Letter bombs (3)
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 27, 2010
A FEW READERS have written to ask if my dim view of Japan’s current coalition government means that I don’t care for the Westminster parliamentary system. That’s not the problem–there are difficulties with every form of democracy, including the American system that I grew up with, and politicians always make things worse by making things better for them. What I see as the drawbacks to the parliamentary form of government are rules or procedures that aren’t essential to its function.
First, in both Britain and Japan, the political parties choose the candidates and the districts where they will run. The consequence of such a method is that MPs either in government or in opposition will vote in accordance with the instructions of their party leaders rather than in accordance with constituents’ wishes or their own principles. Aren’t politicians supposed to represent the will of the people, and not the decisions of their party’s central committee?
Too often the votes resemble the charades of the Democratic Peoples’ Republics, in which old guys with a chest full of medals staggered to their feet to hold up their party badges. It’s all party line, all the time, and the party leadership punishes those who step out of line, in government and in opposition alike.
A system in which the party members of a voting district choose their own candidates in a primary not conducted with public funds is much preferable. Of course some candidates will run unopposed, and the national party will recruit people to run as their anointed candidates, but on the whole that’s closer to the democratic ideal.
Then there’s the lack of residency requirements for candidates in the Japanese and British systems, which results in parachute candidates, or during the 2005 lower house election in Japan, female “assassins”. (After the Koizumi landslide, the media started whistling out of the other side of its mouth and called them Amazons. But the media would rather ingratiate itself with power than speak truth to it.) Recruiting candidates from outside a district to win a national election ignores the interests of local constituents in favor of party interests.
The difficulties in Japan are exacerbated by proportional representation, an idea that should be frog-marched over to the nearest vacant lot and shot without the option of a blindfold. People whose ideas aren’t appealing enough to win elections should neither be in government nor have input into policy. The British and the Americans get this right with their first-past-the-post/winner-take-all rules.
Further, consider coalition governments formed among oil-and-water combinations, especially when those parties owe their presence in the legislature to proportional representation. Two of the biggest policy failures of the Democratic Party-led coalition have been the Futenma base move and the de facto renationalization of Japan Post and its banking and insurance system. Regardless of what the DPJ might have done on its own, these two policies were driven by coalition partners with an aggregate support rate in the polls of less than 2% nationwide. The move of the Futenma base outside of the country is the signature issue of the Social Democrats, and the Japan Post renationalization is the only reason the People’s New Party exists. They might as well join the Hiranuma/Yosano Sunrise Party now that they’ve accomplished their goal of rolling back the Koizumi reforms, or die like the political mayflies they are.
While the two major parties in Japan want to move away from proportional representation, the British might move in the opposite direction. The Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, the partner of Dave Cameron’s Conservatives in the new coalition government dubbed the Con-Dem coalition by some, want to introduce proportional representation there.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dineen brilliantly explains the problems. Note the last paragraph in particular.
We had a glimpse last week of the glories of proportional representation. The days of horse-trading, bribery and confusion are precisely what would occur after every General Election under PR.
Say what you like about our first-past-the-post system: it is a thousand times better than the alternative. Transforming Nick Clegg into the most powerful political figure in Britain, after his party had lost both seats and votes in the election, was ludicrous.
We are told our present set-up is unfair to the smaller parties. Is that such a bad thing? Would you really like to see 10 BNP MPs in the House of Commons? Because that is what their total of votes would have entitled them to.
The BNP refers to the British National Party, which until last year restricted its membership to Caucasians.
Some might argue that the BNP or other parties of its ilk should be outlawed, but I’m not interested in walking anywhere near that very slippery slope on general principle, odious as BNP’s policies are. Those who support proportional representation claim the alternative is undemocratic; banning political parties for any reason is even more so. If the mainstream parties had addressed the public’s legitimate concerns about immigration, the BNP wouldn’t have any traction to begin with.
And I don’t buy the argument that toxicity would prevent other parties from forming a coalition with them. We all know somebody would. Few politicians anywhere are so honorable they would refrain from stooping that low if it brought them to power. The situation in Japan is less extreme, but the LDP had a shotgun wedding with the Socialists, and the DPJ with the SDPJ, when both of the smaller parties were considerably more Red than their name indicates. Those are ugly combinations, unless you find merit in the view that favors closer ties with North Korea and insists any problems with that country are all Japan’s fault.
Without proportional representation, the Social Democrats, New Komeito, the Communists, and a few others would evaporate in the Diet. The SDPJ’s leader, Fukushima Mizuho, has never won a Diet seat outright, and the party’s poster girl, Tsujimoto Kiyomi, wouldn’t have won her seat outright last year had the DPJ run a candidate in her district instead of leaving her an open field as part of the deal for a coalition government. What was Mr. Dineen’s phrase again? “Horse-trading, bribery, and confusion”?
A Westminster system with party primaries not funded by the public, residency requirements, and winner-take-all voting is fine with me.
Dana wrote in to ask about Japanese-language sources on-line. This page has links to all the dailies published in Japan, with the exception of newspapers for specific readers, such as farmers or investment brokers.
This is the page for Blogos, a blog aggregator. It reprints the posts individual blogs, primarily from politicians and political and social commentators. I look for those writers I find worthwhile reading, visit their blogs, and link to their RSS feed.
And here’s the page for Agora, a site that contains articles longer than blog posts but shorter than those in monthly magazines.
