Sunday, August 2, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: Fukushima Flare Up

Back in the business section it was:

"Three former executives to be prosecuted in Fukushima nuclear disaster" by Jonathan Soble New York Times  July 31, 2015

TOKYO — In the first criminal prosecutions of officials connected to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster of 2011, Japanese authorities said Friday that they would move forward with cases against three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the plant where reactors melted down after a devastating tsunami.

The move was a victory for citizens’ groups that have been pursuing charges against dozens of officials at Tokyo Electric Power, known as TEPCO, and the government, with no success until now. Prosecutors had twice rejected requests to indict the three former executives, but a review board overruled their decision Friday and ordered that charges be brought.

“We had given up hope that there would be a criminal trial,” said Ruiko Muto, an opponent of nuclear power who leads the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, an umbrella organization representing about 15,000 people, including residents displaced by the accident and their supporters. “We’ve finally gotten this far.”

Tens of thousands of people who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant have been separated from their homes since the meltdowns at three of the facility’s reactors, which spread radiation across a wide area. Evacuation orders have been lifted in some parts of the affected zone, but many former residents are reluctant to return, out of fear for their health or because they no longer have jobs to support them there.

It is rare for prosecutors’ discretion over indictments to be challenged in Japan. The reversal was ordered by a panel of 11 private citizens, convened through a rarely used feature of the Japanese legal system that allows outsiders to review prosecutors’ decisions under certain circumstances.

It was the second time that such a panel, known as a committee for the inquest of prosecution, had determined that the former executives should be prosecuted. The first panel delivered its conclusion last year, after the Tokyo district prosecutors’ office rejected a criminal complaint against the executives filed by the plaintiffs group. The prosecutors declined to act on the first panel’s recommendation, but the plaintiffs group appealed. Under the rules governing the review panels, the second panel’s decision is binding on prosecutors.

Facing indictment are: Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, the chairman of TEPCO at the time of the accident; and two former heads of the utility’s nuclear division, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69. The review panel ordered that they be charged with professional negligence resulting in death.

The power company declined to comment on the panel’s decision.


Something else that may cause a flare up:

"WikiLeaks says US spied on Japanese Cabinet, companies; May pose hurdle in trade talks" by Anna Fifield Washington Post  August 01, 2015

Uh-oh! We were told earlier that the U.S. did not spy on Japan or South Korea.

WASHINGTON — The United States has for years been intercepting phone calls between Japanese officials on sensitive issues including trade, climate change, and bilateral relations, according to a cache of cables that antisecrecy group WikiLeaks released Friday.

With American and Japanese officials meeting in Hawaii — along with representatives of 10 other Pacific Rim nations — to try to close the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, WikiLeaks released the potentially damaging cables that included trade discussions.

The release could pose another hurdle to the already difficult TPP negotiations and will compound Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s domestic woes. Abe is facing loud protests at home over his attempts to loosen the restrictions on Japan’s military and allow it to play a more active role in its alliance with the United States.

It's a critical juncture, too.


"Saying they felt a ‘‘deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy,’’ executives of Mitsubishi Materials Corp. gave an unprecedented apology Sunday to a 94-year-old American for having used US prisoners of war for forced labor during World War II. At a solemn ceremony hosted by the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, James Murphy of Santa Maria, Calif., accepted the apology he had sought for 70 years on behalf of former American POWs. Hikaru Kimura, Mitsubishi’s senior executive, said through a translator that the company offered a ‘‘most remorseful apology’’ to 900 POWs who suffered ‘‘harsh, severe hardships’’ in mines and factories. Murphy, 94, who toiled in Mitsubishi copper mines, is one of the few still alive. He called the apology, sincere, humble, and revealing. ‘‘This is a glorious day,’’ said Murphy, adding that it was ‘‘the first time we’ve heard those words. They touch the heart.’’ Japan’s government has twice apologized to former American POWs used as laborers. But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center, said he and other organizers believe the apology is unprecedented from a major Japanese company. Cooper, Murphy, and others urged more Japanese companies to express their remorse. “I entered the room with a heavy heart, seeking forgiveness,’’ said Yukio Okamoto, outside board member for Mitsubishi. ‘‘We also have to apologize for not apologizing earlier,’’ Okamoto said. About 12,000 American prisoners were shipped to Japan and forced to work; about 10 percent died, said Kinue Tokudome, director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs."

Can't recall it now.

In the cache dubbed “Target Tokyo” released Friday, WikiLeaks alleges that the National Security Agency had 35 targets in Japan going back at least as far as 2006, when Abe began his first stint in office.

The targets included the switchboard for the Japanese Cabinet office, the official workplace of the prime minister, and the line of the executive secretary to Abe’s chief cabinet secretary. Officials from the central bank and the finance and trade ministries also had their phones tapped, as did the natural gas division of Mitsubishi and the petroleum division of Mitsui, WikiLeaks claimed.

‘‘The reports demonstrate the depth of US surveillance of the Japanese government, indicating that intelligence was gathered and processed from numerous Japanese government ministries and offices,’’ the group, led by Julian Assange, said in a statement.

Four of the reports that WikiLeaks released are classified ‘‘top secret,’’ and one is categorized so that it can be shared with the United States’ ‘‘Five Eyes’’ intelligence partners: Australia, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand.

One of the reports, from 2009, purports to show that the NSA intercepted talking points drafted for the agriculture minister to present at World Trade Organization negotiations with the US trade representative.

