Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Japan's Taro Aso in Washington

The Washington Post interviewed Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on February 25, 2009.

Aso argued that U.S. businesses would not borrow money no matter how the Fed lowered interest rates. As such, he supported the stimulus bill passed by Congress because he believed the U.S. government needed to step in and spend more money to save the economy.

But he warned America to stay away from issuing more dollars in an effort to solve the country’s economic problems.

“As long as the [Federal Reserve’s] balance sheet is clean, as long as you are able to maintain confidence in the dollar, there’s no chance of the U.S. dollar going into a critical situation,” said Aso. “I’ll guarantee that.”

In other words, if you start printing too much money, we might start selling our dollars and your currency will crash.1

Well, guess what. The Fed would later start printing money like crazy, flooding overseas markets with money they didn’t need.

1 If America decided to issue more money, the Fed would create that money and use it to buy financial assets (typically bonds). Those assets would get placed on the Fed’s balance sheet. Presumably, at that point, the Fed’s balance sheet would no longer be “clean,” at least according to Aso. An important side effect of this money creation process is that some of the money – perhaps a lot of the money – would head overseas. That would lower the dollar and increase the likelihood of creating bubbles in overseas economies. To retaliate, other countries, such as Japan, might start selling their own dollar holdings which would destroy the value of the dollar and lead to financial Armageddon and no one wants that, right? Not surprisingly, Japan did not sell its dollar holdings even after the Fed started printing money like crazy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aso meets Obama

Taro Aso met with Barack Obama on February 24, 2009.

“Expectations for concrete results from the talks were low, with the Japanese premier’s support ratings having plunged to critical levels at home and many believing he may be unable to cling to power much longer,” said Kyodo News.

Apparently, the current state of Japanese politics had the U.S. government in a sour mood.

“Washington appeared low-key and less enthusiastic than Tokyo regarding the occasion,” said Kyodo News.

Political theater strikes again.

In protest, America refused to grant Taro Aso a joint press conference with Obama after the talks, something Aso strongly desired. America also refused to schedule a state dinner for Aso.

Boo hoo.

The Japanese media has other ideas

The Japanese media had their own ideas of what would transpire during the meeting between Aso and Obama. They believed Obama invited Aso to Washington in an effort to get Japan to loan America the money it needed to carry out its stimulus package. One Japanese official disputed that claim, arguing that America was not having any problems borrowing money at the current time.

Ozawa eyeing smaller role for U.S. forces in Japan

At a press conference, Ichiro Ozawa says that the U.S. military should reduce its presence in Japan.

“The 7th Fleet would be enough for the U.S. presence in the Far East from a strategic viewpoint,” said Ozawa.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Aso's message

During the upcoming meeting between Taro Aso and Barack Obama, Aso would deliver one message to Obama.

“We expect the United States to rein in overconsumption while Japan, China and other surplus countries should increase their domestic demand,” said Kazuo Kodama, the spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Japan Must Move Away From U.S. Dependency, DPJ's Hatoyama Says

“We want to move away from U.S. dependency to a more equal alliance,” said Yukio Hatoyama, during an interview on February 23, 2009. “We’ve followed the U.S. subserviently in the past.”

“We are only looking for an equal relationship, which we believe the U.S. also prefers.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mainichi interviews Kent Calder

The Mainichi Shimbun published an interview with Kent Calder, the director for East Asian Studies at the Edwin O. Reischauer Center. During the interview, Calder said the Obama administration would not favor China over Japan.

“I don’t think you can deny the importance of China,” said Calder. “But I don’t think the emphasis on China as opposed to Japan will be as in the Clinton administration or in the (second term of the) Bush administration.”

As for the financial crisis, he said the situation was “rather severe” and he noted that “Japan is the largest capital exporter in the world.” His comments suggest that he wanted Japan to bailout America.

But he saved his most interesting comment for Iran.

