If you have any questions, remember, my email address is one click away, on my profile page. Note also that I will only respond to anonymous comments if they are compelling.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Most real hackers must be anarchists by nature, not totalitarianism/authoritarianism supporters. As such, anyone this side of Edward Snowden should have little sympathy for grossly overweight dynasty heads, much less suck up to authoritarian/totalitarian regimes. So what if the whole cyberattack had been engineered to inflict maximum damage on both the United States and North Korea? If that is true, then the North Korean demand for a joint UN-sponsored investigation would be a desperate plea from a beleaguered Kim dynasty to absolve itself of an existential accusation. For once, it may be telling the truth.
Reminds me of Saddam Hussein’s truthful claim that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons Program.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
I’ve begun going through the comments, starting with “Election 2014: The DPJ and JIP Need to Get Their Acts Together—Literally.”
I was asked a couple of questions regarding the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment allegedly by North Korea. First, why was so little attention being paid to the incident? Second, what did I make of President Obama’s criticism of Sony? Mr. Obama had said that Sony had “made a mistake” and “I wish [the Sony Pictures executives] had spoken to me first. ... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship.” The press conference itself was entertainingly reported here. The following are my answers, edited to fit the blog format.
1. I suspect that the hacking and the repercussions are being given minimal attention in Japan because it is being seen as a US incident affecting Sony's US business (Sony Pictures Entertainment) and specifically its management and employees there, not much different from, say, Warner Bros. getting hacked. The response would have been greater if this had been a case of a major Japanese filmmaker being hacked. The fact that it's a mix of crime (national news), business and cybersecurity issues paying out overseas (albeit in the well-covered USA) likely makes it that much more difficult to cover unless it's a big enough story to warrant multiple-department cooperation.
2. I am somewhat hesitant to comment on President Obama’s crfiticism because this is not much of a Japan story in the way that a Toyota Motor North America story would be. (To reinforce the point that I made before, Sony Pictures is an American company in an iconic American industry that just happens to be owned by a well-known Japanese company, while Toyota is a global brand that draws a significant portion of its cachet from its Japanese roots.) President Obama’s reaction has even less to do with Japan, if such a thing is possible, since it occurs within the context of a still largely US initiative on cybersecurity. That said…
Blaming the theaters is a lame excuse that will only be believed if Sony Pictures releases the movie online, as well as to theaters that are willing to show it. But I get it. There’s a huge trove of proprietary data that could be released, causing far greater damage to Sony Pictures than the financial loss that it is eating, and Sony Pictures is a private-sector, for-profit undertaking. And what could Obama have offered that would have made the Sony Pictures executives change their minds? I wonder if he isn’t secretly relieved that they didn’t talk to him.
This obviously compromises the entertainment industry. Filmmakers will think twice before maltreating North Korean, Chinese and Russian leaders and their ilk, touchy leaders of authoritarian/totalitarian countries endowed with significant cyberwar capacities. But of course self-censorship has always been a staple of the entertainment industry. It will become even more obvious as businesses look increasingly to the global market. Compared to the way the movie industry is beginning to accommodate Chinese sensibilities for example, deep-sixing a film about which it has become fashionable to make jokes regarding its supposed mediocrity is trivial. After all, we will surely still have the Comedy Central channel and Saturday Night Live making fun of the fleshy leader of the hermit kingdom.
As a more general matter, as more and more terabytes leak out to cyberspace to remain there forever and a day, I predict that we will become desensitized, coarser, more shameless. Eventually, we will all be Paris Hiltons, shrugging off indiscretions and embarrassments—indeed, that word will become obsolete—as mere trifles, as conversations such as, “Did you see the picture of the President’s dick,” “The ‘ladyfinger,’ you mean? Meh” will become routine.
Friday, December 19, 2014
While this MIGA Talk essay was in the editing pipeline, a few calls that I made on this blog turned out to be more or less on target. The LDP lost fewer than 30 seats, Komeito gained seats, and Mr. Abe is set to reappoint all his pre-election cabinet ministers in rising order of uncertainty in my mind at the time.
I don’t think that anyone else made that last call. The outcome is obviously less consequential than that for the first (but I would argue more important than for the second), but it was clear and precise, with no margin of error, and sound, I think, in my reasoning.
The top story in the morning version of the December 19 Yomiuri is the simultaneous announcement by President Obama and Chairman Castro that the United States and Cuba were going to pursue normalization of bilateral relations. It even (literally) pushed to the side the announcement that experiments by Riken and already all-but-discredited (no longer Dr.) Haruko Obokata had been terminated without producing any cells showing evidence of stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). To be fair, the main points of the STAP story had been reported the day before, but international news with no violence and no domestic ramifications making the top of the front page is still pretty impressive.
What caught my eye, though, was a small detail in the hard-copy version, which said that ヤコブソン国務次官補—that’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to you—would be visiting Havana in January to discuss normalization of diplomatic relations and immigration issues among others. Now, the alphabetized rendering of ヤコブソン would be ya-ko-bu-son, which would be correct if she were German or Scandinavian. But since she was an American, her name would sound more like jei-ko-bu-son, or ジェイコブソン and written like that. Just to be sure that she wasn’t a German/Scandinavian immigrant of British ancestry (the normal German/Scandinavian rendering, I suspect, would be Jakobsen, not Jacobson) who insisted on having her name pronounced the original way, I checked YouTube, where I had to scan at least a dozen YouTube videos before I could confirm that the Assistant Secretary did indeed use the normal, anglicized pronunciation of her name.