‘‘The Minister could also address the need to ensure that the results of the WTO agriculture negotiations do not curtail agriculture in the member countries, and Japan’s anticipation of an early appointment by the USTR of a chief agricultural negotiator,’’ the report says. Fisheries subsidies and tariffs on forestry and fishery products might also come up, it said.

Of course, the U.S. has claimed it never engaged in economic espionage (even though everybody does it, blah, blah, blah).

Other parts of the leak deal with climate change negotiations and a feud between the United States and Japan over cherries, but it is the trade component that will probably be most controversial.


Japan has an entrenched agriculture lobby, and farm products have been one of the most difficult parts of the TPP negotiations between the United States and Japan, by far the two biggest economies in the pact.

The United States is pushing to seal the deal this weekend at the talks in Hawaii, and any delay could imperil the whole proposal. The completed deal will need to go through Congress before the end of the year.

You aren't just saying that to make me feel good?


The deal is starting to open some eyes:

"Pacific trade ministers fail to reach deal in Hawaii talks" by Audrey McAvoy Associated Press  August 01, 2015

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific Rim nations failed to reach a deal on a new trade agreement that would cover nearly 40 percent of the global economy, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said.

Froman, reading from a statement on behalf of all the ministers, said the parties made significant progress and agreed to continue their discussions. The countries haven’t yet set a date yet for future talks, but participants said talks are likely to resume before the end of the month.

Of cour$e.

Among the sticking points are farm and automobile tariffs and intellectual property protections for drug companies. Froman said Friday that some of the issues will require bilateral talks, and some will involve groups.

So they can charge more.

Officials said negotiators have been able to resolve their differences in areas such as environmental standards and trademarks.

‘‘I feel very gratified about the progress that’s been made and I am confident that through our continued intensive engagement that we’ll be able to tackle the remaining issues successfully,’’ Froman said in response to a reporter’s question about whether he was disappointed about the lack of a deal.

Japan’s economic and fiscal policy minister, Akira Amari, said he thought a deal would be reached with one more meeting.

The ministers, who have been meeting at a hotel on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach since Tuesday, said in a joint statement they are more confident than ever that an agreement is within reach to support jobs and economic growth.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are aimed at erasing most tariffs and other barriers to trade and investment among participants. It would also clarify and standardize trade rules, making it easier for companies to sell goods and services in the Pacific Rim.

Makes it sound like a win-win for everyone, huh?

The wide-ranging discussions have addressed tariffs on autos, rice, and dairy products, as well as the protections for pharmaceutical companies.

The talks have also covered establishing environmental protections for participant nations, which range from developing countries like Vietnam to industrial powers like Japan.

The Obama administration has said a pact would boost US economic growth and help keep high-quality jobs in the country by increasing exports. The proposed deal is a central element of President Obama’s efforts to boost US influence in Asia and to serve as an economic counterweight to China.

Obama spent six months lobbying to win enhanced negotiating authority from Congress to complete the pact. A congressional vote on the pact, a divisive issue for Obama’s Democrats, would come during the presidential election year of 2016.

Critics have complained that the deal is being negotiated in secret and that it favors multinational corporations over workers and consumers.

Tim Groser, New Zealand’s trade minister, said to reach a complicated trade agreement, parties must slowly resolve issues one by one until only one or two of the most difficult questions remain. He said dairy — of which New Zealand is a major exporter — is one of these difficult issues.

See: Patrolling the South Pacific

Groser didn’t provide details, in an effort to avoid causing problems for his negotiating partners, but said the countries have agreed to what he called ‘‘commercially meaningful access.’’ The definition of what that means is being negotiated, he said.

‘‘I’m extremely confident that we will find that sweet spot and advance the interests of efficient dairy exporters around the world, not just mine, and yet find a way of dealing with the political complexities for those of our friends around the table who are less competitive,’’ Groser said.

The United States came to the Maui round of negotiations strengthened by the Obama administration’s successful legislative fight winning fast-track negotiating authority.


No toasts tonight.

While in Hawaii:

"More than 2,500 astronomers from around the world are in Hawaii for a conference at a time when plans to install telescopes on two mountain summits have led to a standoff between scientists and cultural and environmental activists."

Hawaii seems to be a fulcrum for all Pacific wars!

The Japanese version:

"Pearson moves to close book on Economist magazine" by Manuel Baigorri, Kristen Schweizer and Dinesh Nair Bloomberg News  July 27, 2015

LONDON — Pearson PLC moved closer to an exit from business publishing as it announced plans to dispose of its stake in the 172-year-old Economist magazine, just days after the sale of the Financial Times newspaper.

Proceeds from a sale would give Pearson’s chief executive, John Fallon, extra firepower to turn around the company’s education business. Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has recently lost testing contracts in the United States and its first-half sales stalled as demand for textbooks continued to shrink and fewer students enrolled in college.

“The market is telling them they have these very valuable business titles while education isn’t yielding very much returns,” according to Alex DeGroote, a media analyst at Peel Hunt LLP in London, who said he is skeptical about using the sale proceeds to invest in digital education or to repay debt.

Current family shareholders, including the Cadburys, Rothschilds and Schroders, are in talks to buy the stake, people familiar with the matter said.

One name in there sure gave me a jolt.

Another investor — Exor SpA, the investment vehicle for the Agnelli family that founded Italian carmaker Fiat — said in a release that it is in talks to increase its investment in the Economist Group.

Doesn't Berlusconi own a share of them?

Also under the Economist Group are the Economist Intelligence Unit and titles such as CQ Roll Call....