“Maybe if there is one single most important issue in the whole world it could be Iran,” said Calder. “So I think the U.S. will look at the North Korean nuclear issue through the eyes of the Iranian problem. We don’t want to encourage the Iranians. (Because North Korea already has nuclear weapons), almost inevitably any accommodation we would make with North Korea would encourage the Iranians. So I think the result of this, because we’re looking with a high priority at the Iran question, is that we will not push so hard with North Korea. I don’t think we will see significant progress in the six party talks until next year.”

Calder seems to be suggesting that the issues of Iran and North Korea are linked. For America, dealing with Iran is more important than dealing with North Korea. But for Japan, presumably, the opposite is true. Dealing with North Korea is more important. If you ask the Japanese government, I am sure they will justify their interest in North Korea by using the following argument. North Korea poses a grave threat to Japan because of their hostile intent and their proximity to Japan. And I’m sure they will mention the fact that North Korea was illegally detaining several of their citizens. And so Calder seems to be hinting at some sort of quid pro quo. If Japan wants America to do something on North Korea, then Japan must do something on Iran.

That, of course, begs the question, what does America want Japan to do? Destroying the relationship between Iran and Japan has been a long term policy objective of America. America wanted Japan to do something that would achieve that objective. On several occasions, I have heard Japanese officials proclaim that Japan and Iran have “historic relations,” relations that have persisted for 2,000 years.1 Presumably, America knows about the historically friendly relationship between Iran and Japan and worries that Japan might establish closer ties to Iran. That would put the West at a disadvantage, as their relationship with Iran remained hostile. In fact, it was only three decades ago that the West enjoyed a good relationship with Iran. But the Iranian revolution changed all that.

However, things are not always as they seem. The relationship between Iran and the West and the relationship between Japan and North Korea are much different than is commonly known. In fact, Iran still remains a client state of the West. And North Korea is actually a client state of East Asia. Both North Korea and Iran are the “attack dogs” for their respective masters.

As I stated earlier, the West wanted the Iranian Revolution. They wanted to drive up the price of oil. They wanted to impede the development of the Iranian economy.2 And they wanted to use Iran to cause all sorts of mischief throughout the Muslim world.

As for North Korea, whenever something goes awry in the relationship between the West and East Asia, North Korea comes in and threatens to obliterate South Korea. They do this to put pressure on America. America is responsible for much of the defense of South Korea. If North Korea attacked South Korea, America would get caught up in yet another war. And that’s the last thing we want now. And so by having North Korea threaten to attack South Korea, that puts pressure on America. Of course, since the Korean War, North Korea has only threatened to go to war with South Korea. That is because they realize that a war would be harmful to East Asia. And so they merely threaten to attack South Korea. And they do various other hostile acts now and then, many of which are targeted at America. For example, they seized the USS Pueblo, they shot down a U.S. reconnaissance plane, and they killed a U.S. soldier who was chopping down a tree located in the border between North and South Korea.

1 For the record, I have little knowledge of the 2,000 year history of relations between Japan and Iran. I only know about the more recent developments.

2 The Iranian Revolution led to the Iran-Iraq War, which of course badly damaged Iran. And with a “hostile” regime in charge, that gave the West an excuse to limit their economic cooperation with Iran.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Koizumi to stay away from revote on bill to implement cash handouts

Apparently, Junichiro Koizumi listens to the editorial board of the Asahi Shimbun because on February 18 he announced that he would boycott the vote on Aso’s stimulus package.

Looking for another bailout

“I believe US authorities may want Japan to help them - ... particularly in the US, with the possibility of using big Japanese foreign reserves to help them set up a so-called bad bank, which is buying non-performing assets,” said Hiromichi Shirakawa, the chief economist of Credit Suisse Securities Japan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Koizumi's attack on Aso

In an editorial published by the Asahi Shimbun on February 16, the newspaper questioned Koizumi’s motives for threatening to vote against Aso’s stimulus package.

