AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Azumi J.’

Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

Shiga Gov. Kada Yukiko has formed a national political party called the Japan Future Party. I met Ms. Iida several times when I was governor of Miyazaki, and we’ve appeared on the same television programs together. What’s odd about this, however, is that there is a lot of criticism and censure whenever the chief executive of a local government becomes the head of a political party. ‘Is it possible for a local government leader to head a national party’, they ask. ‘Do they have that much spare time?’ ‘They’re making light of national government.’ None of that has happened this time. I’ve said from the beginning that it is possible to do both jobs if you’re willing to work without sleeping. Where did all the people who were so critical go the last time this happened?

- Higashikokubaru Hideo, former Miyazaki governor and current Japan Restoration Party candidate for a PR seat, making an unspoken reference to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

SHIGA Gov. Kada Yukiko is well known in citizen-activist circles for a her commitment to governmental reform. She was elected governor in 2006 after campaigning on a platform of opposing a new Shinkansen station and several dams, using the slogan “It’s a waste of money.” She was part of the now idle Sentaku group of local government leaders working to change Japanese politics. But outside of Shiga, she has little name recognition with the Japanese public.

Thus, it was like grabbing a stick from a bamboo grove, as the Japanese call a bolt from the blue, when she announced this week that she was forming a new national political party from scratch to contest the lower house election — in 19 days.

She said the primary objective of her Japan Future Party was to have Japan “graduate” from nuclear power in 10 years. She was disappointed in Hashimoto Toru for allowing the resumption of power generation at the Oi plants in Fukui, and his Japan Restoration Party for backing off its no-nuclear-power pledge. Ms. Kada also thinks women’s and children’s issues are important:

We agree with Japan Restoration on detaching ourselves from the bureaucracy and central authority, but we differ on two points. Mr. Hashimoto’s perspective is the big city, while mine is the country. Japan Restoration is not aware of the diversity of views of women and children. There are areas in which we could complement each other.

Appearing at the news conference was the man who is described as the party’s “second in command, the controversial Iida Tetsunari, who founded the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. He thinks Japan can convert to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

He was once the energy policy advisor to Mr. Hashimoto, but left when the Osaka mayor decided to back the restart of the Oi plants. He ran for governor of Yamaguchi, but could manage only 35% of the vote despite the free media publicity at the height of the anti-nuclear power hysteria in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto did not make the short trip down from Osaka to campaign for him.

She doesn’t seem to have thought very carefully about any of her policies. An official from METI, which were responsible for regulating the nuclear power industry, said:

It is not possible to imagine a path that achieves zero nuclear power in 10 years.

He pointed out that apart from water power, renewable energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal, accounts for 2% of power generation now.

The rest of the new party’s platform consists of other phantasms that aren’t the business of national government: She wants to “create more opportunities for women and promote a work-life balance that makes it easier for families to raise children.” Ms. Kada said she also wants create hiring in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. She didn’t say how she intends to do any of that, but it’s safe to assume the regional devolution supporter will have no qualms about strengthening the central government to achieve it.

Another plank in her platform is to require companies to rehire their non-regular employees as full time employees. That means they and new people entering the work force will wind up as non-employees.

She also promised to roll back the consumption tax increase until government waste was eliminated. That was the same promise the Democratic Party of Japan made three years ago and broke this year.

Was there anything about foreign policy? Do you have to ask?

In other words, she is a generic and watery social democrat of the type that appeal to bored housewives, hairballs, and show biz types such as Sakamoto Ryuichi (who is a Kada supporter).

It becomes more peculiar: Ms. Kada will not run for a Diet seat, and told one of her aides at the statehouse that she intends to devote most of her attention to her duties there rather than the national party. Further, her party has no Diet members and no declared candidates. (Mr. Iida is not going to run for the Diet either.) She had demonstrated no interest in forming a national political party before, and certainly has no experience in navigating those shark-infested waters. How could she do this so quickly? Just what is going on here?

What is going on became clear within a few hours of her announcement. Yamaoka Kenji, the vice-president of Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First Party and Mr. Ozawa’s designated torpedo, said:

I think we’ll merge (with Kada’s party) after dissolving our party.

And they did. In other words, Ozawa Ichiro, the Great Destroyer, facing political extinction in this election with personal negatives well north of 80% and his party slithering along at less than 2% in the polls, decided to save his career and salvage his power by doing what he has done several times in the past. That is to create a new party (his seventh), change his policy clothes into whatever seems fashionable at the time, and enlist someone pleasant, innocuous, and superficially appealing person as his front man. Only this time, the front man is a woman.

It wasn’t long before it became clearer still. Former LDP bigwig, splinter group-head, and DPJ coalition partner Kamei Shizuka recently broke up his even smaller and newer two-man splinter party to join Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan Party. That group will also become part of the Japan Future Party. Also joining is former Social Democrat Abe Tomoko, who quit to join the Greens, and Hatsushika Akihiro, Pyeongyang’s pal in the Diet, who left the DPJ earlier this month.

It became perfectly obvious yesterday, when the Japan Future Party became an official national party with eight founding members from the recently dissolved Diet. In addition to Abe Tomoko, they include Yamada Masahiko, the other half of Mr. Kamei’s two-man party, former Olympic judo champion Tani Ryoko, whom Mr. Ozawa groomed as a celebrity upper house candidate for the DPJ in 2010, and several men who have followed Mr. Ozawa through three political parties and now into a fourth.

A chart on the front page of this morning’s newspaper shows that Japan Future has 61 Diet members, which, if the Diet had not been dissolved, would make it the third-largest party behind the DPJ and LDP. When asked at a news conference how many members her party had, Ms. Kada replied:

“I understand there are about 73-74 as of now.”

“She understands”? She’s the boss. Doesn’t she know?

Of course she doesn’t know. Ms. Kada is sticking to her knitting as the Shiga governor while sallying forth for the occasional national speech and television performance. The people running the party are the people who really organized the party — Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka.

But Mr. Ozawa is so unpopular with the public that giving him a formal position in Japan Future would ensure it would be stillborn. Mr. Iida was asked if he would be made an officer, and he answered:

“I understand that he will not have that role.”

“He understands”? He’s the number two man in the party. Doesn’t he know?

It doesn’t take long for the Japanese media to ferret out information related to political plots, and they were quick off the ball this time as well. It turns out that Messrs. Ozawa and Kamei have been discussing ways to create a new party for the last three months. Mr. Ozawa had already met Gov. Kada in June and offered her the top job in People’s Lives First then. UPDATE: The latest report is that Iwate Gov. Tasso Tatsuya, an Ozawa supporter, made the proposal to Ms. Kada for this party in late September.

They met again last week to iron out the details. Reported the Asahi:

Kada offered a draft of her plan to form a loose alliance of anti-nuclear parties, comparing it to the Olive Tree coalition in Italy, when she met Ozawa on Nov. 24.

That’s a dead giveaway that she was hooked by the Ozawa line. Mr. Ozawa has been talking up the possibility of a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition for some months, though he already created one in the early 90s with the eight- and then seven-party coalition governments of Hosokawa Morihiro and Hata Tsutomu in the early 90s. That lasted less than a year, thanks in part to the efforts of Kamei Shizuka to sabotage them. But that was then, and this is now.

Everyone in Japanese politics also knew exactly what was going on. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

I hope she doesn’t become a puppet. I hope the big man behind her doesn’t manipulate her like a kuroko.

He was asked if Your Party would join the Japan Future Party, because they do share an anti-nuclear power stance. Mr. Watanabe said it wasn’t possible for this election because it was too late, and his party’s candidates have already been selected. Mr. Iida, however, said that policy discussions between the two groups were underway.

Reporters addressed that issue with Ms. Kada. Here’s what the boss said:

I will work so that this does not become the new Ozawa party, and embed mechanisms into the party that reflect the voices of women and young people.

The media is not about to let it go, either. They asked her again today, and she replied that the relationship would be beneficial because “he has a lot of experience and I have a lot to learn”.

And I have a need for one of those eye-rolling icons.

She also announced today that Mori Yuko, the token woman nominally in charge of Ozawa’s Putting People’s Lives First, will be given a leadership role in Japan Future. Ms. Mori is quite attractive, so the new party’s electoral strategy and organization has gone beyond obvious to blatant.

Even Azumi Jun, the acting Secretary-General of the DPJ knew what was up:

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

He also referred to the party as a kakikomidera. That was a temple during the Edo period to which a woman would flee to begin ascetic practices and thereby establish a divorce from her husband.

When he heard that Ms. Kada wants to restore the government stipend/child rearing allowance that the DPJ implemented and withdrew after the Tohoku disaster, Mr. Azumi said it looked like they were making the same mistake the DPJ made.

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

Ms. Kada is a true environmentalist, but if the structure of the party is such that Ozawa Ichiro has the real authority, it will fall apart.

Well, wait — some politicians thought it was a good idea. Here’s former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio:

The thinking of the Japan Future Party is the starting point for the ideas of the original Democratic Party of Japan.

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

One more aspect to this is Ms. Kada’s desire to create a new “third force” in Japanese politics. That is the phrase usually applied to the movement now spearheaded by Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The Japan Future Party is therefore an Ozawa-Kamei vehicle designed to crush that group.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen. The Japan Future Party was born out of Ozawa Ichiro’s desperation to remain a force in Japanese politics. Had he stood pat, his People’s Lives First party would have been the one to be crushed. That isn’t to say this move will be successful — the same newspaper chart this morning that gives Japan Future 61 members has photographs of both Ms. Kada and Mr. Ozawa. People know who’s pulling the strings, and a lot of them won’t like it.