The story was reported out of Washington and…Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. But the Brasilia part is not as odd as it looks. Japanese newspaper correspondents are typically posted to Brazil, where they must cover all of Latin America, with bilingual locals sifting through media reports, TV news programs and the like. Or at least that was the case when I was posted there, and it remains the same, apparently. The reporter did not bother to fly to Havana, it appears, since (s)he probably would not be able to hold interviews in Spanish (or Portuguese for that matter) anyway.
But it’s the ya-ko-bu-sen that’s truly bizarre. Yes, it took me some effort to find her name actually being pronounced, but that was because most of the uploads had the introductions lopped off, and it was “Roberta” this “Roberta” that once the interviews and/or Q&As began. This did mean, though, that the reporter never attended any sessions where the assistant secretary was featured. Worse, it raised the suspicion that the reporter had rarely if ever heard the very common name “Jacob”—the most popular male baby name in the United States in 1999-2012—being pronounced. This makes me wonder, what is this correspondent doing with his time while he is posted in Washington? Yes, transcripts become available online very quickly, but you don’t need someone in Washington to read them.
Actually, I suspect that I know what they do with their time.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
You be the judge. (It’s a week-old link.)
I also showed up on Al Jazeera and China Central Television (no links). Am I turning into a left-wingnut?
In English and Japanese for ESL/JSL folks. Got stuck in the editorial pipeline for weeks. I’ve graded myself on my Global Talk (sic) MIGA essays. If that also fails to appear ASAP, I’m posting it here. Stay tuned.
Now, back to work.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The Social Democratic Party won a single-seat race in Okinawa, but its national take of the proportional representation vote continued its steady decline, from 1,420,790 (2.34%) to 1,314,441 (2.46%). Okinawa also produced a JCP single-member district winner, and other anti-base candidates took the other two, forcing all four LDP candidates to get in through the proportional representation list. So yes, the Okinawa LDP will be well-represented, the Futenma-Henoko transfer can be kept alive by cash and sheer force, and Okinawa does not have an alternative to its current status, but if I were Xi Jinping and I really wanted to mess with Shinzo Abe, I’d wait for the next fatal incident to spring a deal that would be very favorable to an independent Okinawa/Ryukyu.
Time to rethink the overall defense doctrine itself?
Forget the metaphysical argument around a “mandate” for the Abe administration, PM Abe moves forward with the same policy priorities and more or less the same number of seats but maximum four instead of two years to achieve them. Nothing more, nothing less. End of story.
Now, at the vote totals for the proportional representation districts—the single-member district vote totals are of little use here because only the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japan Communist Party (and the Happiness Realization Party if you must know) had anything close to across-the-board representation—the JCP was the big winner, jumping from 3,689,159 (6.13% of the total) in the 2012 general election to 6,062,962 (11.36%), but the LDP didn’t do too badly either, going from 16,624,457 (27.26%) to 17,658,916 (33.10%). Coalition partner Komeito registered a modest gain, going from 7,116,474 (11.89%) to 7,314,236 (13.71%). The Democratic Party of Japan registered an even smaller gain, going from 9,628,653 (16.00%) 9,775,991 (18.32%), while the Japan Innovation Party (the party formerly known as the Japan Restoration Party) fell precipitously from 12,262,228 (20.38%) to 8,382,699 (15.71%).
Three things here: First, say what you will—like me—of how this election was not a referendum on the Abe administration but a referendum on the fecklessness of the opposition, both the LDP and Komeito did do better in both absolute and relative terms than the two main opposition parties in an election with a record low voter turnout. That should count for something.
Second, that said, you have to agree that the DPJ and JIP didn’t do too badly for parties that fielded candidates in only 178 and 77, respectively, of the 275 single-member districts. Not having a candidate in a single-member district to campaign for his/her party must be a significant handicap in getting the proportional representation vote to turn out. Note that the LDP, which has candidates in almost all of the single-seat districts except where Komeito candidates are running, and Komeito, which essentially has a captive constituency, are relatively free from this problem.
Third, and this is a corollary of the previous point, it’s pretty obvious that the opposition will have little chance of winning a general election unless the DPJ and JIP actually merge. The LDP-Komeito coalition always has a minimum of close to 40%, usually more, of the effective votes that it can reliably deliver much (most in the case of Komeito) of to its candidate in any single-member district. By contrast, the less-firmly established DPJ and JIP rely much more on the same independent voters. They could in theory perfectly align their slates so that they field a single candidate, no more, in each one of the single-seat districts, and they would still have the problem of delivering those votes to the other party’s candidate while keeping them for themselves for the proportional representation vote.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Election 2014: Close the Gender Gap in the Diet (and Solve the Heirloom Turkey Conundrum)? Why, Abenomics, of Course
A Bloomberg editor sent out a group email sharing a report on a race between two female candidates in Niigata, with the comment that “Abe seems desperate to get at least some more women in parliament, with both he and Suga making trips up there to support the LDP hopeful.” The following was my response:
Of course it could be part of a gender-free effort to shore up vulnerable incumbents.
Sidebar: One reason for the paucity of women in the Diet--much worse than even South Korea--is the preponderance of heirloom turkeys there. In Japan, spouses must adopt the same legal surname, and it is usually the wives who give up their pre-marriage surnames, in contrast to the Chinese and Korean custom of all spouses maintaining their pre-marriage surnames. My guess is that more Diet members would be willing to pass on their sinecures to their female offspring (and their koenkais more accepting) if they were able to routinely keep their pre-marriage surnames. (Note, for example, that Yuko Obuchi's husband changed his surname.) Of course the fundamental cause of the heirloom turkey and name-changing outcomes both stem from the same paternalistic social customs. Still, if Japanese society had gone full-China and adopted their surname custom (the vast majority of Japanese did not have surnames until the Meiji Restoration), I strongly suspect that we would have a few more women in the Diet.
