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10-15 dead in Metrolink train crash
Los Angeles Times September 12, 2008

Firefighters and emergency workers are now working in darkness as they rescue victims of a deadly Metrolink train collision that occurred in Chatsworth (see location here) this afternoon. Read the updated story (the death count has been raised to between 10 and 15) and view our photos from the scene. If you are stranded and trying to get home, see our page of resources, including a number for families to call.

Scott Glover and David Pierson's piece from Union Station includes the harrowing accounts of survivors. "It was surreal," one man said. "After the impact, it was dead quiet. Then I heard screams and moans. I couldn't believe how devastating it was. . . . I saw a lot of blood and people not moving."

Also, today in Corona, a driver died when a Metrolink train hit her car as she drove around crossing gates onto the track. At this time, the driver is still unidentified.

The Times will be working around the clock to update you on the latest developments.

Commuter train in fatal wreck ran red light
Official says engineer failed to stop at signal; death toll at 25

msnbc Sept. 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES - A commuter train engineer who ran a stop signal was blamed Saturday for the nation's deadliest rail disaster in 15 years, a wreck that killed 25 people and left such a mass of smoldering, twisted metal that it took nearly a day to recover all the bodies.

A preliminary investigation found that "it was a Metrolink engineer that failed to stop at a red signal and that was the probable cause" of Friday's collision with a freight train in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. She said she believes the engineer, whose name was not released, is dead.

"When two trains are in the same place at the same time somebody's made a terrible mistake," said Tyrrell, who was shaking and near tears as she spoke with reporters.

Judges win approval
JapanTimes June 27, 2000

Coalition parties stand by Mori

Despite the setback that the ruling bloc suffered at the hands of the public in Sunday's election for the House of Representatives, top leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition allies agreed Monday that Yoshiro Mori should stay on as prime minister.

Mori, president of the LDP, confirmed with his counterparts from New Komeito and the New Conservative Party that a special three-day Diet session to re-elect him as prime minister should be convened on July 4. Mori will form his new Cabinet the same day.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Mori said he intends to reappoint Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa to the Cabinet to prepare for the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa next month.

In the election, the LDP-led ruling triumvirate suffered serious losses but still managed to retain a comfortable majority in the Lower House.

One sign of the poor support for Mori's Cabinet was the LDP's inability to hold on to a simple majority; it won only 233 of the 480 seats in the Lower House, compared with the 271 it had in the 500-seat chamber before the election. The number of Lower House seats was reduced by 20 in the election, due to electoral reforms.

Its allies also suffered setbacks, with New Komeito seeing its seats cut to 31 from its pre-election strength of 42 and the New Conservative Party winning only seven seats, compared with 18 before the election.

The coalition managed to hold on to 271 seats, exceeding the 269 that would allow it to secure a majority in all the standing committees of the Lower House and simultaneously chair them, ensuring that Diet proceedings will be smooth for the alliance. It does, however, mark a serious setback from the 336-seat presence the alliance previously held.

Mori told reporters that he "naturally considers (himself) responsible" for the LDP's loss of nearly 40 seats.

But he also pointed out that he took the fact that the alliance had secured a majority as the "will of the voters that the three parties should remain at the helm of the government." He indicated that he may ask a top-ranking member of New Komeito and New Conservative Party chief Chikage Ogi to join his new Cabinet to solidify the alliance.

In a subsequent meeting with Ogi and New Komeito chief Takenori Kanzaki, Mori apologized for the poor performance of their parties, which was due largely to their failure to coordinate the campaigns of the ruling bloc.

Kanzaki and Ogi pledged their continued support for the coalition framework, as well as Mori's leadership.

"The election results showed that our coalition and solidarity are trusted by the people," Kanzaki reportedly told Mori. "In order to meet the people's expectation, we should unite even more and support the prime minister as we carry out the tasks ahead."

Ogi proposed that her party and the LDP form a united parliamentary group — a move seen as a step toward its merger with the LDP — but the proposal was immediately declined by LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, who also attended the meeting.

