Monday, May 18, 2015

Osaka Mayor To Retire After Pet Referendum Fails

Osaka voters rejected a referendum on Sunday that would have dramatically reorganized the Osaka city government into a large metropolitan entity, like Tokyo.

The defeat was a stunning rejection of a pet reform project of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, an effort he started in 2010.

At a news conference in Osaka after the referendum went down to defeat, Hashimoto said he would keep his promise to retire from politics if it failed and will step down when his term as mayor ends in December.

The result means not only that the Osaka city government will remain unchanged, but that political dynamics at the national level will also move in a different direction.

If Hashimoto leaves the political stage in December, the Osaka Restoration Party, regional party of the Japan Innovation Party, that he established in 2010 with former right wing Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, would have less impact on its national counterpart, the Japan Innovation Party.

The Japan Innovation Party would likely strengthen its stance as an opposition party in the Diet, and the Abe administration may have to revise its strategy for revising the Constitution without the Japan Innovation Party as an ally.

With an Upper House election scheduled for the summer of 2016, some Japan Innovation Party lawmakers, especially those without a base in Osaka, could bolt the party and join forces with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Abe And Cabinet Pass Military Changes

Japan’s cabinet has approved draft laws which would trigger a dramatic shift in security policy, allowing the military to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.

The proposals would allow Japan to defend other countries under attack.
The latest move comes after a revision of US-Japan defense guidelines which expanded cooperation between the two countries as they seek to respond to China’s increasingly assertive military posturing in the region.

It could worsen ties with Beijing, already strained by feuds over the wartime past and disputed territory.

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry responded to the news saying:
“We have repeated many times before that due to historical reasons, Asian neighbouring countries and the international community pay a high level of attention to any changes in Japan’s security policy. We hope that Japan can learn the lessons of history, uphold the path of peaceful development, do more real positive things and play a bigger constructive role in this Asian region in which we coexist for peace, stability and joint development.”

The bills are expected to pass parliamentary approval given the ruling bloc’s majority, although opinion polls show citizens are confused and divided over the changes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Funahashi, Higuchi, and Shibayama May Be Tried As Adults For Uemura Murder

Update to this story

Murder victim Uemura Ryota at 10 years old

Prosecutors at the Yokohama District Court will decide within the next week whether three minors—arrested for the murder of a 13-year-old boy in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, in February—will be tried as adults.

The latest development comes after the Yokohama Family Court decided on Tuesday to send the three suspects, two boys aged 18 (Ringleader: Funahashi Ryuichi and Higuchi Toshio)  and one boy aged 17, Shibayama Kazuya, back to prosecutors, Fuji TV reported.

The three were arrested on suspicion of killing Ryota Uemura whose naked body was found on the bank of the Tama River in Kawasaki on Feb 20. Funahashi has told police he killed Uemura with a box cutter that was found near the scene of the crime, while the other two have pleaded not guilty to the murder.

Shibayama, Funahashi in pink, Higuchi, and Uemura in cap days before murder

Ringleader Funahashi said that he killed Uemura because he told others how he had been beaten for refusing to shoplift at Funahashi's instructions. Before killing Uemura,  Funahashi said he also ordered him to swim naked in the river to punish him. 

Uemura joined a gang whose members were aged from 12 to 20 last November. Uemura was seriously beaten in mid-January and was rarely seen at school after that.

Police have established from records on Line that Shibayama contacted Uemura on the night of Feb 19, telling him to come out and meet them. The three suspects were identified through street surveillance camera footage that showed them walking with Uemura toward the spot where he was murdered. Footage showed them walking back without Uemura.

The suspects burned the victim’s clothes and shoes in a public toilet about 800 meters from where the victim’s body was found. 

Shibayama said he wanted to intervene when he saw Uemura lying on the ground bleeding, but that Funahashi threatened to kill him, too.

Funahashi in Tweet day after he murdered Uemura

From Jiji Press and Dallas Brincrest.

(Since the court may try the suspects as adults they have been named in the story.  This is legal even if the court decides otherwise.  We are an independent news source with no Press Club alliance.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Japanese Rice Cartel Members Protest TPP

Japan Agriculture Group Execs Protest TPP

The Japanese city of Narita is best known to the outside world for its major airport that serves Tokyo, the nation's capital city. 

Narita is also a rural area of Chiba Prefecture, however, with a long tradition of rice farming. 

Toward the end of the summer, Narita's rice farmers gather to pray for bountiful harvests. They dance, play music and ride elaborate festival carts. From afar, the wagons appear to glide through a sea of lush green paddy fields as villagers pull them down Narita's placid country lanes. 

