Friday, June 28, 2013

Seetell: TPP ‘hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests’

Last month, 10,000 of us submitted comments to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), in which we objected to new so-called free trade agreements. We asked that the government not sell out our democracy to corporate interests.
Because of this pressure, the USTR  finally let a member of Congress – little ole me, Alan Grayson – actually see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a large, secret trade agreement that is being negotiated with many countries in East Asia and South America.
The TPP is nicknamed “NAFTA on steroids.”  Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. I can’t tell you what’s in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified. But I can tell you two things about it.
1)    There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.
2)    This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.
3)    What they can’t afford to tell the American public is that [the rest of this sentence is classified].
Grayson also noted:
Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty. And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America. I think that’s fair to say from what I’ve seen so far. But I’m not allowed to tell you why!
The US has led the TPP since it usurped the process from several Southeast Asian nations several years ago.  Since then, the entire thing has been classified, available only to the Obama administration, the leadership of participating nations … and 600 of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations which are involved in nearly every aspect of life on this planet.
From Monsanto which brought Asia “Agent Orange” and now is the leading source of patented genetically modified seeds (GMO) to investment bank Goldman Sachs, a key player in the financialization of the global economy.  From drug maker Pfizer who wants protection in the TPP which would stifle the production of low-cost generic medication to General Electric, maker of the now infamous Fukushima Daiichi reactors and a proponent of restarting Japan’s nuclear reactors.  From automakers Ford and GM which are demanding greater access to Japanese markets to big-farm agricultural giants like Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) which will benefit from Abe’s plan to force Japanese landowners to lease their small plot farms to ADM, one of the largest users of GMO seeds. 

Huffington Post: Alan Grayson On Trans-Pacific Partnership: Obama Secrecy Hides 'Assault On Democratic Government'

WASHINGTON -- Progressive Democrats in Congress are ramping up pressure on the Obama administration to release the text of Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive free trade agreement with 10 other nations, amid intensifying controversy over the administration's transparency record and its treatment of classified information.
The only publicly available information on the terms of the deal has come from leaks, some of which have alarmed public health experts, environmentalist groups and consumer advocates. According to a document leaked in the summer of 2012, the deal would allow corporations to directly challenge government laws and regulations in international courts.
Members of Congress have been provided with only limited access to the negotiation documents. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told HuffPost on Monday that he viewed an edited version of the negotiation texts last week, but that secrecy policies at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative created scheduling difficulties that delayed his access for nearly six weeks. The Obama administration has barred any Congressional staffers from reviewing the full negotiation text and prohibited members of Congress from discussing the specific terms of the text with trade experts and reporters. Staffers on some committees are granted access to portions of the text under their committee's jurisdiction.
"This, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system," Grayson told HuffPost. "They maintain that the text is classified information. And I get clearance because I'm a member of Congress, but now they tell me that they don't want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I'd be releasing classified information."

$38.9 billion Is The GDP Of Which Countries?

So TEPCO has been getting the equivalent of the GDP of which countries, to stay afloat?

Now, this is one of those tricky figures... but I'm not going to get into that. GDP is what it is. Wikipedia has at least three different ways to measure GDP. So, scroll down, and you get to where it gets interesting.

Tepco, the main monopoly electricity utility company serving Tokyo has gotten some $38.9 billion to stay afloat after the March 11, 2011 nuclear disaster that was triggered by a completely natural event, an earthquake and a massive tsunami. We, tax payers, and you if you have a pension fund in any country, which has invested in Japanese bonds (do you?) or any such scheme... We are now all paying for not only the cleanup efforts, but also to keep the bright neon lights shining in the Tokyo Metropolis.

Looking at the list, the $38.9 billion is about the same as the GDP of countries like Jordan, Latvia, Nepal and Turkmenistan.