"There could be such an option in the future, but it's certainly not an issue we should discuss right now," Nonaka told reporters after the talks.

Later in the day, former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato and former top police official Taku Yamasaki — two prominent senior members of the LDP who have been critical of the current alliance with New Komeito — expressed support for Mori's continued prime ministership. Kato told a meeting of his own faction within the LDP that he now approves of the current tripartite alliance.

Mori is expected to ask Kato and Yamasaki, who have detached themselves from the party leadership since they were defeated by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in the LDP presidential race last September, to cooperate in his management of the party.

In contrast with the setbacks experienced by the ruling coalition, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan boosted its seats from 95 to 127. DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said the result "marks a solid step in the (DPJ's) path toward becoming a governing power."

Hatoyama also told reporters Monday morning, "Is it true that the people want the Mori administration to go on? We will press the LDP to answer that question."

Most of the other opposition parties gained as well. While the Japanese Communist Party saw its seats fall to 20 from the 26 it held before the election, the Liberal Party, which left the coalition in April, improved over its pre-election strength of 18 to win 22 seats.

The Social Democratic Party, halting a long-term trend of steady decline that had continued for most of the past decade, went up from 14 to 19.

With support confirmed for Mori's continued leadership, the attention of coalition lawmakers is shifting to the lineup of his new Cabinet and LDP executive posts.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki has voiced his intention to stand down, and Mori is widely expected to appoint his close aide — Hidenao Nakagawa, currently deputy LDP secretary general — to the post.

Mori will appoint one Cabinet member each from New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, party sources said.

Tamisuke Watanuki, chairman of the LDP faction formerly led by the late Keizo Obuchi, is seen as a likely candidate for Lower House speaker.

Meanwhile, senior members of New Komeito agreed that Kanzaki should remain as the party's chief, while Tetsuzo Fuyushiba should remain secretary general, despite its losses in Sunday's election.

Judges win approval

All nine judges appointed to the Supreme Court since the previous general election in October 1996 won the confidence of the voting public in a poll held in conjunction with Sunday's House of Representatives election, the Central Election Management Council said Monday.

Voters who turned out at polling stations nationwide were also asked whether any of the nine top court judges should be demoted.

For all the judges up for national review, far more voters left their ballots blank than those who wrote an "X" by the names of judges they want removed from the Supreme Court, council officials said.

Tsugio Kameyama received the most votes of disapproval at 10.29 percent, while Toshifumi Motohara had the least percentage of voters, 8.65 percent, wanting him demoted from the court, according to council officials.

The seven other judges — Takao Oide, Akira Machida, Toshihiro Kanatani, Masamichi Okuda, Shigeru Yamaguchi, Gen Kajitani and Hiroharu Kitagawa — had disapproval rates of between 8 percent and 10 percent, the officials said.

A total of 60,750,994 people, or 60.49 percent of eligible voters, cast ballots in the national review of Supreme Court judges, up 2.93 percentage points from 1996.

It marked the 18th in a series of such reviews, which started in 1949.

None of the combined 133 judges subjected to the national review has been demoted, with the highest disapproval rating to date being 15.2 percent. Demotion requires a majority of disapproval among valid votes.

The great Japan-Mongolia love affair
Asia Times Feb 28, 2007

Japan rolled out the red carpet for Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar when, at Tokyo's invitation, he arrived on Monday for a five-day visit for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a luncheon hosted by Emperor Akihito in his honor at the Imperial Palace.

Ostensibly, the Mongolian leader's visit is to mark the 35th anniversary of the two countries' establishing diplomatic relations in February 1972. But Tokyo has another particular reason to extend the greatest possible hospitality to him. Only a month ago, Tokyo received a much-appreciated diplomatic present from Ulan Bator.

Abe and Enkhbayar agreed in a telephone conversation on January 24 that Japan will seek a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term starting in 2009 in lieu of Mongolia. Enkhbayar conveyed to Abe Mongolia's decision to withdraw its bid for a seat to let Japan run for the post. After the teleconference, Abe told reporters, "I thank the Mongolian president for his leadership and express my appreciation to the Mongolian people. We want to fulfill our responsibilities to live up to Mongolia's goodwill." Abe thanked Enkhbayar again on Monday for Mongolia's decision.

