Archives up to 2001/06

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Not much over the last few days. Main stuff seems to be a lot of stumbling around on China-related topics, which doesn't make the Japanese real happy and grates against their basic beliefs about how to get along with people. For example, the Japanese think there's usually no good reason to go around offending people--creates bad feelings that will poison any relationship and make it hard to work together productively. They also dislike stating their own positions concretely or making the other side do so. Once that's happened, there isn't much room for negotiation.

American foreign policy with regards China has mostly been compatible with those beliefs. The first one has varied more between the parties, with the Republicans usually saying slightly nastier things about the Chinese than the Democrats, but both parties have mostly tried to keep the name-calling under control, and more so in recent years. Not exactly a cordial relationship, but sort of frostily polite. Most of the extreme rhetoric was coming from a few right-wing crazies--not the 'moderates' such as Bush claimed to be. However, as soon as he moved to Washington, Bush started toning up the rhetoric, and I've already lost count of the number of times the Chinese have been offended. With Dubya's negative leadership, strident criticism of the Chinese seems to be becoming something of a fad.

Potentially more serious is Dubya's tendency to put on the cement overshoes in public statements, leading to lots of violent spinning as the Bushies try to explain what their 'leader' REALLY meant. The most notable recent example was when Bush got trapped by a questioner (yet again, and even without those nasty press conferences) and said that America would use ground troops to defend Taiwan if necessary. Kind of an important aspect of America's Chinese policy has been to avoid making such potentially dangerous and threatening promises. In the worst case, if Taiwan is certain that we'll defend them, they might decide to declare independence, and the mainland Chinese have already and frequently said that would mean war. China versus Taiwan would be no contest, but China versus the U.S. would probably be a really big mess. But the Taiwanese nationalists might decide it's now or never.

Related to China is some kind of screwup from the Defense Department. Not sure of the details yet, but pretty sure Rumsfield was out of the loop. Supports the other evidence on his flunky status. Need more details, but it seems like one of Bush's actual handlers may have gotten a bit out of control and gone more than a little too far. [Even after reading a number of reports over several days on this, I still can't write much about it. Too much spin? Apparently there was a memo broadcast to the military that seemed to be a kind of an unprovoked escalation of hostilities with China. It was fairly quickly rescinded, and the spin version is that Rumsfield's instructions were misinterpreted. Not really anybody's fault? Possibly, but other possibilities include the one I mentioned or that Rumsfield is acting as a kind of fall guy.]

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There were various minor mentions of Dubya in the Japanese press, but basically it was another week without much Bush-league news directly related to Japan, though I did see two very important items on the Web.

Most important is possibly good news on the education front. A Bush-supported education bill is moving through Congress, but it appears to be harmless. The vouchers were definitely cut out of this bill, and it basically appears to encourage a lot more testing, which is mostly harmless.

There are several dangers, however. The big one is that the vouchers may be returned to the bill. Some congressmen are already offering the amendment, and though it appears to lack the votes, you can never be certain what kind of parliamentary chicanery someone might come up with--and basically no hope of a veto in the worst case.

The minor danger is long-range, in the establishment of the precedent of strengthened federal involvement in the schools. Of course, the funny or hypocritical part is that the shoes have changed feet again, since it used to be the Democrats who most strongly advocated federal support for education. And in fact, some of the Republican criticism has focused on the suspected liberal aspects of this legislation.