“If he is skeptical about Aso’s cash-handout proposal, he should have voiced his concern much earlier,” said the Asahi Shimbun. “There is no doubt that Koizumi’s assault on Aso has drawn public attention to the LDP again. If he is trying to revive the ‘Koizumi political theater,’ his brand of sound bite politics, that doesn’t befit a former prime minister who has announced his retirement from politics. If, on the other hand, Koizumi is serious about trying to push Aso in a new policy direction, he should match his words with actions by voting against the cash handouts in the Lower House revote.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Koizumi criticizes Aso over remarks on postal privatization

Apparently, Taro Aso’s recent remarks about how he opposed postal privatization before he supported it did not go down well with Junichiro Koizumi. In a press conference held on February 12, Koizumi lashed out at Aso for his careless remarks.

“I feel more like laughing than getting angry,” said Koizumi. “I am just amazed (at Aso’s remarks).”

Apparently, Aso’s remarks made Koizumi so upset that, in his press conference, Koizumi confessed that he might not vote for Aso’s stimulus package.

Koizumi hinted that there was some sort of conspiracy behind the actions of Aso.

“When junior members express critical views of the prime minister’s policies, party executives suppress them, saying, ‘Don’t shoot him in the back,’” said Koizumi. “But the current situation is that the prime minister is shooting people who are trying to fight (in the upcoming lower house election) from the front.”

Hitachi wins 7.5 billion pound order in Britain

Many of the rail cars in Britain are twenty to thirty years old. They needed to be replaced. Today, Britain decided to order up to 1,400 super express trains from Hitachi. The contract was worth a whopping 7.5 billion pounds.

This contract was controversial right from the beginning. Some complained that much of the manufacturing work would be done in Japan. They argued that more jobs would have been created in Britain had the government chosen Bombardier instead of Hitachi.

Over the next several years, Britain would use this contract as leverage over Japan. When Japan did something that Britain didn’t like, Britain would threaten to revoke this contract.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Aso administration mired in predicament

The latest Aso gaffe had the rest of his party up in arms.

“There was no need for the prime minister to say he’d opposed the postal privatization from the very start,” said one senior LDP official. “I’d been expecting the approval rating to rise after the consumption tax row ended, but this remark made me boil over with rage.”

“Whenever we get the slightest chance of going on the offensive, the prime minister goes and ruins it,” said Ichita Yamamoto, another LDP official.

The LDP was screwing up so badly that the Chinese media speculated that the end of the reign of the LDP might be near.

“Will Japan usher in a new era characterized by the two-party system?” asked Xinhua. “The decisive moment is not far.”

Sunday, February 8, 2009

America's New Rescuer

On February 8, 2009, David M. Smick wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which called for Japan to bail out America. Japan, after all, had the largest amount of excess savings in the world, and it presumably wanted to lower its currency which, over the past 18 months, had strengthened 30% against the dollar as Japanese investors sold their overseas bonds and repatriated the money. The strong yen, coupled with collapsing overseas demand, had badly damaged Japanese companies.

Were the Japanese government to start selling yen and buying dollars and buying U.S. government bonds with those dollars that would both lower the yen and at the same time, bail out America.

I don’t think Japan liked that bargain.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Waffling Aso roasted on public griddle

According to the Japan Times, Taro Aso “shocked the political world” on February 5 when he said he opposed privatizing Japan Post during the Koizumi administration. Privatizing Japan Post was the signature piece of legislation passed by the Koizumi administration. To hear that Taro Aso, a member of the party and the internal affairs minister at the time, opposed that piece of legislation…well, that was completely earthshaking, according to the Japanese media.

His remarks sparked outrage in the LDP. The party would soon face an election and such remarks only hurt the party and increased the likelihood that the DPJ would win the election and assume power for the first time ever.

“I just don’t understand why this happens,” said one LDP member.

