Saturday, May 23, 2009

Koreans mourning ex president Roh Moo-hyun after apparent suicide

Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (R) during a historic summit in 2007 in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang

Embattled former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun died Saturday morning after apparently jumping to his death from a mountain cliff near his residence in southeastern South Korea. Roh, who was a former human rights lawyer and anticorruption campaigner while president, was target of an investigation about a bribery scandal involving his wife, son and close confidants. Roh aide and lawyer Moon Jae In told reporters Saturday that Roh had "left a brief suicide note to his family."

"Roh left his home at 5:45 a.m. and was climbing Bongwha mountain with his bodyguard. He appears to have jumped from a mountain rock around 6:40 a.m.," Moon, presidential chief of staff during Roh's presidency, told reporters at a hospital in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province. Roh, 62, died at around 9:30 a.m. after being taken to Busan University Hospital. The cause of his death was head injuries, according to the hospital.

Bongwha cliff

According to police, Roh said in his suicide note, "I owe too many people a debt of gratitude. The suffering of many people because of me is too great. My health is so bad that I can't do anything. I can't even read a book or write anything," Roh's note, the contents of which were distributed by the police, said. "Don't be too grieved. Isn't life and death a piece of nature? Cremate my body and set a small gravestone near my home."

Current South Korean President Lee Myung Bak expressed deep regret over the death of his predecessor. "It is quite unbelievable. I am stricken with sorrow and deep sadness."

First victim of H1N1 flu: Japanese no sense of crisis management!

Who's behind the mask?

The first victim of H1N1 virus is Japanese government crisis management fickleness! Take for instance the Japanese makers of surgical masks who are said that they can't fight. Fight what? Not the virus. What they can't fight is demand for surgical masks. People are not protected. How could Japan government reach such inability in facing crisis, apparently unable to keep up with the number 1 obligation? Guarantee the security to the inhabitants after the spread of the A/H1N1 flu virus.

In the world of Kitty Chan --not so nice world indeed under pandemic fear-- people nowadays watch each other with suspicion, cough and sneeze in your face or refuse to give you the way, especially if you are foreigner. Authorities now try to lower the fear and the effect of the virus. But people do not buy it. What they want to buy are masks. Problem, there aren't any, and if there are, it is just a few, it is not for everyone today. Same like medicines to fight H1N1: 2/3 of Japanese can't get the shot and the pills. Terrible scenario with politicians and so called crisis management experts looking like the Monsters of Tottori prefecture born Mizuki Shigeru.

Sculpture of Gegege no Kitaro cartoon character: Nezumi Otoko (Rat man)

I was wondering about it when walking in various prefectures of Japan these last days, especially when I returned last night to Tokyo. One eye on the WHO N1H1 "index" the other on Tokyoites at airports, stations and streets. I reported about it on RTL. (Click this post title to access RTL and listen to my report)

In Tokyo, I saw that 1 third of people did actually wear a mask. Is it because the other 2 third feel uncomfortable in wearing a mask or is it because they could not find any? Might be both. But there are other reasons too. When I asked in a shop to buy a mask box, I was asked to buy one mask only not a box, while at the same time, the WHO recommends to the people to change their mask at least once a day until it gets wet or dirty. I was therefore surprised to see that 100.000 masks were acquired by the Yokohama 150th anniversary committee as media reported. Yokohama selfishly kept these masks for the visitors of the event while the rest of the population cannot find any mask to put on their nose.

Guarantee safety to the people is priority no1
First priority of a democratic government is to guarantee safety to the people. Authentically, I thought that J government was not really capable of doing something right in this pandemic fear, and act as a responsible entity and offer protection and security to its people. From the beginning, they should have brought a packet of masks** to each house, especially to isolated elder people and schools. Use your Postmen and your Koban officers, use social workers, "freeters", temp workers, and volunteers not only for the Olympics!