Not sure if it should be classified as a danger, but kind of an indirect effect of such measurements themselves is that they can be manipulated in ways that damage education or that justify later and more dangerous interventions. Picking on the obvious example, where Dubya wants to claim quick success--which actually seems quite likely--, then they will try to skew the test results in a way to show rapid progress. In this case, they would deliberately want to design the tests in a 'slightly' complicated way. If the tests are to be administered twice a year, they would probably want a test design that takes about three attempts to understand. The first time, the results will of course be low because of the difficulty. The second time, the results will show some improvement, and much more for the schools where teachers taught to the test based on the first experience. By the third and fourth times the students will be getting the knack of the test, even without focused preparation, and the results would naturally show significant improvements. This would be also be about the right time to point at the results for the 2002 elections. After that, there are two likely strategies for the 2004 election. One would be to stay with the same tests, but push for more focused preparation, and the other would be to revise the tests based on experience. However, in either scenario, the political goal is to claim the results are improving because of Dubya. Educational goals? Who cares? Back in my days as a sociologist I came to understand a good deal about how to detect such fudging--but I was just an amateur and Bush can afford the best professionals.

Some criticism has also focused on the long-term pedagogical utility of testing. Not sure what to say on that issue, though it is one where the Japanese example is worth considering. Yes, the Japanese are test-crazy, but NOT in the same way. The tests in Japan are mostly outside of the public schools, and inside the schools the students basically go forward to graduation no matter what. The Japanese public schools have a pretty strong focus on making good people, and content-based testable instruction is not so important. The teachers want to build strong community feelings, and don't want to stigmatize any of their students by failing them.

So where are all those tests in Japan? Mostly BETWEEN schools, in the form of entrance exams to the next major academic level. The most extreme cases are the university entrance exams. A student who makes it into Todai (Tokyo University, the unquestioned top school) has basically got it made for the rest of his or her life. But to get there, they have to have one of the highest scores on a REALLY nasty test. There are questions about how good the tests are, and occasional problems with various kinds of cheating, but fundamentally it is a solidly merit-based system. At the lower levels, the tests are focused on getting into the schools that have the reputations of having the most students who pass the next level of exam. For example, there will be very strong competition in the entrance exam for a high school whose students are unusually successful in the university entrance exams.

However, the serious preparation for these entrance exams is mostly outside of the public schools. There is a massive private education system in Japan in the form of various kinds of special cram schools. (Actually, there are also a lot of private senior high schools, but that's a different and more complicated topic. Also I'm ignoring the private universities, which are numerous. But most of the lower schools through 9th grade are public.) Especially in the major cities, most of the students who want to go to universities attend these cram schools outside of public school hours. Many of the students who don't make it the first time may become ronin, and spend an entire year after their high school graduation studying in cram schools preparing for the next year's exams. The emphasis is on cramming the crucial data into the student's heads, and in taking lots of practice exams. The practice exams are even be tailored for individual universities.

Insofar as these private cram schools are effective, they obviously do result in a disadvantage for any student who can't afford to attend them, but there still several factors that mitigate these effects. The main one is that it's a very large and competitive business, so there are many private schools in many price ranges. Also, those schools establish their reputations based on how many of their students pass the exams, and the exams are basically blind to the specific cram schools. The cram schools want the bright students because their reputation and marketability fundamentally rest on getting students who will get those high scores. And even students from the poorest families can access the test preparation books at the libraries or elsewhere.

The other item in this week's news is Dubya's first batch of judicial candidates. Only a few that were carefully selected as the ones having the best chance of making it through the Senate--but already it looks difficult for them. Even apart from the U.S. Supreme Court's political intervention in the election, it turns out the Republicans have been poisoning the well they now want to drink from. The main reason Bush has so many federal court vacancies to fill is simply that so many of Clinton's candidates were tied up in the Senate--by Republicans. Now the Democrats are insisting that the same rules should be followed and the GOP suddenly wants to change the rules of the game. Hypocrisy? Oh, what's that? I certainly hope the Democrats stick to their guns. I had considered the notion of a boycott on Supreme Court appointments to be unrealistic, but maybe not. I do NOT think it would be a terrible shame if Bush was finally forced to select ONLY judicial candidates that are mutually acceptable to both political parties. Sadly, the reality is that it will probably become some kind of political football--in due accord with the political precedent established by the highest court in the land. Perhaps they'll start approving federal judges in pairs, one with the support of each party.

