衆院選公示 政権構想と政策を吟味しよう (1/2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 19, 2009)
Voters deserve a clear presentation of policies
衆院選公示 政権構想と政策を吟味しよう(8月19日付・読売社説)

Official campaigning for the House of Representatives election kicked off Tuesday. This is an extremely important contest, the outcome of which will steer the future course of the nation.

We hope that each voter, political party and candidate will carry an awareness of the significance of this election and fulfill their respective responsibilities in it.

The nation faces a number of difficult and serious problems.

The world economy appears to be emerging from the business downturn that struck the globe at the same time, but has yet to reach full-fledged recovery. How to put the nation's economy on a recovery path while taking into consideration the worsening employment situation is a pressing problem.

With the declining birthrate combined with the aging of the population, the assumption of a social security system supported by a steadily growing economy no longer holds water. It is necessary to work on a new mechanism that addresses benefits and burdens and to reconstruct a sustainable system to realize it.

The security environment surrounding the nation has grown more severe. North Korea is accelerating its nuclear and ballistic missile development and China is aiming to be a military superpower.

How can the nation's peace and security be ensured? Appropriate ways to solve these pressing issues should be a key point of contention in the election.


Priorities of the 2 coalitions

Each political party and candidate needs to present fresh visions for the nation and the policies needed to realize them so that voters can have clear choices.

Both the ruling and opposition parties are presenting their ideas of a government with the notion that they will be establishing ruling coalitions.

A good way to see which policies a future government would give priority to is to look at the common policies of the current ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and the common policies of three opposition parties--the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and People's New Party.

As their growth strategy, the ruling parties have pledged in their common campaign platform to create domestic demand worth 40 trillion yen to 60 trillion yen and secure 2 million jobs over the next three years. They specify that they will implement drastic tax reforms--including raising the consumption tax rate once the economy recovers--to ensure a stable financial resource for social security programs.

Though the pledge carries the responsible attitude of a ruling party toward tackling economic recovery and financial reconstruction in two stages, the presentation's concrete measures to realize these policies have not been made clear. The two parties need to provide a more understandable explanation of this to voters.

The three opposition parties tout as their top policy priority the support of household budget concerns, such as directly providing child-rearing allowances and free high school education. They aim to increase disposable incomes and spur economic growth through domestic demand. They also say they would leave the current consumption tax rate unchanged until the next lower house election.


Promises must be paid for

If the opposition parties were to implement these new policies, estimated to cost about 16.8 trillion yen a year, it would indeed bring about a certain expansion in domestic demand. But there is no denying that the ideas presented regarding domestic demand-led growth were made hastily, as evidenced by the common criticisms that the plans are "pork-barrel policies" and "lack future growth strategy."

Since it was first presented, a fundamental question of whether the opposition parties can really secure this 16.8 trillion yen a year only through cuts in wasteful spending has not been cleared up.

衆院選公示 政権構想と政策を吟味しよう (2/2)

In the fields of foreign policy and national security, the ruling parties stipulated the continuation of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and antipiracy mission off Somalia.

Both missions are important activities for Japan to assume its role in the international community's fight against terrorism, and to reinforce its alliance with the United States.

On the other hand, the three opposition parties have made no reference to foreign and national security policy issues in their common policy.

This is primarily because of the large difference in the positions taken by the three parties, with, for instance, the SDP opposed to the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces abroad. Yet this is merely an attempt at postponing the solving of thorny issues until after the election.

Should the three parties form a coalition government, while leaving their stances on such a fundamental issue murky, will they be able to pursue a responsible foreign policy and protect the national interest?

It is important for parties to deepen their discussion on foreign affairs and national security through the election campaign.


View of the past

Another vital point is how to sum up the track record of the ruling coalition government of the LDP and New Komeito since the previous lower election four years ago.

The ruling parties suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Councillors election in 2007. Ever since, the Diet has been divided with the DPJ-led forces dominating the upper house and the ruling coalition parties controlling the lower house--sending the Diet's business into disarray.

