Archive for November, 2008

Japan workers told to go home and procreate

Posted from <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/28/japan-sexual-health>

Japan‘s workers are being urged to switch off their laptops, go home early and use what little energy they have left on procreation, in the country’s latest attempt to avert demographic disaster.

In response, the labour ministry plans to submit a bill early next year exempting employees with children aged under three from overtime and limiting them to six hour days.

The aim is to allow working mothers and fathers to spend more time with their children and, it is hoped, find the time and energy to have more.

This is one of the emerging problems from the Japan’s current cultural mindset of work being the number one priority. Other problems that have been mentioned about Japan’s killer work ethic are mental breakdowns, with workers completely shutting down and holing up inside their homes and physical collapse. The Japanese work ethic is so hardcore that they even have a word for “Death from too much work” called karoshi.

Work takes up so much of Japanese citizens lives that they have no energy to complete anything else after work. This includes having sex and keeping the population stable.

Japan’s birth rate, at 1.34 – the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime – is among the lowest in the world and falls well short of the 2.07 children needed to keep the population stable.

If the rate persists, demographers warn that Japan’s overall population will drop to 95 million by 2050 from its 2006 peak of 127.7 million.

It is common place to work 80 hours worth of overtime in Japan. Everyone is trying to get ahead to get promoted and to make more cash. People are literally working themselves and the population to death and the lawmakers have finally recognized the problem and have started to take steps to address it. Some may say that this is too much government involvement in people’s lives; a softer approach similar to those of the Germans that have incentives for babies could be taken instead of rigid work limits. However the two societies are very different, and the polices reflect how each of them work.


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This morning brief links to an article that claims the NSA spied on Tony Blair while he was PM.

The US and Great Britain have enjoyed a “special relationship” since the 1940’s.  After WWII, Britain was no longer powerful enough to manage world affairs as effectively as it had before, and British leaders took to cuddling up with the Americans in order to get a voice.  Both liberals and realists have argued that Britain and the United States are connected in very deep ways; on the liberal side, both countries are democracies that share a similar culture and history – on the realist side, both countries have a strategic interest in making sure no one power gains hegemony on the European mainland.

This could be an indication that the United States and Great Britain may be parting ways in the future.  It’s too soon to jump to those kinds of conclusions, but it still leaves the question unanswered: why would we spy on Tony Blair?

Personally, I think this is a classic example of the importance of perception in international politics.  The truth is, the United States can’t know if leaders are being honest.  Sure, Blair might commit to supporting the war.  He may even put troops on the ground.  But considering that a lot of the legitimacy that the United States tried to claim for the war came from big-name partners like Britain, Australia, and…ok, Poland isn’t that big…  why not double check just to make sure?

OR…some people at NSA had too much free time. 

At any rate, it’s important to remember that Britain is an ally to the United States, not of:

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Economy First

The same way the foreign policy debates foreshadowed the importance of economic policy in the coming administration, Obama’s first nominations also illustrate the current economic concerns. During the foreign policy debates, forecasted subjects such as China went completely unmentioned because their places were filled with vital economic converns which have overshadowed the American psyche. Unlike the past nominations, Obama’s current, highly-discussed nominations all revolve around his formation of an “Economic Dream Team” as CNN puts it. According to Obama, “I’ve sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold, new ideas, and most of all who share my fundamental belief that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street without a thriving Main Street.” (Jeanne Sahadi, 11/24/08) This clear priority of the the president-elect and the media to pubicize the “Economic Dream Team” nominations as opposed to Defense, State, or other departments shows the importance of the current economic situation to the president-elect and the people.

At the moment, Obama has “New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary nominee and former Harvard President Lawrence Summers as the director of the National Economic Council.” I watched a segment of the news earlier today which claimed that Geithner would serve as a public face while Summers would work within the White House. The reasoning for this was that Geithner had good, solid people skills while Summers’ skills are… not so great. If you can recall, Summers was Harvard President when he suggested that women were inferior to men in math and science. Thus, Summers will stay behind the scenes while Geithner works outside. As Treasury Secretary, Geithner will be “charged with overseeing the dispersal of funds from the controversial $700 billion financial rescue package that Congress passed in October. Word last week that Obama was likely to nominate Geithner, 47, as his Treasury Secretary sent stocks soaring Friday. Geithner, highly respected both on Wall Street and in the Capitol’s corridors, has already been playing a central role in the Treasury’s and Federal Reserve’s efforts to stabilize the financial system. His nomination is expected to provide the kind of continuity in the Treasury’s financial rescue efforts that will be welcome in the markets and among lawmakers. Obama described Geithner as having “served with distinction under both Democrats and Republicans and has a long history of working comfortably and as an honest broker on both sides of the aisle.” (Jeanne Sahadi, 11/24/08) Hopefully, these nominations will help to bring about an auspicious change for the flailing state of the market.

