as an emergency step during a plenary session of the upper house. Based on the Diet Law, this rare measure was taken for the first time in 27 years.

Citing a censure motion against Noda passed in the last ordinary Diet session as the reason, the opposition-dominated upper house did not allow him to deliver a policy speech, which is normally followed by a question-and-answer session. The emergency step on Friday appears to be an alternative to that.

The opposition's stance of rejecting a regular question-and-answer session for the prime minister but allowing the questioning of him in the form of an emergency step is nothing but opportunistic. This would make little sense to the public.

Tetsuro Nomura of the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party, who took the podium to ask questions, urged Noda to make a decision, saying, "Considering the censure motion, your Cabinet should resign or you should dissolve the House of Representatives."


Motion not legally binding

However, a censure motion in the upper house is not legally binding, unlike a no-confidence motion against the cabinet in the lower house, as stipulated in the Constitution. Nevertheless, the opposition camp has called on Noda to step down or dissolve the lower house by brandishing the nonbinding censure motion. We consider this wrong.

It is reasonable for the prime minister to reject the opposition's call, saying: "I've taken [the motion] seriously. I'll reflect on what should be reflected on, and tackle issues of state affairs."

Satoshi Inoue of the Japanese Communist Party pointed out that when the Democratic Party of Japan was an opposition party, Azuma Koshiishi, who is now DPJ secretary general, demanded then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda dissolve the lower house for an early election if a censure motion against him was passed.

The DPJ also needs to seriously reflect on its past tactic of using a censure motion as a means to criticize the government. Under the divided Diet, the ruling and opposition parties should establish new rules to avoid a similar political deadlock.


Proper role of upper house

Now that a question-and-answer session with the prime minister was carried out as an emergency step, the upper house must eliminate what has become a bad practice by the opposition: refusing to participate in Diet deliberations due to the censure motion.

Some LDP upper house members justify the use of the censure motion as a weapon, believing that the upper house's role is to act as a check against the government.

However, we believe the role of the upper house should be to have meaningful discussions to fill gaps in deliberations of the lower house. It is high-handed for the upper house to try to influence the future of the administration. Such an act also goes against the spirit of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, LDP President Shinzo Abe has said his party is ready to accept talks on a deficit-covering bond bill at the lower house's financial affairs committee.

This change in the LDP's stance could break the political deadlock. The opposition should not continue bargaining by taking bills hostage. Abe might have thought that cooperating in passing the legislation, among other steps, could lead to the dissolution of the lower house faster than calling on Noda to specify the timing of the dissolution.

If so, we would like Abe to display leadership further to influence LDP upper house members.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 3, 2012)
(2012年11月3日01時30分  読売新聞)

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米産牛肉輸入 規制緩和は現実的な判断だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 4, 2012)
Easing import restrictions on U.S. beef justifiable
米産牛肉輸入 規制緩和は現実的な判断だ(11月3日付・読売社説)

Although it appears a little belated, a judgment the government has now made can safely be called a realistic approach based on scientific knowledge and international trends in connection with an important issue.

The Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission is in favor of the planned easing of current regulations on imports of U.S.-produced beef, which have been part of measures to protect against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.

In the proposed regulatory easing, imports will be allowed for beef from cattle "30 months of age or younger," compared to the current maximum age of 20 months.
The commission has reasonably concluded that the easing of import restrictions "will hardly increase the BSE risks and its effect on human health should be considered negligible."

Immediately after the outbreak of BSE-infected cattle was confirmed in 2003 in the United States, Japan suspended imports of U.S. beef.

In 2005, the government gave the go-ahead to the resumption of beef imports from the United States on condition that imports would be allowed only for beef from cattle "20 months of age or younger" with the nerve tissues called specific risk material, where BSE-causing prion molecules tend to concentrate, having been removed.

Linkage with TPP talks

BSE is said to occur when prions, aberrant proteins, accumulate in cattle's brain, spinal cord and other places.

The disease has been transmitted primarily through the use of cattle feed that includes meat and bone meal made from other cattle. BSE-infected cattle numbered 37,000 worldwide in the peak year of 1992.