As part of efforts to strengthen bilateral relations, Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, visited Ulan Bator last August, the first such trip by a Japanese premier in seven years. Unlike two of his predecessors who also visited the Mongolian capital while in office as part of their overseas tours, Koizumi just flew between the capitals of the two countries.

In Ulan Bator, Koizumi pledged new grant-in-aid worth 350 million yen (US$2.91 million). While thanking Japan for its assistance as the biggest donor, Ulan Bator asked Tokyo to consider extending yen loans for a new international-airport project.

Before the January telephone conversation between Abe and Enkhbayar, Japanese officials had been engaged in strenuous behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade Mongolia to bow out of the Security Council race, reportedly even harping on how costly it would be for the impoverished country to have its UN mission in New York sufficiently staffed to serve as a council member nation. But perhaps the biggest factor in Tokyo's successful persuasion of Ulan Bator to drop its bid for a non-permanent Security Council seat is the particularly friendly relations between the two countries. Japan has also been Mongolia's largest aid donor for many years, and Mongolian public sentiment toward Japan is highly favorable.

Japan held a two-year rotating non-permanent council seat through the end of last year. But Tokyo has been keen on returning to the council as soon as possible to influence decisions on regional and global security concerns, especially North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Non-permanent seats cannot be held for consecutive terms.

As a non-permanent Security Council member, Japan played a leading role in having a resolution adopted to condemn North Korea's missile launches last July. When North Korea conducted its nuclear test in October, Japan held the rotating monthly presidency and presided over the adoption of a council resolution slapping sanctions against Pyongyang.

Japan also believes that serving as a non-permanent Security Council member as many times as possible and thereby boosting its profile in the international diplomatic arena will serve as a stepping stone to realizing its long-cherished dream of obtaining permanent membership of the powerful council. At present, there are only five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France. Those five nations enjoy the privilege of veto power.

Of the 15 council seats, the remaining 10 are held by non-permanent members and are allotted regionally - three to Africa, two each to Asia, Latin America and Western Europe, and one to Eastern Europe. Japan, along with Brazil, has so far served on the council nine times, the most among the UN member states. Japan is also the second-largest contributor to the UN budget after the United States, accounting for close to 20% of the overall budget. Mongolia has expressed its support for Japan's bid for permanent Security Council membership.

Abe has stressed that, regardless of whether the council seat is permanent or not, it ''makes a difference being on the council because otherwise Japan cannot make any statements or learn about what is discussed. One must realize that the resolutions [in condemnation of North Korea] last year were realized because Japan took leadership as a non-permanent council member," Abe said. ''That makes a big difference.''

Non-permanent seats have staggered terms, so that the council changes five non-permanent members every year, instead of 10 non-permanent members every two years. For the 2008-09 term, Vietnam has declared its candidacy for a non-permanent council seat in an election this autumn. For the 2009-10 term, Iran has also expressed its intention to run for a non-permanent council seat, and a few other countries may emerge to seek the post as an Asian candidate.

The non-permanent members are usually chosen by regional groups and confirmed by the UN General Assembly. But if coordination fails between Asian candidates for the 2009-10 term - at this moment Japan and Iran - a decision will be left to a General Assembly vote in the autumn of 2008.

Japan is confident that it will be able to defeat Iran in a General Assembly vote because of a council resolution adopted last December imposing sanctions against the Persian Gulf nation over its failure to halt uranium enrichment. The sanctions ban the supply of nuclear-related technology and materials and impose an asset freeze on key individuals and companies.

Abe and Enkhbayar held talks on Monday evening, only hours after the Mongolian leader's arrival in Tokyo. They signed a joint statement to step up cooperation on global issues, including the North Korean nuclear and abduction issues and reform of the United Nations. The joint statement contained a basic action plan for broadening the nations' high-level political dialogue and strengthening cooperation in the areas of politics, economics, culture and education over the next 10 years.

