AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Aso T.’

Ichigen koji (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Mr. Koizumi was a master of language. A sense of tension disappeared with Mr. Abe, dreams disappeared with Mr. Fukuda, and intelligence disappeared with Mr. Aso. Reality completely flew out the window with the spaceman, Mr. Hatoyama, and it disappeared without a trace with Mr. Kan. That is the power of language.

- Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District, and a non-fiction author

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Last laugh

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 21, 2012

DURING the global financial crisis of 2008, then-Prime Minister Aso Taro was one of many leaders around the world who chose to further damage their economies by urging budget-busting stimulus expenditures.

Current Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was a relatively unknown backbencher in those days. Straining to be clever, he referred to Mr. Aso on his website in December that year as Baramaki Obaka, in reference to the government’s contributions to the IMF. Roughly translated, baramaki is pork-barrel spending, and obaka is big dummy. The similiarity in the pronunciation to the name of Barack Obama, who had been elected president the month before, was intentional, though it was not a reference to Mr. Obama personally.

In the Diet today, Mr. Noda said, “That was not an appropriate expression. I must apologize.”

The prime minister was answering a question put by LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru. Mr. Ishihara noted the substantial contributions the Noda administration has made to the EU bailout, and asked, “How are you any different from the Aso administration?”

Ordinarily, that would have been the last laugh, but the amount of money of the mind Japan has firehosed other countries with during both administrations isn’t a laughing matter — particularly for Japanese taxpayers.

The Noda administration wants to raise the consumption tax AND the income tax AND the inheritance tax AND the gasoline tax AND the capital gains tax AND eliminate business tax breaks, while being extraordinarily generous with foreign aid of various kinds, from forgiving Myanmar debt to bailing out European banks.

Fiduciary responsibility? It is to laugh.

Further, Mr. Ishihara is threatening to introduce a no-confidence motion in the lower house unless the government submits its consumption tax increase legislation. That seems strange, until one remembers that Mr. Noda is talking about delaying the bill so he can patch up the differences with Ozawa Ichiro and the anti-tax faction within his own party AND the loud rumors of discussions between the DPJ and the LDP to create a grand coalition for a tax increase. That would give them enough time to screw the public before they both get neutered in the upper and lower house elections that must be held by next summer, resulting in their electile dysfunction.

No one will be laughing at that pratfall.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Rankings first to worst

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 9, 2012

THE results of two recent public opinion polls tell us more about the Japanese perceptions of their political leaders than anything you’ll read in the English-language media.

The first is from Nikoniko News, which sponsored an online poll for two weeks in October asking people to rank their selections for the best prime ministers since Mori Yoshiro in 2000. They broke down the responses by sex, which reveals some eyebrow-raising differences. The caveats: It was an Internet questionnaire survey and it had a small sample size, as the baseball statheads like to say.

* Name your favorite prime ministers since 2000. Multiple answers are accepted.

Males

1. Koizumi Jun’ichiro: 55.3%
2. There weren’t any good prime ministers: 24.9%
3. Aso Taro: 15.7%
4. Abe Shinzo: 5.4%
5. Fukuda Yasuo: 2.2%

They liked Mr. Koizumi when he took over, they liked him throughout his term, and they’d vote for him tomorrow. Funny how some people like to pretend he never existed.

The respondents who chose him said they liked his guts, charisma, ability to act, and leadership.

Those men who didn’t like anybody typically said that Diet members act only to look after themselves.

The totals for Mr. Aso are higher than one might expect. His supporters liked him because he “worked for Japan”.

One respondent said about Mr. Abe: I can’t see any problems with him. He was just crushed by the media.

The guys don’t seem to care much for the three Democratic Party prime ministers, do they?

Females

1. Koizumi: 51.8%
2. Nobody: 36.4%
3. Aso: 6.0%
4. Noda Yoshihiko: 2.9%
5. Kan Naoto: 2.5%

That Kan Naoto slipped in, albeit with just 2.5%, is surprising, if only because most media reports said he was particularly unpopular among women. Their comments:

Koizumi: Leadership / Brought the abductees back home / Stayed true to his beliefs despite what others said or thought

None: They’re all half-baked / It’s hard to tell with the media criticism / If Japan had a good prime minister, we wouldn’t have all this debt. (Can’t fault that one)

Aso: Sound foreign policy / Did a good job despite media bashing

Noda: Sincere / Tranquil

Kan: Didn’t run away from the Tohoku disaster / Didn’t give up in the face of criticism

Worthy of note: Most of the commentariat criticized Mr. Kan for running away from taking responsibility for any of the serious issues. (One of his nicknames was Nige-Kan; nige(ru) means to flee or run away.) Yet the women who liked him thought he was a stout-hearted man.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun announced on 1 January the results of a poll on leadership conducted in cooperation with Macromill, an online market research company. Here are the questions:

* Regardless of the time period in which they were active, name one person you would not want to have as a leader, and your reasons.

1. Hatoyama Yukio
2. Kan Naoto
3. Ozawa Ichiro

It’s a hat trick for the DPJ!

4. Watanabe Tsuneo, chairman of the company that publishes the Yomiuri Shimbun. Guess which newspaper is unlikely to run these results.
5. Noda Yoshihiko

* Of Japan’s 33 postwar prime ministers, select the person you thought was the worst leader.

1. Hatoyama
2. Kan
3. Uno Sosuke (Prime minister for three months in 1989, was in charge when the first consumption tax was instituted, was outed by a mistress (expensive nightclub hostess mistakenly identified as a geisha) who said he treated her rough and didn’t give her enough money.

The reasons:

Hatoyama: Wishy-washy / Ignorant waffler / How could anyone get any work done under a leader like that? / Changed his mind day to day (literally: Spoke, slept, woke up, said something different) / Spaceman / Never could understand what he was talking about / Weird / Casual liar

Kan: An unexpectedly ridiculous politician / Dreck / Thought only of himself / Untrustworthy / Never seen such an idiot / First time I’ve ever seen anyone so half-assed (ii kagen na yatsu) / Unaware of his own (lack of) ability / Slapdash from first to last

Ozawa: Out only for himself / Dishonest / Unmanly (N.B.: That never occurred to me before, but they have a point.) / Dirty / Sloughs his crimes off on his underlings / Shady

Apart from Kan Naoto’s name popping up in the Niconico women’s poll and the relatively good showing of Aso Taro, little of this is surprising, and most of the attributes of the prime ministers were already apparent before they took office.

Maybe people just enjoy fooling themselves.

*****
All they brought was love in their khaki suits and things, but it was enough to win the top ranking in the UK.

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Instructions

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE United States is displeased with Japanese behavior in financial markets, reports Reuters:

The report…criticiz(ed) Tokyo for its solo yen-selling interventions in August and October that followed a joint Group of 7 action in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake.

“The unilateral Japanese interventions were undertaken when exchange market conditions appeared to be operating in an orderly manner and volatility in the yen-dollar exchange rate was lower than, for example, the euro-dollar market,” the report said.

“In contrast to the post-earthquake joint G7 intervention in March, the United States did not support these interventions,” the Treasury said, adding that Tokyo should pursue reforms to revive its domestic economy rather than try to influence the exchange rate.

Isn’t that last sentence rich? One of the reasons for the yen appreciation is that the Americans are using a weak dollar to revive their own domestic economy. Who do these foreigners think they are, anyway?

There’s a reason Japan intervened:

Japanese exporters have complained that the ultra-strong yen puts them at a competitive disadvantage. The yen was trading at just under 78 to the U.S. dollar on Wednesday morning, about 3 percent weaker than it was on October 31, when Tokyo aggressively intervened to cap the rise.

That should read, “the ultra-strong yen puts them at an ultra-strong competitive disadvantage”. The exchange rate is forcing Japanese manufacturers to shift production overseas. The effect that will have on domestic employment and the economy should be obvious. Indeed, the yen has appreciated by more than 30% against the dollar since the fall of 2008 — just three years. Had those figures been reversed, the Internet would have collapsed from the pixel overload generated from the North American continent warning that the sky was about to fall.

The article notes the Americans also had sharp words for the South Koreans.

In short, the United States expects the Japanese and the South Koreans to act in the best interest of the United States rather than in the best interest of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. also expects Japan to conform to its expectations if it is to participate in the TPP.

Meanwhile, there was a report in Japan yesterday that the government will conduct serious talks with China and South Korea next year about a trilateral free trade agreement. Japan will also step up purchases of Chinese government debt, and the Chinese will facilitate Japanese yuan investment in China and Japanese corporate issues of yuan-denominated bonds. That shouldn’t be surprising:

* China is Japan’s largest trading partner.

* China is the country with the largest number of overseas Japanese subsidiaries.

* China in particular, and the rest of East Asia in general, is the primary focus of international expansion for Japanese SMBEs.

That’s not to mention such subsidiary elements of bilateral ties as the 70,000 Chinese students in Japanese colleges and universities.

The report did not seem to have the desired effect, however:

“This report does not make it more difficult for Japan to intervene,” said (a senior Japanese government) official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. “We are committed to doing whatever is necessary.”

Did the Americans notice that Prime Minister Noda visited India after leaving China? One could almost hear the NHK radio announcers and guest commentators drooling yesterday over the potential for the contracts to improve the Indian infrastructure.

It would behoove the United States to wise up and realize they no longer have the leeway to push their luck. In today’s climate, copping that Attitude isn’t going to win them friends or keep the ones they have. It’s getting old, faster than some people might think.