Also, opposition to nuclear power has not been the path to electoral success in Japan, and polls show it isn’t near the top of the list of voter concerns. This might well be a last gasp rather than a new opening.

It’s almost possible to feel sorry for Kada Yukiko, until you remember that she was quite willing to make this Faustian bargain to serve as window dressing. While all politicos are liars who would do violence to us all (to combine observations from I.F. Stone and Tolstoy), people from her part of the political pasture are the most likely to believe that their righteously holy ends justify any means whatsoever. Even if that means lying to themselves to cut a deal with Old Scratch.

Whether this party is a success or a failure, one thing is certain: nothing good will come of this in the future. The more unpleasant of the two possibilities would manifest if the party is successful. That would mean Japan’s future really will be very bleak.

More Peculiarities

Speaking of desperate politicians, Prime Minister Noda plans to approve a JPY 880 billion emergency stimulus package this week. It is his second emergency stimulus package in two months. Of course this one won’t work either, but hey, it’s not his money. Don’t ask him what’s in it, because he doesn’t know. His party didn’t even know how the government funds for rebuilding the Tohoku region are being spent. Now they’ve decided to suspend some of them, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that their left hands don’t know what their right hands are doing.

This is an unusual step because the Diet has been dissolved. Yes, it does look like a last-gasp legal vote-buying scheme, doesn’t it?

The party’s new manifesto contains employment measures that will promote hiring in “green sectors” (energy and the environment) and the “life sector” (medical services and nursing care). They don’t seem to have learned anything from Spain that promoting green policy beggars the economy instead of making it better.

The party believes that this, combined with their consumption tax increase, will somehow increase household disposable income.

Well, what do you expect from a party of the left? Common sense? Sound financial policies? An understanding of how economic growth and prosperity for the greater population is created?

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

The person who understands how to increase employment in the agricultural sector is Hashimoto Toru. From a Hashimoto tweet this week:

Growing the agricultural sector through industrialization (i.e., agribusiness) is essential for Japan’s growth. Young people will not seek work with individual farmers. It would be better if blue chip companies got involved with agriculture. They will also be a source of employment for young people. Unless a situation is created that will attract young people, the sector will wither and die. Structural reform of this sector is the only path.

This was also the path selected by the Koizumi-Abe LDP, who implemented measures to promote the creation of agribusiness. The DPJ led by Ozawa Ichiro used those measures as leverage to win farm votes by promising to roll them back and provide government subsidies to individual farm households.

*****

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

Middling

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We must have people who can carry the country on their back, who have the vision for domestic and foreign affairs. We also must create a network of people who can implement that vision. I want to start getting ready… It isn’t that I think I have to be prime minister, but this country will be in real trouble unless there are several people like me. Look at Nagata-cho: Few politicians are preparing themselves to govern the nation.

- Hosono Goshi, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party Policy Bureau, 12 November

The Kyodo poll released in first week of November showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at 17.7%, down 11.5 points from previous month. It was the first time that Mr. Noda came in below 20% — representing the electorate’s utter rejection — in the Kyodo poll. That’s even lower than Hatoyama Yukio went. Those who don’t support the Cabinet totaled 66.1%, up 10.8 points. The plunge from an already unsustainable low level is attributed to the reaction to Mr. Noda’s poorly conceived Cabinet reshuffle and the continued defection of MPs leaving the party.

One report had an internal DPJ poll also showing that an election would turn their offices in the Diet into a charnel house. During their three years in government, their prime ministers and Cabinets have lurched from one dismal failure to the next. Their term in office has exposed their incompetence both as individuals and as a group. The MPs realize they won’t be successful if their campaign message consists of apologies. They have to rebrand themselves and stand for something.

Prime Minister Noda is set to call for an election this week, apparently having decided he can’t put it off any longer. He seems disposed to contest the next lower house election on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he favors. Others in his party, however, have a different idea. Some in the DPJ — whose center of gravity is social democracy and which has more than a few ex-Socialists — wants to run under the banner of moderation.

That faction also wants to run on the issue of national security, which is strange considering all they’ve done to mishandle security issues. It is a deliberate choice to rebrand and differentiate themselves from opposition LDP President Abe Shinzo and the former governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Ishihara Shintaro, who is forming a new party that he will call the Sun Party. Not mentioned by the DPJ, but just as much a factor, is Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his Japan Restoration Party.

During Question Time in the Diet on 31 October, Mr. Abe said:

We should recognize the execution of the collective right to self-defense. We must change the interpretation of the Constitution.

The current interpretation of the Constitution is a peculiar one. It permits collective self-defense, but successive governments have said they will not exercise it.

Another peculiar one is that Prime Minister Noda said the interpretation will not change, though his personal view on this matter is identical to that of Mr. Abe’s.

Hosono Goshi spoke of Ishihara Shintaro’s wish to discard the Constitution altogether and start from scratch:

That will be a point at issue in the next election. Will we uphold the history of the postwar period in which he have thought prudently about security, or will we reject it like Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe? That is our basic stance…they seem a little dangerous.

Said Acting DPJ Secretary General Azumi Jun:

There will be no change in the fundamental principle of pacifism….Some are of the opinion that we should take the plunge and change it, but we will not go down that road as long as I am in a position of responsibility.

That naturally leads to the following charge Mr. Hosono made during a debate with Hashimoto Toru on a television program:

Amending the Constitution would result in the elimination of the regulations of authority. Selecting Abe’s LDP and Ishihara’s new party contains the danger that war might break out.

The objective of this faction in the party is to define themselves as middle-of-the-road (中道). Again from Mr. Azumi:

LDP President Abe is more right-wing than anyone in the LDP has been before…we will uphold the good postwar tradition of being smack in the middle of the middle of the road.

Remember that for this faction, smack in the middle of the middle of the road is pacifism. One wonders what there is to the left of that.

Abe Shinzo charged that the new cleavage to the center represented the DPJ’s “fallen spirit”, and that it was “an ugly attempt to pander to the public”.

Of course, Sengoku Yoshito, one of the party’s several vice presidents and a former member of the Socialist Party, couldn’t let that stand:

Let’s have a public debate about our beliefs, philosophies, policies… Abe Shinzo is a third-generation politician, and he’s about reached his limit.

Mr. Abe replied by saying he had no time to respond to all Diet members, though he later offered to hold a written debate with Mr. Sengoku on his Facebook page. (That’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s the easiest way to ensure the largest possible audience.)

There are two problems with the DPJ’s rebranding, however. The first is that the party doesn’t have a clear definition of what middle-of-the-road means. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya took a stab when he elaborated on the phrase “middle-of-the-road democracy” that was included in the party’s basic principles when they were founded in 1998:

It indicates the range from middle-of-the-road liberals to moderate conservatives.

That will leave out many in the DPJ if they decide to tell the truth about their beliefs.

Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji is another who thinks it’s not clear what middle of the road is supposed to mean. He’s coming out with a book soon — he still wants to be prime minister — that says his party, the DPJ, has a problem with governance, and they’ve shaken the people’s trust. His idea is that the party should reorganize and retain the conservatives who share the same concepts and directions.

The second problem is that Prime Minister Noda doesn’t consider himself middle-of-the-road. During a meeting with Mr. Azumi and Mr. Hosono last month at the Kantei, he told them:

“I’m conservative. You can’t use the term middle of the road.”

Instead of that expression, he prefers chuyo (中庸), or moderate.

But why stop now that we’ve started talking about peculiar definitions of words? Here’s some more on Noda Yoshihiko’s political philosophy, as expressed last November during the upper house debate on the consumption tax increase.

Mr. Noda was asked by MP Kawasaki Minoru, who is in the same party:

I do not understand the basis of your economic policy. Do you intend to reduce the role of government and move from the bureaucracy to the people, or will you have a big government with enhanced social welfare?

Mr. Noda’s answer:

I do not think in terms of a binomial opposition of big government and small government.

He later added what he does think in terms of:

The values that humankind has risked its life to obtain are liberty and equality. Both of these are essential. When a socialistic outlook is strong, we come out with our right foot of liberty. When the gaps among members of society grow, we must put out our left foot of equality. The policy judgment differs with the age.

During the consumption tax debate he said it was time for the left foot.

In other words, the man who objects to the use of middle-of-the-road and calls himself a conservative is actually a proponent of the Third Way. That’s not even on the same continent as conservatism. Seldom will you hear a self-described conservative find ways to argue for a compromise on liberty.

But while the DPJ is arguing what words mean, with some presenting party dissolution scenarios and some staying true to middle-of-the-road pacifism to keep the fire-breathers from starting a war, other people with less interest in semantics might make up their minds for them.

Ye Xiaowen, a member of the China-Japan Friendship 21st Century Committee, wrote an article that appeared on Japanese-language Searchina site that focuses on China. The title of the article, which isn’t very friendly to Japan, is, “Four things Noda doesn’t understand” .

Here’s the fourth:

He doesn’t understand that America can stick its nose into the Senkaku islets dispute, but can they be expected to help Japan if something happens there?

It sounds like he thinks he knows the answer, doesn’t it?

One thing a lot of other people don’t understand is how middle-of-the-road pacifism would be an acceptable response. You have to be in the DPJ to figure that one out.

