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Shinzo Abe is the Prime Minister of Japan. He's affiliated with the center-right Liberal Democratic Party which holds 291 out of the 475 seats in Japan's House of Representatives. Yesterday, he gave a speech before a Joint Session of Congress. The text was scoured for hints about the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently in negotiations.

A transcript of the speech can be found in the Congressional Record, including a botched quote from Carol King's 1971 Grammy Award Winner for Song of the Year, You've Got a Friend.


When you’re down and troubled,
Close your eyes and think of me
And I’ll be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.
Here's what Prime Minister Abe said about the controversial TPP free-trade agreement.
In the Pacific  market we cannot overlook sweatshops, or burdens on the environment, nor can we simply allow free riders on intellectual property. No. Instead, we can spread our shared values around the world and have them take root.
  • The rule of law,
  • democracy, and,
  • freedom.
That is exactly what the TPP is all about.

Furthermore, the TPP goes far beyond just economic benefits. It is also about our security.  Long-term, its strategic value is awesome. We should never forget that.

The TPP covers an area that accounts for 40% of the world economy and 1/3 of all global trade. We must turn the area into a region for lasting peace and prosperity. That is for the sake of our children and our children's children.

As for US-Japan negotiations, the goal is near. Let us bring the TPP to successful conclusion through our joint leadership.

Prime Minister Abe spoke briefly about the need for reform of Japan's agricultural policies.  A recent Congressional Research Service report found that "Market access issues with Japan appear to be a crucial stepping stone for substantially completing the agricultural dimension of an agreement." Also, "Pork, beef, rice, wheat, barley, dairy products, and sugar"  are among "a handful of key agricultural commodities that Japan considers to be sensitive and in need of continued import protection."
As a matter of fact, I have something I can tell you now. It was about 20 years ago. The GAAT negotiations for agriculture were going on. I was much younger and like a ball of fire and opposed to opening Japan's agricultural market. I even joined farmers' representatives in a rally in front of the Parliament.

However, Japan's agriculture has gone into decline over these last 20 years. The average age of our farmers has gone up by 10 years, and is now more than 66 years old.

Japan's agriculture is at a crossroads. In order for it to survive, it has to change now. We are bringing great reforms towards agricultural policy that's been in place for decades. We are also bringing sweeping reform to our agricultural cooperatives that have not been changed in 60 long years.

More than agriculture, Abe emphasized the enhanced security and strategic value he expects from TPP.
My dear colleagues, we support the rebalancing by the U.S. in order to enhance the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific  region, and I will state clearly we will support the US efforts first, last and throughout.

As regards, the state of Asian waters, let me underscore here my three principles.

  • First, states shall make their claim based on international law.
  • Second, they shall not use force or coercion to drive their claim.
  • Third, to settle disputes, any disputes, they shall do so by peaceful means.

We must make the vast seas stretching from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans, seas of peace and freedom where all follow the rule of law. For that very reason, we must fortify the US-Japan alliance. That is our responsibility.

Now, let me tell you, in Japan we are working hard to enhance the legislative foundation of our security.

Once in place, Japan will be much more able to provide a serious response for all levels of crisis. These enhanced legislative foundations should make the cooperation between the US military and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces even stronger and the alliance still more solid, providing credible deterrence for the peace in the region. The reform is the first of its kind and a fitting one in our post-war history. We will achieve this by this coming summer.

Now, I have something to share with you.

The day before yesterday, Secretaries Kerry and Carter met our Foreign Minister Kishida and Defense Minister Nakatani for consultations. As a result, we now have a new framework, a framework to better put together the forces of the US and Japan, a framework that is in line with the legislative attempts going on in Japan. That is what is necessary to build peace, more reliable peace, in the region and that is namely the new defense cooperation guidelines.

Yesterday, President Obama and I fully agreed on the significance of these guidelines. Ladies and gentlemen, we agreed on a document that is historic.

At a joint press conference the day before Prime Minister Abe's speech, President Obama said:
I want to reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and that Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including Senkaku Islands.
Although Prime Minister Abe hardly mentioned China at all in his speech, his visit to Washinton, DC and Obama's remarks at the press conference were noticed in Beijing.

There's more about that just a short jump  over the orange-tinted diagram of electrons orbiting around an invisible atomic nucleus.