As a matter of course, the ruling parties' major defeat stemmed from the problems involving the ruling coalition government, including the sloppy management of public pension data by the Social Insurance Agency and the opaque reports of office expenses of political fund management organizations of Cabinet members.
Yet, the DPJ may also carry grave responsibility for the political turmoil under the divided Diet, as the party, under the leadership of Ichiro Ozawa, pursued a strategy of all-out confrontation with the ruling parties.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his successor Yasuo Fukuda both abandoned their administrations about one year after taking office, making apparent the LDP's declining ability to govern.

Meanwhile, successive DPJ leaders Seiji Maehara and Ichiro Ozawa also resigned to take responsibility for scandals that damaged the party, with Maehara quitting over a DPJ lawmaker using a faked e-mail to make spurious accusations against a relative of an LDP Diet member, and Ozawa stepping down over false records of political fund donation, incidents that increased people's distrust of politics.

Both the ruling and opposition camp should bear in mind that it is their joint responsibility to rebuild the public's trust.


Future of nation at stake

A change of government, as the DPJ asserts, is an important element for realizing a sound parliamentary democracy.

Yet the crucial point is not a "change of government" per se, but how the nation's politics should be changed through changes in the government.

The upcoming election is the third time the lower house poll has been fought based on the political parties' respective policy platforms they intend to pursue if they come to power.

Their policy pledges cover a wide range of issues and include a lot of highly technical matters. Voters should not be bewildered by mere make-believe populist policies, campaign tactics or fleeting sociopolitical atmosphere of the moment.

Voters must think carefully and consider the issues from multiple angles to grasp the pros and cons of the parties' policies level-headedly and choose the administration.

The upcoming lower house election is an important opportunity for us to think seriously about the future course of the nation and push the nation's politics forward.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 19, 2009)
(2009年8月19日01時17分 読売新聞)

GDPプラス 本格回復へ詰めを誤るな

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 18, 2009)
Govt must pull out stops for full-fledged recovery
GDPプラス 本格回復へ詰めを誤るな(8月18日付・読売社説)

Though statistics show the nation's economy has finally hit bottom, this does not mean there is no risk that the economy will fall back into recession.

The nation's gross domestic product grew 0.9 percent in the April-June period from the previous quarter, which represents an annualized growth rate of 3.7 percent, marking the first expansion in five quarters.

Exports began increasing thanks to the recovery of overseas economies, while on the domestic front, consumer spending and public investment got a shot in the arm from the government's economic-stimulus measures.

Though the rapid economic downturn, which had progressed at the worst pace since the war, has halted, annualized real GDP stands at 526 trillion yen, down about 40 trillion yen from a year ago, a state of affairs that fails to convince us that the economy is on a recovery track. The government must not stumble in putting the finishing touches on its policies for a full-scale business recovery.

GDP growth in the April-June period was led by overseas demand. During that period, China and many other Asian countries achieved high economic growth. In the United States and Europe, the margin of economic contraction narrowed, while exports of major products, such as electronics parts and automobiles, recovered.

Nevertheless, the prospects for overseas economies remain highly uncertain. Therefore, whether the Japanese economy will be able to get on a stable recovery track hinges on the strength of domestic demand.


Self-sustained demand crucial

The fact that consumer spending, which accounts for about 60 percent of GDP, moved into positive territory, is encouraging news. In particular, consumption of consumer durables, such as electrical appliances and vehicles, increased significantly. The government's pump-priming measures, such as tax breaks and subsidies for the purchase of eco-friendly vehicles, and the introduction of the eco point system aimed at boosting sales of eco-friendly electrical appliances, have proved quite successful.

Public spending, which was boosted in supplementary budgets, showed the largest growth in about 10 years, helping push up GDP.

The series of economic-stimulus measures put forward by the government and ruling parties since last summer was accompanied by fiscal deterioration. However, the measures can be viewed as appropriate policy decisions because they helped prevent the economy from sinking into a double-dip recession.

But once the pump-priming steps' positive effects have run their course, there will be concern that consumer spending and public investment will slow down.

It is desirable that domestic demand move into a self-sustaining recovery mode, which is evidenced by the expansion of consumption resulting from higher employment and higher incomes, supported by policy measures. However, the prospects for such a situation are grim.