*****

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

Ichigen koji (182)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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

Environmental Minister Hosono Goshi was appointed as chairman of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council (i.e. the body in charge of party policy), and Finance Minister Azumi Jun was appointed as acting party Secretary-General. Just what does the DPJ think a Cabinet Minister is? I understand they probably have difficulty finding suitable people for those positions, but I can only view this as disrespecting the post of Cabinet Minister. I want them to serve in their jobs in government until this administration is over.

- Matsuda Kota, upper house member from Your Party

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

New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The) next (lower house election) will be the last chance to change Japan…We must sweep away the old politics of Japan and create the new…If there is a call for what is happening in Osaka to be extended throughout Japan, One Osaka will answer the call.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

SOME people say that governments at the subnational level make the best public sector laboratories. Groups and politicians at that level in Japan are beavering away at the lab workbench to produce useful new devices. The National Political Establishment (NPE) is at work in their own lab, but they’ve spent their time creating mini-monsters which they proclaim to be beautiful in form and function.

Here’s a look at some of the beauties and the beasts.

Vouchers

The Osaka City government under Mayor Hashimoto Toru will implement a program to provide vouchers to low-income parents in Nishinari Ward, enabling them to send their children to private-sector, extra-curricular educational institutes. Not only did the magician pull the voucher rabbit out of his hat, he kept the rabbit invisible from the teachers’ unions until the measure was adopted.

Roughly one in four people in the Airin district in the ward receive public assistance. The voucher program will begin in September and be extended throughout the city starting with the new school year in April. There are about 950 eligible junior high school students in the ward. Up to about 70% of junior high school students in the city will be eligible for a JPY 10,000 voucher every month to use both at juku (supplementary educational institutes mistakenly referred to as cram schools) and other institutions. The reports mentioned sports instruction; one example might be swimming schools for children, of which there are many in Japan. (This probably also applies to small classrooms offering lessons in calligraphy and other such pursuits.) They will not be used for regular private schools. The institutions offering the instruction must register with the city.

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

“The amount of work he (Hashimoto) has accomplished in six months as mayor is more than four years’ worth of work for an ordinary mayor. Most of it involves intricate problems local to Osaka, so the Tokyo media doesn’t cover it, but the real Hashimoto can be seen in those local policies. I understood what he was doing when I spoke with him on a debate program in Osaka.”

The praise from Mr. Ikeda is noteworthy because he is pro-nuclear power and had a short but intense Tweet battle with the mayor over that issue. Mr. Ikeda was stunned because this is the first educational voucher program in Japan, and it has received next to no publicity. He says it resembles the system first proposed by Milton Friedman 50 years ago of supplementing tuition costs by giving vouchers to parents, rather than giving public funds to public schools.

“This, in effect, will privatize public schools, which will arouse strong opposition from public school teachers. That’s why no country has ever done it. Some American states have voucher programs, but the federal government does not. President Bush proposed something similar in 2002, but it was buried by the intense Democratic Party and labor union opposition. It was brought up as a topic in the Abe administration, but seldom discussed. During a conference with DPJ officials, I suggested they quit their giveaways such as the child support allowance and implement educational vouchers. They told me: ‘As soon as they hear the word voucher, the Japan Teachers’ Union says they will never permit it’.”

Teachers’ unions: God love ‘em. What would education be without them?

Mr. Ikeda adds that unions might have withheld their opposition because the vouchers are not for regular education, and thinks they are unlikely to be adopted at the national level. He hopes the program becomes so successful that other local governments will adopt it in their regions. He notes that the OECD has come out in favor of a switch to a “rational system” of vouchers for nursery schools, but Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry ignores that.

Finally, he says the important aspect to consider is that public subsidies are being provided to consumers, similar to Mr. Hashimoto’s negative income tax proposal, which redistributes income directly to individuals without passing through intermediate companies or other organizations. It is a significant change in Japan’s welfare and education policies.

“The opposition to Mr. Hashimoto’s policy of introducing competitive principles in education is strong, but parents will not accept the argument of maintaining the current system under the guise of neutrality in education, when students cannot even speak English properly.”

There are reports the local Kansai media has started with the sob stories, however: The heartless Hashimoto reforms are depriving the poor children of places to go to.

It’s a waste of time to get aroused by the news media any longer. They’re only fulfilling their primary function — to entertain. Expecting them to do anything else is pointless.

Personnel expenses

The mayor proposed sharp cuts in expenditures for the municipal transportation bureau earlier this year. The city’s bus drivers in particular receive a salary 38% higher than their private sector counterparts in Osaka, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. The bus operations alone have been in the red for 29 straight years. He was able to coax out JPY 4.2 billion in cuts from the bureau this year after four bargaining sessions that ended on the night of the 10th. This includes a 20% across-the-board cut of management salaries, and a 3%-19% reduction for regular employees. The new, lower salaries take effect in August. Nakamura Yoshio, the head of the city’s transport workers’ union, said the primary concern of the union was to protect jobs.

Arts subsidies

We’ve seen before that Hashimoto Toru was able to eliminate subsidies to musical groups as governor of Osaka Prefecture, and is now involved in debates to rethink the local subsidies to the traditional art of bunraku. He’s also made an issue out of the public funds the city gives to the Osaka Philharmonic.

After much discussion, the city has decided to cut 10% of the orchestra’s subsidy in the upcoming fiscal year, and continue the reductions in subsequent years. Said the mayor:

“The Osaka Philharmonic now recognizes they have to move in the direction of self-sufficiency. I have some respect (for the person assigned) to create a course toward self-sufficiency in four years, with a three-year preparatory period in the interval. That differs from unthinkingly providing operating subsidies, as has been the case until now.”

Here’s why he thinks the subsidies should be reduced or eliminated:

“The Osaka Philharmonic has completely forgotten their work of attracting an audience. They do not hesitate at all to demand that a certain amount of their income be guaranteed, regardless of the amount of audience revenue or whether or not an audience comes, just because they practice a sophisticated art.”

The city will establish an Arts Council of third party evaluators in August to handle the subject of all subsidies to the arts.

The political class

Reporter to Mr. Hashimoto: When working to achieve an Osaka Metropolitan District, should the number of city council delegate be reduced?

Hashimoto: Politics now should be conducted without excuses. If the Democratic Party of Japan had cut civil service expenses by 20% and the number of Diet members by 180 when their coalition had a majority in both houses, their support rate would have stayed 90% forever. Things have come to this pass because they failed to use their opportunity. Whether or not the Osaka Metro District becomes a reality, it is the mission of politics to show the direction toward reduction if there are too many legislators.

The point he makes in the second sentence is a point I’ve made many times: Japan’s electorate has demonstrated time and again what it wants and the type of politicians it wants to support, but other than Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the NPE time and again ignores them.

Speaking of expense cutting, One Osaka will introduce legislation to reduce from JPY 510,000 to JPY 420,000 the research allowances city legislators receive in addition to their salaries. These allowances have been a point at issue at the sub-national government level throughout the country for the past few years. Local governments have found they can save money simply by requiring receipts and expense accounts for these allowances. When that happens, more unused funds are returned to the treasury every year.

Ward officers

There is a definite sense of a “Go West, young man” phenomenon in Osaka for people wishing to take an active part in the political experimentation. After his election as mayor, Hashimoto Toru solicited applications from around the country for people to serve as the chief executive officer of the city’s 24 wards. They came, they applied, and the hirings were recently announced.

The youngest new ward chief is a 27-year-old former NHK reporter, and the oldest, at 60, is the former head of the prefectural labor committee office in Iwate. One is a former Kansai Electric Power company employee, and another was the mayor of Kasai in Hyogo. The man selected for the post in Nishinari, where the educational voucher program has begun, was the former chief municipal officer of Nakagawa-cho in Tokushima.

Eighteen of the 24 now live outside Osaka. The other six are incumbents already on the job. The 18 new ward chiefs will start work in August — except for the two who now live overseas.

One Osaka is also taking on the issue of government involvement in social welfare expenditures. That story requires a post of its own, however.

Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet, spoke to the students of the One Osaka political juku earlier this week. He commented:

“After the discussion with the class was over, I talked with Mayor Hashimoto, Gov. Matsui, and One Osaka Policy Chief Asada. I honestly hope their aspirations and energy will be the savior of Japanese politics, where ugly battles over political advantage continue keep progress at a standstill.”

Perhaps this phenomenon might be best understood as the Koizumi Reforms V.2.

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

Your Party is the sole ally of One Osaka among the national parties. Last month, the party submitted a bill to the Diet to convert the national pension system to a pay-as-you-go scheme. The objective is to ameliorate the problem of a younger working population growing progressively smaller transferring its income to an older retired population growing progressively larger. Their plan was devised by first term upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who is said to be an expert on accounting.

The party also submitted a bill that would require party primaries to select candidates for Diet seats. Officials in all parties now select their candidates. By making the candidates responsible primarily to the voters rather than to the party, it would go a long way toward ending the nonsense of an insistence on straight party line votes in the Diet, with punishments for those who buck the bosses, either through conscience or personal interest.

Neither bill will be approved, but it is a glimpse of coming attractions in the event the regional rebels and their allies take control of the national government.

Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka recently issued a revised version of its eight statements of principle for the next lower house election. It too included a passage calling for a pay-as-you-go pension. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi read the document and said, “It’s difficult to find any (policy) areas that differ from Your Party.”