Japan as Mongolia's staunch supporter

During the Cold War, when Mongolia was one-party state, the country relied heavily on the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, on other Moscow allies for trade and economic aid. But after the end of the Cold War and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union, Mongolia began to seek increased relations with the Western camp, especially the US and Japan.

Japan spearheaded international efforts to assist Mongolia in its transition to democracy and market economy. Then-prime minister Toshiki Kaifu became the first leader of a major industrialized nation belonging to the Western camp to visit Mongolia, in 1991. Tokyo also hosted the first six meetings of aid donor nations and organizations for Mongolia from 1991 until 1997, which were co-chaired by Japan and the World Bank.

The 10th such meeting was also held in Tokyo in 2003. Japan has been Mongolia's largest single aid donor since 1991, providing a total of 140 billion yen in official development assistance, including about 75 billion yen in grants-in-aid, by the end of fiscal 2005 last March.

Soviet troops were long stationed in Mongolia, mostly on its border with China, although they were completely withdrawn at the end of 1992 amid an easing of tensions between Moscow and Beijing. Ulan Bator has since given top foreign-policy priority to developing friendly and balanced relations with its two giant neighbors - Russia to the north and China to the south. At the same time, however, Mongolia has pursued strengthened relations with what it calls "third neighbors", especially Japan, the US and Europe.

Mongolian Prime Minister Miegombyn Enkhbold chose Japan last March as the destination for his first overseas trip since taking office. During his visit, Enkhbold watched the final day of the 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament and awarded Yokozuna (grand champion) Asashoryu with the Mongolian Prime Minister's Cup in person. Asashoryu is the most successful of many Mongolian wrestlers in Japan's sumo world.

In addition to continued generous economic aid, Mongolia apparently hopes for Japan's continued support in further integrating its economy into the regional - and global - economy. In 1998, Mongolia joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a multilateral forum established in 1994 to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last September, Mongolia was also admitted to Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), a forum of Asian and European nations established in 1996 to discuss inter-regional cooperation in a wide range of areas. But Mongolia has no membership yet in key regional groupings mainly discussing economic cooperation, such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN Plus Three (the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China and South Korea) and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Mongolia as Japan's reliable partner Tokyo sees Mongolia as a valuable pro-Japan nation in Asia. According to an opinion poll conducted in late 2004 by the Japanese Embassy in Ulan Bator through the National University of Mongolia, more than 70% of Mongolian people polled said they felt an affinity with Japan. In addition, the largest percentage - 37.4% - of those polled cited Japan as a foreign country with which Mongolia should have the most intimate relations.

In stark contrast, Japan's relations with other Northeast Asian neighbors, except Taiwan, are tense or often uneasy at best. Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. Anti-Japan feelings are still running deep among many people in China and South Korea, where Japan's wartime aggression and atrocities are still bitterly remembered.

There are other reasons for Japan to place great emphasis on relations with Mongolia.

Unlike Japan, Mongolia has diplomatic relations with North Korea. Concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons and missile programs have not abated despite recent progress on the diplomatic front.

Resource-poor Japan has recently focused its diplomatic attention on Central Asia, a region rich in oil, gas and other resources. Koizumi made a trip to the region last August, the first by a Japanese premier. Japan's diplomatic foray into Central Asia comes at a time when the US, Russia and China are all flexing their political muscles in the resource-rich but volatile region, competing in an attempt to secure energy and influence. Japan apparently desires to play a greater geopolitical role, not only in Central Asia but also in Eurasia as a whole, while countering the growing influence of Russia and China in the region.

In a development that raised eyebrows in the US, which is Japan's most important ally, China, Russia and four Central Asian countries issued a joint statement at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in July 2005 calling for an early withdrawal of US forces from Central Asia. The four Central Asian nations are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. There is now only one US base in Central Asia - in Kyrgyzstan.

Mongolia joined the SCO as an observer along with India, Pakistan and Iran, but wants closer ties with the US and Japan to reduce its heavy dependence on China and Russia. Meanwhile, Japan's ties with both China and Russia, leading members of the SCO, are far from easy over a variety of issues, including nasty territorial rows. Japan has also frequently locked horns with China over natural-gas reserves in the East China Sea.