Austerity not the answer now

Unemployment continues to rise, and workers' income is on the decline due to cuts in bonus and overtime pay. Under such circumstances, we urge the government to make steady efforts to tackle unemployment and provide financial assistance to those in trouble. The government must not hesitate to take additional measures when necessary.

Capital investment, another pillar of domestic demand along with consumer spending, has long been sluggish. Additional policies aimed at spurring business activities, such as further investment tax credits, are likely to be necessary.

At this stage, the government must not take the short-term economic recovery for granted and switch to belt-tightening policy measures, such as cutting down on public works projects.

We also urge the government--irrespective of the political situation--to avoid delaying the compilation of the fiscal 2010 budget, which would hinder policy implementation.

Whichever party or parties take the reins of government following the general election, a business recovery must continue to be the government's top priority in its economic policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 18, 2009)
(2009年8月18日01時22分 読売新聞)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:芸能界の違法薬物問題 /東京

(Mainichi Japan) August 16, 2009
Alleged drug use by celebrities sending shockwaves through Japanese society
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:芸能界の違法薬物問題 /東京


In times past, people in show business were seen as unique and free-spirited, living outside the rules of society. In recent years, however, I'd heard celebrities being characterized as well-mannered and generally the model-student type, barely touching alcohol or going out all night. "Unless you're the serious type, the kind who's interested only in pets and books, there's no way you can survive the brutal world of show biz," a friend of mine who works at a television station once told me.

Having been on television programs with young celebs, I've found them to be surprisingly hardworking and polite. Whenever I encounter students with a poor command of honorific language at the university where I teach, I silently think, "You really could learn a thing or two from spending a few months at a talent agency."

And yet, just recently, celebrities popular among the younger generation have been arrested on suspicion of drug possession and use. More than a few fans must have been disappointed to discover that their beloved idols were irresponsible people after all.

Every time the issue of drug abuse in the entertainment industry resurfaces, people attribute it to the acute pressures of the industry. Indeed, show business is characterized by irregular employment, where a top star today could have the plug pulled on a on his TV series next month. Those with a strong sense of duty especially must experience sleepless nights, worrying about an unpredictable tomorrow and the trouble they could potentially cause their family and colleagues.

Still, turning to drugs to alleviate pressures one finds unbearable is unacceptable. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but people who are that fragile are probably not fit for show business to begin with.

Drugs momentarily provide users with extraordinary sensations, but they also have various harmful effects on the body. Most of all, their danger lies in the emotional and physical dependency that users can develop on them, making quitting incredibly difficult. You could say that virtually no one who uses drugs thinking they'll stop "after a few times" is actually able to do so.

There are reports that of late, drugs, seen as "relaxation medication" or something akin to vitamins and dietary supplements, are exchanged among young people with ease. Regardless of one's justification for drug use -- be it to relieve stress, seek excitement, or as mere recreation -- what is wrong is wrong. If you are unwilling to experience your demise and that of those around you, take this to heart: do not mess with drugs. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

毎日新聞 2009年8月11日 地方版

野球の五輪落選 魅力をどう世界に広めるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 16, 2009)
IOC decision tough on baseball, softball
野球の五輪落選 魅力をどう世界に広めるか(8月16日付・読売社説)

Even if Tokyo is chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games, we will not be able to enjoy watching the battle for baseball and softball medals.

The International Olympic Committee executive board has selected golf and rugby sevens for proposed inclusion in the 2016 Summer Games. The board will submit the two sports for ratification by the IOC Assembly in Copenhagen in October.

Baseball and softball, which have been dropped from the Olympic program for the 2012 London Games, failed in their comeback bids. As both are sports Japan had a chance of winning gold medals in, it was a regrettable outcome for this nation.


Baseball stars failed to speak

Baseball is only popular in a few regions around the world, and this may be the main reason it was dropped from the Olympic program. While baseball is popular in Japan and the United States, it cannot be denied that in Europe it lags well behind other popular sports, such as soccer, and is a minor sport there.

