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Wednesday, September 26, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: House Panel Approves a Trade Pact With Peru

A trade pact between the United States and Peru won bipartisan support in a crucial Congressional committee Tuesday, signaling that some Democrats will be receptive to new trade deals as long as they call on other nations to adhere to international labor and environmental standards.

The action, a voice vote in the House Ways and Means Committee, clears the way for approval of the Peru deal by Congress this fall, with most Republicans and perhaps a minority of the Democrats supporting it, Congressional aides said. The Senate Finance Committee approved the pact on Friday.

Considering that the current Congress has been slow to act on these measures, this is important progress.

Of course, the other pending deals aren’t in as good a shape:

Despite the boost for the Peru deal, prospects for other pending trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea remain clouded by continuing disagreements that have to be resolved before the deals can be approved.


A Panama deal may have the best chance of passage. But Democratic leaders said that the Colombia deal cannot be considered until Colombia does more to end human rights abuses, especially against workers trying to organize. And they said South Korea must take further steps to open its market to American beef, autos and auto parts.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: Moderate Chosen as Japan’s Next Premier

Facing one of its deepest crises in its half-century grip on power, the Liberal Democrats settled on Mr. Fukuda, 71, to steady a party wobbling from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s disastrous one-year government, his mysterious resignation 11 days ago and a surging opposition.

Fukuda is a shift from the last two PM’s:

Mr. Fukuda, sometimes described as a foreign policy “dove,” has long emphasized the importance of building strong ties with China and the rest of Asia and represents a break from the nationalist Mr. Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

The vote count:

The party’s national lawmakers and prefectural chapters handed Mr. Fukuda 330 out of 527 valid votes. His only rival, Taro Aso, 67, the party’s secretary general who shared Mr. Abe’s right-wing views, won 197 votes.

In regards to future elections:

As prime minister, Mr. Fukuda will not have to call a general election and seek a popular mandate until September 2009, though he has hinted that he may do so next spring after Parliament passes next year’s budget.

The newly empowered opposition Democratic Party, which repeated its call today for an immediate general election, is expected to try to force a general election by blocking the extension of a Japanese naval mission in the Indian Ocean to help in the American-led war in Afghanistan. A special law permitting that mission, passed in 2001 to circumvent Japan’s pacifist Constitution, expires on Nov. 1.

It should be interesting to watch.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

VIa the BBC: Japanese prime minister resigns

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he is resigning after less than a year in office.


Visibly distressed, he told a packed news conference that Japan needed a new leader to “fight against terrorism”.

While there were conflicts over Japanese support of the US in Afghanistan, it doesn’t appear to me that fighting terrorism is much of the issue here. Still, it is remarkable the degree to which the topic permeates global politics.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Thai voters ‘approve new charter’

Thailand’s military coup leaders have won a referendum on a new constitution by a large margin, taking around 70% of Sunday’s vote, exit polls suggest.


This referendum was about a lot more than the 194-page constitution which few Thais are likely to have read, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reports from Bangkok - it was also a vote on the coup itself.

I know precious little about the internal politics of Thailand, so I can’t comment on the coup, the former Prime Minister (Thaksin) or the newly proposed constitution in any specific way. I can say, however, that as the last quoted paragraph above notes, the referendum is as much, if not more, about the coup than it is about the new charter. This is yet another example of a classic post-coup move by a military government: some sort of popular vote that can be used to validate the coup in the first place. It is a clear attempt to put a democratic patina on a fundamentally undemocratic act (i.e, a military seizure of power and the tearing up of the existing constitution).

Just another entry in the Dictatorship for Dummies file.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Fisher-Price to recall nearly 1M toys

Toy-maker Fisher-Price is recalling 83 types of toys — including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters — because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead.

The worldwide recall being announced Thursday involves 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States between May and August. It is the latest in a wave of recalls that has heightened global concern about the safety of Chinese-made products.

The recall is the first for Fisher-Price Inc. and parent company Mattel Inc. involving lead paint. It is the largest for Mattel since 1998 when Fisher-Price had to yank about 10 million Power Wheels from toy stores.


The recall is particularly alarming since Mattel, known for its strict quality controls, is considered a role model in the toy industry for how it operates in China.

First Thomas, now Elmo. The part of these situations that continue to interest me is the degree to which it has any effect on business relationships between US companies and China or, more to the point, between US consumers’ buying habits and products made in China. Of course, one will allow that most people don’t pay attention to where things are made. Of course, if enough toys are affected, there will be parents who do start paying attention.

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Monday, July 30, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Fujimori loses Japan election bid

Ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has failed in his bid to win a seat in the upper house of Japan’s parliament.

Mr Fujimori - who has dual Japanese and Peruvian citizenship - ran his campaign from Chile where he is under house arrest, fighting extradition to Peru.

The 68-year-old was running for office with a small opposition group, the People’s New Party, formed in 2005.

Mr Fujimori sought asylum in Japan after his government collapsed amid a corruption scandal seven years ago.

This was the expected outcome. A shame, as I think this is the last time I can refer to Fujimori as the Last Samurai (a designation I find rather amusing, although I will allow that I may be the only one thus amused).

Here is the current seat count via the BBC:

*There are 242 seats in the upper house, half of which were up for grabs
*Pre-polls, the LDP-led coalition controlled 133 seats
*The coalition won 46 seats (LDP: 37, New Komeito: 9)
*Opposition DPJ won 60 seats
*LDP-led coalition now controls 105 seats
*Source: Kyodo news agency

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Sunday, July 29, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Japan’s PM accepts ‘utter defeat’

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has accepted his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has suffered “utter defeat” in polls for the upper house of parliament.