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Somehow reading a famous old book about the persistence of evil reminded me of Bush's recent revival of Star Wars. Lots of international repercussions, though not so directly involving Japan. Basically, a lot of other countries see no reason for it, and even many of our friends are concerned by the unilateral decision. The rhetoric has changed a little, but the essential senselessness has not. The new rhetoric says that it is a post-cold-war thing to do, and that it will somehow provide protection against the new bogeymen, the rogue states. However, they'd be the only sure losers, so deterrence actually makes sense for dealing with them. The U.S. could get rid of 90% of its nuclear arsenal, and still be able to easily blast all of them put together, and they know that their nuclear attack would guarantee it. You can't hide where a missile came from.

The real threat remains madmen who somehow get hold of an atomic bomb, and in that case the missile shield is useless. They may be crazy, but you can't count on their being stupid, too. Launching a missile is hard, but it would be much easier to deliver the bomb in a truck, plane, or boat. Besides madmen, there is also a danger from professional criminals, especially in Russia where they have plenty of criminals and plenty of bombs. They might see it as a business deal--though an extremely risky form of blackmail. Again, the Star Wars missile defense would be useless.

The good side? Well, they probably can't justify wasting too much money on it this time, and there is always the chance that some beneficial technologies will be developed as side effects of any research, even the looniest and most purely military research. Nevertheless, my bet is that the money is just going down the drain. What does Dubya care about a few billion bucks here and there?

The confusing side? The fellow who actually revived talk of this missile defense idea was Clinton. Why? Another poison pill for Dubya? I have to admit that a number of Clinton's final actions could be interpreted as political maneuvers to help Bush look foolish--even though he doesn't seem to need a whole lot of help there. President Gore could have dropped it easily enough. Dubya could have played it down, but instead is playing it up.

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Shouldn't be so amazing, but actually I don't recall seeing any significant mention of Dubya in the Japanese press this week. He apparently went an entire week without doing anything really dumb or internationally offensive. Hey, I'd even have to report it if he somehow managed to do something good, no matter how accidental. You know the joke, "No one's perfect" and even the Bushies can't be perfectly awful all of the time. I suppose I should just call it a day, but, unlike Bush, I hope I can try harder.

Actually, two of the big news items from the Web do offer interesting comparisons and contrasts to Japan--the Timothy McVeigh execution and Bush's gun-related proposal. The two are connected, but by complicated sociological considerations, and it will be hard to treat them briefly.

Of course, at one level the differences are very obvious. Japan is a very non-violent society and America is a very violent one. It isn't a difference in the nature of violence--with a gun you can shoot anybody, anywhere. It isn't a simple matter of the mass media, either--there's lots of violence on Japanese TV. But the mysterious part is that Japan is a relatively safe place, I feel secure here, and if I lived in the States I quite likely would have gotten killed by now for resisting some stupid robbery. I probably came close that time many years ago... I think I had $9 on me, but I kept it.

The core issue is that humans are animals, but insofar as we are also human we have to think about it. We can choose to act in a more or less animal fashion. For animals there is no choice, there is only force--positive force that lets the lion kill the zebra, or negative force that lets the zebra run away. In the animal kingdom it's a constant struggle and the greater force always wins. We can't stop being animals, but we do make choices about how we live.

Looking at it from a different perspective, Mother Nature is inefficient and heartless. The lion may fail 10 times before killing, nor does it matter which zebra the lion kills--the hungry lion will eat it. And no matter how many times the zebra gets away before finally being caught, the zebra doesn't even care and had no choice in any human sense. People are very different. We don't expect to visit 10 stores searching for food. And we really do care about getting killed--we don't like it and all organized human societies discourage murder.

The fundamental thing about Japan is that real-life violence is considered to be a very bad thing, and the Japanese government acts proactively to prevent it. The deliberate goal is to make it difficult to kill by making it relatively hard to get the tools for killing. Not just guns, but swords, explosives, and poisons, too. And even deeper than that, the Japanese education system deliberately tries to produce mature adults who will not even want to resort to violence, adults who will actively work towards peaceful settlements of the inevitable differences.