The failure of U.S. Major League Baseball's leading players to state whether they would participate in the Games also affected the outcome. In contrast, leading golfer Tiger Woods appealed to the board for his sport to be included in the 2016 Summer Games.

The participation of star players increases interest in a sporting event, which in turn allows higher broadcasting rights fees to be charged, bringing in increased funds for the IOC.

This fact undoubtedly formed the basis of the decision to select golf and not baseball for proposed inclusion in the 2016 Olympics.

Allegations of performance-enhancing drug use by MLB players may also have been a key factor behind the IOC's decision, as the committee has toughened its stance on doping.

There is no doubt the World Baseball Classic will continue to be seen as an important event. To spread baseball's appeal around the world, efforts must be made to improve the standing of this competition that determines the world's number one national baseball team.

In the second WBC, which was held in March, it was great to see that the competitiveness of European baseball teams had greatly improved. This is encouraging in terms of promoting the internationalization of the game.

If Japan and the United States continue to play a leading role in promoting the sport around the globe, such improvements in the skill level of emerging baseball nations should lead to the return of the game to the Olympic program in the future.

The IOC decision also came as a huge shock to softballers, for whom participation in the Olympics was their main goal. Maintaining the high standards that saw the Japanese national team win the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has now become a pressing issue.


Good news for golfers

If golf is officially included in the 2016 Summer Games, we would be able to cheer on Ryo Ishikawa and Ai Miyazato as they drive for gold.

If Tokyo hosts that Games, the inclusion of the two players would make the Olympics even more exciting.

On Oct. 2, the IOC will pick the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games. We hope the nation's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games continues to gain momentum.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 16, 2009)
(2009年8月16日01時39分 読売新聞)

終戦の日 追悼めぐる論議を深めよ (1/2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 15, 2009)
Time to discuss how to commemorate war dead
終戦の日 追悼めぐる論議を深めよ(8月15日付・読売社説)

Whenever we ponder on those
who dedicated their lives
for the cause of our nation,
our heart aches with deep emotion
 「くにのためいのちささげし ひとびとの ことをおもへば むねせまりくる」

This poem by Emperor Showa (1926-1989) is inscribed on the monument to the memory of the war dead at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Once again, the day has arrived on which the nation commemorates the end of World War II. The government will host a memorial service for the war dead at Nippon Budokan hall, which is close to the national cemetery.

In an ordinary year, the ceremony is attended by the Emperor and Empress as well as the heads of the three branches of state power: the heads of both houses of the Diet, the prime minister and the Supreme Court chief justice. In this regard, it is the nation's most solemn event.
This year, however, the House of Representatives speaker will not attend because the lower house has been dissolved ahead of the upcoming general election.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. The war broke out with the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Germany had concluded a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union only a week earlier on Aug. 23.

Soon after, Soviet forces invaded Poland and annexed three Baltic states. The three states only regained their independence shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In July, the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a resolution calling for the anniversary of the day the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was concluded to be a day of remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism. The session was held in Lithuania--one of the Baltic states that came under Soviet control.


Diplomatic blunders

During the war years, Japan repeatedly made diplomatic blunders by making approaches to Germany and the Soviet Union.

The Imperial Japanese Army initially believed it could keep the Soviet Union in check by forming an alliance with Germany. The signing of the nonaggression treaty between those two countries, however, stunned the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma, which resigned en masse after issuing a statement that said, "Europe's heaven and earth are complicated and inscrutable."

Later, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe concluded the Tripartite Alliance with Germany and Italy as well as the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact. Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka apparently thought the impasse in Japan-U.S. relations could be broken by balancing against Britain and the United States by strengthening cooperation among four countries--Japan, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union.

But Matsuoka's plan was scuttled by the outbreak of hostilities between the Soviet Union and Germany. The next cabinet, that of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, decided to go to war with the United States--a reckless undertaking on Japan's part.

As the conflict drew closer to its end, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki asked the Soviet Union to broker a deal with the Allies to end the war. However, the Soviet Union turned its back on the neutrality pact with Japan and invaded Manchuria (what is now northeastern China). As a result, 575,000 Japanese officers and soldiers were captured and detained in Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union. An estimated 55,000 Japanese are believed to have died in the Soviet Union after the war.