When Koizumi visited Ulan Bator last August, he proposed the establishment of a working-level "forum for dialogue" to discuss North Korea and regional and international affairs, citing Mongolia's diplomatic relations with North Korea and participation in the SCO as an observer. His Mongolian counterpart, Enkhbold, agreed to Koizumi's proposal.

Although it was probably a sheer coincidence, on the second and final day of the Japanese leader's visit to Ulan Bator, a two-week joint military exercise in peacekeeping techniques, code-named "Khan Quest 2006", kicked off in the suburbs of the capital, mainly involving US and Mongolian troops. Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Tonga and Fiji also sent troops to participate. Several countries, including the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and South Korea sent observers. Fukushiro Nukaga, the then Japanese defense chief, also made a visit to Mongolia last September, the first by a Japanese defense chief.

Mongolia is rich in a variety of minerals, especially coal and copper, although these remain largely unexploited. This is another magnet for resource-strapped Japan's growing attention. The joint statement signed by Abe and Enkhbayar on Monday calls for increased cooperation in the development of Mongolia's underground resources.

The Tavan Tolgoi coal deposit in the Gobi Desert in southern of Mongolia could be the largest unmined coking-coal deposit in the world. The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold porphyry deposit, also in the Gobi Desert, is also highly promising as it is believed be the second-largest such deposit in the world. China is also keen to exploit Mongolia's mineral and energy resources to fuel its red-hot economy.

Japan trumps Iran to win UNSC seat
JapanTimes Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008

Nonpermanent stint key to acquiring veto power

Japan was elected Friday to a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council for a two-year term beginning in January 2009, displacing a bid by Iran to win the one seat allocated to Asia.

Austria, Turkey, Uganda and Mexico were the four other countries elected to nonpermanent seats, all receiving the minimum two-thirds majority vote of 128 required from the 192 members of the assembly. The five will fill an identical number of UNSC seats, which will be vacated at the end of December.

Iran — which is under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear program — received only 32 votes from the U.N., losing the seat designated to Asia to Japan, which received 158 votes. The seat is currently filled by Indonesia.

"We believe that this is (the) manifestation of trust and confidence member states have in Japan's role in the Security Council" in peace and security, development, the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, food crisis and climate change, Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations Yukio Takasu told reporters.

Turkey and Austria won two seats earmarked for the Western Europe and Others region, defeating Iceland by garnering 151 votes and 133 votes, respectively. Existing nonpermanent members for the category are Italy and Belgium.

Iceland, which had been considered by many to be a strong candidate until the recent economic crisis, received only 87 votes.

"It's a disappointment for us not to get more votes because like other countries, we have gotten a lot of promises that have not been kept," said Iceland's Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir

Gisladottir said her country was going through difficult economic times, but said that no one mentioned this would affect the voting.

When asked if she thought the U.K. freeze on Icelandic banks had affected the vote, she said: "It was not helpful what the British did, enforcing and activating a kind of terrorist law toward a small nation."

Britain used antiterrorism laws to freeze the assets of collapsed Icelandic banks to protect the savings of thousands of Britons and scores of local governments.

Uganda was the sole candidate for the African seat, now held by South Africa, and Mexico was the only candidate for the Latin American seat, now occupied by Panama.

Japan defeated Iran overwhelmingly in view of the confrontation between Iran and other U.N. members, especially the United States and European countries, over its nuclear program.

Japan is also believed to have received support from other U.N. members in light of its position as the second-largest financial contributor to the world body after the United States.

Iran's U.N. Mission released a statement Friday after the election that said the voting was affected by "inadequate opportunities with intense competitions in the Asian group . . . unfair behavior and a false propaganda campaign by certain major powers."

Japan will be taking its place on the Security Council for the 10th time, the most of any U.N. member. Japan's previous stint at council duty was in 2005-2006.