Afterwords:

The article about India states that the Japanese approach to that country began with Aso Taro. It actually started with Abe Shinzo, who outlined the idea in the book he published before becoming prime minister.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, India, International relations | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The soda pop government

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 14, 2011

IT’S a tossup which is worse: Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s pledge that he will call for a grand coalition government of national salvation if elected DPJ president, or the ill-disguised squeals of delight by the rapid response team in the English-language media. Their reports on the story appeared on the wires as quickly as the August 1945 news that the Japanese Tenno had agreed to accept the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration.

Here’s part of what AFP had to say:

Japan’s finance minister, tipped as a candidate to become the country’s next premier, proposed to form a government of national unity to spearhead the country’s recovery from natural disasters.

“The ruling and opposition parties must have heart-to-heart discussions with each other. That’s the bottom line,” Yoshihiko Noda said in a political talk show on the TV Tokyo network aired on Saturday.

“We’d rather form a national salvation government. That’ll be a coalition. Otherwise politics won’t move forward,” he added.

Pfui. The ruling and opposition parties have already had successful “heart-to-heart” talks with each other for the second supplementary budget, the legislation for enabling the issue of deficit-financing bonds, and a revision of the national energy strategy. The opposition parties have blocked no serious proposals for recovery. They have tried to put the scotch on extraneous measures unrelated to the recovery, most of which involve the DPJ spending more money that the government doesn’t have.

Saying no to bad ideas is a very good way to move politics forward.

The idea of a national salvation coalition does sound superficially wonderful and heart-cockle warming, especially to those who see the Coca-Cola ® ad campaigns of the past 40 years — saccharine without the saccharin — as the perfect place to live. The objectives of both those enterprises are the same, after all: ephemeral sugar highs.

Here’s a closer look at what a grand coalition would mean, with the caveats that Mr. Noda hasn’t been selected yet, and that his backers might not be able to achieve a grand coaltion even if he is.

* The proposal is a de facto DPJ admission that they are incapable of handling the Tohoku recovery themselves. This will not be news to the Japanese public.

* The opposition parties do not need to be part of the government for effective recovery measures to be implemented. The last time this idea fizzed to the surface, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji objected that mechanisms already exist through which the opposition parties can provide input at the highest level.

The reason these mechanisms haven’t worked is that the DPJ government has been incapable of bringing concrete, specific proposals to the table that it can guarantee the party will support as its final position. The reason it is incapable of making these proposals is that it is incapable of creating a sustainable consensus within the party to support any particular policy or position.

In other words, the ruling party of government can’t agree internally on what it wants to do. This too will not be news to the Japanese public. The DPJ never has been able to reach an internal consensus on anything other than doing what is required to achieve and retain power.

* The DPJ spewed like Vesuvius when it was in the opposition and the LDP brought in its second replacement prime minister (Fukuda Yasuo) without a lower house election. The spew reached exospheric levels when they brought in their third (Aso Taro). Now they’ll have to justify their continued existence as the party of government despite doing exactly what they pilloried the LDP for — and despite support ratings lower than those recorded for the LDP governments.

Thus, forming a coalition government allows the DPJ to avoid the decimation of a lower house election.

But the word decimation does not do justice to what would be an election debacle. That word originated in the practice of the Roman Army to punish mutineers by killing one of every ten soldiers. The unlucky 10% were selected by lot and clubbed to death by the other grunts.

There’s no Latin derivative for killing (metaphorically) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of an army’s loyal soldiers, i.e., the current DPJ representation in the lower house, for the failures and incompetence of the General Staff.

* It would be manna from heaven for the ruling elite. The three parties can implement the tax increase of the Finance Ministry’s dreams without having to get serious about reducing government expenditures, and no single party will get stuck with the responsibility.

They will offer the excuse that the national crisis makes a tax hike unavoidable. They will ignore the serious proposals offered by more than a few politicians and commentators that would pay for the entire recovery using funds the government already has on hand.

* A grand coalition government will make it impossible to throw the bums out. It would probably last for two years, when the legally mandated term of the lower house expires and the next regularly scheduled upper house election must be held. A tax increase is so unpopular that the mere suggestion of it by Kan Naoto last summer turned a likely upper house election victory into defeat.

A tax hike implemented by a grand coalition followed by a double election in two years effectively disenfranchises the electorate.

* The overseas media seem to be unaware that the LDP is not the only upper house opposition party. The DPJ has negotiated with New Komeito, the Communist Party, and Your Party to successfully pass several bills that the LDP opposed. One of them was an extension of the unaffordable child allowance earlier this year, which the three putative coalition partners recently agreed to scrap starting next year.

The text in the latter part of the AFP article insinuates that the LDP are being killjoys in the upper house by queering all the glorious enlightened plans of the DPJ. That is true — up to a point. Rather than blocking legitimate measures for recovery, they have opposed unrelated measures, such as the child allowance. They balked at the budget or bond proposals because they included the funding for the unnecessary expenditures.

Most of those schemes needed to be thwacked, if not choked until they turned blue. For example, the DPJ still plans to establish a Human Rights Commission based on the Canadian Star Chamber knockoff that effectively functions to limit human rights.

To be sure, the AFP reveals its orientation by describing the DPJ government as “centre-left”. That’s the media weaselword of choice for leftist governments that don’t nationalize lemonade stands or stitch a hammer and sickle patch into the flag.

The approach of many in the DPJ leadership could be characterized as a Japanese version of what Stanley Kurtz refers to as Midwest Academy socialism in the United States. Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, and Edano Yukio fit this general description. Hatoyama Yukio slurped down the milquetoast version.

And the AFP is again trying to refry the beans of “centre-left” fiduciary responsibility by pasting the label of “fiscal hawk” on Noda Yoshihiko. They said the same thing last summer about Kan Naoto, and we know how credible that was. Mr. Kan would have been incapable of explaining the difference between “fiscal” and “monetary” before he became Finance Minister and his Finance Ministry tutors explained it to him in remedial one-on-one classes before the workday began.

Who other than the industrial media would define a “fiscal hawk” as a person or party responsible for two consecutive budgets with record high deficits and record high deficit bond flotations, and who proposed to double the consumption tax rate to pay for it all?

A definition of fiscal hawkery that fails to include talon-sharp spending slashes means that someone needs a new dictionary, and it ain’t me. But don’t expect to read that in the papers anytime soon.

Speaking of what you’re not reading in the papers, here’s what Noda Yoshihiko said at the same time he brought up the idea of a coalition. AFP and the others thought it wasn’t fit to print.

We will confront the opposition parties and achieve the government/ruling party policy of raising the consumption tax in stages by mid-decade. We must not back down from that.

He added:

Some argue that the timing isn’t right, and that taxes shouldn’t be raised when economic conditions are so difficult, but we’ve been dithering by insisting that certain conditions must be met. This must be done at some point by someone.

Ah, so. In short, Mr. Noda is saying:

* There will be no backing down from the government/ruling party agreement to raise taxes. The LDP and New Komeito should do us the favor of agreeing with the government and forming a grand coalition to cover our butts for a tax increase.

* It doesn’t make any difference what shape the economy’s in. We’re going to raise taxes anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda said on an NHK broadcast today that Japan’s deflation was caused by a supply-demand imbalance, and that demand was insufficient. He thinks the demand resulting from the Tohoku reconstruction is an excellent opportunity to end deflation, but is oblivious to the effect a sharp consumption tax increase will have on demand.

Did you notice how the “finance minister” fell for the old broken window fallacy that disasters have economic benefits? His Finance Ministry tutors evidently didn’t tell him about Frederic Bastiat.

That’s Noda Yoshihiko — fiscal hawk and founder of the national salvation government. Don’t spit that soft drink out of your nose!

Once again, those interested in reading the AFP article have enough information here to find it with the search engine of their choice. Links belong to the legit.

*****
The idea of a grand coalition makes me bubble up with such happiness I feel like hippity-hopping over to the nearest vending machine. Ain’t the kids cute ‘n funky now? Those with sharp eyes will spot an excerpt from the start of it all 40 years ago.

And isn’t it odd they think it’s still possible to distinguish Monopoly money from the Real Thing?

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
– DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

*****
Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

*****
The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.

Quitting

It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”

But:

“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

*******
Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

*****
Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

*****
You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Irregular

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 19, 2011

“The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776

ONE criticism often leveled at Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party when it was in power, and at the Koizumi government in particular, was that its policies resulted in a rise in irregular employment. That criticism was one weapon in the arsenal of the Democratic Party when it was in the opposition. The labor unions that provide the party with their largest organizational support also provided the ammunition.

Here’s the English-language version of a post from Kan Naoto’s blog, dated 21 December 2005:

“Yesterday I listened to labor union executives talk about the problem of irregular employment, which they have been grappling with for many years. There has been a sharp increase in irregular employment, including part-time work, labor seconding, and temporary work. The number of irregular workers in the labor force has reached 15 million, or 30% of the total. This increase has been particularly steep among young people who have just left high school or college, the so-called freeters.

“Many of those with irregular employment work for low wages. Even those who work full-time are treated as if they are part-time employees. The income of single mothers is often below that of the poverty level. There are people who make billions of yen trading stocks on the Internet. But what are we to do about today’s situation, when many people have incomes less JPY 3 million, or less than even 2 million? This is an important issue that the Democratic Party must deal with.”

So how has the Democratic Party dealt with this important issue since it took power and it became time to walk instead of talk? The government helpfully publishes a labor force survey, and here are some of the statistics they offer on the percentage of irregular workers.