The numbers of cattle developing BSE, however, decreased year after year, falling to just 29 in 2011. This is because strict anti-BSE measures adopted by countries concerned produced excellent results.

The criterion of "cattle 30 months of age or younger" has become a standard part of many major countries' beef import regulations.

As BSE threats shrink worldwide, there appears to be no necessity for Japan alone to continue to impose stricter regulations.

Opposition to regulatory easing by some consumer groups on the ground that it will "threaten food safety" is unpersuasive.

The issue of Japan's readiness to ease beef import restrictions has been intertwined with the issue of Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, and Washington has paid close attention to the beef import issue.

The government should make steady efforts to ease beef import restrictions for the sake of early participation in the TPP talks.

The government at the same time must review the BSE inspection system for domestic beef.


Review all cattle inspections

Japan's first known occurrence of BSE-stricken cattle was in 2001, and a total of 36 domestically produced cattle have so far been confirmed to be infected with the disease. No outbreak of BSE, however, has been reported after fiscal 2008.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the World Health Organization in September to change Japan's BSE risk status from a "country with controlled risk" to that of a "country with negligible risk."

Regarding domestic beef, the Food Safety Commission has approved easing the range of cattle subject to BSE checks from "21 months of age or older" to "31 months of age or older." The regulation should be eased further.

Only Japan and the European Union conduct BSE checks in the process of cattle slaughter. Cattle subject to the checks in the EU are those "older than 72 months of age," far less stringent in Japan.

Currently, there is no national legal obligation for domestic beef cattle 20 months of age or younger to undergo BSE checks, but local governments all over the country have continued to make all cattle subject to the inspections at their own discretion.

Considering the time and expense required to conduct the inspections, the wisdom of local governments continuing to check all cattle should be reconsidered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 3, 2012)
(2012年11月3日01時30分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 3日 (土)

電機大手赤字 大胆な成長戦略で復活目指せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 3, 2012)
Electronics makers must retool with bold new growth strategies
電機大手赤字 大胆な成長戦略で復活目指せ(11月2日付・読売社説)

The performance of leading electronics makers continues to deteriorate. Faced with intensifying competition from South Korean and other overseas rivals, Japanese firms urgently need to retool their corporate comeback strategies.

Panasonic Corp. has announced it expects to post a consolidated net loss of 765 billion yen in fiscal 2012, a downward revision of its projected business performance. Although the company initially estimated a net profit of 50 billion yen, it now faces a situation as serious as when it posted a colossal loss in fiscal 2011.

According to Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga, "In digital consumer electronics, we've been in the losing group. Even though we went through structural reform, things only improved temporarily. It's a highly unusual situation." His remarks underline the firm's grim situation.

The primary factor behind Panasonic's sizable loss is poor performance in its main product lines--flat-screen TVs, digital cameras and cell phones.


Major merger was a misstep

In a major merger in 2009, Panasonic acquired Sanyo Electric Co. as part of its strategy to replace its TV business with solar and lithium-ion batteries as its core sectors. The purchase, however, turned out to be a miscalculation.

The firm's performance this fiscal year was greatly affected by its decision to make a sizable write-off in sectors including solar batteries. The decision was prompted by the realization that the investment made to acquire Sanyo had been a flop.

To rebuild, Panasonic plans to expedite moves away from money-losing product lines, such as by liquidating overseas flat-screen TV factories. Although we see such moves as appropriate, the company's biggest problem is the lack of a clear growth plan.

How will the electronics giant make progress in its strategic shift toward emphasizing profitability over a focus on sales numbers? It also remains to be seen how quickly it can implement managerial reforms.

Meanwhile, the losses continue for Sharp Corp., which is currently going through a corporate rebuilding process.

Sharp has announced it expects to log a record net loss of 450 billion yen in fiscal 2012, a sizable downward revision of its initial projection.

The outlook is rocky for the firm's small and midsize liquid crystal display business, which the company has seen as its trump card in its overall corporate reconstruction.

With an urgent need for cash, the company must quickly conclude a capital partnership agreement with Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. of Taiwan.