Japan sees Security Council membership as vital for intensifying its bid for a permanent council seat as intergovernmental talks on the proposed expansion of the U.N. membership structure are to begin soon.

"In the course of next year, I am convinced that the momentum of Security Council reform after all so many years will be high," Takasu said.

"We hope that Japan's active participation as a nonpermanent member over the next two years will be conducive to the reform that will include expansion of permanent members and nonpermanent members," he said.

The United States welcomed the election of Japan and four other countries as nonpermanent Security Council members.

"We look forward to working with all of these countries on the most pressing issues facing the Council, including Iran's nuclear program, the situation in Darfur, and other matters related to international peace and security," Robert Wood, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in a statement.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff pledged to support Japan's bid for permanent membership in the council.

"Of course Japan is a country that we support for permanent membership and the fact that it was elected by such a resounding number of votes also brings us great satisfaction," said Wolff. "We expect them to be an outstanding contributor to the work of the council."

The General Assembly elects five countries each year to fill an identical number of vacated seats. The Security Council consists of five permanent veto-wielding members and 10 nonpermanent members who serve two-year terms.

Gaining permanent Security Council membership has been a long-sought goal of Japan, which has in the past lobbied for the status in partnership with Brazil, Germany and India.

In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said in a statement that "Japan will play an active and constructive role at the Security Council which is tasked with maintaining peace and security of the international community."

"Japan will strive to realize Security Council reform and Japan's permanent membership at an early time," Nakasone said.

Yamato Life customers to get help
JapanTimes Oct. 11, 2008

Yamato Life Insurance Co.'s decision to file for bankruptcy protection sent shock waves throughout the industry Friday as it became the first major victim in Japan of the global financial crisis.

But industry sources said policyholders shouldn't panic because their policies are guaranteed by an industry safety net. It is the industry's first bankruptcy in seven years.

The Tokyo District Court will appoint a group of administrators to manage the midsize insurer, which has a workforce of 1,011. The administrators will then find a sponsor to rehabilitate Yamato Life and take over its business and contracts.

Lawyers for the insurer and the Financial Services Agency said they had little information about any possible candidates.

The insurer plans to hold meetings in six cities from Saturday to Wednesday to brief creditors about the situation, the insurer said on its Web site.

"We'll try to ease the concerns of policyholders by providing explanations," said Hiroshi Kasuya, a lawyer who filed the insurer's bankruptcy application.

The administrators will also decide how much debt Yamato Life has and evaluate its assets.

Yamato Life said in a news conference earlier in the day that its total debt was estimated at ¥269.5 billion as of the end of September.

The company had 170,000 individual insurance contracts as of March 31, with its assets totaling ¥283.1 billion.

If the administrators cannot find a sponsor, the Life Insurance Policyholders Protection Corp. of Japan, an industry body funded by member insurers, can protect policyholders by either creating a subsidiary to take over its business or by directly taking over all of its policies.

In any case, LIPPC will pay up to 90 percent of the policy reserves of the insurer. As of the end of June, Yamato Life had policy reserves worth ¥255 billion.

The financial authorities said the organization had reserves of around ¥382.2 billion as of the end of September, and there will be no problem with payment.

"It is hard to expect that it will have to pay more than ¥382.2 billion," said Susumu Yamamoto, a senior FSA official. "We will appropriately cope with the situation to protect policyholders."

The insurer was originally founded as Nihon Chohei Hoken in 1911, which used to sell conscription insurance policies. The company assumed its current name in 1945.

In 2002 it became a stock company, changing its structure from a mutual company.

Speeches and Statements by Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet

Basic Policies

At the first Cabinet Meeting, Prime Minister Abe requested the cabinet members to perform their duties in accordance with the following Basic Policies. I am aiming for the vision of "a beautiful country, Japan" - a country filled with vitality, opportunity, and compassion, which cherishes a spirit of self-discipline, and is open to the world. In order to realize the vision of a beautiful country, we, the member of the "Cabinet for the creation of a beautiful country," will promote following policies under the political leadership of the Prime Minister's Office.