I do.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Spy Factory

“NSA had all the information that it needed to stop the hijackers.”
James Bradford

We threatened to tell the truth again on February 3, when PBS aired a program, produced by NOVA, on how the NSA acted in the run-up to 9/11.

At the end of 1996, Al Qaeda purchased a satellite phone in New York for Osama bin Laden. The NSA knew about the existence of that phone and they recorded the conversations conducted over that phone. Almost immediately, NSA discovered that bin Laden was using that phone to call a house in Yemen. NSA discovered that Al Qaeda was using that house as a sort of communications hub. Its operatives from around the world would call that house to relay information. Osama bin Laden would call that house and provide instructions which would then get transmitted to Al Qaeda operatives worldwide.

“Osama bin Laden’s Inmarsat telephone was really a godsend,” said Michael Scheuer. “It gave us an idea, not only of where he was in Afghanistan, but where Al Qaeda, as an organization, was established, because there were calls to various places in the world.”

From 1996 to 1999, Scheuer served as the head of Alec Station, a CIA unit responsible for tracking the movements of Osama bin Laden. According to NOVA, NSA provided CIA with summaries of the bin Laden phone calls but refused to hand over the actual transcripts of those calls. Scheuer wanted the transcripts.

“Over time, if you read enough of these conversations, you first get clued in to the fact that maybe ‘bottle of milk’ doesn’t mean ‘bottle of milk,’” said Scheuer. “And if you follow it long enough, you develop a sense of what they’re really talking about. But it's not possible to do unless you have the verbatim transcript.”

Scheuer asked the NSA for the transcripts but the NSA refused to provide them. To gain access to the transcripts, Scheuer persuaded the CIA to build its own ground station. But the CIA did not have a satellite, and so Scheuer could only get half of the conversations.

At the end of 1999, the NSA recorded a call to the Yemen house in which Al Qaeda told two of its members, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, to fly to Malaysia for a terrorist summit.

“This is the phone call that sets in motion the 9/11 attacks,” said NOVA.

In less than two years, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi would hijack American Airlines Flight 77 and ram the plane into the Pentagon.

“After picking up this critical call, NSA passed on their first names to the FBI and the CIA but not their last names,” said James Bamford. “Nawaf’s last name had been in the NSA’s database for over a year, because of his association with bin Laden’s operations center in Yemen, but apparently the NSA never looked it up.”

Somehow, the CIA was able to identify Khalid al-Mihdhar and they had the government of Dubai make a copy of his passport when he traveled through their country. CIA examined his passport and discovered that he had a valid U.S. visa. After al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi reached Malaysia, the government there conducted surveillance on the two of them, upon request from the CIA.

At that time, Alec Station had two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, working the case. Knowing that al-Mihdhar had an American passport, after the meeting in Malaysia, the FBI agents wanted to tell their bosses at the FBI that two Al Qaeda terrorists may soon travel to America. However, the CIA would not allow it.

“This is one of the most astonishing parts of the story,” said James Bamford. “The CIA had FBI operatives working within their bin Laden unit, but when the FBI operatives found out that one, and possibly two, of the terrorists had visas to the United States, were heading for the United States, the CIA wouldn’t let them tell their headquarters that they were coming. Only the FBI could have put out alerts to stop Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi if they tried to enter the United States.”

Somehow, the CIA managed to lose track of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi as they traveled through Thailand. On January 15, 2000, the two terrorists flew to Los Angeles. They would soon move to San Diego and acquire driver’s licenses using their real names. A known Al Qaeda finance chief would wire them money which they would pick up at a local bank.

According to the Frank Blanco, the former Executive Director of the NSA, the NSA had a catastrophic failure on January 24.

“NSA was brain-dead,” said Blanco. “It took probably three to four, maybe even five days to bring everything back up the way it was.”

While living in San Diego, the 9/11 hijackers would call the Yemen house many times. But according to NOVA, NSA refused to pass on that information to any other agency.