But Prime ministe Aso's governement did not address the issue. He did the opposite yesterday. "Japan has eased quarantine and immigration measures aimed at controlling the spread of swine flu, saying the virus was not as virulent as first feared. Japan new policy aimed at minimizing the impact of the state's flu response on businesses and daily life". Here we are, don't touch my economy. Quotes:

"According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the policy change puts more emphasis on preventing further infections and on helping people with chronic diseases who have the flu get treatment. "This of course doesn't mean that it's OK for healthy people to be infected. But it's good to prioritize people at higher risk," said Nobuhiko Okabe, director of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. Okabe also said that people with chronic diseases should be aware that keeping their health problems under control will help mitigate the impact of contracting swine flu," according to press reports.

Some low awareness policy makers such as Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto said that he really appreciated the new policy "because it fits the reality facing local governments". Osaka... always so close to its money and own cash-box.

Preventive measures
The World Health Organization director-general, a former Hong Kong health official, Margaret Chan, surely knows what she is talking about, with the SARS factor experience, and she is presently under heavy international political pressure, but she said that people must show responsibility and wear mask, and, for those who aren't infected, respect other preventive measures such as refraining from touching the mouth and nose, frequently washing hands and avoiding crowded settings.

Do not check Tokyo: It's too big
Worst case indeed as WHO said: Tokyo 36 millions people. To the point that some experts speculate that national authorities might very well have chosen to test less important cities and population such as Kobe or Osaka, and, reveal minimal cases of contracted diseases in the "Grand Tokyo" metropolis, where a panic would have frightening consequences and paralyze the government. If not this one with A H1N1, plan and imagine tomorrow if water is polluted or chemically or biologically poisoned?

Laws to face emergency
Would not be a bad idea to move the capital to the countryside. But easier is to change policy. What is needed are laws to face emergency and implement accurate policies. This is exactly what the crisis management security adviser to Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro, Mr. Shikata Toshiyuki, told me when we met at Tokyo Metropolitan Governement at a very fortunate Foreign Press Center press tour held during a drill about influenza pandemic at Tokyo city-hall on November 20th 2008:

"Hostages crisis, bio-terror, avian flu: Tokyo's apocalypse, now!" No special forces able to interfere, no law to allow fast action from the authorities, not enough medical facilities, vaccines, security forces, not enough doctors, commandos, transport, no water, no food, no shelters. If a major pandemic: Tokyo residents will die one after the other.

Click here to read the interview of Tokyo Security adviser to Governor Ishihara, the ex-GSDF Lieutenant-General Shikata Toshiyuki

**NB: "Seijo Corp., which operates 276 drug stores mainly in Tokyo and the surrounding region, said mask sales for this month so far are 10 times the company's usual May figures" according to wire services.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Diplomatic note, a Silicon Valley Lawyer and B.Obama's friend for Tokyo?

In today's Asahi Shimbun, Yoichi Kato from the Washington bureau

"The Obama administration has now decided to name John Roos, 54, to the post of ambassador to Japan and has notified the Japanese government of the decision on May 19. Roos is a Silicon Valley-based lawyer, who handles the merger and acquisition of information technology businesses as his main area of activities and did much to help Obama win the presidential election. The Obama administration had been in the final stage of coordination to name Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye, but it eventually chose Roos, based on consideration given to his close relationship with President Obama."

Roos is a Stanford Law School graduate. He entered a law firm in Silicon Valley, California, and is currently its chief executive officer. According to the law firm's website, Roos has expertise in corporate fundraising, business-related laws, and corporate governance. The website cites "Israel" as his foreign experience, and the "foreign language" section is left blank.

"To put U.S. media reports together, Roos has backed Obama through such activities as holding fundraising parties at his home before Obama's announcement of his candidacy in the presidential race. The New York Times reported in August 2008 that Roos was one of Obama's top fundraisers at the earliest stage. There is nothing in the U.S. media about whether he has had anything to do with Japan. It may safely be said that the Obama administration weighed Roos' close personal relationship with Obama over knowledge and experience like Nye's regarding foreign relations with Asia and Japan. Former Ambassador Schieffer, known for his close ties with President Bush, was such a case. The White House chose the Schieffer model and dropped Nye, according to an informed source. "

To be confirmed...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pandemic... no panic!

"Are you feverish?" This question is starting to get on people's nerves.

