THIS post consists of excerpts from three newspaper articles whose importance is self-evident. They require little additional comment from me. I present them here to contribute to their greater circulation.
1. Pork in the name of the public good
The first article is a classic case of the blind pig finding a root. It was published by the Associated Press, and unlike most of their product these days, it’s actually worth reading. The title is Japan spent rebuilding money on unrelated projects. Who’d have thought! Well, anyone who’s followed the story of stimulus expenditures in the United States for the past few years, but I digress. Here we go:
About a quarter of the $148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.
The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.
Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the 11.7 trillion yen ($148 billion) budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.
Some people in Japan were aware this was happening from the start. They noticed that the commission appointed by the Democratic Party government to formulate a plan for reconstruction and recovery issued a report containing recommendations for programs that were cut-and-pasted from previous ministry requests.
In Japan, tax-and-spend government is driven primarily by the permanent bureaucracy rather than the politicians. The latter are either the enablers or the lobbyists for the ministries with which they are associated.
The only drawback to the AP article is the now-standard and usually unnecessary addition of comments from academics to buttress their point. They often miss the point entirely:
Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.
“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Matsumura told The Associated Press.
This is really a manifestation of the inexorable and inevitable expansion of the public sector in any country. Give them the power to print and spend money, and they’ll work overtime to find ways to print and spend money. It’s not clear whether Prof. Matsumura was referring to the political class or the bureaucracy when he referred to “government”, because the word in this case applies to either or both.
Prime Minister Noda promised that unrelated projects would be “wrung out” of the budget, but his two DPJ predecessors, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto, made the same promises. Mr. Kan went so far as to say the budgets would be held upside down to shake out extra money until they got a nosebleed. That didn’t stop either of them from presenting and passing record-high budgets with record-high deficits. If anyone’s nose bled, they weren’t part of the public sector.
And Mr. Noda voted aye for those budgets, as well as this reconstruction budget. He didn’t know what was in it? He didn’t understand that they were wasting money?
But to ask the questions are to answer them.
The New York Times is congratulating itself for its recent expose of the finances of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao and his family. The Times’ article charges that they’ve stashed away upwards of $US 2.7 billion. This post at the China Digital Times website quotes an article written for the Times’ sister-in-arms, the Guardian of Britain, that explains how wonderful it is the Gray Lady is practicing journalism again:
The Times’ story, by David Barboza, is the type of journalism that not only catches the powerful in flagrante delicto, but that revivifies the paper’s reason for being. This has not been a kind few years for the Times, with its management, its journalism, and its prospects, under constant and more often than not unflattering scrutiny. But a story like this is something of an instant brand turnaround.
The New York Times took on China and, in the first round, won. This being China, the Times will, surely, be engaged in a constant battle going forward – even, perhaps, a confrontation that defines the sides in some new international press battle. That will, no doubt, be to its short term economic disadvantage. But that is good news for the Times, too.
[…] The Times released dismal earnings yesterday and its stock dropped by more than 20%. But its real value took an incalculable leap today.
In other words, they think it was a triumph of investigative journalism.
But other people suspect they were being used as a mouthpiece. From the Epoch Times:
Controversy continues to simmer around last week’s lengthy New York Times exposé of the US$2.7 billion fortune that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is said to have amassed. Critics have said the story was planted by Wen Jiabao’s political foes, while the New York Times has defended the integrity of the story.
In an Oct. 29 blog post, the Times reporter, David Barboza, addressed head on the claim that the story might have been given to him:
“I have read the speculation that some ‘insider’ gave me information, or that some enemies of the prime minister dropped off a huge box of documents at my office,” Barboza wrote. “That never happened. Not only were there no leaked documents, I never in the course of reporting met anyone who offered or hinted that they had documents related to the family holdings. This was a paper trail of publicly available documents that I followed with my own reporting.”
You can believe that, or you can believe this:
On Oct. 30, the Chinese website of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle claimed Barboza would have had difficulty getting information about who are the members of Wen’s family, information needed in order to track the family members’ appearance in corporate documents:
“The head of a Chinese media outlet that reports on business who used to be an experienced investigative reporter told Deutsche Welle Chinese that information about family members for common Chinese can be found by checking the household register information.
“However, this household register system maintains strict confidentiality for information for Chinese Communist Party officials with rank above the provincial level. It is very difficult to obtain the names of the family members for a person who is a member of Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, the NY Times should have gotten some kind of assistance, which could even be a systematic set of materials.”
New Tang Dynasty’s political commentator Wen Zhao commenting on the NY Times story said, “I don’t think this is something a private investigation or media outlet is capable of doing in China. No doubt about it, this kind of thorough investigation can only be conducted by people who control the secret police or secret agents in China.”
Their point is that the neo-Maoist, anti-reform hardliners in China associated with former President Jiang Zemin funneled the information to the Times as part of the ongoing political struggle in that country.
Whether that’s true or not — and we’re never going to know — the idea that people would use of the New York Times as an international mouthpiece is plausible. I’ve read articles in that newspaper about Japan that I would bet cash money were nothing more than rewritten talking points e-mailed by the DPJ government. Some of the information in those articles bore so little resemblance to actual conditions that it was risible.
3. China on the march
The final section is a compilation of of pieces. The first is a translation of a Yomiuri Shimbun article that appeared on the Web today. Here it is in its entirety:
Five Chinese Surveillance Ships in the Contiguous Waters of the Senkakus — For 12 Straight Days
Four Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one fishing surveillance ship entered the contiguous waters (22 kilometers) around the Senkaku islets yesterday morning. They continue to warn Japanese Coast Guard ships not to approach their territorial waters. This is the 12th straight day that Chinese surveillance ships have entered the contiguous waters.
The 11th District Coast Guard headquarters in Naha reported that four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on the morning of the 30th. After leaving in the afternoon, they remained in the contiguous waters. As of 9:00 a.m. on the 31st, the four ships were 31-33 kilometers to the southeast, while the fishery patrol boat was 28 kilometers northwest of Kubajima and headed in a south-southwesterly direction.
A Sankei Shimbun article yesterday provided a few more details:
One of the surveillance ships used an electronic bulletin board to transmit messages in Japanese and Chinese that read, “Your ship has entered Chinese territorial waters. Leave at once.”
Compared to some in the Anglosphere, the Japanese media is rather subdued. Try this piece from yesterday in the Financial Times (that might require registration).
The Chinese State Oceanic Administration – which enforces the nation’s maritime interests – said four of its ships on Tuesday tried to expel Japanese vessels out of waters where they were operating “illegally”.
Last month, Beijing announced a territorial baseline for the disputed islands that defined the exact geographical location of its claimed territory to back its long-standing claim.
“Chinese government vessels did not chase Japanese boats out of the islands’ territorial waters in the past, as these waters were an area controlled by the Japanese coastguard,” said Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “But the situation changed when we created a legal basis for enforcing our claim by announcing the territorial baseline for the islands in September.”
Mr Li said the Chinese government was still restraining itself and would not lightly add to the tension. “But if the Japanese don’t change their ways and return to the path of negotiation, such friction could increase,” he said. “Then, it would not be a question of just four vessels but many more.”
On the one hand, it could be argued that the Japanese consider this to be Chinese bluster and see no need to make a big deal of it. On the other hand, it could also be argued that they are downplaying the situation to prevent the public from demanding that its government grow a made-in-Japan backbone.
In either case, it’s clear that the Chinese are engaging in international outlawry, are arrogant enough to press the legitimacy of this approach for their bogus claim overseas, and don’t seem concerned at all about what the United States might do.
The situation has the potential to become very ugly.