He added:

“If Mr. Hashimoto himself decides to run in a general election, the impact would be tremendous. Then, each of the political forces would not have to fight separately, but work together in accord on policy and principle to stop higher taxes, prevent the resumption of nuclear power generation, and achieve regional sovereignty. Conditions could be created for a decisive battle with the tax increase coalition of the DPJ and LDP that defend groups with vested interests, starting with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

“In that event, there would be no meaning in contesting 100 or 150 seats. We must put up candidates in all 300 election districts and win a majority.”

Maybe he won’t run, but from a media report on the 28th last month:

Mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group will assist candidates nationwide in the next Lower House election who favor fundamental tax reforms that would greatly reduce the central government’s power of the purse.

Hashimoto made the announcement at an Osaka Ishin no Kai fundraiser Thursday night that was attended by 1,500 people, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close Hashimoto supporter who is expected to field his own candidates in the next Lower House election.

The Osaka mayor criticized the way the Diet handled the recent passage of legislation to raise the consumption tax, and said changing the structure of the tax system to give local authorities more control over how the money is spent will now be the major campaign issue.

“We can change Japan by simply making the consumption tax a local tax and abolishing the system whereby the central government allocates a portion of tax money to localities. Financially, this will allow local governments to become more independent from the central government,” Hashimoto said.

Head ‘em off at the pass

The Democratic Party, their coalition partner the People’s New Party (yes, they’re still around), the Liberal Democrats, their New Komeito partners, and Your Party have reached agreement to reconcile their separate bills to create an Osaka Metro District, the signature issue of Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. (The three bills were those submitted by #1+#2, #3+#4, and #5 respectively.) It will allow the creation of special districts resembling the 23 wards of Tokyo, which Mr. Hashimoto wants to provide with more autonomy. The chief executive officers of the wards would be chosen by election. The new bill, which will be submitted by all five parties this Diet session, will enable any specially designated city (which has authority resembling that of a prefecture) to merge with surrounding local governments if there is an aggregate population of two million.

Your Party has favored such a plan since the party’s inception, and they also propose an administrative reorganization of prefecture-level governments into a state/province system.

Mr. Watanabe again:

“Looking back on the course of events, this groundbreaking plan was created with One Osaka, and it overturns existing national law based on Your Party’s regional initiatives. The LDP and New Komeito have come closer to our position. DPJ had various (internal) issues, but they’ve compiled a plan that moves in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it is the first step in changing Japan’s governance mechanisms.”

The other four parties, however, are backing the legislation because they think it’s an inexpensive way to co-opt the mayor and his movement, and thereby protect their seats against a local party revolt.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that, even after the bill passes. For the NPE to give in a little to the regional rebels might have the same effect of implementing glasnost and perestroika during the Soviet endgame — hastening the process of change, rather than preventing it.

Nagoya

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi might be one of the first to take advantage of that new law in addition to One Osaka. He’s proposed a new twist to the Chukyo Metro District concept that would encompass both Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, governed by ally Omura Hideaki, another local rebel. Mr. Kawamura calls it the Owari Nagoya Republic (Owari being the name of an ancient settlement and later a domain in western Aichi), which would have a population of four million. He’s anxious to discuss it with Mr. Omura.

Gov. Omura, however, was initially lukewarm and said the republic was a different concept than the idea they both ran on in the February 2011 election they won by landslides, and they shouldn’t change.

“I don’t know whether he wants a merger with the surrounding municipalities or a regional alliance. This won’t turn out to be anything but talk unless the details are ironed out.”

Other Nagoya city officials said they understood the city and the prefecture had different ideas, but the city should keep the republic concept in mind. Mr. Omura said that Nagoya City Hall should put some more thought into the matter to determine what they want to do.

They’ll probably find common ground. They’ve got the wind at their back, and they realize it’s in their interests to work together.

Mr. Omura isn’t impressed with the NPE either, by the way:

“Moving toward a tax increase without governmental reform and without a growth strategy is nonsense. The discussions between the DPJ and the LDP were just to rig the game.”

And Mr. Kawamura opened an office for his local Tax Reduction Japan party in Tokyo on Monday. Another of his money-saving ideas is eliminating the pensions of national and local legislators. Your Party lower house member Kakizawa Mito attended the opening ceremony, but said he felt a bit out of place because Ozawa Ichiro was there as well.

The beasts

The NPE is offering new ideas of their own, and the one thing they have in common is that all of them are bad. Start with this from the Nikkei Shimbun to see what I mean:

Allowing company employees to retire at age 40 would give Japan’s labor market a much-needed churn, according to a government report outlining a long-term vision for the nation.

The “Frontier” report, issued Friday by a National Policy Unit subcommittee, recommends polices for maximizing individual and corporate productivity, with the aim of transforming Japan by 2050.

Employment policy holds prominent place in the vision. Blaming the current retirement age of 60 for hindering job turnover, the report calls for loosening employment rules to allow people to retire at 40, an age when many workers reach management positions. Companies choosing this option would be required to provide income assistance to early retirees for one to two years.

What the Nikkei article doesn’t mention, but a Japanese-language article in the Mainichi Shimbun did, is that the proposed system would allow people to work to age 75 if they want to. The idea is to create a mechanism enabling people to leave at age 40 after grinding away for some monolith, and then switch to a small, vibrant growth company.

It is not the business of government to decide when a company should let a person retire, much less act as if it were a vision for transforming the nation. Nor is it their business to require a company to pay a stipend to a person who decides to take a hike at 40 and get retraining to work somewhere else.

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki recommends the government go first and put it in practice themselves, seeing as how they’ve come up with other ideas that are a model for the private sector. She cited the 20-day paid work furloughs and extending maternity leave for teachers from one year to three.

The report also recommends creating worker retraining programs, placing term limits on all employment agreements and eliminating the distinction between full-time and temporary workers.

That’s another step closer to the fascisto-progressive ideal of the corporative state. The private sector is allowed to retain ownership of the company as long as they do what the public sector wants them to do.

The proposals are certain to meet with stiff resistance from workers opposed to being pushed into early retirement, and from firms who see training young employees as an upfront investment to be recouped later.

As well as from those who realize that no one in any government anywhere has the capacity to dictate how a company should run its affairs. Had they the capacity to do so, they’d be running companies themselves.

Then again, some governments in Japan do. About 20 years ago, there was a boom in what was called the Third Sector, or in the United States, public-private sector partnerships. Companies and local governments found ways to go into business together for some do-gooder reason or another. More than 70% of them are in the red. One mini-shopping mall in my city went bankrupt within two years.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Hashimoto in Osaka has an idea how to deal with the Third Sector, too. The city and prefecture of Osaka, in partnership with another local city and a quasi-government agency, had a 70% stake in the Osaka Textile Resource Center, which was capitalized (excessively) at JPY 2.75 billion. The private sector ownership included the chamber of commerce and industry, a few companies in the textile industry, and some trading companies.

The center was created in 1990 to support and improve the textile business based on the Textile Vision of the old Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988. It was involved with consulting work, research surveys, design development, training, and event planning. It lost JPY 73 million in 2011, and the prefecture covered its liabilities that year with a JPY 1.033 billion loan. Nevertheless, it essentially stopped functioning last summer.

Mr. Hashimoto cut off the city stipend, and it went out of business on 15 June.

Speaking of other operations that are losing money, the Japanese government is 200% in the red. But they want to create a vision to transform Japan by redefining the employer-employee relationship?

The fertility rate would improve if people had more choices for when and where they work, the report contends.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Said Mr. Noda about the report: “We must present a pioneering model for the state to the world.”

What makes politicians and their orbiting bureaucrats and academics think they need to create a model for the state, when it’s beyond their abilities to operate the existing ones? Every modern model created for a state has flopped face down in the mud, often accompanied by industrial-scale deprivation and death.

Some people think government is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s got it backwards. This is as fixed as government ever gets. What we’ve got now needs to be broken, rethought, and reorganized into the smallest possible units that prevent anarchy.

Not working is good for the economy

The government and the DPJ are discussing a plan to create three day weekends by providing a compensatory day off if a national holiday falls on a Saturday. That’s already the case with Sunday holidays. They think this will stimulate domestic tourism.

Don’t laugh — these are the same folks who think raising the consumption tax will encourage people to consume more.

And these are the same people who think they can create a pioneering model for the state.

As the report had it, this will be included in the Cabinet’s Japan Revival Strategy, which will also include sections for the creation of new industries, in light of the Tohoku disaster.

How can they expect to create new industries when they can’t even balance a budget?

They’re also still talking about a long holiday (a week or so) in the fall, similar to the Golden Week holiday in the spring, to be taken in shifts in regional areas. The stimulation of domestic tourism is also the objective with this plan.

It is unlikely to happen, however, because corporations throughout the country realize that a long holiday in one part of the country will be a long semi-holiday everywhere else. Politicians would realize it too, if they had ever spent quality time in the private sector.

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

As of last Sunday, restaurants were prohibited from serving raw beef liver by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which advises heating the liver to its core before serving, especially during summer.

The ministry reviewed the hygiene standards for beef in the wake of a series of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain in spring last year.

The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found to exist in beef liver, and no effective method of disinfecting raw liver has been determined.

The ministry is calling on food and beverage establishments to take such measures as heating liver to its center for at least one minute at 75 C, and using separate tongs, chopsticks and cooking utensils for raw meat.