Bender offered his opinion about Prime Minster Hatoyama’s problems with the Futenma base move:
Hatoyama and his gang did what the electorate wanted them to do.
Maybe not, B. Here are the numbers from an FNN/Sankei poll conducted in March asking the respondents’ preferences about Futenma:
It should be outside of Japan: 37.5%
It should be off the coast of Camp Schwab in Okinawa in accordance with the original agreement: 21.0%
It’s not necessary to move the base at all: 12.6%
It should be in Japan outside of Okinawa: 12.3%
It should be in Okinawa at a different location: 8.9%
Don’t know: 7.7%
Though a plurality favors moving the base outside the country, a majority of the respondents—almost 56%–thinks the base should stay in Japan somewhere. Also, a greater plurality, more than 42%, thinks the base should stay in Okinawa.
With 75% of the American military presence in Japan shoehorned into the Ryukyus, there’s no question the people of that prefecture have to bear the near-unbearable. But what do you expect when one country allows the country that crushed them in a war to maintain a military presence after the peace treaty and outsources national defense to them 65 years later? An attitude of equal partnership?
Of course the victor will continue to treat the vanquished as footling menials, regardless of the platitudes they mouth about an alliance. As long as the status quo is maintained and Japan doesn’t become self-reliant in national defense, any debates about individual bases will be an exercise in gesture politics. These questions will always be resolved with Japan backing down and paying the tab.
But the consensus for change is unlikely to form in Japan until the public realizes that the Americans are unreliable. Have those in national government drawn the same conclusions as political leaders elsewhere?
Try this from David Warren on the situation on the Korean Peninsula:
The Obama administration has already squandered its predecessor’s legacy. In any paragraph of any Obama speech on foreign affairs, the reader will discover that the new policy is walk softly and throw away the big stick. The recent obscene display of joint anti-American crowing from the leaders of Brazil, Turkey, and Iran, is the sort of thing that could not have happened under previous U.S. administrations. It was a frightening harbinger of things to come.
The willful naïveté reaches fatuous heights in the current U.S. demand that North Korea should find, try, and punish the perpetrators of the torpedo attack. Do they seriously expect the politburo in Pyongyang to put itself on trial for crimes against humanity? Don’t make them laugh.
Does anyone think the Kim Family Regime would have ordered a South Korean naval vessel to be torpedoed if John McCain rather than Barack Obama were president?
An obstacle to consensus is the claim that Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution requires pacifism. That interpretation might not be correct, however. When the new constitution was being written, Douglas MacArthur wanted to include a clause that prohibited Japan’s use of force “for its own security”. One of his aides, Charles Kades, had that clause eliminated because he believed self-preservation was every nation’s right.
That belief is hard-wired into the human race, and to deny it is to deny reality.
But denying reality is the lifestyle option of some politicians, commentators, and media outlets. One minor example: A few years ago, I wrote a comment on another blog that national defense was the most important function of government. Another reader wrote in to object that health and welfare services were more important.
It is not possible to convince those who enjoy believing otherwise that a government’s child allowance payments are pointless if the children and their parents have been incinerated by a Rodong missile, to cite one possible threat. That group can only be marginalized, which requires politicians willing to stand up in public and intercept the missiles aimed their way. But Diogenes needed a lantern to find an honest man; we’d need klieg lights to find a politico unafraid to stand up for principle in the current kultursmog.
Finally, some readers think I’m a one-eyed moron for not taking global warming seriously, even though the only people who can find any seem to be those who are running their own game on the system.
Well, it ain’t just me. As Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, as we found out from the Climategate e-mails:
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.
Dan sent in this reply to the other readers:
As law professor Glenn Reynolds has said: “I’ll believe that there’s a crisis when those who insist there’s a crisis start acting like there’s a crisis.” Adding to that, Jay Tea at Wizbang said: When Al Gore leaves his huge mansion, hops on his private jet, then takes an armored SUV to lecture you about how we all have to reduce our carbon footprints and in general end our rampant (consumerism), it’s pretty easy to tell why his eyes are brown.
Dan could also have mentioned Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the now-discredited IPCC, who wasn’t bothered by his carbon footprint when it came time to fly from New York to Delhi for a cricket match and back over the weekend. Why should he, when he and the rest of the global governance crowd are making so much money from the scam?
The indictment against the people who promote AGW would fill a book—now it turns out that some of the “peer-reviewed science” the IPCC cites was written by Guardian journalists working with the World Wildlife Fund—but for two-eyed people to see it requires the removal of their heads from the sand. That would also make it easier to see the people who have no compunction about
saying GI give me chocolate using the AGW game to get wealth transfers from the developed world, as Roger L. Simon reports:
Could it be that Singh, Wen Jiabao, etc., just knew the whole thing was nonsense? I don’t know whether Mr. Rachman was in Copenhagen, but I was. I didn’t speak to Singh or Wen or anybody quite that august, but I did speak to a number of third world delegates and it was commonplace among them to admit the AGW was hooey, therefore acknowledging the obvious – that they were there for the money. In fact, I was stunned at how easily they admitted it.
Then again, I have a pre-existing bias against media-driven science scare stories, having been around long enough to remember every item on this list.
There are more notes worthy of your attention, but I’ve been busy with work and they’ll have to wait until next time. Mata nochihodo.