33.4%: The July – September quarter in 2006, the end of the Koizumi government
35.5%: The highest percentage on record, for FY 2007, when Abe and Fukuda were in office.
33.0%: The January – March quarter in 2009, during the Aso government
34.1%: The July – September quarter in 2009, the end of the Aso government
34.9%: The October – December quarter in 2010, the second quarter with the Kan government in charge
35.5%: The January – March quarter in 2011, matching the record high, with the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima (the earthquake/tsunami region) excluded.

One can understand why Mr. Kan’s preferred policy option was to use the rhetoric of class warfare. That’s a lot less work than studying the nexus of human behavior, psychology, and money, commonly known as economics, and realizing there is next to nothing any government can do to move those statistics in a positive direction without a multitude of negative repercussions.

How much more psychologically comfy it is to ignore the other problems created by the ramifications of the preferred political solution (unemployment, higher prices, less business competition) than to admit the assumptions of a lifetime are just as screwy now as the day one became infatuated with them. Besides, what better way is there to work off grudges than to get even with the stand-ins for the source of them?

Working single mothers everywhere bring home a slice or two short of a rasher of bacon, but most of them are working single mothers because that was their choice. Almost all of the people who are both single and mothers are classified in that particular category for two reasons: Divorce — and the majority of divorces, by a large margin, are initiated by women — or childbirth without marriage.

The official explanation for people unable or unwilling to repair the leaky faucets of their lives is “bad luck”.

The soupçon of the population standing with a basket under the money tree in the Internet stock trading orchard after scarfing down a picnic of pâté de foie gras and grinding their designer heels into the noses of the workers are able to fire up their barbecues with rolled-up banknotes because that was their choice. Well, to an extent, anyway: profits of that type in financial markets are guaranteed to no one. But they still chose to intensively study stock market investment, to invest a substantial amount of their time during the day every day to follow the market and economic news, and to invest their own money in an enterprise with no guarantee of future success, even for those with past success.

The official explanation for people who decided to use their time in productive ways instead of flipping open their cell phones every 30 minutes with elaborately decorated fingernails is “privileged”.

At this point, it’s worth repeating the question first asked by Thomas Sowell: Is the person who has spent years in school goofing off, acting up, or fighting — squandering the tens of thousands of dollars that the taxpayers have spent on his education — supposed to end up with his income aligned with that of the person who spent those same years studying to acquire knowledge and skills that would later be valuable to himself and to society at large?

Books have been written about the changes that technology wrought to the industrial structure, the pointlessness of politicians thinking that meddling in the micro will improve the macro, as well as the futility of examining individual statistics out of context.

The least we can do here is recognize that the government’s current silence about these statistics demonstrates that the DPJ wasn’t talking about a change of government as a way to change the ratio, but was instead talking about a change in the ratio as a way to change the government.

Afterwords:

More on freeters from a few years ago.

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They can see for miles

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 4, 2011

They are a bus without a destination sign.
– Tanaka Shusei, former director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, speaking at a forum in Nagoya last fall about the Kan Cabinet.

THE USUAL clique of overseas observers who understand Japanese issues better than the Japanese themselves has morphed into a gaggle of schoolmarms exasperated by the political turmoil of the past week, after the dastardly plot by caped mustachioed men to tie the maidenly Kan Naoto to the tracks for slicing and dicing by the Shinkansen was foiled in the nick of time. How much better it would be, they insist, to stop the childishness and allow Mr. Kan and his Cabinet to continue directing the Tohoku recovery, which they have heretofore conducted with such selfless efficiency and dispatch.

Typical was the comment of Michael Auslin writing at the National Review website. He is the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Wall Street Journal columnist, and occasional television commentator. He made the obligatory reference to the short lifespan of Japanese prime ministers, with the obligatory glossing over of the Koizumi years. He also wrote:

“Japan’s politicians, busy stabbing each other in the back in the narrow alleyways of Japan’s neon-lit entertainment areas, are oblivious to the fact that they are driving their country off the cliff.”

Yes, it would be so much better if the Japanese modeled themselves after American politicians and stabbed each other in the back in spacious, klieg-lit television studios on programs in which the sharpness of the knives are in inverse proportion to the channel’s ratings.

It would be so much better if the political class of Nagata-cho were as self-aware as the American pols barreling down the royal road to peace and prosperity, generously forcing banks to provide home loans to people unable to afford the payments and penalizing the institutions that didn’t cooperate, thereby fueling the economic crisis of the century. It would be so much better if the Diet were to function like the American Congress, whose superior processes were used to pass — or to deem to have passed — the Obamacare legislation. It would be so much better if Japanese government debt were held by foreign interests, as the United States so magnanimously permits, instead of domestic interests.

How much more efficient the Americans are at encouraging national diversity with a strategy of leaky and lawless southern borders, resulting in Balkanization Español in California, Arizona, and Texas and providing the opportunity to criticize the Japanese for being chary of large-scale immigration. How much better that local government is on such a sound financial footing and is always working to improve the lives of its citizens.

And that dysfunctional Japanese political system with rotating papier-mâché prime ministers! How much better it was for the Americans to have benefited from the wise and steady leadership of Lyndon Johnson after the Tet offensive, Richard Nixon during his last year in office, Jimmy Carter during his last three years and six months in office, Bill Clinton after his historical 1994 repudiation or post-Lewinsky (take your pick), George W. Bush post-Katrina, and Barack Obama post-21 January 2009.

How much better instead would it be for Japan to have a system that would have allowed Hatoyama Yukio and Aso Taro to serve out their full terms of office.

These latter-day Mrs. Jellybys and the other fly-by telescopic political philanthropists don’t seem to have closely tracked events in Japan during the past year. Here’s a quick summary to remind them.

*****
In June 2009, Mr. Kan was elected president of the Democratic Party, whose Diet majority meant he became prime minister. He took office with 60% approval ratings, not because the public thought he was the man for the job — please — but because he was not Hatoyama Yukio, with approval ratings at 18% and falling, and because he shut out from a leadership role Ozawa Ichiro, whose negative ratings were north of 80% then and at 89% today.

Mr. Hatoyama stepped down to avoid a DPJ bloodbath in the July upper house election. It was a critical election for the party: Had they picked up a few more seats, they could have ruled without pesky and incompatible coalition partners. It seemed as if the leadership switch had worked, until Mr. Kan broke the party’s no new taxes pledge in their 2009 lower house election manifesto and waxed ineloquently about the need for a consumption tax hike. That managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by creating a quick about-face in voter sentiment in fewer than six weeks. The party lost seats instead.

For two years after the LDP’s defeat in the 2007 upper house election, the DPJ’s quotidian demand was a dissolution of the lower house and a general election because, they said, that vote was the most recent expression of popular will. The DPJ mislaid the pages of that script after the 2010 election.

In September, Mr. Kan was challenged for the DPJ presidency by Ozawa Ichiro, upset that the prime minister had reneged on the party no-new-tax pledge, leading to the electoral debacle, and that his many allies were deprived of a voice in government. Mr. Ozawa’s electoral skills and money management, after all, were instrumental in the party’s rise to power in 2009. The challenge failed, but the residual bad blood has placed the DPJ on the verge of disintegration, able to act with unity only when their existence and power are at stake.

Later that month came the epic failure of Mr. Kan’s government when it was incapable of upholding national sovereignty with their handling of the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku islets. Credentialed overseas observers like to think the territory is at dispute, but forget that both China and Taiwan recognized it as Japanese territory until 1971, when the possibility of enormous seabed oil deposits was discovered.

Rather than accept responsibility for the disposition of the sea captain, the government insisted it was all the doing of the public prosecutors in Naha Okinawa, a claim disbelieved by three-quarters of the nation. The Chinese responded with in-your-face threats, starting with wildly fictional accounts of the incident and continuing with economic pressure by cutting off rare earth exports and thug state pressure by arresting on espionage charges Japanese nationals helping the Chinese deal with their dismal ecological problems.

The cowed Kan government locked up a video of the incident verifying that the Chinese were at fault so as not to anger the Chinese government or to stir up the backwards nationalist sentiments of the non-progressive Japanese public. It didn’t work; anger was the diplomatic policy of the Chinese government regardless of the Japanese response, while the Japanese public accused him of betraying the nation. The video was released anyway on YouTube by an upset Coast Guard officer.

Demonstrating his diplomatic skills, Prime Minister Kan went all the way to Brussels to tug on the sleeve of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a hallway and get him to sit on a chair and chat for 25 minutes, pretending they met by accident. He also held consultations with President Hu Jintao at the APEC meeting in Yokohama that fall by reading from memos prepared by the Foreign Ministry.

Encouraged by the Kan Doctrine in foreign policy, Russian President Medvedev visited the occupied Northern Territories in November, which the Soviets seized in 1945 after Japan’s surrender. Mr. Kan was livid. Mr. Medvedev told him to bugger off.

The key person of the first Kan Cabinet was Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, widely assumed to have been the man actually running the government because the task is beyond Kan Naoto’s skill set. (Those hangovers can be a bitch until the fog clears around noon.) But Mr. Sengoku had so alienated everyone in government with bullying behavior, lies, evasions, insults, and gangsterish threats that he was censured by the upper house and forced to resign in six months. (An opposition MP also revealed that Mr. Sengoku told him the Japanese had been in vassalage to the Chinese for some time.)

The ruling Democratic Party’s thrashing in local elections nationwide started in February this year with the balloting for the Ibaraki prefectural assembly and continued through two more rounds in April. An estimated half of all local DPJ candidates left their party affiliation off their campaign posters lest it encourage the voters to choose Anyone But Them.