Come to think of it, culling the rafters of heirloom turkeys would be even more helpful. Perhaps Abenomics should include the establishment of the lobbying industry as an incentive to let go of Diets. Designate Nagatacho as a special zone, where bribery will be decriminalized for registered lobbyists and their clients. Short of that, the Abe administration could set a goal for each political parties to make 30% or more of its Diet members women by 2020. To give the goal some teeth, just unseat male Diet members of each party until it reaches the 30% threshold. It's only fair; after all, it's Mr. Abe who is claiming that this election is a referendum on Abenomics. Practice what you preach, Mr. Abe.
Japan routinely does poorly in gender equality surveys, finishing near the bottom of OECD member countries. A significant contributor to such outcomes is the paucity of female Diet members, languishing around 10% of the total.
Is primogeniture one of the problems there? After all, it’s much easier to prevail in a single-seat district than the broader economic marketplace.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Quoted in Al Jazeera here, so, the full online Q&A below.
1. Takao Toshikawa, editor-in-chief of Tokyo Insideline, spoke at the FCCJ last week. He said the overarching intention of Abe's 6 year term (if achieved, of course) is to revise the Constitution.
Do you agree? Why, why not?
Not being a mind reader, I won’t go that far, but I am sure that revising the Constitution is at or near the top of his list of political goals.
2. If Abe does continue as PM and LDP president for the next 4 years, rather than run again for the presidency in 2018 and enjoy the limelight of the 2020 Olympics, he will promote Tanigaki as the president and PM, according to Toshikawa.
This is because Abe believes his own ultra-conservative image would block Constitutional revision, whereas the more liberal Tanigaki has a better chance of getting the two-thirds majorities in both houses, plus a majority in the national referendum needed to amend the Constitution.
Do you agree or disagree? Why?
That’s an interesting piece of speculation, but I disagree. Tanigaki is unlikely to push for the kind of amendment that Abe wants. If amending Article 9 had been anything approaching a priority item for people like Tanigaki, the LDP would have made a serious push decades ago.
3. In your opinion, do a majority of Japanese support changes to Article 9 in the Constitution, perhaps as a matter of national pride?
My understanding is that a majority or a healthy plurality of us Japanese still prefer to maintain Article 9 as is. A people that blanches at the idea of collective self-defense even as it supports individual measures that are justified under that rubric is not going to support an amendment to a constitutional restriction that justifies Japan’s minimal role in overseas armed conflict.
4. If Toshikawa's scenario plays out and the LDP is able to garner the votes to amend Article 9 in the Constitution, what are the ramifications for Japan?
If my aunt had wheels, she would be a teacart. That point aside, it would turn on two interacting factors: the substance of the amendment and the regional security environment. The Chinese authorities will object in any case, not because it really thinks that Japan is reverting to militarism (a ridiculous if domestically convenient charge), but because it enhances Japan’s alliance with the United States to the detriment of China’s regional policy objectives. The response from the South Korean authorities will depend on public perception of Japan in general. If the history issues have been laid to rest by then, the South Korean public will be less mistrustful of Japanese intentions and the South Korean authorities will act accordingly. If not, then they will dutifully register their displeasure, then move on. Japan’s allies and friends in the neighborhood, most notably the United States, will welcome the amendment. The rest of the world will be largely indifferent, NYT’s lead editorial writer on Japan and likeminded people in the Western media notwithstanding, since it will have little effect on the geopolitical circumstances beyond Japan’s “near abroad” and economic sea-lanes.
I will join Paul Sracic in a December 18 discussion entitled “Will the US Defend the Senkakus ?” Few things have simple yes or no answers, as I was reminded on this very issue, and further thinking has not made it any easier to reach an unequivocal conclusion. I will do my best to come up with useful thoughts by the occasion, but in the meantime, let me pose a related question: Namely, what if China rendered the very question moot by making the residents of Okinawa an offer they couldn’t refuse?
Independence should not be that novel of an idea to the Okinawans in an era when separatist movements all over the world have been gaining currency. Remember that Okinawa was once an independent kingdom named Ryukyu that first paid tribute to China and later also to the Satsuma, a Japanese han, until it was subjugated and unceremoniously subsumed into the modern nation state of Japan as Okinawa Prefecture. It was placed under US military rule in 1945, but reverted to Japan in 1972 in line with the wishes of the majority of the Okinawa people at the time. One wonders, though, what the Okinawans would have wanted if they’d known that most of the land expropriated during the occupation for military purposes, some of it located in or near densely populated urban areas, would remain in US hands even after reversion. Today, as Okinawa stays on course to be the only place Japan where the Social Democrats, who have a long history of opposing the US military presence in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan that was only interrupted briefly by their short-term benefit/long-term disaster bid for power, win a single-seat district in tomorrow’s (Dec. 14) lower house election, I have to wonder: What if China made an offer to a hypothetical independent Okinawa (or Ryukyu, it’s their choice) consisting of the following conditions?
1) China recognizes the Senkaku Islands as Okinawa territory, as a gift in celebration of the recovery of independence by Okinawa.
2) China similarly recognizes Okinawa’s EEZ up to the median line between the territories of the two states including the Senkaku Islands.
3) China drops all tariffs on Okinawa products while allowing Okinawa to impose the same tariffs as Japan does on Chinese products.
4) China replaces all net transfers from the Japanese government to Okinawa Prefecture and its municipalities in perpetuity and protected against inflation.
5) China promises not to use arms against Okinawa under any circumstances.