"Doctors and Japanese health authorities do not say the entire truth about how to confront the disease", I am told by Japanese sources who wish to remain anonymous, "there are some antibiotics, pills, for prevention against the new flu A H1N1 but only doctors and related health people who are currently dealing with the sick patients are allowed to take. Not the general public who at the moment is healthy, without showing any sympton. If antibiotics, as a prevention, are allowed to everyone, so many people will just rush into clinics and it will make a panic. Also even if it is allowed, it is not covered by the health insurance."


Domestic cases of swine flu shot up dramatically over the weekend, reflecting the 2 to 3 day incubation period before a carrier starts to show any symptoms. It is during this time that the virus is most likely to spread. So, since a few days, I learned how to live, in my daily transportation, with a mask!

4000 schools closed in Japan after more than 170 cases of H1N1 flu cases registered on Tuesday. Has Japan worked really hard to keep the new flu strain from spreading within its island borders? Japan’s health ministry said 176 people have the virus A H1N1, after 33 new infections were confirmed.

"Experts warned that infections had probably already spread to other regions including the capital Tokyo, which with almost 36 million people, is the world's most populous urban area and the heart of the Japanese economy."

Watching some TV programs in the morning, I was surprised to see that the "talento-TV entertainers" were filmed walking nearly alone in supermarkets and underground shopping districts of Tokyo. The same kind of fear as for the archipelago's earthquake threat: When is it going to strike?

"About 17,000 people a year die in Japan from normal flu, so the current numbers (of swine flu cases) are nothing we should be surprised at, although it is true that it is spreading quickly because not many people are immune to it. The health ministry is preparing a vaccination for the new virus, it won't be available for three or four months and, like the vaccination for seasonal flu, will not provide immunity."

In the first days of world fear, Japan did not react, especially before the Golden Week, and let people go abroad on vacations on the North America continent. It now is establishing testing centres at airports and encouraging people in high-risk jobs to wear masks and wash their hands carefully. But experts now suspect "that a domestic outbreak may have been triggered silently weeks before Japan caught its first cases at its main airport in early May."

“Japan is definitely having human-to-human transmission”. The new wave would make Japan the fourth-most infected country in the world, after Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to several Japanese media reports. "Officials admitted the new figures were disturbing."

The local media are critical of the prevention by authorities. This is in today's Japan Times quoting an expert:

"Quarantine inspection on planes is ineffective because you cannot detect people who have the virus but are not yet showing symptoms, and people don't necessarily tell the truth about their health condition, the government is basing its strategy on procedures to stop a bird flu pandemic. Now that swine flu has spread domestically, it is no longer possible for authorities to spot the people who may be infected. Fever consultation centers will soon be overcrowded, so it's up to citizens to report their conditions accurately and consult their own doctor first."

The government has urged calm and reminded people that no one in Japan has so far died of the disease and that most infections are mild.

I trust these people know what they are doing, although...


Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Japan opposition Chief Hatoyama dreams of a "Country full of Love "

He might fear the real boss.

On this picture, DPJ president Hatoyama, right, shakes hands with his predecessor, the opposition chief master Ichiro Ozawa and will act as the boss decided. Dreams come true for... Ozawa? Hatoyama chose Okada Katsuya as Secretary General and Ozawa acting president in charge of the election. Most certainly, Aristotle quotes are justified for Ozawa Ichiro : "Man is by nature a political animal."

DPJ newly elected leader Hatoyama Yukio has his way with his new motto: "愛溢れる国 ("Ai afureru kuni" create a country full of love). Abe Shinzo also had his moto: "Utsukushi no kuni", create a beautiful country.

We wish our utmost encouragement to DPJ president to fulfill his program as long as he plans. At least to use his motto to improve demographics to please Obuchi Yuko, minister for Gender Equality who urged to make babies in a recent press event at the Foreign Press Center, Tokyo.

Who is Hatoyama Yukio?

"A fourth generation politician from a rich family and the grandson of a former prime minister, the 62-year-old Hatoyama's image could be tarnished by suspicion he is under the influence of 小沢一郎, Ichiro Ozawa". Ozawa, a follower of ex prime minister Tanaka Kakuei and served under ex prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro and under the powerful patriarch Shin Kanemaru

Ozawa has just quit as party leader after a fundraising scandal, to try to improve the Democrats' chances in a general election that must be held by October.