During Question Time in the Diet with the other party heads that month, Mr. Kan’s blink rate was measured at more than 100 times a minute, leading one psychologist to wonder if he was suffering from panic syndrome. His rate of support fell to Hatoyama levels, New Komeito party chief Yamaguchi Natsuo warned that the Cabinet was in “a perpetual state of collapse”, and talk of a no-confidence motion began.

The government’s response to the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March has most closely resembled that of headless zombie chickens with a taste for duplicity. They’ve been lying and concealing information about the Fukushima nuclear accident. (They really don’t trust the people they’re supposed to represent, do they?) To be fair, one reason they can’t get their stories straight is that they themselves don’t know which story is straight to begin with.

The Kan Cabinet formed 20 separate government bodies to deal with the recovery, creating a situation in which the centipede’s left legs don’t know what its right legs are doing. Nevertheless, neither the Cabinet nor the 20 appendages have formulated a basic law of reconstruction for the Diet, much less submitted one, even though the opposition pledged national unity and were resigned to putting up with the prime minister for another two years.

The Kan Cabinet had passed no legislation for the recovery within the first 40 days of the event, whereas the Murayama government had passed 16 recovery-related bills in that same time after the Hyogo earthquake. The Cabinet pulled back one recovery funding measure from the Diet just before introducing it last month because DPJ party leaders had yet to give their approval.

Less than two weeks ago, Kan Naoto gave a speech at the G8 summit and pledged to commit the country to a breathtakingly expensive program of promoting solar energy use. He inserted the proposal in his speech at the last minute without telling anyone in his Cabinet. Some wonder if he cooked up the scheme over a two hour-plus lunch with Son Masayoshi, the third-wealthiest businessman in Japan. A former supporter of nuclear energy, Mr. Son has donated an enormous amount of money for disaster relief, but is also positioning himself with local governments throughout the country to promote the construction of solar power plants. (The DPJ understands crony capitalism as well as the LDP and the Americans.) They intend to build the plants on unused farmland, which might not be unused had Mr. Kan’s Democratic Party not ditched the previous LDP government’s initiatives for promoting agribusiness to institute a legal vote-buying scheme of cash subsidies to individual farm families.

Even without the earthquake, the Kan Cabinet would have submitted a record-high budget with record-high debt for the upcoming fiscal year. It would have broken the records of the previous year’s budget passed under the Hatoyama administration when Kan Naoto was Finance Minister.

Kan Naoto is widely viewed in Japan as a hysterical hothead whose primary talents are self-aggrandizement and the evasion of responsibility. He is seen as more interested in perpetuating the life of his administration and putting his name in capital letters than working for the nation’s best interests.

*****
George Orwell put pacifism in its place during the Second World War when he wrote that it was objectively pro-Fascist and derived from intellectual cowardice.

By their criticism of the no confidence motion, the Jellybys have demonstrated they are objectively pro-Kan, support his behavior in office over the past year, and think he’s just the man to handle the coming challenges. Rather than intellectual cowardice, however, I suspect their position is derived from intellectual laziness.

All politicians seek personal and party advantage, but it should be apparent to the casual observer who examines the record that the politicos behind the no-confidence motion believed they were part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and were acting to prevent the nation from being driven off the cliff that so frightens the overseas critics.

It should also be apparent to the casual observer that Die Drei Weisen of media, academia, and thinktankia prefer spitballing to real research and comparisons with their own environment. Anyone who says that Japanese politicians are oblivious to the problems facing their country are oblivious to the world of Japanese politics.

*****
This one’s for all the telescopic political philanthropists. Be careful not to choke on it too.

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The same old song

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TO CONTINUE with the theme of yesterday’s post, here’s another illustration of how the Japanese mass media is every bit as lamestream as their Anglosphere cousins. The following is an excerpt from a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial on 22 January.

*****
Prime Minister Kan has undertaken a radical change of course from his party’s position of excluding the bureaucracy under the name of “political leadership”. His approach to policy reconciliation among the various ministries and agencies is to allow the participation (in discussions) of undersecretaries and bureau chiefs from the bureaucracy in addition to Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries. With his reexamination of the party’s platform for the 2009 lower house election, this represents an unavoidable course correction for the call of “political leadership” (N.B.: as opposed to bureaucratic leadership) that was the watchword for the change in government.

Smiling from start to finish, Prime Minister Kan spoke to the ministry undersecretaries in the Kantei conference room on the morning of the 21st. He told them: “I’m working with all of you to build a good country, so I want you to express your opinions without reserve to the ministers, deputy ministers, and me.”

When it was in the opposition, the Democratic Party harshly criticized the practice of bureaucratic leadership for the formulation and reconciliation of policy proposals. Their 2009 party platform clearly specified that the proposal, reconciliation and determination of policy was to be conducted through political leadership exercised by the Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries. The Hatoyama administration pursued a policy of excluding the bureaucracy through such measures as the abolition of the council for undersecretaries and the establishment of a council for the Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries (or seimu sanyaku in the Japanese shorthand).

The abolition of the council for undersecretaries, which had the role of reconciling the content of important policies for which more than one ministry was responsible, caused turmoil in the administration of government, however. Some officials in the Cabinet objected to such Hatoyama administration proposals as the revision of the National Civil Service Law and the bill to reform Japan Post just before their adoption, resulting in a delay of their adoption. The bureaucracy was not informed of some of the decisions taken by the Seimu Sanyaku Council, and the adverse effects of this repeatedly affected all the ministries.

In his instructions on the 21st, Prime Minister Kan said, “I want to create a positive, cooperative relationship between undersecretaries and politicians. There are several problems in our conduct of politics today, including self-reflection, taking things to extremes, and insufficiency. Politicians also understand that affairs will not proceed (toward resolution) if they think they alone can handle everything.” He thus recognized the flaws of conventional “political leadership”.

(end excerpt)

*****
Mr. Kan’s speech to the undersecretaries might sound familiar to those who follow Japanese politics. It is in effect nearly identical to the speech given by Aso Taro of the LDP to the same meeting of undersecretaries when he became prime minister in 2008, little more than two years ago. Said Mr. Aso: “In my Cabinet, the bureaucracy will not be the enemy. It is important to employ the bureaucracy skillfully.”

As Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi remarked, “That signaled his intention to leave all the decision-making to the bureaucracy.” In the same way, Mr. Kan’s ingratiating address signals his intention to throw in the spoon (which the Japanese throw instead of the towel) on civil service reform.

Real change in the way the government operates was the reason the DPJ unseated the LDP in the 2009 lower house election. (It was the reason Koizumi Jun’ichiro was, and still is, so popular.) Instead of a real change, however, the DPJ morphed into a pre-Hashimoto Ryutaro version of the LDP, albeit with a leftist orientation. As another commentator noted, the Kan pep talk is indicative of the degree of DPJ guts.

Who needs a teleprompter when they gave me this cribsheet? (Sankei Shimbun photo)

Mr. Kan’s remarks also represent a denial of his lifelong political philosophy. He has long advocated encouraging greater citizen input into policy decisions, which he specifically contrasted to policy formulated by the bureaucracy and rubber-stamped by the politicians. But most observers knew that Mr. Kan had thrown in the spoon before this. It was apparent from watching his first speech to the Diet as prime minister last summer. He reverted to the old LDP practice of reading aloud from what the bureaucracy calls tanzaku, or strips of paper. Each ministry produces a piece of paper on which is written a few sentences for the prime minister to say, and they’re stapled together to create the text of the speech. Recent prime ministers had stopped using the tanzaku, but Mr. Kan chose parrothood.

This issue might be difficult to understand outside of Japan, but it is without question the most critical one in the country’s governing process today. Here it is again: the bureaucracy in this country considers itself to be the permanent ruling class. As I’ve mentioned before, one bureaucrat-turned-reformer politician said that on his first day at the Agriculture Ministry, he was told his job was “to make the monkeys dance”.

The bureaucrats do not see their role as offering policy options at the request of the politicians. They actively formulate their own policy proposals and hawk them to MPs every day in the Diet office building like a squad of colporteurs. Among those who most strongly advocate bureaucratic reform are the journalists who have served on governmental blue ribbon panels and witnessed their behavior at first hand.

If you think I’m exaggerating, perhaps you should read this article by Martin Fackler in the New York Times. It was published on 24 March 2010, when Hatoyama Yukio was still prime minister. Long-time friends might wonder why I offer a link to the Times—I usually limit links to reliable sources—but there are two reasons:

1. It is an accurate description of the problem.
2. It is the most surreal example of journalistic incompetence I’ve ever read.

Here’s Mr. Fackler’s explanation:

Since ending the Liberal Democrats’ nearly unbroken 54-year grip on power in last summer’s election, Mr. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has proclaimed its top mission to be changing the way the country is governed by a process that is commonly called “escaping the bureaucracy.” The aim is to make Japan’s political system more responsive by ending more than a century of de facto rule by elite career bureaucrats at Tokyo’s central ministries, and empowering democratically elected politicians instead…(T)he ministries…long ran Japan with backroom decision-making.

He quotes then-Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro:

“The bureaucrats created a very centralized system that has become out of date, and unable to react to the world’s changes…We need a system that serves the people, not the bureaucracy and entrenched interest groups.”

One of Kasumigaseki’s favorite weapons is leaking information to the media. Mr. Fackler further quotes Mr. Haraguchi’s explanation of how the bureaucrats whispered potentially damaging stories about the DPJ to the press after he reassigned some civil servants against ministry wishes. That’s the same MO they used for scuttling the Abe administration’s attempt to privatize the Social Insurance Agency in 2007, responsible for national pensions. The final nail in Mr. Abe’s coffin was hammered in when the agency let it be known that the records for the pensions of millions of people were lost during the conversion from a handwritten system to a computerized system a decade before Mr. Abe took office. His government bore the brunt of citizen anger.