A massive amount of documents detailing the Japanese detainees has recently been discovered at a Russian archive. We hope these documents will help identify the Japanese who died in Soviet detention.

Looking back, it is clear that Japanese leaders grossly misinterpreted what was happening on the international stage.

終戦の日 追悼めぐる論議を深めよ (2/2)

The House of Representatives election to choose the leaders who will be tasked with navigating Japan through uncharted waters will be officially announced Tuesday, opening an 11-day campaign.

Both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan have mapped out policies they plan to implement should they hold the reins of government. The battle to woo voters will be fierce.


Grandfathers' experiences

The current state of affairs no doubt reminds many people of the grandfathers of Prime Minister Taro Aso and DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama.

Aso's grandfather, former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, served as ambassador to Britain before the war and was a strong proponent of closer ties with Britain and the United States. Yoshida, who engaged with Konoe and other like-minded people in a futile effort to bring the fighting to an end in the closing months of World War II, was arrested by military police and detained for 40 days.
Yoshida fell ill after being released. The war ended while he was recuperating in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Hatoyama's grandfather, former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, was a lawmaker focused on party politics who had served as education minister. Hatoyama clashed with Tojo and, as a result, he had to spend some time in seclusion at a villa in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture. He listened to the radio broadcast in which Emperor Showa announced Japan's surrender while he was tucked away in Karuizawa.

While at his villa, Hatoyama regularly read a book written by Austro-Hungarian diplomat Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of European integration. The book stressed the need for "fraternal revolution." Hatoyama later translated the book under the title of "Jiyu to Jinsei" (Liberty and Life).


Lessons of history

What historical lessons can Aso and Hatoyama learn from the bitter experiences of their grandfathers?

Aso will observe the war anniversary for the first time since becoming prime minister. He has said he will not visit Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo because it would be wrong to make "the people who sacrificed their precious lives for the country" a matter of political contention.

Fourteen Class-A war criminals, including Tojo and Matsuoka, are enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine along with other war dead.

Some LDP members insist the Class-A war criminals must be enshrined elsewhere. Some other LDP members have advocated constructing a national memorial facility. However, the party has not formulated a united position on the matter.

Hatoyama said he would not visit Yasukuni should he become prime minister, and he would urge his cabinet ministers to refrain from going to the shrine. Hatoyama has suggested he favors establishing a national memorial facility for the war dead.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said he wants to have a group of experts discuss building a national facility, possibly making use of the Chidorigafuchi cemetery.

Emperor Showa expressed concern that the essence of Yasukuni Shrine, a resting place for the spirits of the nation's war dead, has been distorted with the enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals.

Yasukuni Shrine insists the teachings of Shintoism prevent it from separating the war criminals from the shrine.

However, even if Yasukuni Shrine refuses to separately enshrine the Class-A war criminals, discussions about establishing a national facility will gain momentum regardless of the outcome of this month's general election.

It is time to deepen national-level discussions on the best way to pay tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives for the country, and to settle this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 15, 2009)
(2009年8月15日01時23分 読売新聞)

年金改革 党派の対立超え接点を探れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 14, 2009)
Compromise necessary for pension reform
年金改革 党派の対立超え接点を探れ(8月14日付・読売社説)

The pension system is the bedrock upon which the citizens of this nation build their postretirement life. However, if this system lacks stability, notions of a strong ultra-aging society will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

In the last fiscal year, the rate of contributions paid by subscribers to the national pension scheme, which mainly covers self-employed and nonregular workers, declined to a record low of 62.1 percent. This figure is believed to reflect public distrust in the current system, with many people reportedly concerned about being unable to receive pension benefits, despite having paid premiums over many years.

Evidently, the pension system will need to be fundamentally overhauled before public confidence can be restored.


Different visions

The Liberal Democratic Party pledged in its policy platforms for the upcoming House of Representatives election to offer help within three years to people who currently receive little or no pension benefits.