This year, some farmers feel that these traditions are in danger of disappearing. 

Japan is planning to join the Transpacific Partnership, or TPP. The government claims the country has begun to emerge from more than two decades of economic stagnation, thanks to heavy stimulus spending. It hopes that deregulation, including liberalizing trade, will help economic growth over the long term. 

But rice farmer and local activist Takeshi Ogura says entering into the TPP would be a bad deal for Japan. 

"Japanese agriculture is pretty costly," Ogura says, "so we don't want the government to treat food as a commercial business. We want it to protect our food sovereignty." 

To be sure, the issue of Japanese agriculture carries some weighty symbolism. 

But the TPP would also liberalize insurance, automobiles and other industries that employ more people and account for bigger chunks of the Japanese economy. 

The TPP includes 11 nations bordering on the Pacific, and its members account for around 40 percent of global trade. 

Ogura is very proud that he grows his own food, and that he lives in a community that celebrates this tradition. He says that joining the TPP would threaten his way of life. 

"The farmland and rice farming is at the core of our culture," he says. "They are linked to this culture through community festivals like this one. But if we stop cultivating the rice, this culture will be destroyed." 

The solidly-built, more than 60-year-old Ogura is a pretty typical specimen of Japanese yeomanry. He farms less than 25 acres of land and has to do sideline jobs to make ends meet. His children are not very enthusiastic about following in his line of work. 

In recent elections, Ogura voted for the Communist Party of Japan. 

Actually, he confides, he's no Marxist. It was a protest vote, he says, to show that he was fed up with the main political parties, because they refuse to stand up and oppose the TPP. 

"They pretend to listen to us," he says. "Especially at election time, they make sympathetic faces, and they're kind of helpful. Some of the candidates promised to oppose the TPP. But they voted for it in Parliament. They really broke their promise." 

Ogura's uphill struggle against the TPP reminds him of another local rice farmer and village chief by the name of Kiuichi Sogoro. 

In 1653, Sogoro traveled from Chiba to Edo, then Japan's capital, to petition the ruling Shogun to ease crippling taxes on local farmers. At the time, this was illegal, and the Shogun had Sogoro and his four sons beheaded for their impudence. 

But the Shogun also reduced the taxes, inspiring local farmers to build a temple in Narita and hold an annual festival to commemorate Sogoro's courageous sacrifice. 

Today, Japanese rice farming is protected by a politically powerful agricultural lobby, and import duties of more than 700 percent. 

It is also the least efficient farm sector among the developed economies. 

Jesper Koll, JP Morgan's Director of Research in Tokyo, argues that Japan can get out of this predicament by having fewer people working on bigger farms, and growing luxury food products for export. 

"If Mr. Ogura were to switch to something called 'Koshi-Hikari,' which is the Lexus brand of rice," he says, "he could sell it for eight times what he can sell it in Japan to department stores in the People's Republic of China." 

And joining the TPP, he adds, would allow Japan to import cheaper foreign rice, and that would save consumers money. 

Takeshi Ogura says grimly that maybe the government will put off joining the TPP, but he seems resigned to the final result. 

"The only reason we struggle on like this is that we have these ancestral lands. We've got to keep them in the family," he says. "But if the rice prices go down, that's the time I'll finally have to abandon the land. We're just at the brink right now." 


Editor's Note: 

To really understand this, there is a subtext not clearly stated by NPR that you will need to know. Rice in Japan costs $20-$30 per lb. The reason for this is that the rice farmers in Japan have what we would call a cartel (known as Japan Agriculture or JA) or trust that sets pricing. This has been tolerated because Japan's rice farmers are a protected class by politicians looking to buy their votes.  Because the Japanese government supports the cartel, Japanese consumers have little choice. 

 Nonetheless, the average Japanese household has been switching to foreign rice since the "bubble burst" and Japan began allowing foreign food imports in quantity. California and other rice are now generally used for day-to-day consumption, despite tariffs that make it 7 or 8 times as expensive as it should be. I'm not going to speak to whether this is right or wrong, just sharing the background, as I think any argument, such as those making pro-organic, anti-GMO arguments, needs to understand this context. Where in the West people may contend with a price differential of 20-30% for organic vs. GMO, the Japanese are dealing with something on a completely different pricing level. 

Dallas Brincrest

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Obama Lied About Bin Laden Raid

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

Seymour Hersh full article London Review of Books

Shinjiro Koizumi: Japan Must Have Drastic Change

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