Just to keep everyone in Tokyo happy :)

Wikipedia: List of countries by GDP

Thursday, June 27, 2013

TEPCO Rejects Just About All Appeals From Stakeholders Who Try To Rebuild Their Lives

Yesterday, at Yoyogi Stadium in Tokyo, TEPCO held its annual meeting and there were a lot of protests. This is the utility that brought us the nuclear crisis after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, with meltdowns at three of its nuclear power plants. Still not under control, still leaking radioactivity, and so far some 3.79 trillion yen ($38.9 billion) by the government spent to settle compensation claims from the nuclear disaster, i. e. have been injected from tax payers to keep TEPCO afloat.

At the annual meeting, stock holders got to file motions, including Greenpeace Japan, that tried to raise the issue of the responsibility of companies that supplied parts to the Fukushima Daiich Nuclear Plant, including General Electric, the US company. All such motions were voted down.

Bloomberg: Tepco’s Shareholders Decline to Pursue GE for Fukushima Claims

“It is very important to find how much GE knew about issues that may lead to accidents and how much GE has tried to remedy them in order to find cause of the accident and to determine responsibility,” Greenpeace campaigner Ayako Sekine said at the meeting. “At this moment, only Tepco is paying the compensation. But this isn’t enough for the victims to reestablish their lives.” Tepco’s board had recommended that shareholders reject the measure, arguing that there was no clear basis to pursue claims.

Other protests were held outside. Image from Youtube, Shareholder TEPCO.

Video (J) of the proceedings and protests at the annual meeting: ANN News.

NHK World (E): Shareholders reject anti nuclear power proposal

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Face Palm: Japan Power Industry Bill Fail

Oh, the irony. We had a perfectly good opportunity to get a breakup of the electricity company monopoly today, and the Upper House of the Japanese Parliament manages to screw it up on a technicality. Makes you think there are no coincidences, but nevertheless. There is still a chance later this year, and this is important.

OK, so here are some links, in case you are interested. And you should be, because this is how we can wean this blessed country* away from singular relying on nuclear power. And yes, there are alternatives, if we, the consumers, get a chance to choose. And if this bill passes, we will be in a better position to do so (And yes, I know there is a lot of hydro power too in Japan, which is a perfectly good renewable energy resource, but it is not how we are going to solve the energy crisis if we ask for nuclear power plants to be stopped).

So here are the links:

1) NHK World: Bill to revise electricity business scrapped

(Not exactly true, since it will come back in the next Parliamentary session, but that is how NHK does news to you)

Legislation designed to reform Japan's electricity supply system, failed to receive a vote in the Upper House on Wednesday, before the end of the Diet session. The bill was designed to separate power generation and transmission sections of power companies. It aimed to change the current system following the 2011 earthquake. Tokyo Electric Power Company experienced rolling blackouts that inconvenienced industries and people's daily lives.
The new legislation would fully liberalize electricity retailing within three years, allowing both companies and private homes to freely choose power suppliers. The bill also called for the separation of power generation and transmission businesses in about five to seven years time.

The ruling Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties, together with the opposition Democratic Party, had agreed to enact the bill during the Diet session.

The bill was approved by the Lower House plenary session on June 13th and was sent to the Upper House.

However, on Wednesday the Upper House passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the Diet was adjourned before the bill in question was deliberated for vote taking in the Upper House. The bill has thus been scrapped this time, but the government plans to submit it again to the extraordinary Diet session later this year.

2) Bloomberg: Japan Power Industry Bill Gets First Nod to Break Up Monopolies

(That was back in June 12, when the bill passed the Lower House so make what you can of it)

The first phase of a proposal to revamp Japan’s 16 trillion yen ($166 billion) electricity industry and spur competitition by making utilities split power generation and distribution passed a lower house committee. The plan, which calls for the creation of a new body around 2015 to coordinate power supply and demand, was approved today in a meeting of the lower house’s economy and industry committee broadcast on the Internet. 


Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the public has demanded more independent oversight of the utilities as the disaster showed Tokyo Electric Power Co. ignored warnings of earthquake and tsunami risk. That followed revelations the power producers falsified maintenance reports for decades. 