Restaurants that violate the guidelines will be reprimanded by local governments.

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

“We will make every effort to make sure that (the regulation) is being properly complied with.”

Another source reported that rather than reprimands, those who violate the ban could be sentenced to up to two years in jail or a JPY two million fine.

This from a country that has been eating the poisonous blowfish as haute cuisine for centuries.

Sankei Shimbun journalist Abiru Rui blogged about the subject. He was speaking casually to an aide of an LDP Diet member, and the ban came up in the conversation. She was unhappy:

“I don’t want the government to decide what I can eat! The DPJ government has spent all its time pursuing creepy, wooly-headed ideas, but this is the first time I really hate what they’ve done….”

Mr. Abiru noted that if the LDP were to propose lifting the ban on liver, it would conform to the spirit of self-help, and asked: If you strongly supported lifting the ban on the principle of individual freedom, wouldn’t you risk being branded a neo-liberal?

“Maybe.”

In other words, she was ready for it and didn’t care.

The Japanese left likes to use that expression as if it were a trump card, but they never seem do it in the presence of neo-liberals. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll get stuck with the Old Maid.

Maybe I should have Cafepress print up some neo-liberal t-shirts.

Russell Roberts recently observed that some people would never intervene in the lives of their neighbors, but are anxious to make society at large conform to whatever their cause du jour happens to be.

Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility (of intervening in the lives of strangers). They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well.

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

An army of reserve soldiers that was never mobilized after last year’s disasters has been cited as an example of waste by Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who also called for tighter control of government spending.

Funny how the Seamoon finance minister and his party couldn’t dispose of much waste at all with their policy reviews, even though they and everyone else knows where to find plenty of it. Or that he voted for his party’s three consecutive record-high budgets. Or that this minor example of government waste is the best he can do, when other people suggest that entire agencies and ministries could be eliminated entirely.

But with the likely passage of the consumption tax increase, his programmers in the Finance Ministry want him out in front on “tighter control of government spending”, much in the way they spread the silliness, parroted by the lazy English-language media, that Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko were “fiscal hawks” during their terms as Finance Ministry press secretaries finance ministers. (The fiscal equivalent of wings, talons, and a knowledge of hawk behavior are requirements for fiscal hawk impersonators. They were the fiscal equivalent of wingless birds with webbed feet.)

International edition

From another generic report:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has praise for Japan’s move to raise its sales tax to curb the swollen national debt.

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

Lagarde, 56, receives a pay and benefits package worth more than American president Barack Obama earns from the United States government, and he pays taxes on it…

Officials from the various organisations (IMF, et al.) have long maintained that the high salaries are a way of attracting talent from the private sector. In fact, most senior employees are recruited from government posts.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s political group will seek a referendum apparently with the goal of easing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, policy proposals obtained Thursday that may be part of the group’s campaign platform for the next general election indicate.

Asian neighbors are concerned, due to historical reasons, with Japan’s move to amend its constitution, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The standard Chinese response whenever another nation has an issue with their behavior is to dismiss it by saying it is unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Yet whenever another country does something that rubs their fur the wrong way, such as giving a visa to the Dalai Lama or former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, or arresting fishing boat captains that run amok, they react as if they were a 70-year-old nun who had just received a proposition for anal intercourse from a sake-soaked derelict who’s lived in a cardboard box under a bridge for the past two years.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

*****
Whichever directions become tomorrow’s ephemeral path to the promised land, the double disasters of the Democratic Party government and the Tohoku/Fukushima problems have had the salutory effect of arousing the public, particularly the reading and thinking public. The betrayal by the DPJ and the institutional response to the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami has demonstrated to everyone the necessity for taking the responsibility to take action on their own. That process has started.

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

Just 12 days after another declaration of One Osaka’s readiness to participate in the next national election, Mayor Hashimoto took everyone by surprise yet again on 10 July:

“Prime Minister Noda is amazing (sugoi). He’s worked out an agreement between five parties on a bill to create an Osaka Metro District, he’s raised the consumption tax…he supports the collective right to self-defense, he wants to join the TPP, and is also talking about a state/province system. He has expressed his sense of values and his central beliefs…There are divergent opinions within the party, but he has indicated a specific direction…He is implementing the politics of decisiveness. I think the DPJ rate of support will rapidly recover.”

Remember, two weeks ago he criticized the DPJ handling of the consumption tax and cited it as one of the reasons One Osaka would establish a national presence.

Also:

“There are people in the LDP and DPJ whose thinking is similar. We have hopes for a political reorganization. ..The thinking of many mid-tier and younger members of the LDP is similar to the prime minister’s. If affairs continue to proceed on this course, they could create a new group, and I think their popularity would soar.”

That immediately started speculation of a One Osaka – Noda DPJ alliance, although it might be possible to interpret his transcribed statements as forecasting just a rump DPJ/LDP alliance.

But Mr. Hashimoto also noted the difficulties of working with Mr. Noda as long as the DPJ maintains its ties with the public sector unions, the party’s largest support group. Among the mayor’s principal accomplishments in politics has been his readiness to pick a fight with those unions — and win. He can’t expect, nor does he want, any part of an alliance with them.

Thus, the remnants of the post-Ozawa Democratic Party would have to split further into (a) the labor union left and (b) everyone else. That would leave not so many of everyone else. Further, a realignment with elements of the DPJ and the LDP would cause a split between One Osaka and Your Party, and their members constitute an important part of the One Osaka political juku.

I would not read too much into this, for the nonce anyway. Mr. Hashimoto says all sorts of things. Four years ago, when he was Osaka governor, he said Hatoyama Yukio was sugoi. A few months ago, he said Ozawa-sensei was sugoi. It is unlikely that he takes Mr. Hatoyama seriously, and he had this to say about Mr. Ozawa when talking about Mr. Noda’s sugoi-ness:

“(The new party is) Ozawa-sensei’s idea. There are different ways of thinking, and he chose to take that action.”

You can feel the wet blanket, can’t you?

And speaking of Mr. Hatoyama, his criticism of Noda Yoshihiko on the same day was pertinent to the discussion:

“He can’t even govern the party, so how can he be expected to govern the nation?”

With Hashimoto Toru, actions speak louder than words. He’s a lawyer, after all. Better just to wait and see what he does. It’s impossible to know his strategy. What we do know is that he will do something.

*****
The NPE might be off course, but Off Course never were. This performance of Ai wo Tomenaide (Don’t Stop Love) appeared on their live double LP in the pre-digital age.

I’m knocking on the door to your heart.
And your heart is softly, softly starting to shake.

Posted in China, Education, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fed up

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 29, 2012

JAPAN’S lower house passed the consumption tax increase by a margin large enough to override a defeat in the upper house, and now the commentary has started rolling in. With the exception of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, most of the National Political Establishment (NPE), the national dailies rewriting Finance Ministry briefings and handouts, the IMF, Keidanren, and The Economist (the inflight magazine for Davos Man), everyone is fed up.

One of them is the blogger known as Ryoko 174. She focused on the gap between the young and the old. Here’s much of what she said.

*****
In the future, the structure of preferential treatment for the elderly and the exploitation of the young will grow stronger, rather than be eliminated. Politics is a type of business, so it provides services that target its preferential customers. That’s because it’s not possible to satisfy all of the customers.

According to the general theory of marketing, customers are classified into several segments, and the main target becomes the preferential customers in large numbers who have the propensity to pay for the services. Let’s look at the customer volume for Japan’s political business by age:

(The chart shows the voting population in 2008. The numbers at the right represent age groups.)

As you can see, a party could theoretically win two-thirds of the seats by capturing the votes of those aged 50 and older. (The group aged 50 and older, by the way, has more than 70% of Japan’s individual financial assets.) That’s because of the large numbers of elderly in Japan’s aged population, and the fact that the older the age group, the more likely they are to vote. Also, under the current system, an individual vote in an area with a higher aged population has a greater weight than an individual vote in the cities, so the presence of the elderly in politics is greater than the graph indicates.

In other words, the elderly are the blue-chip customers for Japan’s politicians, and those aged 40 and younger are a niche market. In a worst-case scenario, they can even be cut adrift. That’s why when some shout about the unfairness to the young, the politicians dismiss it as noise from the hecklers who aren’t part of their target customers.

The confiscation from today’s working generation in Japan is like eating the seed rice, and this structure is being strengthened…The aging of society will accelerate in the future, and this structure will become even stronger. There is unlikely to be any improvement.

Unfortunately, I think we have already passed the point of no return for ameliorating the age differential in Japan. Therefore, we should have no expectations for politics, which relies on other people, and should instead endeavor to protect ourselves.

*****
It’s no surprise that the people at the Seetell website are just as fed up, and they mince no words either:

This tax hike was billed as a necessary measure to “help make social security sustainable” (Noda) and to show the world that Japan was serious about fixing its debt problems. Japan Finance Minister Azumi declared, “We took a major step forward toward our goal. Unlike in Europe, politicians in Japan are putting words into action.”

Someone has to dunk that boy’s head in a bucket of ice water. Right now. Several times.

And yet, the tax hike does nothing to solve social security or retire Japan’s debt or even stop the annual increase in debt. If anything, given politicians predilection to spend, it merely gives the government more money to waste. And people are already lining up for that money.

They quote the Nikkei:

While demand will likely surge before the tax is raised from the current 5%, consumers could hold off on big-ticket items as the levy is upped to 8% and then to 10%.