More specifically, the party--in a shared pledge with its coalition partner, New Komeito--proposed shortening the minimum period that people are required to pay premiums in order to qualify for pension benefits from the current 25 years to 10 years.

In addition, New Komeito proposed improvements aimed at guaranteeing minimum benefits for low-income earners by providing additional financial assistance from the state coffers.

Conversely, the Democratic Party of Japan proposed an all-encompassing pension program in which everyone would be asked to pay premiums in proportion to their income. The envisaged program also is designed to guarantee a minimum monthly pension income of 70,000 yen by drawing upon taxpayers' money to provide extra benefits. Such a move would transform the current pension scheme.

Though the ruling bloc's pension reform plans and the DPJ's ideas are significantly different, they are not completely incompatible.

Up until the previous House of Councillors election, the DPJ had said the basic pension portion of its minimum-guarantee pension scheme would rely entirely on taxpayers' money. This proposal thus gave the impression that the current premium-based system would be rebuilt from the ground up into a system that was fully funded by tax revenues.

However, the party altered its rationale ahead of the upcoming lower house election. Under its newly drafted reform plan, the envisaged pension scheme would be based on benefits linked to the amount of premiums paid into the system by people during their working years, with the minimum-guarantee pension benefits complementing this income-linked pension.

As a result of this new stance, friction lessened between the ruling and opposition blocs over whether a premium-based or tax-funded program was best suited to the nation's needs.


Cross-party challenge

The ruling parties continue to maintain that a domestic unified pension program should be this country's long-term goal.

We believe the idea of a unified income-linked pension program to be worthy of serious consideration.

However, the DPJ plan would require a long transitional period before the new system could be operated smoothly and effectively. Therefore, as proposed by the ruling parties, the government would need to take measures to financially support those people who had only small pensions, or no benefits at all.

The ruling and opposition blocs' pension reform proposals are not completely contradictory. As such, it would be possible to seek a compromise.

As for coming debates on pension reform, voters should keep a close eye on which party or candidate seems the most constructively minded on the issue.

Whatever political shape the nation takes after the lower house election, reforming the pension system is a task that must be tackled across party lines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 14, 2009)
(2009年8月14日01時13分 読売新聞)

サイバー攻撃 ネット社会に深刻な脅威だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 13, 2009)
Cyber attacks a threat to modern society
サイバー攻撃 ネット社会に深刻な脅威だ(8月13日付・読売社説)

Cyber attacks are a grave threat to the globe-spanning computer networks that underpin modern society and it is imperative that checks be made to ensure adequate countermeasures are in place to deal with potential problems in this country.

In early July, a spate of cyber attacks hit the Web sites of government organizations, banks and stock exchanges in the United States and South Korea.

Internet bots, which can remotely control the computers of unsuspecting users, were used to launch the attacks. Using such hijacked computers, the hackers simultaneously sent enormous volumes of data to particular Web sites, forcing them to shut down.

The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in South Korea were compounded by the destruction of data, which meant it took many of the affected organizations a considerable time to restore their Web sites.


North Korean involvement?

According to global information security experts, the attacks were launched from about 170,000 bot-infected computers in 74 countries. Though it is highly suspected that North Korea or pro-North Korean groups had a hand in the cyber offensives, it is difficult to conclusively identify the attackers.

However, if North Korea was involved in the attacks in some form, it is likely that Japan will be targeted at some point in the future. We hope careful analyses of the U.S. and South Korean cases will help bolster domestic countermeasures against such attacks.

As exemplified by these recent events, government Web sites are the prime targets for cyber assaults.

While government Web sites are becoming increasingly convenient for the public--such as by allowing people to file income tax returns online, among other tasks--the fact that anyone can access these networks leaves such computer systems vulnerable to cyber attacks.

At the end of July, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry's Web site was tampered with by an unidentified person or group. As a result, it was possible to access with a single click a Web site written in Chinese. Although no real damage was confirmed, this was typical of the kind of malicious behavior that drives hackers to send out computer-infecting bots.

We hope the government, led primarily by the Cabinet Secretariat's National Information Security Center, will closely monitor the situation and take the requisite steps to ensure security is given high priority.