“Incredibly, the NSA never informed the FBI that these calls were coming from the United States, and we may never know why,” said James Bamford. “No one from NSA will discuss it, and the 9/11 Commission never investigated it.”

On June 10, Khalid al-Mihdhar flew from Los Angeles to Yemen to see his newborn son. He would live in the Al Qaeda communications house in Yemen for over a year, during which time he would apply for a new U.S. visa. Incredibly, our government granted his request.

Right before 9/11, the hijackers stayed at a motel in Laurel, Maryland.

“This town happens to be right next door to NSA’s headquarters,” said James Bradford.

In fact, the motel is located a mere two miles from NSA headquarters.

Now let’s do a recap called, “How many ways can our government fuck up an investigation?”
  1. NSA had been monitoring the Al Qaeda communications hub in Yemen since 1996 but our government never bothered to use the information gained from that operation to dismantle the organization.
  2. Apparently, our excuse for not dismantling Al Qaeda is that the NSA never bothered to hand over the transcripts of the bin Laden phone calls to the CIA. This, despite the fact that Al Qaeda killed hundreds of people in the Embassy Bombings in Africa and seventeen soldiers aboard the USS Cole. You would think our government, with all the knowledge it had of the inner working of Al Qaeda, would have done something more to destroy that organization.
  3. We were monitoring the Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia but somehow we lost the terrorists when they moved to Thailand.
  4. Two FBI agents knew the identities of two of the hijackers but the CIA prevented them from telling anyone else in the FBI about them.
  5. Rather than trying to save American lives and tell their bosses of what they had learned, those two FBI agents just sat on the information. Apparently, they were worried more about their jobs than about the lives of the American people.
  6. The two Al Qaeda terrorists travel to America, get driver’s licenses using their real names, which our government knows, and no one stops them. The FBI claims they didn’t know who these guys were and the NSA…well, I’m not sure what the hell they claim.
  7. Perhaps the NSA blames their failings on a massive system failure about a week after the hijackers arrived in America. Perhaps this is their excuse for not discovering that the hijackers had moved to San Diego.
  8. A known Al Qaeda finance chief wires money to a bank in San Diego. The two hijackers pick up the money. No one in our government stops this.
  9. While living in San Diego, the hijackers call the Yemen house repeatedly. But apparently, nothing is done about this. NSA must have known about these calls, but apparently, they did nothing about it.
  10. After leaving America, Khalid al-Mihdhar lives in Yemen for a while. He applies for a new U.S. visa and our government gives it to him.
  11. Right before the attacks, the hijackers lived in a motel located a mere two miles away from NSA headquarters. I’m sure the NSA will claim that they had no knowledge of their presence there and I’m sure our government will claim that they did nothing either with or to the hijackers while they lived there.
Remembering that Osama bin Laden worked with the CIA during the 80s in Afghanistan in the fight against the Soviets, which explanation is more likely, that our government is a bunch of bumbling fools who couldn’t stop their former asset whom they’ve been monitoring since 1996, or that our government is a bunch of heartless idiots who decided to kill thousands of Americans so that they could advance their own dipshit agenda?

Japan LDP, With No Clear Mission, May Lose Majority

“Political chaos will not be sorted out in a very short time period,” said Koichi Kato. “Perhaps we have to go through two or three general elections.”

Perhaps you will have to go through a revolution…


Why Davos Man is waiting for Obama to save him

In an op-ed published in the Financial Times on February 3, 2009, Martin Wolf referred to the actions of the Obama administration as “desperately discouraging.”

Wolf called the Obama fiscal stimulus plan “too small, too wasteful and too ill-focused.” He accused the administration of failing to recapitalize the banks and resorting to protectionism on the trade front.

“We are living on the cusp of history,” said Wolf. “The priority is to reverse the downward spiral of despair through overwhelming and concerted action. That will only occur if the US now gives the leadership we need.”