The reason this ranks as journalistic incompetence, however, is that Mr. Fackler’s paean to the DPJ was nonsense on the day he wrote it. The Japanese closely watching DPJ efforts to reform the bureaucracy knew that Mr. Hatoyama had thrown in the spoon as early as December 2009, three months before that article was published and only three months after he took office. That’s when stories in the weekly and monthly print media began to appear about the DPJ betrayal of their promises for government led by the politicians. That month, even then-DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro criticized the government of his own party for allowing the Finance Ministry too much input in formulating the budget. The policy review touted in the article was orchestrated and scripted by the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau–information that was available to the Japanese public shortly after the first one was televised.

It wasn’t that many people were surprised. Mr. Hatoyama’s father, himself the son of a former prime minister, started his career in the Finance Ministry before turning to politics. One element of the Democrats’ plan to place policy formulation in political hands was the creation of a National Strategy Bureau to be led by elected officials. Then-Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa—the former director of the ministry’s Budget Bureau—convinced the government to downgrade it to an “office”. None other than Kan Naoto was put in charge, and he soon complained that he didn’t have enough work to do there. (It was later revealed he spent a lot of time playing go on his computer when he did show up at the office.) Mr. Fujii is now back in the Cabinet again.

One of the most delicious parts of the Fackler article is this quote from Karel van Wolferen—yes, Mr. Oldie-But-Goodie himself:

“A half year of Hatoyama has produced more change than an entire year of Obama.”

Let’s reframe that: It is as if a commentator had praised President Obama in July 2009 for having kept his promise to withdraw American military forces from Afghanistan and shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo for good.

University of Tokyo Professor Yamauchi Masayuki is given the last word:

“(T)he changes they are making will not be easily undone.”

Now take another look at that excerpt of the Yomiuri editorial above.

What likely happened is that the Hatoyama administration, already doomed when the Times article appeared, was hunting for some positive press overseas to counteract the bad publicity they were getting at home for changing their tune on civil service reform. Members of the Japanese media are among the few that still take the New York Times seriously, and the DPJ probably hoped the story would filter back to Japan through the back door. The party could have easily fed the reporter the information in bite-sized chunks, made Mr. Haraguchi available for an interview, and even suggested tame professors for additional quotes.

If Martin Fackler’s still interested in this issue, by the way, I’d be happy to recommend a few books in Japanese to get him up to speed on what’s really happening. He should be able to find someone to read them and provide him with an English summary.

Of more pressing concern to the Japanese electorate, however, is the need for a reliable information source. The Yomiuri—the newspaper with the largest national circulation—obviously doesn’t meet those qualifications. Instead of selling journalism, they’re recording secretaries making their customers pay for mimeographs of ruling class PR handouts.

Meanwhile, what will Kan Naoto do now that he’s sold all the way out? Here’s a hint from the prime minister’s e-mail message distributed yesterday:

“The priority for me now is working to counteract the new social risk of isolation…Looking at the causes of suicide, very few people commit suicide because of poverty alone. They are poor and also don’t have any friends. They don’t have any family to turn to. The combination of isolation and poverty drives people to suicide.”

Leave it to a self-castrated political eunuch to make his priority a problem that politics will never solve.

Afterwords:

A long-time reader of the site is employed by a major Japanese mass media outlet. A few years ago, he wrote in to say that Karel van Wolferen adamantly refused to interact with anyone in Japanese when he was interviewed for a Japanese television program. Make of that what you will.

*****
Still the same old song, isn’t it?

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Kan the man

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 17, 2010

TO READ SOME descriptions in the English-language print media, one would think Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto is a “fiscal conservative” who is a “pragmatic reformer”.

Very few politically aware Japanese would use those terms to describe Mr. Kan, however, particularly those of a certain age. Even those in the Democratic Party camp don’t use those expressions. (Exceptions would be those from the asteroid belt left for whom the term “fiscal conservative” is an epithet, such as Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho. She’s already complained that the prime minister is a lackey of Big Business.)

A more accurate description was provided this week by university professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo on the Japanese-language Agora blog. He began by noting that both Mr. Kan and his opponent in the Democratic Party presidential election, Ozawa Ichiro, are remnants from an earlier era. Here’s the rest of it in English:

*****

“Mr. Kan himself said that he started out as a citizen activist, and it felt strange to hear him talk about his activist background. It might be understandable if he were the head of an opposition party, but he doesn’t seem to be aware that he is governing a nation. He still hasn’t grown beyond an attitude of “opposition to authority”. For good or ill, this is a baby boomer government from the generation of the Zenkyoto.”

Sidebar 1: The Zengaku Kyoto Kaigi (Zenkyoto), or University-Wide Joint Struggle Councils, reached a high-water mark in 1968-1969. They were defined by Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei as “loose organizations of radical students protesting authoritarian control (who) rejected unified ideology, membership rules, or hierarchy of any kind.” There were 13,497 arrests at Japanese campus demonstrations in 1969 alone.

“To be accurate, Mr. Kan himself was not a part of Zenkyoto, but rather the activist movement of Eda Saburo (former Secretary-General of the Socialist Party) and Ichikawa Fusae (reporter and member of the International Labor Organization). Some reports say, however, that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, often dubbed the “shadow prime minister”, was a member of a University of Tokyo council, Justice Minister Chiba Keiko a member of a Chuo University council, and former Agriculture Minister Akamatsu Hirotaka a member of a Waseda University council.

“That in itself is not surprising. In that generation, students with a certain amount of political awareness were often involved in student movements in some form. The ones with which Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku were affiliated were milder factions to the right of the Marxism-Leninism of the (Japanese) Socialist and Communist parties of the era. Their dogma was just as clear as that of the Communist Party, however, and while it is easy for the milder factions to graduate from that dogma, it is difficult for them to notice left-wing bias. It is the same as trying to eliminate one’s Tochigi accent.

“Put simply, their bias is that of the “New Constitution”. They were born in the immediate postwar period, so they were taught as children that war is an absolute evil and that the Peace Constitution was the ideal of humanity. The Liberal Democratic Party was tied to Big Capital, and since Big Capital was the principal cause of imperialism, war was inevitable as long as capitalism existed. Therefore, the only way to end war was to eradicate capitalism. Taken to extremes, that led to the armed conflict of the United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun, an amalgamation of radical leftist/terrorist groups of the late 60s and early 70s). But that way of thinking was also shared by such citizen activists as the Beheiren (and perhaps Mr. Kan as well).

Sidebar 2: In June, former Prime Minister Aso Taro charged that both Mr. Kan and his wife were part of the leadership of the Beheiren, an anti-Vietnam War group. He also criticized the group for remaining silent when China invaded Vietnam and Vietnam invaded Cambodia.

“In short, the core of the Democratic Party government believes that capitalism = evil. They are people who have spent their entire lives working to eliminate capitalism as their ultimate objective. Of course, they’ve become aware of their mistake along the way. But for them, recognizing capitalism would be tantamount to denying (what they have done with) their lives, so they have prolonged the life of their left wing ideology in the form of the welfare state.

“Unfortunately for them, the economic crisis means they can no longer use the welfare state as their billboard. They tried to camouflage that with the slogan “eliminating waste through political leadership”, but that slogan is no longer effective. They must now at last confront the inconvenient truth that they will be unable to achieve fiscal reconstruction without reducing the size of the castle keep of social security (the name given to the protection of the elderly). That issue will be the challenge faced by the second Kan Cabinet.”

(end translation)

More data

While asking a question during a hearing at the lower house Budget Committee on 13 February 2007, Kan Naoto went off on a riff about the “income gaps” in society:

“Where are the real primary causes of this expansion of the (income) gaps? I think there are two primary causes.

“The first is the change in the industrial structure. People have recently been talking about the “new economy”, but in a sense, companies and the related sectors have grown from the so-called mass-production, mass-consumption age into the skillful use of information. That caused an increase in the number of relatively simple, manual labor jobs. On the other hand, while the jobs are fewer, there are more sophisticated…if you’re going to create a convenience store, for example, there is the job of planning the store, that sort of sophisticated job…and the job of looking after the store or working the registers, the mostly manual labor jobs. This polarization is the backdrop (for these changes). That’s why (the current age) is fundamentally different from the economic growth of 40 years ago…If we are not fully aware of these fundamental changes in the industrial structure, we will only be able to treat the symptoms.”

This analysis, while a bit wooly, is unremarkable in Japan because it is so commonplace. Everyone understands this; indeed, Nire Shuhei published a best-selling collection of essays this year called Shugu no Jidai (The Age of Mass Stupidity), in which he takes to task those members of the general public complaining about income gaps and non-permanent employment. Mr. Nire tells his readers that their consumption patterns demand a wide variety of ever-changing, inexpensive products, and claims that what Mr. Kan calls the new economy (which includes non-permanent employment) is how producers must respond to those consumption patterns to stay in business.

Mr. Kan continued:

“The other one is truly that there was an inadequacy of policy. In particular, market fundamentalism, shall we call it, or neo-liberalism…that market fundamentalism was taken somewhat to an extreme, which led to the conditions of today…that aspect.”

Did he explain how market fundamentalism or neo-liberalism was taken to an extreme, or how it led to the conditions of today? Did he explain how his policies would have prevented that and still allowed the Japanese industrial structure to survive? Of course not—for people with Mr. Kan’s outlook, merely mentioning the words is enough. Everyone else is to take it on faith.