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Shippers Seek Naval Blockade of Somali Coast to Stop Piracy

Currently, countries surrounding Somalia are attempting to help with some level of control on the piracy taking place around the Somali coast. However, it is an unrealistic way of solving the problem because the coast is so long (over 2400 miles) and would require a grander-scale effort to push back the piracy. At the root of the situation, the piracy is a result of ineffective government and the inability of the government military to discourage people from stealing and looting in this fashion. This is further exacerbated by the incentives and prosperity that pirates have seen through breaking the law and stealing… the obvious increase in their material wealth encourages the piracy to continue. The merchant ship-owners are contemplating arming their own ships, but are afraid that this may endanger their crew-members even more by escalating the violence.

[EDIT- addition]

I just noticed that this article came out on Yahoo News a few hours ago… “Shippers Urge Naval Blockade of Somali Coast.” It appears to be an extension of the video that I posted earlier. Apparently, according to this article, the piracy has gotten so bad that “many tanker owners are considering a massive detour around southern Africa to avoid pirates, which will delay delivery and push costs up by 30 percent.” (Eileen Ng, 11/24/08) Clearly, the lack of control over the pirates has led to more brazen and extreme behavior on the part of the pirates, “seizing eight vessels in the past two weeks, including a huge Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.” (Eileen Ng, 11/24/08) “Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency, has had no functioning government since 1991. Before the Yemeni report of another hijacked ship, there had been 95 pirate attacks so far this year in Somali waters, with 39 ships hijacked. There were 15 ships with nearly 300 crew still in the hands of Somali pirates, who dock the hijacked vessels near the eastern and southern coast as they negotiate for ransom. That does not include the Yemeni cargo vessel.” (Eileen Ng, 11/24/08) While NATO has played a roll by patrolling, escorting, and responding to some distress calls of certain ships in some areas, NATO has ruled out the idea of creating a blockade as the UN Security Council resolutions do not include these actions. However at this point, “Any action to prevent the pirates from heading out to sea is welcome,” said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.” (Eileen Ng, 11/24/08) In the end with the way Somalia’s government is – near non-existent – and how the pirates are acting, it will be up to the international community to take more aggressive action to prevent the piracy.

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The Challenge Obama’s Peace Platform: Security

From -> http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1039874.html -> Obama’s Mideast peace platform is coming into focus.

“The crux of their plan to solve the conflict centers on four principles which they believe Obama ought to adopt and publicly declare as policy:

· An Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with slight alterations that are to be mutually agreed upon.

· Compensation for Palestinian refugees in lieu of exercising the right of return to pre-1948 Israel.

· Jerusalem as a “real home” to two capitals.

· A demilitarized Palestinian state.”

The problem I see here is a glaring security gap if Israel withdraws back to the 1967 territorial lines, which is a big if with its own problems. Lets hypothetically say that Obama does convince both sides to roll back to the 1967 lines and the Israeli army which currently polices the area falls back too. Who will take over their job keeping the peace inside the West Bank?

There are several proposed ideas for solving this problem. The first proposed peace keeping force is an American station along the Jordan River to replace IDF ( Israeli Defense Force) troops. A second option proposed is a NATO peace keeping force and the third option is an internationally trained Palestinian peace keeping force.

With the current war going on inside of Afghanistan and Iraq I doubt that there will be enough resources within the United States or NATO to take up the task unilaterally. Instead policy makers will probably go for the option that would be easier accepted by the public of having a home grown Palestinian police force trained by the west, similar to what the United States did with the Iraqi Army. With the probable peace keeping force being made of Palestinian makeup concerns arise about the future integrity and effectiveness. Initially there would probably be a problem of getting a sufficient number of recruits to fill the ranks of this new police keeping entity. Restrictions on who could become part of the force would have to be put in place, preventing those with militant agendas and questionable backgrounds from joining. Where do you draw the line? As seen in Iraq with the Baath party blanket bans are ineffective and just alienate people, which leave the problem of dealing with all the possible applicants who will have associations with organizations like Hamas. The peace keeping force would also have to be effective enough to eventually work without support of NATO or the United States. Again the makeup of the organization is going to have to be monitored. We can not have the same level of corruption that was seen with the Iraq Army where militiamen were in army uniform in the day and with the militias by night. The peace keeping force would have to be objective and fair to both sides and not be afraid to crack down on its own.