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           This is a must see.  It speaks for itself.

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In a piece just published by Media Matters, Alexandrea Boguhn and Matt Gertz are reporting that newly obtained documents undermine the latest round of gossip at the  New York Times about Hillary Clinton’s email..

As Media Matters notes in its critique, the Times veered away from responsible journalism, and it returned to the sloppy, incomplete reporting featured in stories it printed about Clinton 6 weeks ago. It must sell papers.

The Times reported that Darrel Issa  “directly asked" Clinton about her personal email account over two years ago. In reality, the House Oversight Committee sent a written inquiry to all 18 Cabinet officials as part of a broad fishing expedition investigation that had nothing to do with Clinton. It was about Solyndra.

Media Matters linked a copy of the inquiry letter that was sent and it's worth a look. In the first paragraph, it's obvious that Issa, and everyone else, already knew two years ago that agency officials throughout the federal government were using personal email accounts.

The Times also reported that Clinton failed to reply to the inquiry, and that the State Department answered, instead, after a delay of  several months,  but “ it ignored the question and provided no response.”   And Clinton had left the State Department by that time, too.

Media Matters  obtained the responses from two other agencies: the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Their replies to the House Oversight inquiry were similar to the reply sent by the State Department. The Department of Labor was slower to respond than the State Department, by a month.

the Times has discovered that Cabinet agencies don't always respond to congressional inquiries quickly and in full.
By omitting context, the Times left it up to the imagination of readers to fill in the missing details. The story suggests unspecified misdeeds with avoidant behavior to evade the consequences.  Other media outlets picked up the story and amplified it with more explicit language.  

This is, perhaps, nothing more than commerce and competition for profits. It could be sophisticated modern propaganda, too.

Discuss

The French Republic closed out its first binomial elections, today, with the far-right Front National  in 4th place, far behind the center-right UMP, the ruling Socialist Party, and a coalition of Leftists.


In the election, citizens chose officials for their local governments and they rejected the FN everywhere, in every single 'département'. After boasting about her party’s ‘number one’ status just a few weeks ago, the FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, had little to say about the election results, except, “Cherchez l’erreur,” or, in this context, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The FN had a realistic chance of winning the 'département' of Vaucluse. In Round Two of the election, it had 39.5% of the votes, versus 15.5 % for the UMP and 12.8 % for the Socialists. However, only  4 of the FN’s candidates were elected, compared to 8 for the UMP and 6 for the Socialists.

For one thing, the figures cited in the FN's graphic are all wrong. And it looks like Le Pen was expecting a proportional result from a non-proportional election.  Those were her errors.

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Senator Sherrod Brown issued the following statement this week on draft investment provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“It appears that the investor state provision being considered as part of TPP will still amount to a corporate handout at the expense of consumers despite the assurances of our negotiators. We need strong language to prevent multinational corporations – like Big Tobacco - from using trade agreements to challenge health and safety laws.“It’s telling when Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either. Trade agreements should lift American workers and their counterparts abroad, rather than creating a race to the bottom.”

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March Madness is under way in France with the introduction of a new, unbelievably complicated electoral process. Last Sunday, citizens began choosing officials for their local 'département' governments in France's first binomial election.

Was there anything noteworthy for Americans in these French elections?

  1. Last year, the mainstreaming of extremist ideas reached a milestone with the Front National's first place finish in the European Parliament election. The polls said the FN would do even better this year. Were they right?
  2. The success of SYRIZA in Greece and a strong result for Podemos in Andalusia signal the Left's overdue revival. Is it catching on in France?
  3. What is the unusual binomial process France adopted for these elections and how does it work?

Continue past the croissant orange for a look at the French way of doing March Madness.

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It makes you wonder if some eager young Senator, or David Petraeus, isn’t already in Syria conducting the negotiations.

Tom Friedman
New York Times
March 18, 2015

O.K., so we learn to live with Iran on the edge of a bomb, but shouldn’t we at least bomb the Islamic State to smithereens and help destroy this head-chopping menace? Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS? Or let me ask that differently: Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?

I simply raise this question rhetorically because no one else is: Why is it in our interest to destroy the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq?

It almost sounds like the New York Time is in the recruiting business now.
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As recently as a week ago, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was still insisting he had done nothing wrong.  