Conditions are tough for all

Sony, on the other hand, is projected to post a profit in the current fiscal year, though its TV business continues to be sluggish. The firm needs to find a new core business that can support continued growth.

All Japanese manufacturers, not only electronics makers, have been exposed to the adverse winds of economic slowdowns overseas, a strongly appreciating yen, and ever-intensifying competition with foreign rivals.

Damage has also been done by declining sales in China, a consequence of the diplomatic tension between Japan and China.

The keys to revival appear to be in discerning the needs of emerging markets with strong growth potential and developing strategically important products through originality and ingenuity.

We find it encouraging that start-up companies producing Japan-made appliances that primarily cater to emerging countries have appeared. These firms possess technological prowess and unique designs.

We hope Japanese electronics makers large and small can shrug off adversity and wield their latent power.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 2, 2012)
(2012年11月2日01時43分  読売新聞)

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民主党公約検証 破綻した原因の究明が先だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 3, 2012)
DPJ must honestly review 2009 campaign manifesto
民主党公約検証 破綻した原因の究明が先だ(11月2日付・読売社説)

What ever motivated the Democratic Party of Japan to release that irresponsible set of campaign pledges three years ago?

After a great deal of soul-searching, the DPJ must recast its "manifesto" for the next House of Representatives election.

The DPJ held a meeting Thursday of party officials in charge of policy affairs, including members from prefectural chapters, to report on the findings of a review of how many of its 2009 election pledges have been realized.

According to the party leadership, no more than about 30 percent of the 170 proposals the party committed to have been fully implemented, with successes including the elimination of tuition fees at public high schools and introducing an income support system for individual farming households.

The largest proportion was policies the party says have been partially implemented, including child rearing allowances. Among measures the DPJ categorized as just starting to be addressed is a ban on political donations from businesses and other organizations. Policies that have yet to be taken up include abolishing the provisionally higher gasoline tax rate.

The policy review was probably aimed at displaying the amount of effort the party has expended toward realizing its campaign platform.

However, measures that were classified as "partially implemented" include plans for which funding has already been revoked, such as making expressways toll-free.


A self-congratulatory exercise

Also, some policies the DPJ classified as just starting to be addressed are measures that have no hope of ever materializing, such as reducing by 80 the number of proportional representation seats in lower house elections and introducing a minimum guaranteed pension of 70,000 yen a month. It is clear the party's achievement evaluation was only designed to encourage self-congratulation.

However, the most problematic aspect of the policy review is that it completely ignored the failure to achieve the very foundation of the 2009 election platform--that the DPJ, if in power, would find new revenue worth 16.8 trillion yen per year through a complete rewrite of the 207 trillion yen state budget.

The first question that should be asked is what was gained from laying out degrees of accomplishment in the election pledges that were, from the very beginning, faulty both in their content and in the methods proposed to find new revenue sources to fund them.

The policy review should have placed top priority on investigating the advisability of each individual proposal, as well as the processes through which the election pledges were forged.

Such policy goals as "abolishing in principle" public-interest corporations and local branches of state ministries and agencies--places where retired high-ranking bureaucrats often land senior positions--and a "drastic review of independent administrative institutions, including the advisability of abolishing them altogether" were formed out of populist motives, with no heed paid to their feasibility.


A loose way of thinking

From the beginning, there was no prospect of securing the huge amount of revenue needed to fund such proposals as the child allowances or abolishing the provisionally higher gasoline tax rate. Therefore, grave mistakes must have occurred in the discussions over these measures. It seems obvious that former DPJ head Ichiro Ozawa and other party executives indulged in a loose way of thinking whereby they assumed limitless revenue would be available if only the party could grab the reins of state.

Diplomatic affairs, meanwhile, were excluded from the achievement evaluation, for the stated reason that it is too difficult to rate diplomatic progress numerically.

It should never be forgotten, however, that it was Yukio Hatoyama--party leader when the DPJ campaigned under the 2009 manifesto--who said his government would find an alternative place for the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station "outside Okinawa Prefecture at the very least." This seriously harmed the Japan-U.S. relationship and threw our nation's diplomacy off course.