Japan’s cabinet, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in April approved the reform plans. Parts two and three of the effort include fully liberalizing the nation’s electricity retail business by 2016 and spinning off utilities’ transmission and distribution operations between 2018 and 2020.

The 10 regional utilities monopolize Japan’s electricity business, owning more than 70 percent of generation capacity and controlling distribution and transmission, the trade and industry ministry said in a report in November


Here is what we thought over at Consumers Union of Japan:

3) CUJ: Energy Reform Symposium

Japan is debating the future of its electric power system. A special committee at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry made recommendations for reform in February, 2013, and a bill to revise parts of the Electric Utility Law was submitted to the Parliament after a Cabinet decision in April. However, there is concern that the bill has watered down many of the proposals. It is doubtful if the bill can be enacted during the current session of the Parliament and we sense dark clouds gathering over the anticipated reform, which had just started to look promising.
After the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011 we face a situation where parts of the country have been so contaminated with dangerous radioactivity due to the meltdown at the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi that it is impossible for people to live there. Society rapidly needs to be converted into relying on a wide range of power sources including wind, solar, cogeneration, etc., in addition to large-scale expansion of energy-saving efforts. This is the time for structural reform of the electric power system, and we need to move forward on creating a realistic work schedule to make this happen.
Civil society supports the Electric Utility Law revision. In this symposium, we will debate electric power reform and discuss its merits for consumers, as well as learn about the design of the electricity market. We will also hear from energy consultant Yamada Hikaru about the current situation in Europe and North America.
Organizers: e-Shift (Association for Nuclear Power Phase-out and New Energy Policies) / Consumers Union of Japan / Electric Power Reform Project
Date: June 20, 2013 (17:00-19:30)
Place: House of Representatives Multipurpose Hall, Tokyo (衆議院第二議員会館)
Subway: Nagatacho or Kokkaigijidoumae st.
Entrance: 500 Yen

(Japanese only)

About e-Shift

About Genpatsu Zeronomics

原発ゼロノミクス4) We are a network of anti-nuclear groups in Japan and now campaigning for “Genpatsu Zeronomics (Nuclear-free economics).” In Japanese, “genpatsu” means a nuclear power plant, and “zeronomics” is a coined word that combines “zero” and “economics.” Genpatsu zeronomics therefore refers to an economic policy that does not depend on nuclear power.
In Japan, Prime Minister Abe has named “Abenomics” his economic plan to pull Japan’s economy out of two decades of deflation and recession.
As part of Abenomics, the Japanese government is now trying to restart nuclear reactors because it believes that nuclear power is indispensable for Japan’s economic growth. We are absolutely against this government policy. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident has exposed that nuclear power is in fact bad for the economy, and that we must confront economic bads that Japan’s pro-nuclear policy has produced. Instead of relying on nuclear power, we propose to stimulate Japan’s economy by promoting renewable-energy and energy-saving technologies and creating jobs in this new, green industry.
The goal of our campaign is to collect more than 100,000 signatures of endorsement for Genpatsu Zeronomics and submit them to Japan’s prime minister. We are seeking signatures of endorsement from all over the world. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Marriage Data, Sweden & Japan

Interesting to note that people are delaying the time of their marriages, both in Japan and in Sweden (and I suppose in many other countries).

NHK World: Govt. report says Japanese getting children later

A government report shows more Japanese people are waiting to get married or have children. The report said in 2011, the average age at which Japanese men got hitched for the first time was 30.7, and 29 for women. That's 2.9 years higher for men and 3.8 years higher for women compared to 1980. It also said that the average age for a woman to give birth to her first child was 30.1, exceeding 30 for the first time ever. It rose by 0.2 years compared to 2010.

The Japanese marriage curve change seems to be following exactly the same curve as that for Sweden. Except, Japanese still marry about three years earlier, on average. No comment about that on NHK World, but you'd rarely see any such analysis on Japanese news. Anyway. We know that there are a tremendous amount of environmental chemicals and toxins around, and it would make sense if women had babies much earlier, say, in their teens, not later.

