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Michael Ubaldi, January 29, 2004.

Down south for so long, business is looking up:

Japan's industrial output rose strongly in the final quarter of last year, spurred by demand for electronics goods, with a slight drop in December unlikely to knock the country's economic recovery off track.

Output rose 3.6 per cent in October-December over the previous three months, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said on Thursday, though it fell one per cent in December from November, below a Reuters poll forecast of a 0.6 per cent fall.

...Strong demand for Japanese electronics and other goods in recovering world markets has helped lift the economy out of a 10-year slump, boosting production and spurring companies to increase investment in their businesses.

..."We don't have the impression that the foundation is less firm," a METI official said. "Most companies remain optimistic."

That the second largest national economy is regaining its feet, so do we. Now, Mr. Koizumi, how about those reforms?

Michael Ubaldi, January 28, 2004.

Although the Washington Post's front page has been spattered with dubious stories, politically charged headlines and the occasional outright distortion, its editorial page is still sane; if not indispensible. While much of Washington works to maintain status quo with Tehran, freedom fighters young and old struggle to bring down the theocratic mullahs who oppress them. Although the popular progressive movement generally despises President Mohammed Khatami, the Post sees danger in allowing the reform-absent "reformist" to be politically cut down by reactionary clerics:

[I]ran's conservative clergy is engaged in an aggressive campaign to destroy, once and for all, the country's democratic reform movement. Before proceeding, the United States and Europe ought to draw the right conclusions from that political struggle.

The crisis began earlier this month when a clerical body, the Guardian Council, banned nearly 4,000 candidates for next month's elections, including more than 80 incumbent members of parliament. The council's aim was to prevent a repeat of the 2000 elections, in which democratic reformers won a parliamentary majority. By rigging this election, the mullahs would prepare the way for replacing Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a conservative next year.

They have, er, immoral support from some Western nations:

Hassan Rowhani, the hard-liner who has begun speaking for Iran on subjects such as nuclear inspections, was received in Paris last week by French President Jacques Chirac, even while the reformist parliamentarians were engaged in a sit-in to protest their banishment.

Once more: the French may be offering token assistance against terrorism in Africa and elsewhere, but they are not our strategic partners - far from. The Post offers a warning:

The White House has tended to discount his party in favor of the more radical youth movement that, it is hoped, might eventually bring revolutionary regime change to Iran. Some officials argue that Iran's hard-liners are at least as interested as Mr. Khatami in striking a deal with the West - and more able to deliver on their promises.

It would be a mistake, however, to ignore a conservative coup...Whatever the outcome of the crisis...the West's interest lies in standing with Iran's pro-democracy majority - even if that means an end to the latest diplomatic thaw.

The majority of Iran is both pro-democratic and pro-Western, with strong feelings of solidarity with and appreciation for America. Even more so than Iraq, Iran has a population that is quite ready and willing to undertake self-government. The mullahs are prime exporters of terror; Khatami has not delivered. How long until Plan A, parleying with the mullahs, is fully understood as the fruitless engagement that it is?

Michael Ubaldi, January 22, 2004.

Presenting a man of notably questionable ethics as duly qualified to judge President Bush's morality: it's a bizarre exercise in self-deception, and par for far-left columnist Tom Brazaitis' course. Danny O'Brien has obliged reason by fisking the living daylights out of Brazaitis' snake oil wisdom.

Michael Ubaldi, January 12, 2004.

To 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, postmarked Tehran, Iran. Penned by liberation activist Koorosh Afshar:

Mr. President, we appreciate the generosity of your resolve in helping the Iranian nation heal one of its many wounds. We treasure this kindness, which we consider an example of America's compassionate attitude toward the Iranian people.

...Sir, please remind Secretary Powell that even the thought of negotiating with the mullahs is absolutely futile. Khatami and Khomeini are both against the Iranian people...[T]he mullahs showed their true vicious colors when it came to the earthquake-relief money, according to some Iranian sources. Fully aware of the horrible conditions in Bam, the mullahs still didn't hesitate to seize hefty portions of the international humanitarian aid, only to use it as campaign funding for the upcoming elections for the Islamic parliament. Mr. President, how can Secretary Powell even speak of negotiations with people this evil?