In America, the capacity to commit real violence is considered a normal 'right of self-defense'--Americans can't even trust their own society to protect their lives and property. Everyone (except a proven abuser of the right to use violence) is allowed to have a gun, and the social response is purely reactive after some violence has occurred. And that is the essential nature of Dubya's proposal to spend half a billion dollars or so on enhanced gun prosecution. America's motto: "Shoot first and ask questions afterwards!" After the shooting, we'll be able to ask a few more questions if Dubya's proposal is adopted.

The part I find most humorous is that this proposal strongly reminds me of my own proposal from many years ago, when I still lived in Texas. I also suggested enhancing the prosecution of gun crimes, though not at government expense. While Bush's proposal is surely intended to be acceptable to gun owners, my proposal was extremely offensive to many of them. I suggested nothing less than a kind of gun registration in the form of required subscriptions to gun safety magazines. All gun owners would have been required to pay for the right to have guns, though of course you couldn't be sure that they would read any of the gun safety articles. To protect their 'privacy', no doubt many of them would have wanted to choose a magazine that also made strong guarantees to protect the privacy of their subscribers, which would have been fine. And some of the money would have been used for a fund for enhanced prosecution of gun crimes and compensation for the victims of guns (including accidents). As far as I know, my thoughtful proposal never received serious consideration. Dubya has much better publicity, I guess.

Anyway, now we come back to the bottom line and crazy young Timothy McVeigh. In America, with relatively free access to the tools of killing, he was able to kill a lot of people who never heard of him. They bore him no malice, but he killed them anyway, using his positive force for what he believed to be a proper use.

The closest thing I can think of in Japan was the Aum Shinri Kyo of Asahara Shoko. But this was a large organization of thousands of people whose leaders were seriously determined to acquire the tools of killing--and they finally succeeded in doing so. At one point they had enough sarin to kill far more people than McVeigh killed. But the bottom line is that they only killed a few dozen--about two dozen outsiders and an unknown number of cult members. The difficulty of getting the tools of killing was an important factor limiting their deliberate damage. It took them years of concentrated effort to get the sarin, which was ultimately too awkward a weapon to use effectively, and in the long process of building that chemical plant they created a trail of copious evidence, too. They really wanted more convenient killing tools, but never got beyond producing a prototype automatic rifle or two.

Right now McVeigh is in the news because he was scheduled to be executed this month, but they belatedly discovered that his defense attorneys did not have complete access to all of the information that the FBI had collected. His guilt is apparently unquestioned, but it might be the kind of procedural error that can't be tolerated in a government of the lawyers. Shades of Henry Lee Lucas? Asahara Shoko is unlikely to be so lucky.

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Just saw the Japanese television news doing a spot on Dubya's commencement address to the Naval Academy. Just a short bit, but it gives me an excuse to mention his big gaffe at the Notre Dame commencement speech a few days ago. His speechwriter tried to work the Catholic socialist Dorothy Day into the speech. Apart from misquoting her (shades of Al Gore's 'lies') and the fact that she publicly opposed exactly the programs that Dubya advocates, it was a rather obvious attempt to appease Catholic voters. Doesn't look too successful, especially after her family publicly repudiated Bush's references. The central problem is that the religious charity she founded absolutely rejects government money, while Bush is pushing to give tax money to 'suitable' religious groups. Dubya probably confused her with Doris Day the actor.

Bush also managed to get booed at Yale, his alma mater. Reports vary on the degree of dissent, but not on his out-of-touch speech. Bush basically told a bunch of very serious students that his example proves that serious study doesn't matter. Apparently he never noticed the change to merit-based admissions just as he arrived, even though the result was that none of his brothers was accepted at Yale; before that nepotism was extremely helpful for getting admitted, and all the Bushes were almost automatically accepted at Yale.