Graph lifted from Statistics Sweden, a government agency with a terrific English website (if you care to know about things like Swedish harvest of fuel peat and whatnot) with my added points.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Zuiganji In Matsushima: How To Restore An Ancient Zen Temple

I had the great pleasure of getting a personal tour of the restoration that is going on at a famous temple in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, which was partially damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

In fact, the tsunami didn't reach all the way up to the temple buildings, but just meters from the main gate. Did the ancient founders of this holy place know something that we don't? I guess so.

Zuiganji dates back to 828 when Ennin founded Enpukuji (Matsushimadera) in these parts.

There are still huge living trees that are at least 800 years old on the premises. And there are religious art from as far back as the Heian period, i e before those trees were first grown.

The main building of the Zuiganji temple is currently covered by a tent-like construction cover, so if you do visit Matsushima, you can see other interesting buildings like the kitchen and the museum, which are well worth your time. Imagine you are in the early 1600s and you will get the picture. It is a temple with a clear link to its history.

However, the Hondo (Main Hall) needed repairs. The entire ground had sunk about 40-60 centimeters due to the March 11, 2011 earthquake, and while the outer damage was small, the entire wooden construction needed major attention. Dealing with the way the large wooden roof trunks are fitted together, to the many clay tiles on top, and to the pillars that keep it all straight and up; a project was commenced to manage the damage. Also, some 1903 (Meiji era) repairs needed to be updated, for example the use of rusty iron nails, a novelty at the time, just 110 years ago.

I was allowed to put on a red "visitor" helmet and climb around this amazing restoration project, aimed to be completed in 2015 or later, if everything goes well.

The modern steel pipe scaffolding goes all the way up to the top, to places where one would never usually see that amount of detail that went into the wood carving and the architecture, if that is the proper term. The guys who are working here, previously did the roof for the restoration of Kinkakuji in Kyoto...

Much of the bent roof style has significance, for example, to deal with rain and moisture, which damage the wood.

There are all kinds of religious significances too, but as I tried to avoid hitting my (red helmet) -covered head, I was thinking more about how the ancient artisan workers and wood carvers and heavy-wood lifters felt. Note that the Zendo is off limits. I like that. This is a living Zen temple with young guys practicing.

And this is not one of the largest Hondo buildings, just one among many Zen temples and other structures that we need to care about, with roots in ancient Japan, that still stands.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sashiko - Japanese Traditional Folk Broidery

Learn something new each day - that is one of my many mottos, and here at Kurashi, I do try to keep things that way. Then I realized I know next to nothing about clothes. Fashion? Sorry, I'm not your guy, as you probably know if you... but I digress.

I had the pleasure of meeting sashiko artist Hagiwara Hisako who says she cannot do straight stitches, she is just not that kind of gal... She loves to talk about recycling  old cotton from when Japan grew the stuff, and spends endless hours on a single purse or pot holder...

Most are dyed with indigo, that special hue that was so loved in rural Japan before synthetic dyes became commonplace, because the indigo could be grown and produced locally. Hagiwara Hisako only works by hand, and all her sashiko are all handmade, of course.

Her works of art will be shown abroad for the first time at Murberget, the Prefectural Museum in Norrland, Sweden this fall.

More about sashiko embroidery patterns.

Do check out this Wikipedia entry for Traditional colors of Japan... Most names of colors originate from the names of plants, flowers, and animals that bore or resembled them. Certain colors and dyeing techniques have been used since the Asuka period, while others had been developed as late as the Meiji period when synthetic dyes became common. Note that due to the long history of use of this color system, some variations in color and names do exist.

Indigo has many names, and there is great confusion even about simple things like traffic lights. Is that "green" or "blue" when you are supposed to drive...? How fascinating, the entire scale from green to blue to purple...

Sashiko was also a way to recycle and use cloth for a long time. How different from today, when we buy anything as cheap as possible. And, on the other hand, real quality garments are too expensive.