Some companies are pushing the government to take steps to tackle reduced spending.Takeo Higuchi, chairman of the Japan Federation of Housing Organizations, calls for measures to help homebuyers.

And observe:

So, some of this money will go to prop up the construction and real estate industry, traditional political favorites. There are also concerns that low income Japanese will be unfairly hurt by the hike, so the proposal is to send cash payments directly to that certain segment of the economy.

Instead of employing the sensible solution of the Brits and making food, children’s clothing, and books tax exempt.

As indicated earlier, it is probable that consumer spending will tank after the tax hike hits. In many ways, it is no different than the government’s corporate welfare programs such as Eco-points, subsidies for “green” appliances, flat panel TVS, and autos….So, we will get a GDP surge of JPY 7.7 trillion followed by a total decline of JPY 10.3 trillion, a loss of JPY 2.6 trillion.

They see the same problems that Ryoko 174 sees:

And, of course, politicians will be loathe to cut welfare benefits to voters, especially retirees who vote in larger numbers than the younger generation. In fact, part of the deal between Noda’s DPJ and the LDP to pass the bill stopped any reform efforts that would decrease benefits to seniors, a particularly large voting base for the LDP. This is critical because passing this bill will probably cost the DPJ their majority status in the next general election, either this summer or next, opening the door for a return of the LDP.

This isn’t entirely true: The LDP wanted the DPJ to renounce the clause in their manifesto calling for the repeal of the LDP-implemented system that has the late stage elderly (75 or older) with sufficient financial resources to pay more for their healthcare. (The DPJ just shelved it.) It came into effect during the Fukuda administration, and the senior welfare kings and queens immediately started whining to the media that the government wanted them to “hurry up and die”. You’d have thought the LDP had instituted an Obama-style Death Panel or something like NICE in Britain, though that wasn’t the case.

But wait for it:

There is no rosy future for the Japanese people because of this downward spiral of more debt, higher costs, and higher taxes. A telling passage in a Nikkei article explains the logic behind this fatally flawed policy.

“The current generation of workers are reining in spending due to fears about the nation’s financial health and the sustainability of the social welfare system,” explains Ryutaro Kono, chief economist at BNP Paribas Securities (Japan) Ltd.

By this logic, consumption could grow if households’ anxiety about the future can be put to rest by the tax hike.

In plain language, the logic states that consumers will be more confident in their future and, thus, will spend more money if the government takes increasingly larger amounts of their wealth by artificially raising prices on both necessities and luxuries. Consumers will have less money to spend but will be willing to spend more of it. This is the basis for Japan’s economic revival through tax increases.

You’d be surprised at how many otherwise intelligent people are peddling the “consumers will have less money to spend but will be willing to spend more of it” lameness. (One is Ikeda Nobuo, whose views I frequently present here.)

They conclude:

Without massive cuts in spending, a total rethinking of the welfare system, and major reform of the bureaucracy, these tax hikes will only add to Japan’s woes and continue its inevitable decline.

It is most interesting that some Europeans are equally fed up for many of the same reasons, without knowing much of what is happening in Japan. Try this by George Handlery at The Brussels Journal site:

An era of pleasing self-deception is ending.

An economic collapse, to be followed by a political one, is threatening Europe. The global economy and your share of it might not remain immune. The problem is self-generated. Thereby, the entire, economically industrialized and politically democratic, world’s economic fundamentals are endangered….Its rot…is due to the interrelationships created by the “political class” and regardless of denials, a process that affects all. The crisis managers and the means of those in charge of repairs are (of) dubious quality.

Replace “Europe” with “Japan” in that sentence and the meaning isn’t altered a whit.

The Greeks created a coalition government. The purpose is not to rectify but to please the EU. The movers are unqualified to overcome the vicissitudes that they were elected to lay to rest. That is because earlier, they have subscribed to the approach that had caused the crisis. Governing continues to be associated with making presents. The error is not new: those elected to cure ailments are the ones that have created the mess that demands attention.

Another alteration of proper nouns wouldn’t change the meaning of that passage either:

The Japanese National Political Establishment created a de facto coalition government. The purpose is not to rectify but to please the Finance Ministry. The movers are unqualified to overcome the vicissitudes that they were elected to lay to rest. That is because earlier, they have subscribed to the approach that had caused the crisis. Governing continues to be associated with making presents. The error is not new: those elected to cure ailments are the ones that have created the mess that demands attention.

That last sentence should be printed on a placard and hung around the necks of every DPJ member of the Diet.

Mr. Handlery predicts “government by riot” in Europe. I do not think that happens in Japan. Before that, I think we’ll see a government by the regional rebels and their allies.

*****
Earlier we had some silly juvenile gasconade from Azumi Jun, the Seamoon Finance Minister, about Japan’s courage compared to their European cousins for dealing with the financial problems they’ve all created and just made worse. If you think that referring to him as the Boy Finance Minister is just Wild West Internet pot shooting, try this Seetell translation of a Nikkei blurb:

Government bean counters do not usually need to be told not to drink on the job. But on Tuesday, when Finance Minister Jun Azumi issued that unusual directive, the lower house passed a bill to raise the consumption tax. “You could almost hear the sigh of relief” at the ministry, says one source.

Azumi’s “prohibition” did not stop with alcohol. He also asked everyone to refrain from smiling. At a news conference, he gave a sober assessment of the bill’s advance: “If this were mountain climbing, we’d be exactly halfway.” The message to staffers seemed to be “don’t get carried away.”

After more than 120 hours of debate in the lower house, Azumi must have felt some swelling of emotion. He would doubtless be smiling himself — if the tax issue had not torn his ruling Democratic Party of Japan asunder.

What the translation does not include is that the ban request for self-restraint on smiling specifies “showing the teeth”.

What are Finance Ministry personnel doing that they need to be told by the likes of The Seamoon not to drink on the job? To what sort of person would it occur to even think of banning smiling? Does the ban also include him?

And to think some people are in hysterics because Hashimoto Toru banned tattoos for Osaka municipal employees.

I’ve got cash money that says the English language mass media will not even mention this, and if they do, the amount of stories will be fractionally fewer than those on the tattooed few suffering under the lash of Hashism.

Of course people are fed up. We’ve reached the reductio ad absurdum of social democracy and rule by Big Government/Big Bureaucracy/Big Business. The time has come to forget our expectations of politicians and defend ourselves.

*****
Alizee is fed up too, or as she puts it, J’en Ai Marre, but then she’s be a lot more fun to watch than the average flybait pol, inside the bubble bath or out. What would she say if she heard about Azumi Jun’s smile ban? I feel like throwing up under the covers too.

Be sure to look for the little patch she has on her outfit that isn’t displayed until near the end (near her end). The French don’t miss a trick.

But getting there won’t be tricky at all.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Politics | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Seamoon in the Cabinet

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 11, 2012

SUSPICIONS have arisen about the real identity of Japan’s Finance Minister Azumi Jun. It was already a working assumption that he was a haribote — a papier-mâché stage property — installed with a special operating mechanism and set up on stage to personify a Finance Ministry spokesman for the news media and overseas governments, and ministry liaison with the ruling party. He’s never held a Cabinet post before, even one of the trivial portfolios set aside for the aonisai newbies and the women brought in to decorate the photo op when the Cabinet stands on the stairs for its formal portrait. The only thing he knows about government finance or economics is how to write the words in Chinese characters. It is also suspicious that he looks like such a nice boy on television. Now tell me — when was the last time you’ve seen a good-looking finance minister ? Then again, being a television host and reading from teleprompters was the only thing he did before being a politician.

Azumi Jun and his remote controller

His statement on Sunday, however, really has people scratching their heads:

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi hailed the 100 billion euro financial lifeline for Spain, calling it a “major first step” toward stabilising the European and global economy.

If the bailout given to Spain is a “first step”, what would he call all those euros — sorry, euro — firehosed on Greece, Ireland, and Portugal? Well, the cash forked over to Ireland and Portugal, anyway. The bailout given to the Greeks is known in the financial industry as “throwing money down the sewer” (TMDTS).

He also called on European leaders to continue taking flexible actions to ease the region’s financial woes, which have threatened global economic health and sent the Japanese yen to record highs.

“The confirmation of the scheme worth 10 trillion yen (100 billion euros or $125 billion) should greatly contribute to stabilisation,” Azumi told local reporters on Sunday, referring to both the global economy and Spain’s troubled banking system. “I hope that such actions will continue to be taken flexibly with a sense of speed. In that respect, I think this is a major first step,” he said.

Other people — the people whose business it is to manage money — seem to think Europe is speedily running out of steps to take and has limited flexibility:

Spain’s bank rescue news is out, and the obfuscation is very high, as usual. The rescate (rescue) amount offered is 100 billion euros, a mere two and a half times last week’s estimate. This tells us the Spanish banks are under-capitalized by at least 100 billion euros. That’s positive? We already knew the ESFS and ESM would lend Spain money, the question is in what manner?  This uses up about all the capacity Europe has on its own.  This opens up more cans of worms.

Once Spain takes the money, then their obligation in the EFSF and ESM bailout mechanisms would be taken over by others. Those “others” are Italy, whose share rises from 19% to 22%.  France’s share rises from 22% to 25%, and Germany’s from 29% to 33%. The smaller core countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, etc will pick up a little more as well.  By piling more on Italy and Belgium, the credibility of the guarantees given to EFSF bonds would collapse.