Bush was obviously too busy at home to make any big international blunders, but I can work in some comparative remarks on domestic politics linked to Dubya's big political blunder this week. In the situation last week, the GOP had exactly half of the Senate, and Cheney's tie-breaking vote meant they theoretically had control there. However, Dubya and the GOP leaders so offended one of the moderate Republicans, Senator Jeffords of Vermont, that he withdrew from the party. In the awkward situation before that, a lot of Senatorial powers were divided between the parties, but now the Democrats can claim all the prerogatives of the Senate majority. Most importantly, they can now claim all the committee chairs, which is very important in the Senate in terms of controlling what legislation is considered and when.

Based on traditional (conservative?) expectations, Dubya should have retained control until the off-year election, when the party in the White House usually loses a few seats. However, in this case Jeffords is very moderate and has extremely strong support from his constituency. He's had a long history of friction with the right wing that supports Dubya so strongly. Also, he's a long-term and very strong supporter of education--you know, the same stuff that Bush claims he supports. He was even chair of an important educational committee in the Senate. But there was a recent White House ceremony to honor a teacher from Vermont, and Jeffords wasn't even invited, and apparently that was the last straw, though there's also been a lot of recent squabbling with Jeffords trying to get more money for some of his old educational projects.

America hasn't had political coalitions, and it's always been winner take all. However, Dubya claimed he wanted to be an inclusive leader, and obviously hasn't done a very good job in this particular and rather significant case. In Japan the situation is very different. All political activity involves coalitions, even within the ruling party, and there is constant squabbling and negotiations. Most of this shouldn't matter, but it does in various strange ways.

The weirdest example is probably 'interpolation' in the Diet. Votes to pass legislation are not the issue, since the ruling coalition has to have the votes or call for a public election. But during interpolation they have to show respect for the various other parties by answering their extremely pointed questions on the issues. What actually happens is that the opposition politicians stand up and make long, accusatory speeches, and then the prime minister and members of the cabinet stand up and make long, apologetic replies. This goes on for a few days, and then they pass the legislation anyway. However, the important thing from the Japanese perspective is that the majority is not supposed to act in a tyrannical fashion, and one of the minority's strongest weapons is to walk out of the Diet. The actual legislation already reflects various compromises that are supposed to avoid such 'terrible' events, though it still happens sometimes.

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A momentous day for me, personally. Today marks the 12th anniversary of my arrival in Japan. Fleeing from Dan Quayle? Oh well, but I'd prefer to dwell on the very positive results of that relocation.

In terms of Bush-related news, it's been another week of slim pickings. Apparently Dubya is still too busy with domestic problems to make any international gaffes just now. Such things as California energy problems and squabbling with the governor. The Senate is reorganizing under the Democratic majority, but maybe that will be cancelled if Bush's controversial attorney general succeeds in indicting a controversial Democratic senator. But I'm sure there are no shady political motivations involved in this impartial pursuit of justice--in a pig's eye.

The local newspaper I looked at yesterday did include mention of Dubya's latest extremely domestic problem, within his own family. One of his underage daughters was caught trying to use a borrowed ID card to buy alcohol, only a few days after she was sentenced for her illegal possession of alcohol. I'd just laugh it off as childish behavior except for one thing. One of Bush's main claims for legitimacy as a political leader is some kind of moral authority or moral leadership--which he apparently can't even exercise for the benefit of his own children. You have to wonder if she is so stupid that she hasn't noticed she is living in a fishbowl? At least one alternative explanation seems much worse. Does she dislike her own father so much that it amuses her to cause problems for him? She certainly knows him much better than most of us, and her negative testimony regarding his character could be a serious political problem--and extremely likely she even knows a lot of very embarrassing truths about Bush. All that stuff he doesn't want to talk about.

One more wrinkle is that a third alcohol offense will put her in jail under a three-strikes law her daddy signed not so long ago. Actually, if she hadn't been 16 when she committed her first offense, which allowed that one to be cancelled, she would be working on her third strike now--though this time she's also trying to beat the rap, while she plead no contest last time. Dubya has declared this a 'private, family problem' and wants the press to go away--again. Public office without the public bother, eh?