...[M]r. President, please do not forget that what you and your allied forces have begun in Iraq and Afghanistan can only bear fruit if the Iranian problem is solved. We can do it: Trust us, not the mullahs. Invest in the real Iran, not the Islamic occupying regime. Allow us to make this plague the last to afflict the Iranians; allow us to make 2004 the year of Iran's liberation.

Keep faith, Koorosh. Iraq and Afghanistan, once two of the world's least hopeful places, are steadily moving towards democratic sovereignty. If President Bush can be believed, there is a policy corner - influenced by stability in Iraq - to be turned before State's habitual, empty diplomatic gestures to Iran's Islamist mullahs will finally be turned to calls for their removal. I trust Bush; but I sympathize with you, Koorosh, and hope that corner comes sooner rather than later. This year would be a fine time.

Michael Ubaldi, January 12, 2004.

This conflict, brought about by the fear of post-1945 militarism in Japan and the American Supreme Commander's resolve to forever prevent it, is problematic:

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba said in a newspaper article published Monday that British forces in Iraq should expect no military help from Japanese troops even if they are under fire.

...Under Japan's pacifist Constitution, Self-Defense Forces (SDF) troops are not allowed to use weapons except in defense of themselves or of civilians under their protection.

...Japan plans to send some 700 SDF troops to Iraq for reconstruction work, mainly the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where Dutch troops operate under the command of British officers based in Basra.

As we know from tales of United Nations peacekeeping, few circumstances are more horrifying than troops forced to watch a military or humanitarian disaster, forbade by law to intervene. Given Japan's nearly sixty years as a peaceful, stable, and prosperous democratic nation - dominated by a laissez-faire, pacifist culture - isn't it time to reconsider its self-imposed prohibition on offensive action? Some in Japan are. We need to see more.

Michael Ubaldi, January 6, 2004.

While I admire Bill Safire's integrity and intelligence, as well as his post as one of the scarce rightists writing for the New York Times, his columns over the past couple of months have been unenlightening and, worse, tinged with the disconnected loftiness of a permanently tenured professor. He recently expressed the maximum amount of fear communicable in a newspaper column for a sustained and heavy Republican majority - as if the 20th Century Congresses hadn't been dominated by the other party, sans societal collapse. A silly piece, really, and the mark of a man in an ivory tower, otherwise lacking reliable perspective. Andrew Sullivan has gone a wide step further, taking Safire to task on his yearly predictions. The verdict? Bloggers - amateurs, even - can do better.

My verdict? Safire, as he is now, may have reached an impasse; at least a shortcoming of prescience. How so? Times, culture, politics and the metrics thereof have changed drastically since the writer came of age. True wisdom is, of course, timeless. But he does not seem to have modified the application of that wisdom; not like Wall Street Journal editor and contemporary Robert Bartley, who changed enormously between his journalistic start in the early 1970s and his death last month. As a consequence, Safire's evaluation of the past, observation of the present and outlook for the future are each out of focus. You can occasionally see the same miscalculation in the otherwise brilliant Bill Buckley.

Sullivan made a similar point this morning about a leftist, poor old Arthur Miller stewing in his Castrophiliac crucible. It was a little raw. Essentially, until Miller's generation commits to the grave, much of its reality - especially as circulated by intellectuals - walks on like the living dead; and we're still left to contend with it as serious argument. So the only end to the antiquity is the death of its valuers.

Strong stuff, and difficult to wield in conversation without sounding unfit for rational conversation. Here's a better frame for it. Some people will be able to see wisdom as a thing not circumstantially bound: not dictated by events but instead defining events itself, and so those people can more easily adapt to realities that develop far after the stubbornness of old age begins to set in. Others will be inflexible with the disappearance of the world they knew in their formative, energetic years, insistent on reasoning from within the rules of time past - becoming shrill, broken records. The intuitive versus the experiential, in another sense. The latter fosters the mindset that kept ill people with thick skulls from seeing doctors who could have saved their lives earlier last century; and the mindset that prevents old men from removing themselves from the bleak, mystifying shroud of the Cold War. (As an aside, we prevent our coming to terms with that frightening time by failing to count it as one of the world wars.)