Just because the next fellow is selling his services doesn’t mean we should overlook what he says:

Things have gotten so bad that Spanish citizens are pulling their money out of Spain en masse: over €100 billion left the Spanish banking system in 2012 alone.

As bad as they are, even these data points don’t do justice to the toxic sewer that is the Spanish banking system.

Case in point, over HALF of all Spanish mortgages are owned by Spanish cajas…Until recently, the caja banking system was virtually unregulated… until about 2010-2011 there were next no regulations for these banks (which account for 50% of all Spanish deposits). They didn’t have to reveal their loan to value ratios, the quality of collateral they took for making loans… or anything for that matter.

So, with Spain today, we have a totally unregulated banking system sitting atop HALF of ALL Spanish mortgages after a housing bubble that makes what happened in the US look like a small bump….Oh, I forgot to mention, the cajas primary lending market during Spain’s housing boom were subprime and sub-sub prime borrowers.

That’s just the warm-up for his explanation of the nationalization of Bankia. It was formed only two years ago through the merger of seven insolvent cajas.

The ESM, by the way, hasn’t been ratified by the Germans, and the Spanish think the bailout “doesn’t carry economic policy conditions”.

So Spain has shockingly agreed to a bank bailout without conditions. Has Germany? The chips will commence falling, where they may, shortly. In the meantime, we are days from finding out just what Germany thinks when it has to ratify (that’s right, the ESM has still not been ratified by the one country which will fund the Spanish bailout) the direct rescue of the Spanish banks. Without conditions.

Recall how Mr. Azumi thinks this new plan is a major first step toward stabilization? It’s a shame he didn’t tell the Irish:

From the AFP: “Ireland wants to renegotiate its rescue plan to benefit from the same treatment as Spain, which looks set to win a bailout for its banks without any broader economic reforms in return, European sources said on Saturday.” And with Ireland on the renegotiation train, next comes Greece. Only with Greece the wheels for a bailout overhaul are already in motion and are called a “vote of Syriza on June 17.” And remember how everyone was threatening the Greeks with the 10th circle of hell if they dare to renegotiate the memorandum? Well, Spain just showed that a condition-free bailout is an option. Which means Syriza will get all the votes it needs and then some with promises of a consequence free bailout renegotiation.

It’s also a shame he also doesn’t seem to be aware that no one knows yet where all the money is going to come from.  Has he seen all that data on Spanish debt? Spain is Greece, only bigger.

A former banker puts it quite succinctly:

Because the Spanish government and banks have engaged in a vast coverup of the financial crisis, it is of course impossible to say how deeply the banks are in the hole. My best guess (based on the lending volume of Spanish financial institutions) is that the real number will be in the $300 billion range. This is a scam, a ripoff, a Ponzi scheme, not a national economy…(T)o save the credit of Germany and other solvent European countries, the best thing to do is to sacrifice Spain, and draw the line at helping the French banks (who own a lot of Spanish debt)…

Political cowardice in the face of financial scams on an epic scale is not exactly news these days, but the utter incompetence of the European finance ministers and lack of coordination among the international organizations involved in the deliberations are deliciously new. Never before in the course of human events have so few wiped out so much credibility for so many.

The problems now being created are not only economic, they are political:

Germany, loaded with cash, recently upped its retirement age to 67. Nearby France, almost insolvent, lowered its retirement age from 62 to 60 for certain workers. The former is supposed to lend cash to broke EU members, the latter not only cannot, but needs some itself…France is sending an ultimatum that its own citizens will work seven fewer years than Germans to enjoy the good life, while Germans — replete with historical baggage — not only will pay for it by giving up their retirement years, but ought to pay for it. Given the other overt and implicit EU member insults to Germany, the greatest German backlash in the last 80 years is not a matter of if, but when.

So, here are the conclusions we can draw. First, the scriptwriters for the virtual controllers of the Azumi bot in the Finance Ministry have run out of convincing lines to feed him.

Second, Azumi Jun is really a Seamoon covered with an artfully designed skin composite. Another creation from those wild and crazy guys at Maywadenki, Seamoons are “machines with lungs and vocal cords that ‘sing’ on command from a computer”.

Go ahead, get clicky with that video and see for yourself. It’ll only take a couple of minutes.

You have a better explanation?

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Science and technology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

¿What are these people thinking?

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 12, 2012

IT’S impossible to scan the news articles either on paper or in pixels without seeing several that make one wonder, “¿What are these people thinking?” “These people” can refer either the subjects or the authors of the reports, and often both. Here are three examples involving Japan from the past week alone.

Socialism in action

Japan on Tuesday warned French president-elect Francois Hollande to keep the nation’s fiscal discipline in place amid worries that the new leader will overspend in a bid to boost the economy.

Of course no one can expect the capital-S-socialist-and-proud-of-it M. Hollande to have the first idea of how an economy functions — even socialists know that’s not the point of socialism. But the last thing the French need is advice from a news reader-turned-politician serving as the Finance Ministry press secretary, who knows less about finance than a teachers’ union apparatchik selected at random from a May Day parade, and who represents a government that wouldn’t know fiscal discipline if it walked up to them wearing a name tag that read, “Hello! My name is Hayek”.  The Noda administration managed to avoid a third consecutive record-high budget this year only because they shifted some expenditures to “special accounts”. Government debt instruments still account for half their revenue.

He’s worried about the French overspending? That’s all the DPJ’s been doing since they took office in 2009.

In Tokyo Finance Minister Jun Azumi told a regular news conference…”We want (France) to do what has been decided so far, and I’d like to tell them about that if there is the opportunity,” he added, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

The Dow Jones Newswires did not report if there was any snickering among the reporters present.

“I don’t know whether Mr Hollande will immediately act on what he has said in heated debates during the election campaign…

Now Mr. Azumi is talking about a subject on which he has some expertise — the winning party in a national election reneging on the campaign promises that got them voted into office.

“…but realistically, I think it is impossible (for European nations) to give up on fiscal-rebuilding efforts,” the finance minister said, adding that he was “convinced (Hollande) will respect this movement.”

Realistically, it is very possible that several European nations will give up on “fiscal-rebuilding efforts”, whatever it is he means by that term.  Any conviction he has about what M. Hollande might or might not respect is derived entirely from the script his Finance Ministry aides wrote for him.

Hollande ousted conservative Nicolas Sarkozy from the Elysee Palace on a platform promising growth rather than further cuts, which has worried many European leaders who fear it will lead to another region-wide crisis.

Growth? ¿What are these people thinking? Economic growth would be an excellent way to solve France’s — or anybody’s — fiscal problems, if it were real growth created by the private sector.  The Europeans and the people reporting on them seem to have created a new political pidgin in which “austerity” means something other than what it really means — not spending so bloody much — because French government spending has risen every year from 2002 (€816 billion) to 2011 (€1.1 trillion). It has a budget deficit closer to that of Spain than to Germany.

What they are pretending is “growth” is the public-sector spending of borrowed money of the mind on infrastructure projects. The new French president also wants to hire 60,000 new teachers, 1,000 new police a year, and create (Abracadabra!) 150,000 state-funded “jobs” for youth.

In other words, he thinks Mr. Obama’s policies worked out very well for the United States and wants to try them in France.

Well, to be fair, those policies did work out, if hobbling private enterprise and the free market was the goal. Considering the backgrounds of the two men, that cannot be dismissed out of hand.

For example, what Mr. Hollande means by “raising revenue” in the new political pidgin is to place a tax on financial transactions and increasing the tax on dividends and rich people, thereby ensuring there will be fewer of all of them. He’s got to conjure up some kind of revenue to pay for this government spending, to which will be added the bill for rolling back a Sarkozy reform and reducing the retirement age to 60 from 62.

And he thinks this will result in an extra €29 billion? No wonder people are worried. Especially Japan:

But Japan and China — which hold huge amounts of European debt — raised concerns about the region’s future policies.

By huge, they mean:

Tokyo bought 13.0 percent of the eurozone rescue fund’s bond sale in December, worth about 260 million euros ($338.0 million), while purchasing 10.0 percent, or 300 million euros worth, in November. That was lower than the average 20.0 percent purchased in three other bond sales from the start of the year.

There’s been a lot speculation about why the Japanese and Chinese bought all that European debt issued to allow taxpayers the privilege of bailing out European banks. The people at Seetell wonder if Japan’s real objective was to prop up American banks, rather than European ones.  That explanation would work just as well for the Chinese too.

Meanwhile, what are all of these people thinking?

In communist China Monday the state-owned Global Times, which is known for its nationalistic tone, said the anti-incumbent results in France and Greece bore out the dangers of democracy running to “extremes”.

If you’ve read anything in the Global Times, you know that the newspaper’s tone is better described as jingoistic rather than nationalistic. Media consumers also know that a presumed connection between nationalism and a criticism of democracy is a non sequitur, but newspapers are full of those, starting with “All the news that’s fit to print”.

And what would anyone at the Global Times know about democracy, much less what constitutes an extreme form of it? But then the Chinese have a political pidgin of their own.

Still a colony after all these years:

Japan Post Insurance Co., one of the key arms of the government-backed Japan Post Holdings Co., will delay its entry into the cancer insurance field amid the U.S. industry’s misgivings about such a move, a Japan Post official said Wednesday.