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The spy plane incident from April may be almost wrapped up now, though it's kind of hard to understand what really happened there. One thing that is clear is that the Chinese have long been unhappy with the surveillance flights, and they have long said they want the U.S. to stop them. The plane they have now is certainly not going to be making any flights while they have it, but now they appear willing to give it back, even though we've already resumed flights with another plane and announced that we're going to repair this plane so it can do more flights. So why are the Chinese agreeing to give it back? They actually want more annoyances or a chance for another incident? Seems rather mysterious.

Two possibilities are that they want it to fly again because they know its capabilities, or because they have sabotaged it in some way. However, I can't really imagine what they could have done that we wouldn't detect. The possibility of their having suddenly become nice doesn't seem very high. So what about a bribe? Not hard evidence, but kind of suspicious that the trade status was reaffirmed recently. This is something many conservatives have been challenging, but Dubya apparently changed his mind on it. Was there a secret deal for the plane? The favorable trade status is definitely worth a lot of money to the Chinese, and on top of that, we've suddenly decided to support China's application to join the WTO, which is something they've wanted for some years. There's also the possibility of some kind of covert deal to phase out the spy flights over some period of time, or maybe just modify them in a way that satisfies the Chinese. The mystery there would be why they'd offer Dubya a face-saving out.

Anyway, the Chinese are still making us do it the hard way. Though a team of experts determined the plane could be repaired and flown out, the negotiated result is that the plane will be disassembled, the pieces will be flown out, and then we can reassemble it. Not quite as thorough as what we did to the Soviet MIG so many years ago.

Meanwhile, still on the Chinese front, the earlier memo that was supposed to be some kind of mistake is apparently not a mistake after all. Various non-hostile contacts between the American military and the Chinese military have been effectively terminated. Not really a major friendship-building thing, but apparently a significant cooling in the relationship. No major risk involved, though it might increase the chances for future miscommunications, especially if another touchy and unexpected situation develops.

Onward to China's neighbors. Apparently just to keep everyone guessing, Dubya has changed directions on North Korea again. In the first episode, he pronounced them untrustworthy and suspended negotiations. This week they have suddenly been pronounced sort of a little bit trustworthy and negotiations can resume. The Japanese would definitely like to see the Korean peninsula defused.

The other item that comes to mind from this week's news is rather more complicated... The new prime minister has appointed a woman named Tanaka-san as the minister corresponding to our Secretary of State. She is definitely not known for her quiet diplomatic skills, though she is apparently quite fluent in English and can deal directly with many foreign diplomats. She is actually the politically influential but very independent daughter of the famous Kakui Tanaka who got in trouble for the bribes he pulled in from Lockheed, but that's another long and complicated story in itself. The point for now is that she is something of a maverick and tends to speak very frankly, perhaps too frankly for the head of the diplomatic corps.

In the particular case that caused trouble recently, in a discussion with her Australian counterpart, she apparently gave a fairly honest and critical assessment of the latest incarnation of Star Wars. It apparently even included some criticism of Dubya, but the diplomat to whom she was speaking was a strong conservative and great fan of little Bush. He then publicized the private discussions with the apparent intent of causing trouble for Tanaka-san. Not sure how that is going to build a deep and trusting personal relationship, but maybe he's just a career diplomat and was personally offended by too much straight talk. I didn't see anything obviously counterfactual in the reports of what she said, though equally obviously she was focusing on the negative side of the contentious issue. (Another long and complicated peripheral matter, but in short, I'm sure that Star Wars is almost entirely a waste of money.)