On the basis of the policy review, the DPJ leadership has said it will listen to the views of a wide range of party members, including those in its prefectural chapters, and reflect these ideas when composing a new set of election pledges.

In doing so, the DPJ should incorporate realistic content based on in-depth discussions regarding the "drastic reform of the tax system including an increase in the consumption tax rate," which was not part of their existing manifesto and was therefore not subject to the policy review.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 2, 2012)
(2012年11月2日01時43分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 2日 (金)

古典の日 伝統文化への理解を深めたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 2, 2012)
Think about traditional arts and culture on 1st Classics Day
古典の日 伝統文化への理解を深めたい(11月1日付・読売社説)

Today is Classics Day. It has its origins in "The Tale of Genji," as Lady Murasaki referred to the masterpiece in her diary, "Murasaki Shikibu Diary," on a page recounting Nov. 1, 1008.

A bill covering Classics Day, which was submitted by a suprapartisan group of Diet members, was enacted into law during the last ordinary Diet session.

The law defined classics as superb literature, music, art, traditional performing arts and other cultural products that have been passed down from ancient times. The idea behind the law is to enhance people's appreciation of the classics.

The classics have withstood the tests of time and history, and we can say they are the fruits of people's knowledge and wisdom. To touch the hearts of ancient people through them could also be a foundation to create new culture.

The Cultural Affairs Agency is scheduled to host a symposium commemorating Classics Day today. Various events, such as presentations of traditional performing arts, will be held across the nation. Autumn is considered the best season for art, so how about spending the day soaking in the charm of the classics?


Scholastic education is the key

For many people, the world "classics" is associated with classic literature such as "The Tale of Genji" and "The Pillow Book." Everyone has studied these books in school, but I imagine most adults do not have time to read them.

A precondition for people to maintain interest in the classics would be to teach the magnificence of the classics in school in an easy-to-follow way. The government's new official guidelines for teaching at primary and middle schools stipulate the goal of enriching the quality of teaching Japanese tradition and culture.

Starting this year, the Kyoto municipal government has set a goal of introducing programs to let students experience ikebana and tea ceremonies at all public primary and middle schools. Tokyo's Setagaya Ward has already introduced classes teaching haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry, the Analects of Confucius and Chinese poetry at primary schools using original teaching materials. The classes have proven popular.

Schools should work hard on expanding classics teaching through such efforts as providing opportunities for students to experience noh and kabuki.


Govt assistance important

The new law urges the central and local governments to take necessary measures to make the classics more accessible to people. It will be important for the governments to provide a certain level of assistance to traditional performing arts to help them continue their activities, such as helping them nurture young talent.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto once said the city would freeze subsidies to bunraku puppetry, which originated in Osaka. However, after discussions with bunraku officials, Hashimoto retracted the policy.

Some of Hashimoto's remarks on bunraku were off the mark, such as the one describing the bunraku establishment as "the privileged class." It seemed as if he was hostile toward bunraku. However, some of his comments made sense, such as the necessity of bunraku making its subsidy use transparent.

We need to develop not only bunraku but also other traditional performing arts and culture and hand them over to the next generation. To accomplish this important task, both the public and private sectors need to have more lively discussions.

It is good to think about such things today, as this is the first time we experience Classics Day.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 1, 2012)
(2012年11月1日08時23分  読売新聞)

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衆院代表質問 懸案先送りでは展望開けない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 2, 2012)
Key pending issues suffering neglect in new Diet session
衆院代表質問 懸案先送りでは展望開けない(11月1日付・読売社説)

Debate has begun in the Diet. However, it seems that we cannot expect constructive developments in which the ruling and opposition parties actively seek common ground through Diet deliberations and move politics forward.

Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe faced off with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for the first time Wednesday during interpellations on Noda's policy speech by party representatives in the plenary session of the House of Representatives.

Concerning Noda's promise to dissolve the lower house for a general election "sometime soon," Abe pressed him to dissolve the lower house by the end of this year, saying Noda "must bear the responsibility for his words."

Noda only said, "I'll make a decision properly if conditions [for the dissolution] are met." As those conditions, he referred to the enactment of a bill that will allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds and rectification of vote-value disparities in lower house elections.