  1.Constructing an Open Economy Full of Vitality

● We will channel in new vitality to the Japanese economy through the power of innovation and openness to make economic growth possible even when faced with a declining population.

● We will promote comprehensive assistance measures to build a society of opportunity where everyone has a chance to challenge again - a society in which the efforts of people are rewarded, a society in which there is no stratification into winners and losers, and a society in which ways of working, learning, and living are diverse and multi-tracked.

● We will proceed with the decentralization of power from central government to local governments. We will initiate a "Helping Striving Regions to Help Themselves Program" next fiscal year to realize regions with an abundance of knowledge and ingenuity. We will implement measures to support small and medium-sized enterprises and to rebuild agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries.

  2.Resolute implementation of Fiscal Consolidation and Administrative Reform

● Under the principle that there can be no fiscal consolidation without growth, we will reduce expenditure thoroughly and conduct zero-based review, utilizing the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. To achieve a surplus in the primary balance in FY2011, in budget formulation for the next fiscal year, we will hold down the issuance of new government bonds to below the level of the current fiscal year by achieving a well-modulated distribution of outlays.

● We will organize a simple yet efficient lean government by steadily promoting fundamental administrative reform, such as reduction of number and cost of civil servants, review of the entire civil service system, integration of financial policy institutions, halving the scale of government-held assets by GDP ratio, definite privatization of the postal services, active implementation of market testing, major review of special accounts.

● We will seek regional autonomy. As such, we will promote regional administrative and financial reforms, and consider legislation for the reconstruction of local governments.

● For the increase in burden caused by social security services and the declining birthrate, we will advance a drastic and comprehensive reform of the taxation system to secure a stable supply of revenue.

● We will draw a new grand design for the administrative structure as a whole such as drastic reform and reorganization of administrative institutions, and the formulation of a vision of a regional government (doshu-sei) aimed at its full-fledged introduction.

  3.Realizing a Healthy and Safe Society

● We will promote a comprehensive reform of the social security system, and will reorganize the Social Insurance Agency from scratch. We will make it a priority to realize the unification of the employee's pension scheme and the mutual aid pension scheme. As for medical care and nursing, we will promote a policy aiming to extend healthy life expectancy by transferring its focus to prevention.

● We will make every effort to advance measures to address the falling birthrate and build a child-raising friendly society. In that respect, comprehensive assistance will be provided for families engaged in child-raising, including support to reduce the economic burden on families prior to and after childbirth, and during the child-raising period. We will also promote reform of working habits and styles to support child-raising. Furthermore, we will make efforts toward raising awareness so that the joys of child-raising and family values can be shared by the whole of society.

● We will do our best to restore Japan to the safest country in the world and to prevent the recurrence of incidents that threatens the safety of life. For example, we will prevent malicious incidents in which children are victims.

● We will steadily advance the Kyoto Protocol Target Attainment Plan.

  4.Rebuilding Education

● We will immediately engage ourselves in rebuilding education, to nurture people who value their families, their communities, and their country, and who are filled with rich humanity, creativity and discipline. We will ensure the early enactment of the bill concerning the Fundamental Law of Education.

● We will ensure the early enactment of the bill concerning the Fundamental Law of Education.

● We will rebuild public education and will promote a program that enhances basic academic abilities. We will seek to introduce a system that requires teachers to renew their teaching licenses, and also introduce an outside assessment of schools.

  5.Shift to Proactive Diplomacy

● We will demonstrate the "Japan-U.S. Alliance for Asia and the World" even further, and promote proactive diplomacy that will actively contribute to stalwart solidarity in Asia.

● We will reorganize and enhance the headquarters function and improve intelligence gathering functions of the Prime Minister's Office.

● We will put in place a framework that ensures constant communication between the Prime Minister's Office and the White House. We aim at realignment of U.S. Forces in Japan which reduces the burdens on local communities while maintaining the deterrence. We will make every effort to revitalize the local communities.

● We will strengthen bonds of trust with neighboring countries such as China (People's Republic of China), South Korea (Republic of Korea) and Russia so that we can have future-oriented frank discussions with each other.