But Joe was running scared because he can’t evade the truth anymore in the seven-year long racial profiling case filed against him and the department he heads.

This week, he finally admitted guilt.

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Let us maintain complete silence on the subject of the GOP Budget


It has come to our attention that the constant wailing about the Republicans is giving some a headache. Their research, data analysis, and patented 'Cottonesque Logic' ® proves conclusively that the more wailing there is on the front page about Republicans, the more Republicans win.

It's a problem of real estate. Articles on the front page about the latest Republican diabolical treachery crowd out more important diaries, like:

The Cat Pictures America Will Never See (What Hillary Deleted from her Server)

This request may seem a little one sided to you, so let's be clear. No one's telling you to GTFO or STFU. Just watch what you say about Republicans. Don't be so biased.

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Tom Cotton gave his first speech in the Senate yesterday.  His call for more defense spending was covered in news reports. How would he pay for “the immediate increase of $200 billion” a year that he suggested? Tom saved that for the end of the speech.

"Can we afford all this? The answer is yes—without question and without doubt, yes!"
Where would the money come from, Tom?
“The genuine driver of our long-term debt crisis: retirement and health-care programs.  The Budget Control Act ultimately failed to reform these programs.”
$200 billion is about a quarter of all survivors, retirement, and disability benefits paid last year. The program still operates at a surplus with $2.7 trillion in the trust fund. That’s our money.
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The Canadian Press, a commercial news agency operating in Canada reported this week that a Freedom of Information expert had some harsh words to say about Hillary Clinton's email recordkeeping. Daniel Metcalfe was the Director of the Office and Information and Privacy from 1981 to 2007. It oversees the federal agencies' compliance with Freedom of Information Act requirements.

The story has been reported and it doesn't need to be repeated. Metcalfe had lots of colorful comments about Clinton's press conference. He used words like "blatant circumvention of the Freedom Of Information Act." Legal/regulatory compliance officers talk tough like that. It's the norm. Metcalfe says he's a Democrat with no axe to grind. His length of tenure speaks for itself. I bet he has some good war stories.

What was missing for me was a citation of the law tied to the specific practices that violated its provisions. And his tenure didn't overlap with Clinton's if it makes a difference.

At the DOJ Office of Information and Privacy website, there's plenty of interesting information but I didn't find anything that disallowed personal email.

A simple Google search turned up an article in the Los Angeles Times of March 3. Read the last few sentences. I have no explanation. I'm not on a timetable to make a decision or reach a conclusion. Sometimes it takes months.

The Federal Records Act requires that, day in and day out, Clinton or someone on her behalf assist in preserving emails, said Daniel J. Metcalfe, the founding director of the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy, who is now a teacher of secrecy law at American University's law school.

“If there is official government activity, it ordinarily should be memorialized in a record. She can’t just be freewheeling all over the place with these communications and not worry about memorializing them or maintaining them,” he said.

A decision not to set up a government account undermines a commitment to preservation, Metcalfe said. The most reliable way to generate a record would be with such an account.

But there may be legitimate reasons to make some use of private email, he said.

“If you’re the secretary of State and you’re responding to crises around the world 24 hours a day, sometimes you might not have your government phone handy,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll just have your personal phone. There should be some flexibility.”

Discuss

I think this video is hilarious. I can't say whether this crowd will love or hate it.

It came from ZDF, German Public Television, intended as a humorous spoof of the drama that played out last month over the renegotiation of Greece's debt. The focus is Yanis Varoufakis, who took over as Greece's Finance Minister when the leftist SYRIZA party won the election in January.

Rated R for language, and brief nudity. Rated for over-the-top humor that might be offensive, but this is Germany ridiculing itself. There are stereotypes but also the shattering of stereotypes.

It's funny how the far right swept the European Elections 9 months ago, but the Left
came roaring back.

Here's how Euractiv described it.

They used to say the EU lacks a narrative. The crisis has remedied that. The high stakes poker game being played out by Angela “cool-hand” Merkel and Yanis “m***rf**er” Varoufakis has unleashed a colourful social media storm, which continues to throw up surprises, the latest being a successful German attempt at humour.

Featuring self-parodying stereotypes: blitzkrieg, parents slapping children, slapping generally, and the observation that “We started two world wars and almost won them both,” a video from Neo, a programme created by national broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), is the latest to enter the fray.

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