With Democratic Party of Japan members leaving the party one after another, the foundation of Noda's administration is crumbling away beneath him.

The DPJ will inevitably suffer a crushing defeat if it goes into the lower house election amid its current low approval ratings. Noda probably wants to delay the lower house dissolution with an eye out for the timing that would best help the party minimize its loss of seats. However, there is no prospect for that.


Local govts await bond bill

The delay in the enactment of the bill to issue deficit-covering bonds currently seriously affects local governments' finances. Noda should not shy away from an early dissolution of the lower house and needs to take action on his own to obtain cooperation from the opposition parties.

Abe, for his part, should immediately end his party's self-righteous boycott of the current extraordinary Diet session based on a censure resolution against Noda and cooperate in the enactment of the bill to issue deficit-covering bonds since he said he fully realizes the importance of the bill and other key issues.

Regarding the rebuilding of Japan's diplomacy, Abe called for changing the government's interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan will be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a stance that aims to rebuild the Japan-U.S. alliance. Noda rejected a change in the government's interpretation of the Constitution for the moment, but said, "There should be various discussions."

Strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance is crucial for protecting the nation's territory and improving relationships with China and South Korea. Because the right to collective self-defense is an issue that concerns the very basis of the nation's security, it is desirable for a cross-party consensus to be formed. We hope the ruling and opposition parties will deepen discussions on the issue to enable the government to exercise the right.


Trade deal sadly neglected

As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, Abe stressed that he "opposes Japan's participation in its negotiations as long as it [the TPP] presupposes the elimination of tariffs with no exceptions." Noda only said he will decide on Japan's official participation in the TPP negotiations based on developments in discussions both within Japan and with countries concerned.

It is regrettable that both Abe and Noda are so reticent on the issue, although Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations is an urgent task for the revitalization of the economy.

It is also problematic that the ruling parties are cautious about convening the Budget Committee, which is normally opened after the interpellations by party representatives. It is said this is because they want to duck the opposition parties' questions on Noda's responsibility in appointing former Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka to the post. Such an attitude only worsens the stagnation of the nation's politics.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 1, 2012)
(2012年11月1日08時23分  読売新聞)

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2012年11月 1日 (木)

追加金融緩和 政府・日銀は効果的な連携を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 1, 2012)
Govt, BOJ must cooperate effectively on monetary policy
追加金融緩和 政府・日銀は効果的な連携を(10月31日付・読売社説)

The government and the Bank of Japan are clearly strengthening their cooperation in tackling deflation. What they must do now is implement effective policies.

The central bank has decided to take additional monetary steps, including a boost to 91 trillion yen, up 11 trillion yen, in its fund to buy government bonds and other financial assets. The bank also hammered out a new system to provide funds at low interest rates to banks that have increased lending. It said it would refrain from setting an upper limit on lending to ensure an ample supply of funds.

Due to slowdowns in overseas economies and the deterioration of Japan-China relations, the nation's economy has started to cool off. The Bank of Japan was wise to take additional steps for the second consecutive month to prevent the economy from worsening.

Previous increases in the central bank's fund have not been effective in pumping sufficient funds into companies and other entities. We hope the new system will be more productive in increasing bank lending.


Joint statement important

For the first time, the government and the Bank of Japan issued a joint statement saying they would "work together and make utmost efforts" to overcome deflation.

Seiji Maehara, state minister for economic and fiscal policy, who attended the central bank's monetary policy-setting meeting, stressed at a press conference that the statement was an important step forward in combating deflation. It is essential that the touting of cooperation between the government and the central bank does not end up as empty talk.

The central bank decided to take the additional measures--including introduction of the new system--apparently because it feared its projection of overcoming deflation "as early as fiscal 2014, in the not-too-distant future" was not feasible.

On the same day as the announcement of additional monetary steps, the Bank of Japan forecast that consumer prices would increase 0.8 percent in fiscal 2014, below the 1 percent yardstick for overcoming deflation.