Not that he could explain it if he tried. The new economics has little or nothing to do with Koizumian policies and everything to do with changes that transcend nation or policy. The difficulties that result from the transformation are exacerbated here because they represent such a drastic change from the old structure, which included (but was not limited to) the lifetime employment system, the employment of surplus labor, interlocking domestic business alliances, and the inevitable higher prices that resulted.

Sengoku Yoshito Bonus!

While we’re on the subject of people applying outdated, impractical, and irrelevant worldviews to modern conditions, here’s a comment about Sengoku Yoshito from Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi. Mr. Watanabe was speaking on the 16th at a Chamber of Commerce and Industry function in a Tokyo hotel. He referred to Mr. Sengoku’s comment on the 15th at a news conference that the government considered their line of defense in the forex markets to be 82 yen to the dollar.

If I were involved with the investment business, I would assume that everything was fine until the yen hit 82 to the dollar, and definitely aim for that. He is truly an idiot (baka). Japan will collapse by entrusting the management of the nation to those who have never managed the affairs of the nation.

It’s standard operating procedure for all Japanese politicians to complain at some point that their opponents’ policies will cause the country to “collapse”, so that can be discounted. It’s also true that the DPJ doesn’t know what it’s doing, but bringing governing experience into question recalls the days of the LDP, which defeats the purpose of his criticism.

But not only is Mr. Sengoku inexperienced in government, his lifelong beliefs and background as a former Socialist Party member mean that he really isn’t all that down with the world of finance and the rest of that stuff. While his current views might be more mature than those of his younger days, his experience in the private sector came as a lawyer, sometimes as a hired wordslinger for sokaiya. Those are professional extortionists, often gangster-connected, who seek hush money from businesses to not disrupt annual shareholders’ meetings with loud complaints about real (or contrived) corporate mismanagement.

His is not the ideal background for explaining the government’s position about the value of its currency in world markets.

Consider the DPJ’s current debt-heavy budget, which Mr. Kan sold in the Diet as the Finance Minister. It tested the credulity of people in the financial industry around the world, a group already inured to government fiscal excess.

Any fiscal conservatism eventually practiced by a Kan Cabinet will have been forced on it by elements outside the ruling circle, including people in the financial industry or members of opposition parties.

Any time you read something that suggests Kan Naoto is a “fiscal conservative”, it’s a signal to stop there and move on to the next website.

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Watanabe Yoshimi lays out a scenario

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PRIME MINISTER Hatoyama’s plummeting poll ratings, the growing possibility that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will be unable to capture an outright majority in the upper house election this summer, and the weak leadership of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party is fueling speculation of a major political realignment. Whether soon or late, such a realignment is close to inevitable.

On his website, Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi offers some trenchant observations on the current political situation and one possible scenario that might be taking shape—which doesn’t appeal to him in the slightest. Here it is in English.

*****

If a new Masuzoe (Yoichi) Party begins to sprout, it’s conceivable that a new Yosano (Kaoru) Party would be next. If this business of replacing Tanigaki (as head of the Liberal Democratic Party) is going to be just a tempest in a teapot, they should put a lid on it.

Mr. Yosano was very compelling when he went after the “King of the Heisei Tax Dodgers” (Prime Minister Hatoyama) at the Budget Committee hearings, and Mr. Tanigaki was rather unimpressive in comparison. This (movement in the party) would also wind up the same way.

But if the people who selected, designated, and wrote in the name of Taniguchi Sadakazu as party leader just six months ago are now going to stage a rebellion, it would logical for them to leave the party.

If that happened, what would be the main idea behind a new Yosano Party? It would be drastic reform of the tax system—in short, an increase in the consumption tax. For Mr. Yosano, even a growth strategy would be a plan to prevent the dissemination of public funds.

When Mr. Yosano ran against Mr. Aso for the position of LDP president, there was a glimpse of the shadow of a grand coalition government with Mr. Ozawa in the background. There’s more to the Ozawa-Yosano relationship than just two go-playing pals.

The Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating is falling in all the polls, and that’s strengthening the upward trend in the disapproval rate. Once again, there is a glimpse of the shadow of a grand coalition in a post-Hatoyama scenario.

Would there be a grand coalition with a Yosano-led LDP, or a switch to a coalition with a new Yosano Party? In either event, their point of convergence would be a drastic reform of the tax system and a reform of the national pension and social welfare.

When Mr. Yosano held the double portfolios of the Finance and Financial Service ministries in the Aso Cabinet, he was dubbed the Patron Saint of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. When the Council for the Achievement of a Secure Society was created, it was staffed with several veterans of the bureaucracy.

Now it turns out that the Hatoyama Cabinet has a Council for Studying a New Pension System, and the government seems ready to begin debate over the consumption tax.

Some hold the council should issue a report with a recommendation to form a ruling party-opposition party agreement on the ideal form of secure benefits and liabilities. Even now, Mr. Yosano is likely thinking of a ruling party-opposition party agreement to raise the consumption tax.

It might be that the ghost of creating a “Citizen’s Welfare Tax” and eliminating the consumption tax will emerge to haunt us again.

UPDATE:
Well dang me! I posted this just before going to bed last night. Reading today’s paper, there’s an advertisement for the April issue of Bungei Shunju with an article by Yosano Kaoru.

The copy reads:

“I am disappointed in President Tanigaki. The time has come for me to make a definite decision. I am ready to form a new party.”

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The devil’s in the details

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A COMMON LYRICAL HOMILY in Black American gospel music is the observation that everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.

With a slight modification, that would be equally applicable to the Hatoyama administration’s pledge of a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Hypersensitive as always to what passes for the conventional wisdom of their brethren in Western countries, the Japanese mass media were thrilled when the self-anointed elites overseas pronounced themselves delighted with Japan’s new policy. After the disappointing 8% reduction pledge from the troglodytes in the Aso administration, this was much more like it. Japan was getting good press, and that’s all the local boys and girls needed to know.

But the Japanese mass media is just as loath as their fellow guild members in the Anglosphere to do any real investigative work and dig into just what those promises would entail. The new promises sounded good, the Amen Corner in the Church of Latter-Day Environmentalist Saints shouted Hallelujah, and the UN–that exemplar of good government–kept pumping out hot air about climate change, so they were down with it.

Besides, it allowed them to return to covering the stories they much prefer, such as the pre-election career of new lower house proportional representation MP and DPJ member Tanaka Mieko. It seems Ms. Tanaka caught some vicarious kicks by dressing up in strange costumes and interviewing women in the sex industry for sleazy magazines. She also appeared topless in the film Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf, which gave her the opportunity to display her thespian skills by pretending to enjoy a chest massage from the Blind Beast himself. But I digress.

For starters, the pledge wouldn’t mean a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions from present levels. It would be a reduction from 1990 levels–which means Mr. Hatoyama’s promise involves cutting emissions by 33% in 11 years.

Some Japanese scientists have done the research, and Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, posts some of their findings on his blog.

Before reading what would have to happen, I suggest fortifying yourself with a warming drink first. This will be enough to make your blood run cold. Keep in mind Prof. Pielke’s link is to someone who thinks this is all a wonderful idea.

One wonders whether Taro and Hanako would consider it a wonderful idea if the Government actually kept its promise to solve a “global warming” problem that–thanks to Climategate–we now know doesn’t exist. They’d be put on a forced march through Hell to get to the Promised Land, only to discover that their Green Heaven is just as mythical as the pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Warrior.

But by then it would be too late. And all the accomplices in governments and their bought researchers would be congratulating themselves for a Mission Accomplished in fantasyland.

Fortunately, governments often don’t keep environmental promises, the Hatoyama administration has backed off its proposed Green Tax for now, and the whole scam of using environmentalism as a stalking horse for global governance might be completely discredited by the time a Japanese government got off its duff. Even the mainstream media has now begun hooting at Al Gore.

Follow the link and then consider how life in Japan would have to change to meet the government’s stated goal. Read also the first commenter’s claims that using photovoltaic arrays in Japan would actually result in greater CO2 generation than less.

Note: The important information is easily available at that site, but the link to more information at the bottom requires a paid subscription. Don’t let that stop you from clicking the link to the post here, however.

Posted in Environmentalism, Government, Mass media | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The warring sandbox period in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 20, 2009

You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.
– Larry Anderson

NO SOONER do I compare the behavior of Japanese politicians at the national level to that of the daimyo during the Warring States period than one of those prominent politicos uses a different historical reference that underscores the internal disarray which has turned the ruling Liberal Democratic Party into a Warring Sandbox. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of how some politicians might view their personal role in what everyone else views as a liberal democracy.

Hatoyama Kunio makes a political statement

Hatoyama Kunio makes a political statement

Kicking the sand this time was Hatoyama Kunio, a former Cabinet minister in three different governments. He most recently headed the Internal Affairs ministry in the Aso administration until he resigned over a dispute about the sale of a Japan Post-owned business. He’s also the younger brother of Hatoyama Yukio, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, of which Kunio was a founding member until he split as the result of a fraternal dispute.

Hatoyama the Younger and Aso Taro have been celebrated in the Japanese media for having a close friendship, and it’s easy to see why. The former represents district #6 in Fukuoka Prefecture, and the latter represents district #8 in the same prefecture. They are both well-to-do grandsons of former prime ministers, who themselves were members of the old postwar Liberal Party that merged with other right-of-center parties to become today’s LDP.