Not local news, but in the rest of the world reports seem rather bad. Increasing violence, especially in the Middle East and southeastern parts of Europe. Not clear how dangerous it is or if it's spreading, but so far Dubya doesn't seem to be doing anything helpful. Actually, that's consistent with his apparent isolationist tendencies, but I keep remembering ounces of prevention and pounds of cure... His latest clever thought was to send the head of the CIA to the Middle East, but I find it rather hard to imagine anyone less likely to be trusted in a diplomatic capacity. In fact, the obvious thought is that his real mission is not negotiation, but beefing up the intelligence gathering capabilities to deal with the deteriorating situation. The Israelis and Palestinians already seem to be at war, though in a relatively restrained way--so far.

Interesting and very sad note, though perhaps the gun lovers will be pleased. After all, they always like to talk about how many other ways there are to kill people besides using guns. An authentic Japanese madman killed a number of young school children using a knife. He was a psychiatric outpatient who had apparently failed in several suicide attempts. Obviously he never tried the jumping-in-front-of-an-express approach--works every time. However, I suppose you can argue it both ways. If he'd gotten a gun earlier and actually used it to kill himself more effectively than in his previous failures, then he wouldn't have been around to kill the kids. But if he'd gotten a gun this time he could have killed many more. Vaguely related news was the dinner table murder of most of the Nepal royal family by the crown prince--but the prince fell back on the old gunpowder-powered approach.

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Yet another null week as far as Japan is concerned. Dubya is off offending the Europeans and hasn't been much reported here in Japan. Most interesting item on the Internet was how they trapped a bunch of protesters in a school in Sweden and harassed them with searches as they tried to leave for protests. Bush apparently wasn't joking when he said there should be limits to freedom of speech, though the official excuses were security threats. Right. Someone is planning to attack Dubya so he mingles with a bunch of protesters? Great plan! Not. Actually the more police tied up with people who just want to express their dissatisfaction, the fewer police left to guard against real assassins.

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Where is Dubya? Hiding in a cave? Can't recall a single media mention of him over the last few days, even though a lot of the articles are picked straight off the American wire services. Anyway, pretty sure nothing of major import to Japan.

However, I did recently find out about the First Amendment Zones, which is actually an extension of the international topic last week--control of the Swedish protesters. I'll mention it here mostly as evidence of the changes in the media perspectives. There was a time when the media people were very strong defenders of the freedom of speech, but this is apparently something they don't want to talk about.

The way it works is that Dubya stages an apparently public event showing popular support for his policies. The recent example was a rally in Florida after the tax cut was passed. In reality, the event is a private gathering--even though this one took place in Legends Field, a publicly funded stadium, and even though the press was invited and even urged to attend. The Bushies WANT it to look like an official public event, but since it's really private, that legally allows them to make their own special rules to banish protesters to designated 'First Amendment Zones' far away from the actual event. Attempts to peacefully protest in the 'wrong' place resulted in a number of arrests when they refused to lower their protest signs. Might be legal, but it sure isn't moral. Trying to conceal and depublicize dissent to make your controversial policies look popular goes well beyond simple marketing. And I think all of America is supposed to be a First Amendment Zone.

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Some Japanese news this week. Dubya finally got around to naming an ambassador for our very important ally. Only took him a little over five months to get around to it, and the Japanese are too polite to complain. The actual appointee is an old crony of Reagan's. Physically pretty old, too, 75, but that shouldn't matter since Japan is anything but an arduous posting.

The situation in the Middle East is deteriorating again, and American involvement in Macedonia appears to be increasing. Dubya mostly seems to have completed his turnaround to the Clinton foreign policies he had been denouncing. But the only thing that seems to be bothering him is that his poll numbers are dropping. Not sure if that's because of the waffling or side effects from some books that have just hit the stands criticizing the Supreme Court for Bush v. Gore. I tend to think it's mostly because of the waffling, which is also the first evidence I've noticed that he probably is interfering with his experts. Of course it's impossible to know what is really going on there, but Occam's Razor suggests he's been ruling in favor of the right side, but he started to worry and now he's started calling more shots in favor of the moderates. There haven't been any visible staffing changes yet, but something is going on.

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