The consumption tax rate is scheduled to be raised to 8 percent in April 2014. Efforts must be accelerated to overcome deflation through all available measures, so no obstacles will be thrown in the way of integrated reform of social security and tax systems.


Nurture new industries

Some government officials and lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties have called on the Bank of Japan to purchase foreign bonds to correct the yen's appreciation and to introduce an inflation target. The government and central bank should further deepen their discussions on these matters.

It is primarily the government's task to address structural problems, such as the shrinking population, declining potential growth rate and industrial hollowing-out. The small emergency economic measures decided by the Cabinet last week are far from satisfactory.

We hope new industries will be nurtured in such growth areas as nursing care and medicine as well as environment-related industries to accelerate the creation of jobs.

It also is necessary to support economic revitalization by securing a stable supply of electricity through the reactivation of nuclear power plants after their safety has been confirmed.

More importantly, a bill to enable the government to issue deficit-covering bonds, which will secure resources for this fiscal year's initial budget, should be passed by the Diet as soon as possible. If state coffers become depleted and administrative functions suspended, sudden and severe deflationary pressures will deal the Japanese economy a deadly blow. Such confusion must be avoided.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 31, 2012)
(2012年10月31日01時16分  読売新聞)

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高齢者の医療費 「世代間格差」の改善が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 1, 2012)
Time to rectify generational gap in burdens for medical bills
高齢者の医療費 「世代間格差」の改善が必要だ(10月31日付・読売社説)

As the nation's population grays, ensuring that the ballooning cost of medical care is evenly shared among all generations of society is an urgent task.

The Fiscal System Council, a government advisory body, has agreed to abolish a special measure that limits the out-of-pocket payments for medical bills people aged 70 to 74 pay to 10 percent of the total, and raise the limit to 20 percent as prescribed by law. The panel will shortly recommend that the finance minister review the special measure.

It is inevitable that senior citizens will be asked to bear a greater share of medical costs to prevent the working population, which provides the bulk of the money used for government medical spending, from becoming excessively squeezed.

In 2008, when the medical system for people aged 75 or older started, the out-of-pocket burden of medical bills was increased from 10 percent to 20 percent for people aged 70 to 74 and kept at 10 percent for those 75 or older. This was decided by law.


Public backlash feared

But the then coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito decided to retain the 10 percent cap for people 70 to 74 as an exceptional step out of fear that increasing it would trigger a backlash from the public.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations have retained this line.

As a result, the percentage of medical bills paid by patients in their average per capita income bracket stands at 2.4 percent for people aged 70-74--far below the 3.8 percent for the 65-69 bracket and 4.6 percent for those 75 or older. This shows the unfair distribution of medical cost burdens is expanding.

However, at a recent news conference, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Wakio Mitsui was guarded about reviewing the exceptional measure. This is because he wants to avoid antagonizing elderly people by asking them to shoulder an additional financial burden ahead of the next House of Representatives election.

But it must be noted that about 200 billion yen is spent annually to implement the special measure. This is one cause of swelling fiscal deficits. Bills for that will inevitably be left for future generations to cover.

Older generations can receive pensions and medical services worth more than their tax burdens and insurance premium payments, which are lower than those paid by young generations. The special measure, thus, helps widen the gap between generations.


Give needy patients a break

As we see it, the special measure must be reexamined and a decision made to raise the proportion paid by elderly people. The government is considering applying the hiked rate to people who will turn 70 and not those who are over this age at the time of implementation.

Japanese make far more clinic or hospital visits than people in Britain and the United States, which has caused a rise in government medical spending and a shortage of doctors. Increasing charges could prevent people from seeking nonessential or nonurgent medical treatment.

Of course, some patients are seriously ill and cannot reduce the frequency of their visits to clinics or hospitals. To help these people, we suggest a system in which seriously needy patients, even those aged below 75, are transferred to the medical insurance system for people aged 75 or older to keep their financial burden low.

Keeping public pension payments higher than stipulated levels due to the adoption of a separate exceptional measure is another problem. This has caused the payment of overly generous pensions.

The government should stop passing the burden of paying for medical services and pension payments onto future generations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 31, 2012)
(2012年10月31日01時16分  読売新聞)

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