"His (Hatoyama) leadership is questioned and the chance of the opposition taking office is limited."

This is why all speeches and messages at yesterday's election day focussed on Hatoyama power and leadership.

Hatoyama, now 62, served as the Democratic Party's leader for three years from 1999, often viewed as being too soft and indecisive.

Political commentators like Hoshi Hiroshi who accurately predicted that Ozawa would resign after the Nishimatsu scandal and the veteran commentator Hayano Toru, both excellent quill pen of Asahi shimbun, told me yesterday at the Okura hotel that they do not underestimate the chance of Hatoyama to become Japan next Prime Minister.

"The cleaner image of the new party leader may help their efforts to convince swing voters to become their supporters".

The Mainichi shimbun has this to say:

"Hatoyama, who relied on the backing of major intraparty factions, was elected just as expected. Hatoyama, who supported Ozawa's leadership as secretary-general, had been aware that he would not win without the backing of Ozawa, and suggested even before the race that he intended to appoint his predecessor to an important post if elected. He also chose not to declare a departure from Ozawa's policy line. Some anti-Ozawa members speculate that the party leadership chose to hold the election only five days after Ozawa's announcement of resignation in a bid to prevent Okada's popularity from growing and ensure Hatoyama's victory. In any case, Hatoyama and Ozawa apparently made up their minds to join hands to win the power struggle."

"Hatoyama's messages remain vague and difficult to understand, as they were in the past. Hatoyama's slogan, "politics full of love," could raise questions about whether politics without love exists. He calls himself "broad-minded Hatoyama," but does it mean he is willing to comply with any request? Politicians' ideals are meaningless unless specific measures are implemented to achieve them. Hatoyama was previously ridiculed as being an alien from outer space because the meaning of his words and behavior was incomprehensible. He should keep in mind that his ability to serve as prime minister is being tested by voters"

Other comments in the media:

"Voters are not very worried about letting Mr Hatoyama become prime minister because he originally came from the LDP."

Worried about what? Fear and emergency are abstract concepts to Japanese and to their Constitution.

One thing Hatoyama and Prime Minister Aso have in common: They both are offspring of wealthy former conservative party prime ministers.

Chalmers Johnson has this to say regarding the history of the Hatoyama family, easily compared here nowadays as the "Japanese Kennedy family", outrageous some say. Quotes:

"The underworld boss Yoshio Kodama, who had worked in China during the war, selling opium and supervising the collection and shipment to Japan of industrial metals such as tungsten, titanium and platinum... returned to Japan after the surrender immensely rich. Before going to prison he transferred part of his booty to the conservative politicians Ichiro Hatoyama and Ichiro Kono, who used the proceeds to finance the newly created Liberal Party, precursor of the party that has ruled Japan almost uninterruptedly since 1949. When Kodama was released from prison, also in 1949, he went to work for the CIA and later became the chief agent in Japan for the Lockheed Aircraft Company, bribing and blackmailing politicians to buy the Lockheed F-104 fighter and the L-1011 airbus. With his stolen wealth, underworld ties and history as a supporter of militarism, Kodama became one of the godfathers of pro-American single-party rule in Japan." (From the London Review of Books Tuesday, November 18, 2003)

Unless the influenza AH1N1 becomes the most serious opponent to the political calendar for 2009, the coming Lower House race to choose the next prime minister will be a competition between party leaders' machines talents. Faced to a strong and nervous LDP of prime minister Aso Taro, The DPJ will lose support from voters if it reveals a dual power structure in which Hatoyama leads the party under the thumb of Ozawa Ichiro.

Ozawa Ichiro, the behind-the-scenes maneuver, not only led LDP for years, but also now leads the opposition... Ozawa always was a strong proponent of political reform, and he pointed out Japan's diplomatic disability in international affairs, particularly revealed in the Gulf War in 1990 and in recent second war in Afghanistan and with the Japanese maritime forces in the Indian Ocean. Last year, he stated that only the United States Seventh Fleet should be based in Japan. After becoming the leader of the Democratic Party, Ozawa led the party to its largest victory in history in the upper house election on July 29, 2007.

Aren't the new clothes of Mr. Hatoyama a bit too big for him?

Click on the title to access Ozawa Ichiro's blog