Vigilance required

In terms of countermeasures, individuals, too, also have an important role to play. It has been confirmed that many Japan-based computers were unknowingly involved in the recent digital bombardment of U.S. and South Korean Web sites. According to a government estimate, there are about 300,000 bot-infected computers in Japan.

The most important single step that users can take to protect their computers is to install antivirus software and make sure that it always runs the latest version. Running an up-to-date operating system, such as Windows, also is an effective countermeasure. The Web site of the government-operated Cyber Clean Center offers users a free check to learn whether their computers are infected with bots.

Let us hope we can all avoid becoming unwitting accomplices in bot-based cyber attacks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 13, 2009)
(2009年8月13日01時09分 読売新聞)

消費税引き上げ 必要性を率直に国民に説け

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 9, 2009)
Parties must explain need for consumption tax hike
消費税引き上げ 必要性を率直に国民に説け(8月9日付・読売社説)

It is time to answer the question of how to secure the financial resources needed to make the social security system sustainable.

Most of the public understand that the consumption tax, which spreads the burden on taxpayers broadly and thinly, is the only tax that can be tapped to provide a stable source of financing.

But deep debate on the consumption tax among the ruling and opposition parties in the run-up to the House of Representatives election is yet to occur. Even if the parties argue that priority should be given to economic recovery or thorough expenditure cuts, they also should try to show how a consumption tax rate hike might be achieved.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party specifies in its manifesto that it will take the necessary legal steps by fiscal 2011 to implement drastic reform of the taxation system--including consumption tax changes--immediately after the economy turns for the better.

The LDP will designate the consumption tax as a special purpose tax, allowing it to allot all the increased revenue to social security programs, while gradually raising the consumption tax rate. The party also stated a deadline for completion of the preparation stage, which seems to be a responsible attitude for a ruling party.

In the 2005 lower house election, the ruling bloc pledged to implement drastic reform, including consumption tax reform, around fiscal 2007, but failed to fulfill their promise. If it intends to tackle the reform issue seriously this time, it should clearly state what the tax rate will be and when it will be raised.


DPJ must explain position

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan said in its manifesto that it will not raise the consumption tax rate in the coming four years. In the run-up to the 2005 lower house election, the DPJ said it backed a three percentage point consumption tax rate hike. So far, the party has not sufficiently explained to the public why it has decided there is no need to raise the tax rate this time.

As part of its program for taxation reform announced in December 2008, the DPJ said the importance of the consumption tax would continue to grow and that it intended to draw up a framework for tax reform, including consumption tax changes, during its first term if it gains power.

If the DPJ intends to use the consumption tax as a financial resource to fund the social security system and begin to draw up a plan for drastic taxation reform, little would separate the DPJ and LDP on the issue. The DPJ therefore needs to admit it is necessary to increase the consumption tax burden and frankly explain the reasons why to the public.


Scope for a rate increase

At 25 percent, Sweden has the highest consumption tax rate in Europe, with value-added tax rates in much of the continent, including Britain, France and Germany, ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent. Those of China and South Korea are 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively, making Japan's 5 percent rather exceptional.

It is necessary to take into consideration the effect on low-income earners whose burden will become larger if the consumption tax rate is raised.

By allotting some of the increased revenue to the financing of social security programs, the benefits received by low-income earners can be increased. But at the same time, the question of what the reduced tax rate should be on daily necessities will arise. It will be necessary to consider making mandatory an invoicing system in which various taxes would have to be recorded on an itemized bill whenever a purchase is made.

The DPJ is proposing a system that would see low-income earners given payments equivalent to the consumption tax levied on daily necessities, but this leaves key problems unaddressed, including how to accurately assess each low-income earner's income. So, it is more realistic to first consider applying a lower tax rate on daily necessities than on other items.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9, 2009)
(2009年8月9日01時19分 読売新聞)






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07 相手の言うことがわからないとき
08 うまく言えないとき
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14 頼みごとをするとき
15 申し出・依頼を断るとき
16 許可を求めるとき
17 説明してもらうとき
18 確認を求めるとき
19 状況を知りたいとき
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