6) Okinawa may not allow any foreign military (including Japan’s) access to any part of its territory at any time except as part of emergency relief efforts.
A note of caution: The third and fourth conditions, as affordable as they look for China now, could be rescinded at a future time. And these conditions most likely require refining, if not outright changes. Still, to me, the proposal seems to be as close to an offer that the Okinawans cannot refuse and is easily affordable for China. The Japanese government is unlikely to let Okinawa go, but that does not make the offer any less more worth making.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
You know that the LDP-Komeito coalition is in good shape when the virulently anti-LDP Nikkan Gendai kiosk sales pitch for Dec. 4 reads “DPJ 1 Win 24 Losses in Tokyo (Single-Seat Districts)” (for their featured article, click here). The Kyodo Tsushin, Asahi, and Nikkei polls (Dec. 2-3; in Nikkei’s case supplemented by on-the-ground research by its local bureaus) each indicate that the LDP will take 300 or more seats, with Komeito also showing gains and JCP doing even better.
This is, of course, an indictment of the opposition, not a public endorsement of the Abe administration and its policy preferences. So any “mandate” talk from the Abe administration and its opinionating followers will ring hollow. Komeito will make sure of that with regard to any attempts to push the markers further on collective self-defense. And nothing will have changed on the socio-economic agenda beyond the LDP promise to make good on consumption tax exceptions. And that decision technically has preceded the election.
I’m thinking of a “What If” series to do in my spare time instead of obsessing over the election (harder and harder to pay attention to). Like, What if China made Okinawa an offer it couldn’t refuse? or What if the Narita Airport Project Had Gone Ahead as Planned? Please stay tuned.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The 270-seat threshold for victory that the LDP-Komeito coalition has set for itself and the 238-seat single-party simple majority for the LDP are more or less the same thing if you consider the following. Komeito has won 31 seats in three of the five general elections (34 and 21 in the other two) that it has experienced since it split from Ozawa’s forces and reverted to its role as the virtual political wing of the Sokagakkai, and will certainly perform similarly in this election.
Abe, though, is sticking to his own simple majority threshold for the coalition. Translation: I will not resign even if the LDP loses its single-party majority unless the coalition itself is voted out of office. The LDP will have to wait until the September leadership election. In the meantime, I am going to forge ahead with my legislative agenda. (Good luck.)
Finally, picking nits, also keep in mind that the LDP went into the election with 295 incumbents plus the nominally independent President of the House.
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
The Abe administration has gone into negative territory in the latest polls, but those same polls indicate a massive coalition victory. That says it all. But what does it mean? PM Abe becomes even more appreciative of the Komeito/Sokagakkai handicap, that’s what it means. The policy changes will be marginal, a little more give on social spending and consumption tax exemptions and bending on national security. But it will put to rest any thoughts from the likes of Yoshimi Watanabe and his now-defunct Your Party or the octogenarian Party for Future Generations to replace Komeito in the ruling coalition.
Looking ahead, the coalition needs to win 316—including the nominally independent lower house president’s seat as well as Fukuoka District 1, where two LDP party members will be duking it out as independents in what is the single most exciting (exciting, that is, if you are a borderline-insane Japan election otaku) race to settle a two-generation feud between two LDP local powers—of the 475 lower house seats, a supermajority for the day if and when it loses the 2016 triennial election for half of the upper house and the simple majority that it holds there. The upper house is structured to give any opposition better odds than the upper house, an edge that is likely to be heightened under new rules that will be in place by then to comply with Supreme Court pressure. With Abe on target to gain a new 3-year term as LDP president next year, it is likely that the collation will be going into the next lower house general election under the Abe administration. If support for the Abe administration languishes and the DPJ, the Innovation Party, and any other bandwaggoners get their act together by then, the coalition can easily lose its upper house majority. It’ll be ugly enough needing a lower house override to pass must-pass legislation. Without the supermajority, it’s going to be good-bye Abenomics, hello Abebama-Lite, in a very twisted Diet.
Monday, December 01, 2014
…since you asked…
Bloomberg provides an election arithmetic primer entitled “How Low Can He Go? The Election Math for Abe to Stay in Command.” The following are how I call ‘em, including a couple of technical corrections.
1. Simple Majority of 238
Masamichi Adachi, senior economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo, said a simple majority was so low a goal as to be “absurd.”
Yes. Case closed.
2. Absolute Stable Majority of 266
This number would give the ruling coalition control of all standing committees, and thus the submission of legislation to the Diet.
More accurately, the ruling coalition would have better control of the legislative process once legislation is submitted to the Diet. But it’s not like the US Congress, where a determined chairperson could kill most bills.
3. Super Majority of 317
Abe may need a “super” majority of 317 seats in the lower house to push through legislation next year to bolster the nation’s defense stance and enable its military to defend other countries -- a policy opposed by more than half the population.
Such a majority allows the lower chamber to override decisions in the upper house, where the LDP needs its Buddhist-backed partner to make up a simple majority. The LDP has wrangled with Komeito over reinterpreting the country’s pacifist constitution.
Wait, Bloomberg is now talking about something different, an LDP supermajority, not a coalition majority, since the situation being considered is a case where Komeito won’t come along. Of course this is merely an academic exercise, since an LDP supermajority will be achieved through a combination of Sokagakkai throwing its votes as usual to LDP candidates in the single-seat races and a very low turnout (this time around anyway). Such an improbable outcome will leave the LDP even more indebted to Komeito. That’s not conducive to PM Abe getting his way on collective self-defense and international security. In any case, it’s much more difficult to achieve than 4…
4. More than 325 seats
Even so, a larger majority is unlikely, said Steven Reed, professor of politics at Chuo University in Tokyo, with the opposition parties coordinating to offer a unified alternative in many constituencies.