I am mostly interested in food, where we have all the same issues. I do wish I could wear clothes that came from fibers grown by farmers I knew, and sewn by people I could be confident did not endure conditions like the recent Bangladesh disaster at the Savar Building, with over two thousand victims, from just one factory.

Photo of Hagiwara-sensei at her home in south Tokyo, by Swedish freelance journalist Ingela Höfsten.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shinkansen Train Driver - Rare

It is very rare that we get a glimpse of what goes on inside the minds of the people who drive the Shinkansen trains. With English subtitles.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Montessori For Kids: Fuji Kindergarten

A Montessori kindergarten in Tokyo? I had no idea. Over 600 pupils. And their school is designed by a couple of architects who have children themselves, and wanted only the best, based on studies. This was done back in 2007, and it turns out that this is one kindergarten with no bullying, and no violence. Well, I'm sure kids are kids... But, I'm also sure the Italian-born Maria Montessori would have approved.

The point is, as I learnt on Monday listening to Tezuka Takaharu describe this OECD-lauded project, is the slope. The entire shape tints, and kids just love it. If it was an ordinary running track, there would be no fun, no exploration, no discovery. The roof shape and angle is an invitation to go for it. However, when CNN visited, some kids got hurt. Thus this haven is very careful about visitors.

Plus there are trees to climb, great zelkovas.

And there is also an annex:

While the main building is elliptical, lacking a precise center, the annex has a clear focal point. Its original design drew inspiration from the legend of Buddha preaching under a linden tree, but the space was not used exactly as we had envisioned. Despite the openness of the English classroom, the teacher and children prefer to squeeze into tight corners and niches between floor plates. The five meter-tall building has seven levels, with clearances ranging from 600mm to 1500mm. This idea came from the school's vice principal who requested "a classroom without furniture." When we showed our son and daughter, they touched the ceiling with their hands, smiling. The principal, Mr. Kato, said that for children, the ceiling is like the sky - they cannot touch it. When the sky is lowered to their level, it transports them into the world of giant adults. If you visit the school on a nice day, you'll find giggling kindergartners wedged into spaces less than 60 centimeters high.

e-architect Ring Around a Tree, Japan: Fuji Kindergarten

So, this project caught the attention of OECD, that lauded it in a January, 2011 report. Here is a video that shows the way Fuji Kindergarten works - for the kids (J).

I wish there was more information about the Montessori education in Japan... Seems it started with a book was published in 1968, that spurred the movement. Sophia University has done some work but there is nothing left on the Internet, and the Tokyo Montessori blog (J) isn't exactly updated much... Maybe the Internet and Montessori pedagogic fundamentals just do not match? Then again, there is the Sainou website (J) with roots from the first school founded in 1976 which really gives a better picture of the depth of the activities here. Anyone out there reading Kurashi, with toddlers in this amazing nursery?

才能 (sainou) means to develop ones talents.

Read more (pdf): Reflections on Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, at the launch of OECD's Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mr. Thank You (1936)

Do catch this black-and-white film from 1936, directed by Shimizu Hiroshi. A simple bus ride from a rural town with a cheerful driver, popular with everyone he meets, but the story has much more to tell us.

Mid 1930s were recession times, which meant young women who did not marry could only find work in the big cities, at paper mills or work of a kind that could not be mentioned.

The story also hints at the plight of out-of-work males who went back to their home towns, and migrant women who followed construction crews around as they built roads, tunnels, railways in the countryside...

I like the subtitles, they are terrific - except perhaps in the choice of the English word "migrant" for wataridori 渡り鳥 (migratory birds) because that is also mentioned, that such birds, they will return...

Yet the sense of warmth is strongly communicated, and there is the jazz music and the scenery and the smiles and the kids and the narratives.

Do watch before you comment. A rare glimpse into a Japan most of us cannot imagine. You get points if you can identify the route!

Based on a story called "Arigatou" by Kawabata Yasunari. Mayumi Tsukiji plays the 17 year old girl who travels with her mother to Tokyo... Ken Uehara is the bus driver.

The first road movie, ever...?