But Mr. Hatoyama appears to have some difficulty staying on good terms with the people closest to him. His conflict with his elder brother doesn’t seem to have been completely resolved–witness his recent reference to him as a “momma’s boy”, which, come to think of it, does jibe with the public personality of Hatoyama the Elder. It also might be an expression of chagrin over the amount of family money that some suggest momma has been funneling to Big Brother’s campaign war chest. In any event, however, petty family feuding is never conducive to good government at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

Now he’s all upset with buddy Taro since his hissy fit and resignation. But Mr. Hatoyama caused some eyebrows to rise even further when he said that Prime Minister Aso was “the Northern Court” and that he was “the Southern Court”.

He’s referring to an ancient dispute over Imperial succession in Japan that led to two separate courts from 1337 to 1392. In brief, the Imperial house split into two lines created by brothers who both served as tenno (emperors). The Kamakura Shogunate cut a deal in which the two lines would alternate members on the Chrysanthemum throne. One tenno of the junior line wanted to keep the succession in his family, however, so he wound up creating the Southern Court. After a few decades of intrigue and military skirmishing, the Muromachi Shogunate brought them back to the original compromise involving the alternation of the two lines, but the Northern Court didn’t keep its promise and the Southern Court died out.

The dispute over the legitimacy of the two lines kept cropping up over the years, as some scholars claimed the Southern court had the bona fides because they maintained possession of the Imperial regalia. That argument continued until the early part of the 20th century, when the Meiji Tenno—himself a descendant of the Northern Court—officially recognized the legitimacy of the Southern Court. Thereafter, history textbooks have treated the Northern Court as the outlier.

But that brings up the question of why a politician who sees himself as a potential prime minister would compare his dispute with Mr. Aso to one more than half a millennium ago involving the Imperial household. Does this not suggest that Mr. Hatoyama’s background of wealth and heritage has created a sense of identity that causes him to believe he’s a member of the political nobility bestowed with the divine right to rule Japan?

And wasn’t the lad being clever when he chose for himself the identity of the Southern Court? Japan’s history books recognize that court as being the legitimate line of succession whose members were deprived of the opportunity to reign. Remember also that the Southern Court was founded by the younger brother, suggesting that Mr. Hatoyama sees himself as the rightful ruler even if Big Brother becomes the next prime minister.

Finally, there’s yet another factor that really brings this down to the sandbox level. Not long ago there was an informal group in the Diet called the Taro-kai (the Taro Association). The membership consisted of MPs from several LDP factions, and the group’s objective was to promote Aso Taro for the job of prime minister. After Fukuda Yasuo abruptly resigned last year, it swung into action and finally achieved its goal.

The chairman of the Taro-kai was Hatoyama Kunio.

Now where’s the mass media when you really need them? One thing they do quite well is to cut people down to size when they get too full of themselves. Yet the media seems content to use the childish bickering as a way to provide entertainment without having to pay fees to show business performers rather than an opportunity to do something useful. Does not their enabling behavior make them a willing accomplice?

***
The quarreling brings to mind a passage from the ironically titled book, Jiminto ha Naze Tsuburenai no ka? (Why doesn’t the LDP Fall Apart?). That consists of the edited transcripts of a series of roundtable political discussions between Murakami Masakuni, a former Labor Minister and head of the LDP delegation in the upper house of the Diet, and current jailbird sentenced to the pen for influence-peddling; Hirano Sadao, a former DPJ upper house member and close associate of Ozawa Ichiro; and Fudesaka Hideyo, a former Communist Party member of the upper house who resigned after an accusation of sexual harassment.

Here’s a quick translation of the relevant part:

Hirano: When I was in the New Frontier Party, we discussed the subject of a possible conservative coalition with some members of the LDP. (Then-party leader) Ozawa Ichiro asked me to meet with Aso Taro and tell him that he (Ozawa) would support him if he left the LDP and formed a new “Aso Taro Party”. Mr. Aso is (former Prime Minister) Yoshida Shigeru’s grandson, and Mr. Ozawa’s father Ozawa Saeki was a very close associate of Yoshida Shigeru. Prime Minister Yoshida entrusted him with some important tasks. It was Yoshida Shigeru who talked me out of joining the Communist Party when I was about to become a member. So knowing that background, that’s why he sent me to talk (to Mr. Aso).

Mr. Aso’s political thinking in those days was just like that of a child. To me it looked as if he didn’t really care about principles, policies, or human relations. I thought it couldn’t be possible that he was related to Yoshida Shigeru.

Fudesaka: Not all second- and third-generation politicians are like that, but when I look at Mr. Aso…I get the impression that he’s playing.

Murakami: He’s (like some) chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. In the end, he’s just the young master who’s never had to deal with any hardships.

Hirano: An Akihabara otaku, eh? He’s the captain of the otaku.

Fudesaka: Hatoyama Kunio is the same type (of person). They don’t seem as if they’re seriously concerned about the country’s direction.

***
In addition to captain of the otaku and head of the Junior Jaycees, a third description of Aso Taro might be the best one of all. After observing Mr. Aso in action years ago, the late former Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru remarked:

“He’s like a man on stilts.”

***
Please don’t get the impression, by the way, that I’m singling out the aged bon-bons of Japan. People of this type can be found in politics the world over, and two who come immediately to mind are Al Gore, who grew up in the Washington D.C. hotel rooms of his Senator father, and Ted Kennedy.

To the credit of the Japanese, at least the LDP mudboaters didn’t throw a tantrum that threw their country into turmoil as Al Gore did when he lost an election in Florida—several times, in fact—after first trying to steal it. Nor did it cause them to go so far off the deep end that they morphed into the political equivalent of a Bible Belt evangelist darkly warning that global warming meant the end of the world was nigh. And just as some of those preachers are revealed as hypocrites when their sexual liaisons come to light, so too does Mr. Gore show his true colors by purchasing offsets for his immense carbon footprint from a company in which he has an ownership stake.

Nor did any of the Japanese politicians–as far as we know—get drunk and drive off a bridge with a staffer/girlfriend in the car, leave her to die trapped underwater, and spend the better part of a day trying to find a fall guy and getting his story straight before calling the police. How lucky for him that his money and family name eliminated the possibility of a jail term for criminally negligent homicide.

***
And lest the DPJ supporters start indulging in schadenfreude over the rapidly imploding LDP, a word of caution is in order that their time will come too.

More than one serious Japanese journalist thinks former DPJ (and Liberal Party, and New Frontier party) boss Ozawa Ichiro’s eventual aim is to use Hatoyama Yukio as a vehicle to take power, break up the DPJ, and realign Japanese politics more in accordance with his own tastes.

Even if that scenario is a flight of fancy or never comes to pass, the LDP’s incipient collapse and shift to the opposition gives it a head start on rearranging itself into more workable groups–something the DPJ is also going to have to do, soon or late, willing or not.

***
But let’s be fair–Hatoyama Kunio does have his movements of lucidity. He’s been recently quoted as saying that it would be hell to leave the LDP and hell to stay in the party.

He should have extended his analogy. It will be hell if the LDP retains power and hell if it doesn’t. But since a trip through Hades is both inevitable and necessary, getting through the flames as quickly as possible means that the first step should be taken as quickly as possible.

Posted in History, Imperial family, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Japan’s political Big Bang, V.2

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 14, 2009

WE’VE ALL HEARD THE EXPRESSION about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. That’s derived from the way in which chickens will thrash around the barnyard in a headless state.

After the reports on the radio I heard yesterday morning about how the pols in the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party were taking their party’s defeat in the Tokyo Metro elections on Sunday, I can imagine what it must have been like to see dinosaurs with their heads cut off.

Some thought a lower house election should be called right away, while others were aghast at the prospect. Former Cabinet member Hatoyama “Little Brother” Kunio was uncharacteristically lucid when he said that holding an election now would be like group suicide. Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku), who’s already pushing a petition from within the party to oust Mr. Aso, observed that dissolving the lower house would be fine if the prime minister intended to leave the LDP a burnt-out wasteland. Mr. Yamasaki purposely chose a phrase the Japanese use to describe the state of their cities after the flyovers of Allied bombers during the war.

About an hour later, NHK interrupted their broadcast to announce that Prime Minister Aso had chosen the group suicide/wasteland option after briefly consulting with leaders in the LDP and the party’s New Komeito coalition partners. He’ll dissolve the Diet later this month and scheduled an election for 30 August.

Some reports claim there was shock over the election results in the LDP camp, but surely they jest. Japanese pollsters can add just as well as those elsewhere, particularly the ones hired by the major parties, so they already had to have put two and two together. Not that anyone needed a pollster to know in advance. Indeed, if they really are shocked, they need to be looking for another job, and as soon as possible, please.

Mr. Aso put on a brave face and said the Tokyo Metro results were unrelated to national issues. He plans to campaign on his government’s financial policies, i.e., a promise to be responsible and raise taxes. (The more responsible position would be to eliminate wide swaths of the Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki Leviathan while cutting some taxes, but I digress.)

He knows that’s nonsense, of course, because his party’s national polls have to be showing the same numbers as the Tokyo results writ large. Does he think he can prevent the opposition Democratic Party of Japan from obtaining a majority and limit them to replacing the LDP as the largest party in the Diet? A DPJ government in an alliance with their motley crew of potential coalition partners would certainly be a chabangeki, the Japanese term for a farce or burlesque. Perhaps the party poobahs are calculating that a DPJ-led coalition government likely to strew its own path with banana peels would cause a voter revulsion and reversion back to the LDP that much sooner.