So, if a little flip, Andrew Sullivan's right: either a man such as Safire readjusts or his commentary for today and tomorrow is only of qualified value.

Michael Ubaldi, December 27, 2003.

The good people of Iran need our attention, care and prayers. (Iranian Truth link via Jeff Jarvis).

KINDEST, GENTLEST: Next time someone carps about Americans' lack of generosity, slap 'em. Then show them stories like this one.

Michael Ubaldi, December 20, 2003.

Japan's leaders understand the dangers they face from dictatorships across the ocean:

Japan's government approved plans yesterday to spend billions of dollars on a US-developed ballistic missile shield as part of a new approach to defense that analysts said reflects mounting wariness of North Korea and could antagonize China.

The decision to authorize a program that will reportedly cost about $10 billion was made after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration also launched Japan's first spy satellites and pushed through legislation strengthening the military's emergency powers.

..."This is not directed against any specific country," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. "As far as Japan is concerned, it is natural that we should prepare to meet any threat."

I take issue with the idea that such a development in ballistic countermeasures would "antagonize" anybody. As was made quite plainly obvious yesterday, strongmen respond very positively when their kind are demonstrably deprived of the ability to influence through the threat of force. Wonderful news - the Japanese are making a smart decision.

Michael Ubaldi, December 16, 2003.

The Bank of Japan is cautiously predicting sustained economic growth, meaning in part that earlier signs of recovery have borne out.

But the same question remains: will Japan reform? Laissez-faire economic policies through decentralization and deregulation, more encouragement for small business, and a reformation of its farcical banking system?

While some observers of Japan saw a rejection of old values - conservatism, financial modesty, loyalty to the company store - between the 1960s and 1980s, others imply that the changes were superficial, and that the Japanese are as starched today as they always were:

There have been many attempts in recent years to dissect Japan's current circumstance. Most have been written from a global view. "Saving the Sun" takes a microview.

...The author, Gillian Tett, a social anthropologist turned journalist, was Tokyo Bureau Chief for the Financial Times of London during that critical period in the 1990s and early 2000s when the Long Term Credit Bank was on the ropes. She had incredible access to major players in the bank's demise and recovery. Her conclusion is that its problems were not unique to that institution but symptomatic of the institutional corruption and operational culture that retards Japan's ability to compete in the global setting.

The result is an intriguing account of the personalities involved in a clash of cultures. She explains how the Japanese reliance on consensus, stability and a stoic public face when confronted with extreme adversity led to ruin, and then to a nasty public clash of traditional Japanese culture vs American-driven, bottom-line standards of performance.

Maybe. Bureaucracy is a universal culture of the obstinate, and the only variance between nations seems to be the extent to which each one is tied down with red tape. Either way, Junichiro Koizumi will fight hard for a victory.

Michael Ubaldi, December 10, 2003.

Beijing reads from the same script as the nihilist left:

The Japanese government's approval Tuesday of a basic plan to dispatch troops to Iraq underlined its intention to become a military power and to secure oil interests, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday.

With all due respect to the repressive, communist regime, I much prefer Junichiro Koizumi's blunt explanation:

"We cannot say Iraq is not dangerous. But for the sake of Japan's national interests, we have to cooperate with Iraqi reconstruction efforts both financially and by sending SDF members."

...Koizumi, a strong supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush's war against Saddam Hussein and post-war reconstruction efforts, said that Washington was trying to rebuild Iraq with good intentions.

Security, justice, and a commitment to freedom - not bad ideals to share, those. The prime minister is being dog-piled by domestic opponents who would rather foist the problem onto the "someone else" represented by the United Nations. Ever stalwart, Koizumi's even considering a trip to Iraq.