Exactly. The sum of the 2012 Lower house election votes in the regional proportional districts was comfortably higher for the DPJ, Your Party (requiescat in pace), and the Japan Restoration Party (now Japan Innovation Party) than for the LDP and Komeito. The media will continue to give space to opposition criticism of Abenomics in the two week run-up to the voting. That said, the DPJ will fail to catch serious traction, while JIP will also languish, Toru Hashimoto being well-past his consume-by date, which means…
5. Low Turnout
A smaller voter turnout would be positive for the Abe administration, Shinichi Ichikawa, chief market strategist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo, wrote in an e-mailed note on Nov. 28
There are people on Twitter like Daniel Drezner, Vali Nasr, and Stephen Walt, who scrupulously provide the links to the sources of the images, text, tweets and the like that they use. This is obviously convenient when I want to know more, which is often the case with tweets by these and some other people with whom I have no personal contact. Then there are those who don’t. I can usually figure out the source anyway from the information available from the texts and images, but it can be quite a nuisance sometimes when I really want to know and I have only purely visual information to go by.
Here’s the thing: Is taking images from the internet and tweeting it without attribution really within the boundaries of fair use of copyright? Twitter actually encourages this by forcing us to upload images from our devices by making it impossible (at least within my limited internet skills) to embed an image (or video either FWIW) directly from an outside source. My guess is that this helps keep viewers from wandering off to other websites.
I’m not so scrupulous that I’m going to make a big issue out of this, but I’m flagging it here because I am somewhat inconvenienced by the practice.
It is easy to overestimate what I call “privileged information,” the kind of information that is vivid, first-hand and, perhaps most important, of highly limited access. Let me give you a couple of examples.
I came across a great NPR interview on the management structure of the Islam State (IS) courtesy of a Vali Nasr tweet. In the interview, Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Cam Simpson, explains how the IS “m-form hierarchy” works as revealed by the “documents found in a ditch in Anbar province by U.S. Marines on a routine patrol during the surge and from a hard drive captured not long after that.” It’s illuminating, lucid and brief, yet packed with information, so I’ll say no more. It is the first question that the interviewee asks that I want to take up:
Cam, these metrics are largely self-generated. I mean, who's to say they're not just part of ISIS's pretty sophisticated propaganda machine?
Yeah, that's a really good question, Eric. I mean, some researchers at the West Point Counterterrorism Center asked exactly that question…And they found that they were, sadly, extremely accurate. Just from the sort of independent, open-source public reporting that was out there.
Which reminded me of an earlier event…
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear a top Middle East academic talk about a field trip in Turkey that he’d just returned from. In the talk, the academic confidently told us that IS would peter out as the calendar year drew to a close since it would run out of money as well as the weapons that it had captured when it overran the Iraqi army in the surprise charge that captured Mosul. He had been to the hinterlands, and there was no way that enough crude oil could be smuggled across the border by the means available to raise the kind of revenue that was being reported. He been there, and seen it.
This went against the gist of almost all the media reports at the time, but I held my tongue. My knowledge of the issues was spotty at best, and the academic did not appear to be the kind of person who would take kindly to criticism.
But I did think that I had reason to doubt. A foreigner getting on in years is not going to get away with backpacking alone through the mountainous boondocks of Turkey, home to conservative Turks and rebellious Kurds, hoping to gather information incognito. Smugglers would not be coming up to the academic with details of their operations in the hopes of making some sales. The locals would be less than forthcoming with information and, as required, downplay the importance of smuggling for fear of doing harm to the local economy or being on the receiving end of retribution. As for the Turkish authorities, they also had good reason to downplay the role of oil smuggling, as they were doing their best to avoid involvement in the war against pressure from the United States while attempting to extract Turkish hostages held by IS. (A later media report detailed how the smuggling helped to alleviate the impact on the local economy of the loss in cross-border trade with Iraq as IS expanded its control.)
Fast-forward to December, and IS is still going strong. Clearly, it is dangerous to rely solely on privileged information. Moral of the story: Do not trust; verify. The West Point Counterterrorism Center did; the academic did not.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Johannes Feige has an article in The Diplomat entitled “How Well Does China Control Its Military?” in which he details incidents that “[suggest] weakness in coordination between the center and the military, and [help] explain numerous episodes where the civilian apparatus seemed oblivious to the PLA’s activities and confused about officers’ statements that made the PLA appear ‘rogue.’” Add to Feige’s list the extended PLA incursion into the Indian side of the disputed border while Xi Jinping was visiting Narendra Modi, and it becomes hard to shake off the feeling that you have an unsavory choice between a party leadership a) eager to use physical intimidation as part of their top-level diplomacy toolkit or b) unable to rein in a military that does not hesitate to undermine and embarrass it in order to pursue its own somewhat ill-defined agenda.
One thing that cannot be too emphasized is that the notion that Xi Jinping’s brief tour as a political official in the PLA is enough to provide him with a significant influence there is nonsense. Anyone with experience in the stove-piped public sectors of East Asia will know that officials seconded from an outside institution remains an outsider no matter how well received on a personal basis. The people Xi became acquainted with in the PLA and has remained in touch with—not to mention any other princeling officers that he knew from an earlier stage in life—will certainly help him navigate his way around there as required. But the prerogatives of the institution will prevail every time.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Not, mind you, completely in the way that I predicted, according to this Mainichi report. But the resourcefulness demonstrated by the Japanese Coast Guard is heartwarming, so I okay with that.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
In a tweet the other day regarding the upcoming snap election, I took the over in a hypothetical over-under of a 30-seat loss for the LDP-Komeito coalition and also claimed that the current Abe cabinet would remain intact. It is the only one of my tweets that has been retweeted and favorite multiple times. I have also received more than the usual one or two phone calls from media acquaintances around the event. So, as a public service, I am laying out how I arrived at those predictions. The first method is easy to replicate and should be applicable to other national elections, while the second is a point that is also easily applicable albeit to the limited cases where a similar situation prevails.