Or does he and the rest of the party realize that Nagata-cho needs a political realignment, and it won’t start unless the LDP is in the opposition? The party isn’t capable of resolving its internal conflict between the mudboaters and the reformers while it’s still in power, so they can conduct their headchopping out of public view while the DPJ circus occupies center ring.

Reorganizing around philosophical viewpoints rather than personal associations—if that’s what they intend—will be a lot easier after the smoke clears, the bodies are counted, and the identity of the survivors is known next month.

Quo Vadis?

Political predictions in Japan are pointless, which is why I seldom read or write any, but here’s one anyway: The upcoming lower house election will be Part Two of the Japanese political Big Bang, following an interval of more than a decade after Part One and the short-lived Hosokawa administration. Or from a scatological perspective, it will be the second flush of the toilet. There’s still too much residue in the bowl that needs to be sent to the sewer, and political health demands proper hygiene.

With some luck, it just might happen. For example, former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is worried about the challenge in his district from ex-tour conductor Tanaka Mieko, who is less than half his age. On the one hand, it was already time for him to go during the 20th century, and I’m of the school that holds we’d get better government by picking names at random from the phone book. Then again, Ms. Tanaka’s voting choices will probably be determined at party headquarters by people who should be shuffling on board the same ferry across the Styx as Mr. Mori.

Here’s something else that shouldn’t be a surprise: DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio now says a DPJ-led government won’t end the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean for the NATO-backed effort in Afghanistan. That should make some people feel foolish—including some English-language journalists—for taking the party seriously in the fall of 2007 when they tried to leverage Japan’s reputation abroad for petty political advantage at home. There’s a reason the LDP calls on its opponents to pursue policy rather than political crisis, but the Japanese phrase for that is uma no mimi ni nembutsu: Like a sutra in a horse’s ear.

Why should anyone be surprised about their about face when that’s the only dance step they know? Mr. Hatoyama promised to vacate his office to accept responsibility if Ozawa Ichiro resigned as party head, but instead wound up in Mr. Ozawa’s old office less than a week after the resignation. Now that’s a golden parachute! The party also opposed the bill dealing with the Somali pirates, but also said they wouldn’t eliminate it if they formed a government.

And now comes the report that DPJ and three smaller parties will introduce a motion in the upper house to censure Prime Minister Aso, coupled with a no-confidence measure in the lower house. Well, what’s the bleedin’ point, as Basil Fawlty would ask. The man will be gone before autumn. Then again, what’s the bloody point of bothering with serious criticism of the DPJ when they’ve demonstrated the only thing they take seriously is a manufactured political crisis? At least the Koizumi Children—or most of them—behaved like adults.

What to do?

If the LDP had an ounce of wit left in their collective DNA, they’d see the DPJ’s bet and raise it by agreeing with them. They could say yes, we know, but since we’ve already set the election date, we’ll replace Mr. Aso with (Fill in the Name of Plausible Reformer) until the election. That seems to be a longshot now; the members most likely to be interested are heading back to their districts to keep their own necks off the chopping block. Some say one of the men who could lead that effort, Nakagawa Hidenao, is thinking of developing his own platform to position himself and his fellow travelers for an apres-election aligment with Watanabe Yoshimi and other reformers.

Some well-meaning and serious people are urging the citizens to read the political platforms of the parties before deciding how to vote. Now what would be the bleedin’ point of that? It’s obvious even to real children that policy for a DPJ-led government will be an ad hoc affair. Why read their platform when the key point about the DPJ’s behavior regarding the Indian Ocean refueling mission won’t be in it? That might let down the policy wanks, but it isn’t as if there’s anything scientific about “political science”, now is there?

An additional benefit of the upcoming election will be to set the fuse for Part Three of the Japanese political Big Bang, whether it is lit soon or late. Or, to put it another way, there’s so much crap in the system it will take another flush—at least—to get rid of it all.

For the next two months, many in the old and the new media will be making the cyber-welkin ring with unreadable/unwatchable meta-commentary on Japanese politics, but it’s safe to predict they too will miss the bleedin’ point. Flushing away this layer of crap won’t result in a clean toilet bowl: It will just expose the next layer of crap outside the LDP that the older layer has partially obscured until now.

Looks like a job for Ben and Joe the Plumbers!

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Open letter to Yosano Kaoru

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 9, 2009

To: Yosano Kaoru, Minister of Finance, Liberal Democratic Party headquarters
From: Ampontan, c/o This Website
In re: Your criticism of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan’s new platform

Mr. Yosano:

The Asahi Shimbun account of your recent speech in Unnan, Shimane, in which you slammed the DPJ platform, contained some most interesting quotes.

For example:

“It’s mostly a world of pipe dreams and trompe l’oeil.”

And:

“It makes me think even the Communist Party is more serious.”

I agree completely. It is a world of pipe dreams and optical illusions, and considering how they hold fast to their core beliefs, the Communist Party of Japan is more serious (despite offering even stronger opiates and more distorted optical illusions). Then again, at least they have party-wide core beliefs to hold fast to.

In fact, I suspect that most of the Japanese electorate would agree with you too. The DPJ’s policies are a weird blend of the childish and the cynical, are they not? No one in Japan believes their numbers—least of all themselves—and the internal contradictions of the platform show a disrespect for both the electorate and the political process. In some ways, it does border on the criminal, as a Kyodo report quoted you as saying.

And bringing up the Communists is apropos, because the DPJ platform is a bit Bolshie in places, isn’t it?

For example, the Asahi report said you specifically mentioned the DPJ policy of giving income supplements to individual farm families, after which you commented:

“You cannot trust a party that appeals to the people with assertions that are mistaken in their most basic aspect.”

There’s an even better example you could have chosen: Their plank calling for the elimination of the income tax deduction for children and replacing it with a direct monthly government stipend through junior high school. Of course they’ll want to extend that through high school, eventually, once they put the hook in.

But you couldn’t very well mention that one, could you? After all, that idea originated with your New Komeito coalition partners in the Tokyo Metro District.

Still, all these complaints are beside the point, and we both know why. Absent a change in the status quo, they’re going to beat you like a drum in the lower house election.

And just about everyone in the country understands the reasons for it but you.

Here’s the most important one: You didn’t learn the Koizumian lesson. Mr. Maverick came into office with public support rates above 80% and left five and a half years later with those same rates at 70%, after delivering the second-largest lower house electoral victory in postwar history. That might well be unprecedented for a modern democracy, particularly one of the larger ones like Japan.

Did he achieve all the reforms that he promised? No, but politics is the art of the possible, and he had to lay his political life on the line to get as much as he did.

But let’s be honest–It’s not as if you understood any of that to begin with. It took the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass after the porcine ineptitude of Mori Yoshiro and a revolt from the local rank and file to force you to select him at all.

Yet within months after he stepped down, you readmitted the people he threw out of the party for opposing postal privatization, which immediately sliced 20 percentage points off those public support numbers. You must have suspected that would happen, but you did it anyway, didn’t you?

According to Nakagawa Hidenao, 70% of the lower house members are (were) reform supporters, but you allowed the party machinery and the bureaucracy to slowly grind them down.

The drubbing the electorate administered to your party in the upper house election of 2007 should have been enough to grab the attention of the most slack-jawed of dullards, but you didn’t learn even after that brick wall fell on you.

You might have been relieved by the rebound of the Cabinet support rate to almost 60% after you installed Fukuda Yasuo as prime minister, but that was a pipe dream of your own. It fell back into the 20s as soon as everyone understood that Mr. Fukuda’s forte was that he had no forte, as a DPJ wag put it. But that’s one you should have understood to begin with.

It could not have been clearer what the Japanese people have thought for nearly 20 years about the wicked way your party has gone about its business, and how they will reward anyone who makes the effort to do something—anything–else.

So you’re finally worried about losing to the party that behaves like a primary school student with a loaded pistol, as Mr. Ibuki so accurately described them?

You’ve got no one to blame but yourselves for that, I’m afraid.

And now you’re stuck between several rocks and the proverbial hard place. You can have Mr. Aso lead the party into the election on a platform of raising taxes and defending the bureaucracy, and stand on the deck of the Mudboat-maru as it crumbles and dissolves.

Or, you could replace him with some semi-plausible reform alternative and prepare for the election. But no one will blame the DPJ for screaming bloody murder over that one. And your coalition partners say they’ll withhold support from any LDP Diet member who calls for Mr. Aso to step down.

Goodness only knows what backroom deal you cut with them behind the scenes—a promise to delay the election until October so they can play their shell game with Japan’s 90-day residency requirement for voters after the local Tokyo balloting? Whatever it was, you’re stuck with it.

On the other hand, replacing Mr. Aso with a serious reformer holds the risk that the bureaucrats will find a way to bring him (or her) down too. We’ve seen how the Social Insurance Agency nailed shut Mr. Abe’s coffin when you were ready to privatize them. That’s one lesson you did seem to learn. More than a few people think sources in Kasumigaseki provided the prosecutors with information on the fund-raising practices of Ozawa Ichiro. Isn’t it funny how no one could find any dirt despite sniffing around Mr. Ozawa’s finances for years—until it looked like his party might win?

And now the same thing’s happening to Mr. Hatoyama. What a coincidence!

Mr. Koizumi might have caught them off guard, but you can be sure that won’t happen again. They’ll be ready for your next reformer.

So it’s a bit late in the game for you and the rest of the LDP sleepwalkers to start worrying about a party that offers only pipe dreams, isn’t it?

You might be familiar with an old English expression–You made your bed, now you’ll have to lie in it.

Don’t forget to turn out the light.

Sincerely,

Amp

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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