Will the Next Elections Save Japanese Democracy

Asahi Shimbun

Why was last Sunday a sad day for Japanese democracy? Because it was demonstrated that a TV celebrity who also happens to be the prime minister of Japan managed to hijack the cause of reform, placed meaningful policy discussion out of bounds, and was given the opportunity to continue blocking the real repairs that Japan does need. Koizumi's achievement is amazing if you consider that genuine privatization of postal savings is unthinkable. We need to be very clear about this right away; what I write here is not controversial opinion, it is a reality anyone can see. The money collected by the post office has a peculiar function that is crucial in helping to keep the Japanese economy going through the zaisei yushishikin – which officials can treat as a "second budget". If you expose the huge amount of money involved to real market forces – which is what privatization means – Japan's financial system would collapse along with many of its agricultural institutions, and practically the entire construction sector would go bankrupt. Just one further detail: In combination, this fund, administered by Ministry of Finance officials, together with Japan Post itself, are the biggest holder of Japan Government Bonds, which helps to ensure that this form of government financing remains insulated from real – unreliable – market forces. The few who have immersed themselves in these details are not worried about the possibility of a calamity, seeing that as the legislation put forward by Koizumi is designed to be implemented in the dim future twelve years hence it does not begin to represent believable policy.

With Koizumi At The Theatre

Asahi Shimbun

Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is a master illusionist. Playing the media better than any of his predecessors, he has managed to create the widespread impression that voters will have chosen reform if they return him and the LDP candidates supporting his favorite project to the Diet next Sunday. Years before he became prime minister an idea was implanted in his mind that true reform in Japan would begin with an overhaul of the postal savings system. Ever since he has believed that they ought to be privatized, and he has frequently repeated that he would stake his "political life" on an attempt to accomplish this. In the four years that he has headed Japan's official government he was creeping toward this seemingly receding goal until the Lower House of Japan's parliament passed related bills, which were subsequently voted down by the Upper House on the 8th of August. This prompted Koizumi to challenge his own party, and Japan's political elite more generally, dissolving parliament and calling for a snap election. In the current campaign he insists that his plan of privatizing postal savings is the sole issue deserving of debate. He makes it appear as if the future of Japan depends on it, and refuses to be drawn out on other subjects, including some that would appear to deserve more urgent attention.

The End of American Hegemony

This article is part of the "Turning Points 2003" year-end package from The New York Times Syndicate. c.2003 Karel Van Wolferen (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.)

     Amid the appearance of a resurgent, newly aggressive America, the really significant international development of 2003 was the destruction of the conditions that until now had made American hegemony possible. The almost universally accepted dominance of the United States had been the pivot of a relatively stable and peaceful world order, but that order now stands on the verge of disintegration.
     Hegemony implies consent on the part of weaker powers, which enables the dominant power to avoid overt coercion _ the mark of imperialism, from which it must clearly be differentiated. It reveals itself in the dominant country's influence over other countries' world views, particularly in regard to international political and economic relations.

Portrait of an unfit president

Originally from George W. Bush and the Destruction of World Order (2002-03) pdf version

When considering George W. Bush, the most important fact to keep in mind is that he is not well-suited for his job. He is in the running to be the most destructive president in American history. Any rivals for that epithet (possibly James Buchanan, whose ineffectiveness during the slavery crisis in the late 1850s broke the country in two, and caused the carnage of the Civil War) were not most powerful men in the world. Also important to remember is that this momentous fact is not emotionally tolerable for the vast majority of Americans. Opinion polls frequently do not quite reflect what they claim, but if a New York Times/CBS News poll says that 67 percent of the pollees approved of George W. Bush's job performance, while 70 percent said he had strong qualities of leadership, this means something. In May 2003, many, perhaps most, Americans still believed that the simple good-vs-evil approach to world affairs fits American circumstances. To outsiders who have followed events since September 11, such trust in the president is only explicable by the fact that the American public suffers from a condition for which "misinformed" would be a euphemism.

America’s Orwellian War

NYTimes Syndication

     Has anyone else following the aftermath of September 11 been struck by the similarity to Orwell's 1984 – in which a never-ending far-away war against ever changing enemies serves as a rationale for political and social repression? In the past five months numerous Americans, and not a few Europeans, do not dare speak their minds and many more do not dare to think things through to a point where the urge to speak one's mind becomes unbearable.
     There was no genuine war after September 11. There could not have been. And no country, not even one as powerful

Can September 11 Make The United States Serious Again

for President Magazine (Japanese)

     The awful events of September 11 may have jolted the United States into becoming serious again. Its earlier seriousness, with which it rescued political civilization at least twice in the twentieth century, rather quickly dissipated after the end of the Cold War. Because of that savior role, and because of the basic decency of its people, I have always liked the United States. But just before the terrorist attacks I had been planning a series of columns about the necessity for "soft anti-Americanism" (if only to prevent the virulent type that serves no one), prompted by appalling situations in the world the US political elite was helping to create often without the knowledge of most of its citizens.
     The Cold War enforced a world order of considerable stability. For one thing, it kept the United States on its toes.