The training and complete transition to a Palestinian will be a difficult task, but I believe it can successfully be done. Unlike Iraq where the Iraqi Army was given initial training and released to do its own operation I believe that the process should be gradual. Initial patrols along the Jordan River should consist of soldiers from both the United States and Palestinians. The US soldiers would show by example how to properly conduct their duties and as the Palestinians prove themselves the number of US soldiers within the patrols will be reduced and replaced by Palestinians until only a US observer is required, with the eventual goal of complete autonomy. Basically the new peace keeping forced should prove themselves in steps to show their effectiveness and integrity.

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Hillsry Clinton has been offered the appointed seat, and she has claimed that she will give up her seat in the senate to become the Obama administration’s Secretary of State. According to an article in the LA Times, “friends said the job was an irresistible one for Clinton, whereas the Senate may have lost some of its allure for her. Elected relatively recently — in 2000 — she is stuck in a system that prizes seniority, forcing her to wait for coveted committee chairmanships.” (s recently as a few days ago, Clinton was prepared to return to her role as the junior senator from New York. Democrats in the Senate considered creating a new leadership position for Clinton in recognition of her stature within the party.” Now, becoming Secretary of State (though nothing is official yet) could lead to a new boost in the administration.

More than the US getting a boost, I think that taking up this role will help Clinton a lot in the future. As a senator, she already had quite a lot of people vying for her to become president. I believe that many more will support her credentials and give her their votes of confidence to become the next president provided that the democratic party does not leave a abhorrant taste in the US public’s mouth. Clinton’s ability and her placement in this position is thoroughly advantageous for her, giving her more experience and more support. Do you have any thoughts or opinions on how her apointment and fulfillment of the role will affect US foreign policy?


Secondly, this just showed up on yahoo minutes ago (11/20/08)… it took me a few minutes to read, and then a few more minutes to get over the shock. I do realize that the american public is often ignorant (or at least portrayed as such what with all the less-knowledge-of-US-history-than-a-fifth-grader type reports and articles), however, I was surprised to see that elected officials aren’t much better. Considering that the public should be electing these people to carry out processes that accomplish goals and interests, one would expect basic history and knowledge of processes to be necessary. Professors cannot teach students properly without knowledge and experience regarding their subject, chefs cannot cook without an understanding of food. I think this reflects very poorly on the US… something drastic needs to be done.

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Steven Pifer is an expert on Russian affairs at the Brookings Institution who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine during the Clinton administration, says U.S.-Russia relations have “deteriorated significantly” since the Putin-Bush summit of 2002. He suggests that the next administration try to return to negotiations on limiting strategic arms, something that President- Elect Obama support.


The current finnacial situation has made it difficult for the U.S. to be able to engage Russia. But another big part of the problem is that U.S.-Russia relations unfortunately have deteriorated significantly from what he sees would say was their high point in recent years, which was the Bush-Putin summit in Moscow in 2002. As a result, the relationship has been very thin. There weren’t a lot of tools in the diplomatic toolkit to influence Moscow in August.


“There’s also an effort to balance a couple of things. One is that there needs to be a response to the Russians because the disproportionate use of force in Georgia went way beyond international norms. But on the other hand, there are certain areas where, even if relations are at rock bottom, there still is an interest between the United States and Russia, on things like controlling nuclear materials. The third piece is trying to keep that door open, because you’d like to find a way to encourage Moscow back to more a cooperative, integrated road.” (Council on Foreign Relations)


Threats of expelling Russia from the G-8 have not been sufficient proposed sanctions for Russia to get on board. The situation against Russia will ultimately be “fragile” due in part of the proposed upgrade of Polish military instillations in order combat the threat posed by the release of nuclear missiles that might threaten American interests as well as its allies in western Europe. Russia act of aggression towards Georgia has been deemed as unacceptable by Russia in trying to regain its dominance in the region.


Another important issue that needs to be addressed is the continued adherence to the START and SORT treaties. There’s the START treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in 1991. That treaty actually expires in December of 2009. The problem is the START treaty, the treaty signed in 1991, is a “book,” because it has very detailed, complex measures for verification, monitoring, and inspection. The SORT treaty from 2002 is two pages, because it gets all its verification and monitoring from the 1991 treaty. If the 1991 treaty is allowed to expire in December of 2009, neither treaty is verifiable. So, in January President Obama will have a certain impetus to try to deal with that, and figure out how do you maintain the verification measures.


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