● In order to advance comprehensive measures concerning the abduction issue, we will establish the "Headquarters on the Abduction Issue" and assign a secretariat solely dedicated to this Headquarters.

● Together with international society, we will make every effort to assist the reconstruction of Iraq and to prevent and eliminate terrorism.

● We will swiftly strengthen efforts to conclude Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and also work towards the resumption of the WTO Doha Round negotiations.

● We will provide ODA strategically and make efforts to ensure the stable provision of energy resources.

● We will continue its efforts toward U.N. reform including its pursuit of permanent membership in the Security Council.

'Manga' fans have been won over but what about the rest of Japan?
JapanTimes Sept. 23, 2008

A curious thing happened to the stock market when Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced Sept. 1 his intention to step down: Shares in "manga"-related companies surged.

Shares in major comic book store Mandarake Inc., which also sells secondhand animation-related merchandise, shot to the ¥50,000 limit.

The reason? Stock traders immediately thought of Taro Aso, a well-known manga enthusiast and champion of the nation's manga and animation culture, as the most likely candidate to be the next prime minister.

Indeed, lawmakers took notice of Aso as a prospective president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after his legendary speech in Tokyo's Akihabara district in September 2006, which drew the attention of young manga buffs.

During that appearance in the mecca of young animation and comic book enthusiasts, Aso addressed thousands of passersby with a skillful speech discussing the power of Japanese pop culture around in the world.

"When asked about my good points, I used to answer that I'm popular among geisha and old ladies," Aso wrote in his book published last year.

"(But in 2006) I discovered a new aspect of me, which I myself hadn't noticed," he wrote, touching on his apparent appeal to young people, who generally are thought to have little interest in politics.

Aso's love for comic books is now a fixture of his image. He reportedly reads about 10 manga magazines a week, a pace he kept up even during his busy days as telecommunications and internal affairs minister and LDP secretary general.

Famously sarcastic, Aso often skewers reporters from the major media outlets at news conferences, to the delight of young people who keep abreast of events on 2channel, Japan's largest Internet forum.

Thanks to his appeal among the young and his good speaking skills, many in the LDP are pinning the party's hopes in the next Lower House election on Aso.

The general public, however, has reacted less favorably than expected.

Most TV news programs reacted coolly to the LDP presidential race, which Aso won Monday on his way to becoming the next prime minister.

Fuji TV's morning news show "Toku-dane!" monitored all of the national TV news and gossip shows over the past week and found that the LDP presidential election was featured as the top news story only once.

"At the time of (former Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi's Lower House election (in 2005), we got good viewer ratings when we covered the election. But this time, we can't get good ratings even with a lot of coverage," popular newscaster Tomoaki Ogura of "Toku-dane!" said Monday.

Speculation has been rife that the next prime minister will soon dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election as early as Oct. 26. The launch of a new Cabinet usually boosts support rates and would benefit the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc if an election is held immediately.

Many voters believe the next Cabinet is likely to be short-lived.

"(The LDP race) is meaningless because the Lower House will be dissolved in one month anyway," read an anonymous message posted Monday on 2channel.

Aso may realize that the way ahead for his administration may be rockier than expected.

At a news conference Sept. 12, Aso said he would decide when to dissolve the Lower House only after monitoring various factors, including the support rate for the new Cabinet in media polls.

Shigeyoshi Matsumae, Japanese Educator, 89
The New York Times August 27, 1991

Shigeyoshi Matsumae, a prominent Japanese educator and former politician who promoted international exchanges in academics, culture and sports, died on Sunday of heart failure, a hospital official said today. He was 89 years old.

Mr. Matsumae, the president and founder of the private Tokai University and a judo expert, died at the university's hospital in Isehara, Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo.

In 1952, Mr. Matsumae, a Socialist, was elected to the lower house of Parliament and served six terms until retiring from politics in 1969.

He was president of the International Judo Federation from 1979 to 1987, when he became honorary president. Since 1966, he was president of the Japan Cultural Association, a nonprofit group promoting cultural and academic exchanges with other countries, particularly the Soviet Union and East European countries.

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