When the LDP leaked suggestions of a 30-seat decline as a win-loss threshold, I became certain that it had good reason to believe that it was setting a low but plausible bar for itself. The LDP commissions private polls that I am inclined to believe for reasons that I will skip are more accurate than the media polls, which were still showing the ruling coalition (more specifically LDP) with a huge lead over the opposition parties. The LDP leadership also has a strong incentive to lowball its chances within plausible limits.
Would the LDP lead endure? The question could be cast in a more operative mode as follows: Are there uncertainties that could generate a major downside for the ruling coalition or major upside for the opposition? On the first point, the cabinet had already taken its lumps with the political financing scandals and the surprise technical recession, yet the post-announcement polls continued to show the LDP with what, obvious even to my non-abacus-trained eye, was a roughly 2.5-to1, 3-to-1 lead over its main rival DPJ. Barring an unlikely scandal enveloping the prime minister himself or mishandling of a very low-probability major disaster, there does not seem to be a meaningful downside risk to the ruling coalition’s political situation.
The DPJ is led by the weepy Banri Kaieda, whose most significant attribute appears to be an inability to be forceful enough to create internal enemies (a talent not to be underestimated BYW in a party that spans ideologies and policy preferences that are at least as disparate as those of the LDP but has yet to develop a similar culture of cohesion). As for the other meaningful opposition parties (as in plausible members of a coalition consisting largely of current opposition parties or their members), the Japan Innovation Party has run out of steam (Hashimoto slipping into irrelevance while internal differences seethe just beneath the surface), and the People’s Life Party is on life support (Ichiro Ozawa appears to have reached the end of his long string of construction-destruction cycles), and Your Party is over (literally). And don’t even ask me about the Party (of eighty-somethings) for Future Generations, where Shintaro Ishihara passed his consume-by date when he split with Hashimoto. Tell me where is the potential for upside?
So, with prospects so bleak for the opposition and the ruling coalition riding high, why not predict a gain for the LDP? After all, the LDP is doing better and the DPJ is doing worse in at least one post-announcement newspaper poll than they did at a similar pre-2012 election poll by that newspaper, even as support for the other opposition parties not named the Japan Communist Party has dwindled.
Not so fast. Although there are no major downsides/upsides to the ruling coalition/opposition parties of significance, the media is naturally biased towards making a national election more of a contest. Thus, commentary and even straight reporting will tilt in favor of the opposition in comparison to a situation where the outcome is more in doubt. The generally risk-averse public will respond positively to such media inducements in a desire to rein in an over-euphoric post-victory administration. Remember, the public is somewhat misaligned with the prime minister’s policy preferences. The candidacy coordination between the opposition parties (aided ironically by the inability of the DPJ to field candidates across-the-board) will also help the opposition in the single-seat races. Of course the unattractiveness of the alternatives will drive much of the discontented independent voters away from the voting stations rather than towards opposition. Still, there’s enough uncertainty here to take comfort in the 30-seat margin. I don’t like to “lose,” any more than the LDP prognosticators do.
To sum it up, take note of the LDP’s initial bid, since it is likely to be low-balling its chances. Then keep an eye on public polling trends, go over the potential major upside/downside risks for the relevant parties. Finally, look to the natural media bias, which, barring the existence of another overwhelmingly attractive narrative, favors the underdog (remember, the LDP was widely believed to be headed for disaster in 2006 when Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the lower house for the postal reform election). If you follow this process, you will almost surely arrive at the same conclusion as I do. And I think that this process is applicable, in toto or in part, to all Japanese national elections.
There. That essentially explains what I did, some of it not so deliberately, and some of it may seem clear only in hindsight. But I do think that it is a process that can be easily used by anyone with knowledge of the political process in Japan.
As for my call on retaining the entire cabinet, why would he retain the two other cabinet members implicated in political financing scandals, have them pass through the misogi by election, then dismiss them? For that matter, what would be the justification of changing any ministers without cause only three months after the reshuffle? Case over.
There is one caveat there. If a cabinet minister fails to get reelected, he’s gone. Technically, (s)he can be retained, but as a practical matter, (s)he’s a goner. But that was too much to put in a single tweet.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Is That Collusion/Stupidity I See in Your Article, Asahi Shimbun, Or Have You Gone Over to the Dark Side?
I’m still wondering what Asahi Shimbun was thinking when it admitted after all these years that the key testimony on which the sexual slavery narrative for the Korean comfort women relied was a complete fabrication. It was so utterly unprepared for the all too predictable backlash that I wondered, could it have made a secret pact with the Devil to assist the Abe administration and its nationalist supporters in return for some unspeakably vile favor, say, a 20% increase in ad revenue? Now, as the snap election approaches, the Nov. 26 Asahi carries an article entitled “Hourly Part-time Wages in Major Cities Highest Ever: 961 Yen as Shortage of Workers Worsens (大都市バイトの時給、過去最高 人手不足進み９６１円)” that only deepens my suspicions.