But as votes were being counted, Mr Abe said he had no intention of resigning.

Projections suggest the LDP will lose control of the chamber for the first time in more than 50 years - handing a landslide victory to the opposition.

A remarkable outcome, in terms of Japanese political history.

The seat counts at the moment:

Half of the 242 seats in the House of Councillors were being contested.

The LDP-led ruling coalition currently controls 132 seats. It needs to win 64 of the 121 seats that are up for grabs in order to retain its majority.

But Japanese TV reports suggest the LDP has fallen far short of its target, winning between 31 and 43 seats out of the 76 it was defending.

No word at this point on the fate of the Last Samurai.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the CSM: Still wanted in Peru, Alberto Fujimori runs for office in Japan

For most politicians, fame is an asset. But it’s yet to be seen whether it will help Alberto Kenya Fujimori win a seat in Japan’s Upper House on Sunday.

In regards to this elect and the utility of fame, I would refer the gentle reader to Fruits and Votes:

The upper house in Japan, the House of Councillors, is elected partly by nominal voting (specifically, SNTV), and partly by a national tier which uses open-list PR (in which voters write either the name of their political party of choice or the name of a candidate on a party list). So there is most certainly a premium on running well known candidates–in both tiers. And Fujimori, the son of Japanese-born parents who emigrated to Peru, is certainly well known in Japan. He is being considered as a candidate in Tokyo’s four-seat electoral district, in which voters choose one candidate (i.e. the nominal tier), although the possibility of his being a candidate in the national open-list tier is also not ruled out.

Of course, the whole situation is rather bizarre:

Mr. Fujimori reserves the distinction of being Japan’s only Upper House candidate to conduct his campaign while under house arrest. He is the only candidate to have previously been elected president of a foreign nation. He is also the only aspiring member of the Upper House to have been indicted on more than 20 counts of corruption and human rights violations, including sanctioning death squads – charges he denies.

Fujimori was arrested in Chile in 2005, where he still lives under house arrest, awaiting extradition to Peru, the country he ruled from 1990 to 2000.

His critics accuse him of running for office in Japan to avoid his outstanding charges in Peru, but many Japanese voters don’t even know he’s running.

That last question is pretty easy to answer: he is trying to save his bacon, as he is hoping that membership in the Japanese legislature may forestall the Chileans from sending him to Peru to face prosecution:

For his part, Fujimori is hoping the government of Japan influences Chile for his release. As election day approaches, Fujimori’s celebrity pals such as Dewi Sukarno, former wife of Indonesian President Sukarno, are campaigning for him, calling Fujimori the “Last Samurai.”

And can their be an doubt that the man is a politician (and not in the best sense of the word)?

As a direct message to voters, Fujimori delivers a short speech on his website in not-so-smooth Japanese from what looks like the backyard of a sunny villa.

With a relaxed smile, he says: “I will vow to fight for … the country of the samurai with my life.”

This is incredibly reminiscent of when Fujimori needed to build national support in Peru and made very public identifications with Peruvian peasants of indigenous descent, appearing at campaign events in peasant garb.

Indeed, here’s a photo of the Samurai when he was still campaigning in Peru in 2000 in full indigenous regalia:

Source: PBS

Here’s another shot of Fujimori in typical indigenous Peruvian peasant garb at what looks like a campaign rally:

As to why he might actually have a chance, it is worth remembering (and it is something I had forgotten myself) that the Japanese embassy in Peru (along with the ambassador, and hundreds attending a party at the time) was seized in 1997 for 126 days by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and many Japanese credit Fujimori with a positive outcome in that crisis (via the Financial Times last month):

Mr Fujimori, who told the FT in a 2005 interview in Tokyo that charges against him were trumped up, has some loyal political friends in Japan. They are grateful for what they regard as his resolute leadership in ending a 126-day hostage crisis at the Japanese ambassador’s Lima residence in 1997. Mr Fujimori claims to have personally planned the storming of the building, including the digging of tunnels beneath the ambassadorial compound.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Manila terror law draws criticism

A tough new anti-terrorism law has come into effect in the Philippines.

The Human Security Act allows the government to detain suspects for up to three days without charge, use wiretaps and also seize suspects’ assets.

The government in Manila says the law will help it to tackle militant groups, such as Abu Sayyaf.


But critics, including the influential Roman Catholic Church, fear President Gloria Arroyo may be tempted to use the new powers to harass her political rivals.

They also say the law is being pushed through without clear implementing guidelines.

Opponents further worry that rogue elements in the army, accused of killing hundreds of mainly political activists over the past few years, will take the new law as a green light to step up their murderous activities, our correspondent says.

Yet another example of how anti-terrorism becomes an excuse for a government to expand its powers. And it is bad enough to have such powers, but even worse if the guidelines to use them are vague.

Further, it isn’t as if the Philippine government has a spotless human rights record-just surf over to HRW’s Philippines page and scan some recent headlines.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Back in March, the good people of the PRC were able to read the beacon of hope and democracy that is PoliBlog. Alas, a check today indicates that this is no longer the case.

(On a side note, I have noticed that some of my spamming woes have decreased of late, and I used to get a lot of attacks from mainland China. I wonder if the tyrants of Bejing did me a favor…).

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