Japan Opens a Debate on Capital Punishment

Japan opened one of its execution chambers to the media for the first time on Friday, after the country's Justice Minister, Keiko Chiba, attended the hangings of two inmates in July and called for more debate on capital punishment. A series of false convictions have surfaced in recent months, including one of a 63-year-old man who had served 17 years of a life sentence for the murder of a 4-year-old girl. He was released after prosecutors admitted that his confession was a fabrication made under duress and DNA tests showed he was innocent.

Japan does not execute many prisoners compared to the United States. Since 1993, the country has carried out 43 executions. Seven were executed in 2009. By comparison, Texas executed its 16th prisoner of the year last week in Huntsville. The execution was the 224th in the administration of Governor Rick Perry. Texas has far and away the most active death chamber in America, accounting for more than 37 percent of the nation's post-Furman executions. Virginia ranks second.

Japan, however, has guarded its execution practices in secrecy for decades. Currently, there are 107 inmates on death row in Japanese prisons. Execution is by hanging. While the law says an execution must take place within six months after the sentence is finalized by the court system, in practice it usually takes several years. Among 30 executions that took place in the 10 years from 1997, the average period was 7 years and 11 months. Death row inmates are kept in solitary confinement in 7 detention centres throughout the country. Some inmates have been in solitary confinement for over 20 years. 

Death row inmates are notified on the morning of their execution day that they will be executed, usually about an hour before the execution. The UN Committee against Torture has criticised Japan for "the psychological strain" on inmates and their families over the uncertainty of the execution timing.

Keiko Chiba, the Justice Minister, is an opponent of the death penalty. She is taking this action now to foster a debate in Japan on capital punishment. She lost her seat in Japan's Upper House in July's elections and will thus be soon losing her post. 

There are 58 countries that still retain capital punishment, while 104 countries have abolished it and 35 have stopped executions in practice. Of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, only the United States and Japan use capital punishment. The 18 countries known to have conducted executions in 2009 were: Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam and Yemen. 

More on this story at the New York Times.

Japanese PM Hatoyama To Resign

After an eight month tenure marked by scandal and a failure to fulfill key campaign promises, most notably his government's failure to close an American air force base off Okinawa, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is to resign. The decision to resign came in the wake of the move by the left-of-centre Social Democratic Party which had dropped out of the three-party governing coalition, saying that the Prime Minister had turned his back on the Okinawans, who were outraged by his decision to give in to the US and keep the troublesome base on Okinawa.

On Friday, PM Hatoyama had sacked a cabinet minister because of sharp differences over the fate of the controversial US airbase. The dismissal of Mizuho Fukushima, the Consumer Affairs minister, then led to the split in the coalition. The other party, the New People's Party, remains in the coalition. While the government would still retain its majority in both houses of parliament, the defection by the Social Democrats further dampens Mr. Hatoyama’s already bleak prospects in upper house elections in July.

Last August, Hatoyama led his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to landmark landslide that ousted the long governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with the DPJ winning 308 out of 480 seats.

More from the New York Times.

Obama Hashimoto

Politico reports this morning citing unnamed top aides that the Administration plans plans to announce in next year's State of the Union address a greater focus  on cutting the federal deficit extensively in 2010. The Administration will seek to cut new domestic spending other than jobs programs. The decision is being driven by political calculations.

The president's plan, which the officials said was under discussion before this month's Democratic election setbacks, represents both a practical and a political calculation by this White House.

On the practical side, Obama has spent more money on new programs in nine months than Bill Clinton did in eight years, pushing the annual deficit to $1.4 trillion. This leaves little room for big spending initiatives.

On the political side, Obama can help moderate Democrats avoid some tough votes in an election year and, perhaps more importantly, calm the nerves of independent voters who are voicing big concerns with the big spending and deficits.

With the President in Japan today mending a frayed relationship, he might ask Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama about a former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and how Hashimoto's decision to tackle Japan's budget deficit before fully restoring growth plunged the Japanese further into recession. Tackling the budget deficit may be good politics now but it is bad economics and ultimately then poor politics.

There's more...

Economic Stimulus (From a Layman Perspective)

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

There is something very fishy with Keynesian economics and the theory that government stimulus best fights recessions.

Before I continue, I should note that I am entirely unqualified to offer this critique of a fundamental economic tenet. I do not have a Ph.D in economics; nor do can I offer any alternative to combating recession. Nevertheless, here are my non-intellectual thoughts on the matter.

The best test of an economic principle (or any principle, for that matter) is in the field - in real life. For example, reality contradicted the economic theory that financial markets are rational in a particularly memorable way. On the other hand, reality supports the principles of supply and demand.

As far as I can tell, the "reality test" for economic stimulus has had quite mixed results. Two stimuli come off the top of my head: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Japan's response to its 1990s housing bubble. The New Deal, while popular and praised to this very day, did not end the Great Depression. Likewise, Japan's stimulus also did not stop its Lost Decade.

Supporters of Keynes, in response, assert that both Roosevelt and Japan needed even more stimulus; both cut back government spending when they should have spent even more.

To me, this argument recalls the saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It's as if a medieval doctor proposes "bleeding" a sick patient. Upon seeing that bloodletting is not working, the doctor concludes that the patient needs even more bloodletting - when in reality the doctor's "cure" is only making the patient sicker.

The analogy is probably exaggerated; after all, WWII government spending did end the Great Depression. As stated before, the "reality test" has not proven one side right.

What is certain is that more test results are upcoming. The general response to the Great Recession has been economic stimulus; we shall see whether or not it works fairly soon. I hope the evidence goes against my suspicions. I fear it will not.

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Who is John Roos (and why that's important)

As the second largest economy in the world and one of the U.S.'s most important allies, Japan has graditionally been treated with utmost respect diplomatically.  Almost every U.S. ambassador to Japan in the last few decades has been a real political heavyweight, including influential politicians (e.g., Walter Mondale) or prominent international relations scholars (e.g., Michael Armacost).

Who then is John Roos, and why does that matter?

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