So how much has this raised part-time wages? According to the report, the average part-time wage in the three major urban centers (Metropolitan Tokyo and its environs, Tokai (Nagoya et al) and Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, etc.)) in October reached 961 Yen, up 8 Yen year-on-year, surpassing the previous high of 959 Yen, in 2006. A little arithmetic will tell you that this represents a 0.8% increase year-on-year—yes, a year in which the Yen went from 97.8214 to 108.0614 to the US Dollar, a 9.5% drop in value and a consumption tax hike was introduced that imposed a 3% surcharge on most consumption items except rent and tuition. A part-time worker should feel lucky if the 8 Yen rise covers half the increase in expenses.
There’s more. The article goes on to say, “Sales and services at 944 Yen, up three from same month of previous year. Job offers were brisk for staffing events for year’s end/new year’s sales competition. Likewise, hourly wages for restaurants and other food establishments were also up 10, at 937. These job offers comprised almost half of the total, pushing up the overall figure.” Now, the average wage at food establishments are up 1.0% year-on-year, so you could argue that this is giving the overall figure a nudge. But sales and services clocked in at a measly 0.3%. How can anyone say with a straight face that these two together (the article is pretty unambiguous on this point) pushed up the total? Given the timing so close to the snap election and the administration’s emphasis on job creation as a key achievement of Abenomics, it’s not unfair to wonder if id the Asahi reporter who wrote this article and his editor have gone into the tank for Mr. Abe and his minions.
Sadly (speaking as a political analyst), there are two, more plausible, more mundane explanations for this blatantly misleading article. First, the relationship between the economic department of a mainstream daily and its subject—businesses—is less adversarial than that the more complicated relationships between the political department and its subject—politicians—or the social scene department and its subjects—the police, prosecutors’ office, criminals, etc.—so it would be receptive to the positive spin put on the information by the news source, major job information provider Recruit Jobs, which has a vested interest in drumming up demand to place adds in its publications and on its website. Second, the reporter and editor were so stupid that they swallowed the Recruit Jobs bait hook, line and sinker. But I’m not sure which explanation I find more disturbing.
Foreign Policy claims in a report entitled “Who Has Contributed What in the Coalition Against the Islamic State?” that as of Nov. 11, 2014, Japan had “given more than $6 million in humanitarian aid to northern Iraq.” Given Japan’s policy preference for checkbook-over boots on the ground diplomacy, this looked like an extraordinarily low-ball figure. So I went to the MOFA website and, lo and behold, a September 19 press release entitled “Emergency Grant Aid in response to IDPs in Iraq and Syrian Refugees in Lebanon affected by the ISIL offensive” states that “the Government of Japan decided to extend Emergency Grant Aid of 22.70 million US dollars (approximately 2.2 billion Japanese yen) to Iraq and Lebanon, in order to provide emergency shelters and relief items etc. for these IDPs and refugees,” bringing the “total amount of additional contribution as countermeasures against ISIL” to “25.50 million US dollars, including other assistance which has already set (sic).” Granted, that still may not be a lot of money as far as the magnitude of the conflict and its impact is concerned, but it matches up quite well to the numbers given for other OECD member countries, and there are limits to the amount of cash that the efforts can absorb.
I don’t know where Foreign Policy gets its numbers from, but I don’t really blame them for this particular oversight. The MOFA webpage with the relevant information can only be reached from four directions; 1) the Japanese-language webpages for counter-terrorism, 2) the Japanese-language webpages for public communications, 3) the Japanese-language webpages for Iraq or Syria, or 4) the English-language webpage for “Crime.” Essentially, MOFA is doing a very poor job of taking online steps to get its contributions recognized by the overseas public.
Also troubling is the fact that no one at MOFA seems to be paying attention to Foreign Policy. If they had, someone would have noticed, or at least checked to see that it had got the facts right. FP may not be Foreign Affairs, and it does carry some fluff pieces from time to time, but it has excellent writers such as Stephen Walt and, more importantly, does carry articles on Japan from time to time and has a wide readership.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Giuliani: “White police officers wouldn’t be there,” Giuliani said, “if you weren’t killing each other.”
Translation: “I’m not running for office anymore so I can say whatever I want to, whatever way I want.”
Dyson: “Black people who kill black people go to jail…White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.”
No need for a translation, that was a zinger… however…
Dyson: “…false equivalency…”
That was not called for. No need to remind people that you’re a Georgetown professor. No need to educate the masses, no need for annotation, just let your statement speak for itself. You’re on MSNBC, Dyson, you have home advantage, take it easy.
For the full story, go here.
Robert Dujarric speaks out in the comments section here on behalf of mosquitos, the greater killer of humans according to Bill Gates, whose per capita human-kill rate should be much, much lower than that of humans themselves. In fact, the dengue fever-carrying mosquitos in Yoyogi Park and elsewhere in the greenery of metropolitan Tokyo have yet to claim any lives. Still, suggesting that we should exterminate humans instead of mosquitos does not quite make sense to me. What would be an appropriate measure for an animal’s right to kill humans? What would Peter Singer say?
I nominate a species’ biological footprint for that role. The key assumption here is that each species is evolved at any moment to maximize evolutionary efficiency (assuming that there is such a term) with regard to killing humans. Any more or less homicide on the part of a species and that species is taking more or fewer human lives than is optimal for life in it its entirety from a dynamic perspective.
One way to measure that would be to divide the sum of the products of the weight and metabolic rate of each animal in a given species and divide that by the sum of the products of the weight and metabolic rate of every animal. The resultant quotient expressed as a percentage is that species’ normative homicide rate. Any deviation from that rate, and it means that the species is hitting above or below its weight, so to speak. Of course, only an omniscient God can count and measure each single animal, so we’ll have to make do largely with samples, approximations and averages. Still, this appears to be conceptually sound.
Now, this may lead to what some may consider to be inequities at more granular levels. For instance, Americans would be rewarded for their obesity with a higher normative kill rate. Indeed, I can see the NRA taking up my argument and running with it. They didn’t say obesity is deadly for no reason. Perhaps that is good reason to keep things at the species level.
Peter Singer would probably put forward a different objection, namely that my method does not take into consideration the relative lack of “rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness” on the part of mosquitos compared to humans. True, but neither do lions. By that measure, we would be justified in killing off all lions in order to eliminate what is now a very high death toll on the more rational, autonomous and self-conscious humans.
Peter Singer, the ball is in your court.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Bill Gates seems to think so, since he puts humans just behind the mosquito as the second deadliest animal in terms of killing humans, to the tune of 475,000 annually, in contrast to lions, who have only100 kills to their name. My take? It depends. The World Lion Day website offers an estimate of a 25-30,000 lion population today. That’s roughly 3~4 human lion-deaths per year per 1,000 lions. By comparison, with approximately 7 billion human beings on this planet, there are only 0.7 human human-death per year per 1,000 humans. A lion in your neighborhood is vastly more dangerous than your run-of-the-mill hoodlum. Think about that the next time you call on the world to help save the lion.
Now you may say that my point is meaningless for now, since there are so few lions left. That may be true for people like you and me, whose only opportunity to come face-to-face with a wild lion will be
come in a locked SUV. But try
telling that to the people who live there. If we are going to ask them to bear
the risk of sharing their habitat with lions to the benefit of our conservation
goals, then they should be compensated accordingly.
This is an Asahi poll, but it’s nevertheless remarkable how the Abe administration can get such low grades on policy issues and the responders are still breaking 37% and 3% for the LDP and Komeito and only 30%, 11%, 6%, 5%, 2%, 2% and 1% for NA/don’t know, DPJ, Innovation Party, Communist Party, others, People's Life Party and Social Democrats respectively when it comes to voter intent for the regional proportional district votes. If we assume that a) the regional proportional seats are distributed to the parties in proportion to the votes cast, b) the actual votes come out in the same proportions as expressed intent, and c) all the NA/don’t knows also vote but break two to one for the opposition parties, the proportional seats will be split evenly 90:90 between the ruling coalition. That means that the opposition would have to take 86 of the 295 single-seat districts to deny the ruling coalition a 300-seat majority or 90 to take 30 seats away from the ruling coalition, pushing them below the low bar as initially whispered by LDP members. The 90:90 split looks possible, but barring some dramatic unforeseen event, such as a serious scandal swallowing up the prime minister, the 86/90 single-seat threshold looks significantly less plausible.
I’ll try not to blog about the election for the time being unless there are serious changes in my outlook/it looks like I’ll be terribly wrong.
The notion around the final day of talks between the P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program is that there will be a 3-month extension that is most likely to peter out as hardliners in the US and Iran increase their domestic influence and compromise becomes harder to achieve. Now, I’m no nuclear expert, but given such prospects, wouldn’t it be in the interests of both the Obama and Rouhani administration to maintain momentum and make it harder for their domestic opponents to force them to pull back from an eventual final deal by baking in some mutual gains in a mini-deal? I would have certainly been working at that over, say, the last couple of days before the deadline, instead of trying to bridge all the differences in a last-ditch effort to reach a full-fledged deal.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
To show you the depths that the Japanese media will go to in order to drum up interest for the December 14 “Whatever” Election, Sankei Shimbun (yes, that Sankei Shimbun) website has posted an article entitled “DPJ Posts Major Gains, LDP-Komeito Secures Absolute Majority; Party-by-Party Forecast on Seats Won.” The whole article is based on [the thoughts of] a “political analyst” named Yoshiya Kobayashi, whose predictions are based on the assumption that the DPJ will win 50-55 seats in the regional proportional districts against 59-66 for the LDP. Yes, the same DPJ that polled 14-41 to the LDP in the latest Yomiuri poll for regional proportional district voting preferences.
I’d take Rick Santorum in 2016 over that happening.
“In its natural state, uranium has 238 atoms and is thus called U-238. Fissile uranium—the stuff that can make an atom bomb—has 235; therefore, it’s called U-235. The process of enrichment is done with gas centrifuges, which, by spinning very rapidly, separate the heavier U-238 isotopes from the lighter U-235 ones.
“About 0.7 percent of U-238 is naturally fissile.”
—excerpt from footnote to “Jaw-Jaw With Iran” on Slate website.
I know, it’s not hard to figure out what he means; in fact, I might have missed the errors altogether if I had been just scanning the article. But they are so elementary, and clearly not typos, that they do make me wonder, what else does the guy not know?
…and there are many of those people…
But first, the good news: A Yomiuri poll (Nov. 20-21) shows a drop in support for the Abe cabinet to 49% from 55% just a couple of weeks ago (Nov. 7-9); a shift that can only be accounted for by Abe’s call for a snap election—a move largely criticized in the mainstream media, including in my estimate NHK commentators, which appears to be making an extra effort to make the event seem relevant to actual issues such as nuclear start-ups (actually, now the host local governments and the communities that they represent) and collective self-defense (Komeito, Komeito, Komeito…sheesh).
The bad news: Intentions for proportional representation vote came out 41% LDP, 28% undecided, 14% DPJ, 6% Komeito, 5% Japan Innovation Party (JIP? The party formerly known as the Japan Restoration Party), 3% Communist Party…
…you get the picture. If actual voting behavior ends up proportionally anything like these numbers except for Komeito, which will at least double up, likely more given what is sure to be a low turnout, then the LDP will clean up in the single-seat districts and dominate the regionals, just like in 2012.