Japan Post’s envisaged entry into the domestic cancer insurance market, which is dominated by U.S. insurers, “must not obstruct” Japan’s participation in U.S.-led multilateral talks on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact, the official said. Participation in the TPP talks requires consent from all countries involved.

So: A Japanese enterprise, partially owned by the Japanese government, chooses not to sell a product in the Japanese market because the government of the companies now dominating that market won’t like it and might not let Japan participate in discussions that Japan hasn’t officially decided it will participate in?

¿What are these people thinking?

This time we have a good idea what they were thinking. The DPJ needed the votes to get bills passed in the upper house after they formed a government in 2009, so they created a coalition government with two small, incompatible parties. One of them was a reactionary splinter group that thinks only the government is capable of delivering mail, offering savings deposits, and selling life insurance, and that city dwellers should pay higher prices for mail delivery to offset the costs of delivering it to people who choose to live on out-of-the-way islands.

Well, that and using the money in those accounts to buy 20% of Japanese government debt so it isn’t sold overseas at higher interest rates and really screw up the calculations of Azumi Jun’s tutors.

Also, some people pretended to be concerned that foreigners would buy a controlling interest in the bank (even though government approval would be required), which would mean foreign countries would have an unacceptable presence in the Japanese financial and insurance sector.

You know, like if they dominated the cancer insurance market…

Given the situation, Japan Post Insurance will concentrate on improving its educational endowment and other existing policies for the time being, according to the insurer. The arm has extensive nationwide access to potential customers in the over-the-counter market.

And it will voluntarily relinquish that extensive nationwide access in one sector to prevent the Americans from raising their voices.

On April 27, the Diet enacted a law to rethink the full privatization of government-backed postal services. The revision to the 2005 privatization law stipulates that the banking and insurance entities can launch new services after the government sells half of its shareholdings.

Which they have no intention of selling. The politicos’ “rethink”, by the way, is of a policy that won its advocate, Koizumi Jun’ichiro, 70% approval ratings.

Neo-Luddism

Last weekend, the last operating nuclear plant in Japan shut down for regularly scheduled maintenance, meaning no nuclear plants were operating in the country.  It was easy to see what many in the media were thinking from their choice of language and focus on one aspect of the closure. This from the Independent in Britain:

Activists celebrate as Japan is nuclear-free for first time in 42 years

Will they celebrate after an extended period  of “nuclear-free” power generation results in several other –free conditions, namely “economic growth-free”, “prosperity-free”, and “employment-free”?

Those neo-luddites just got to be free!

Thousands marched through the streets of Tokyo yesterday to celebrate the closure of the last of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors. The switch-off meant the country, for the first time since 1970, was being electrified without the use of atomic power.

Campaigners said it was fitting that the day Japan stopped using nuclear power coincided with the nation’s annual Children’s Day, because of their concerns about protecting children from radiation, which Fukushima Dai-ichi is still releasing into the air and water.

Yoko Kataoka, a retired baker and grandmother in a T-shirt with “No thank you, nukes,” handwritten on the back, said: “Let’s leave an Earth where our children and grandchildren can all play without worries.”

Since they’re only children, their play won’t be disturbed by having to worry about coming up with the average 10.28% increase in household electricity bills for those receiving power from Tokyo Electric, starting in July. Or that the replacement for nuclear energy at Japanese power plants is oil, which produces nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, methane, mercury compounds, and other air enhancers that are not healthy for children and other living things. The tots also won’t be the ones who have to work nights or weekends at factories rescheduling their shifts to reduce large-scale demand at peak periods.

Before the crisis, Japan relied on nuclear power for a third of its electricity needs. The crowd at the rally, estimated at 5,500 by organisers, shrugged off government warnings about a power shortage. Activists said the shutdowns had proved the country could live without nuclear technology.

True, all but 30 countries live without nuclear technology, but most of them in the industrial world are small and/or functional economy-free, such as Portugal, Greece, and Italy. The singular exception is Australia, a continent with a widely dispersed population roughly that of metro Tokyo-Yokohama.

And even then, the organizers — if they are to be believed — thought it was a mighty big deal that 5,500 celebrants from the megalopolis showed up to rejoice and congratulate themselves for royally screwing up everyone else’s lives. They added:

Electricity shortage is expected only at peak periods, such as the middle of the day in hot weather, but critics of nuclear power say the proponents are exaggerating the consequences to win public approval to restart reactors.

We’ve already seen that noxious pollution, significantly higher electric bills, and social disruption are some of the consequences of a nuclear-free Japan. That last is unlikely to bother most of the demonstrators. If any of them are working nights, it’s at convenience stores rather than factories.

There’s more, however: Kyushu Electric Power just announced a loss of JPY 166.3 billion for the fiscal year ended March 2012, after recording a profit of JPY 28.72 billion the previous year. Kyushu Electric attributed the loss to the delay in restarting the idled nuclear reactors and the additional fuel costs for operating their thermal power plants. The costs associated with the idled nuclear reactors runs to several billion yen per day. As a result, the utility’s stock price is below JPY 1,000 for the first time since 1984.

Even then, summer temperatures at 2010 levels could cause power shortages of as much as 10%, the utility said last week. (The figures for the Kansai area are even worse.)

Combine that with a continued high yen, as economic craziness continues to masquerade as sanity in the United States and Europe, and even more Japanese companies will find it in the interests of their survival to shift production overseas.

Meanwhile, an article appeared on the same day in the Yomiuri Shimbun that suggested the youth of Japan will have more to worry about than the absence of fatalities from a once-in-a-millennium combination of circumstances:

More than 80 percent of people aged 15 to 29 are very concerned about whether they can earn enough money or receive public pensions after retirement, according to a draft of an annual government report.

The draft of the government’s white paper on children and young people for fiscal 2012 shows that younger generations are not optimistic about the future due to unstable employment conditions amid the nation’s aging population.

Also:

Although the overall unemployment rate was only 4.5 percent in 2011, it remained disproportionately higher among young people. The jobless rate was 9.6 percent for people aged 15 to 19, 7.9 percent for people aged 20 to 24 and 6.3 percent for people aged 25 to 29.

A few years ago, WHO compiled a report on the deaths attributable to the Chernobyl accident, which was much worse than the one at Fukushima. They found:

As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

There were also 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer found as a result of the accident, but the survival rate is 99%.

In contrast, the death toll from the Fukushima accident now stands at one: a worker cleaning up at the plant who collapsed from overexertion.

More important, the report also stated:

Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in “paralyzing fatalism” among residents of affected areas.

The problem with the 5,000 or so Tokyo celebrants is the opposite. They weren’t suffering from a paralyzing fatalism last Sunday. Their excitement stemming from a belief in the myth of nuclear danger rendered them oblivious to the potential paralysis of their country.

¡What are these people thinking!

*****

After all the lights go out, this will be about the only thing left.

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

21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

It’s been one year since the Tohoku earthquake. What we need now is not words, but actions. Not repeated words, but repeated actions — actions in which everyone shares a bit of the burden. There is nothing else.
- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

If Australia is to get the government it needs (and deserves) it must first experience the full horror of the government it doesn’t deserve.
- James Delingpole, who could just as well have been speaking of Japan

LAST Sunday was the first anniversary of the Tohoku triple disaster — the fourth-largest recorded earthquake in history, a monster tsunami, and the nuclear accident at Fukushima. The Nishinippon Shimbun presented the numbers in a small box on the front page of its Monday edition:

Dead: 15,854
Missing: 3,155
In shelters or temporarily in other areas: 343,935

Also in the Monday newspapers were the results of a recent poll:

* How would you evaluate the government’s response to date for recovery efforts in the stricken area?
Good: 25%
Bad: 67%
No answer: 8%

* How would you evaluate the government’s response to date for the nuclear accident at Fukushima?
Good: 12%
Bad: 80%
No answer: 8%

There are no excuses when four out of five people think you stink. It’s time to reach for the soap.

Fortunately, the public is doing it for them. Among the noise and distortion and useless pallid confetti of media discourse, a low but distinct signal is emerging. Long before 11 March, people understood the crimes of commission and omission of the so-called Iron Triangle: the political establishment in Nagata-cho, the governmental establishment at Kasumigaseki, and the business establishment everywhere else. The voters have persistently expressed the wish to destroy that triangle. But the national disaster seems to have focused their attention and made vivid the futility of relying on the long-running disaster that is the triple establishment. Another poll released this week revealed that pre-existing political trends are accelerating. The question asked was about the contours of the government they’d like to see. The answers:

A government centered on the Democratic Party (the current ruling party): 7%
A government centered on the Liberal-Democratic Party (the largest opposition party, and the ruling party for more than half a century): 10%
A DPJ – LDP coalition government: 26%
A government with a new framework after a political reorganization: 50%
No answer: 7%

Note that the current DPJ government could manage only a rating equal to that of the stragglers in any poll who can’t be bothered to form an opinion. It was lower than the No Answer response to the previous two questions. The LDP is not viewed as an acceptable option.

The people have thus disqualified the major political brands from serious consideration. While their enthusiasm for alternatives was evident before, it’s so strong now that even the Three Disasters in Tokyo have noticed. They see that the tsunami of popular will is surging in their direction. No one knows when it will break, but when it does, there is no levee big enough to stop it.

Kusaka Kimindo, born in 1930, a former director of the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, and a commentator on business and governmental affairs, recently released a book called The Collapse of the Japanese Establishment. He welcomes that prospect. The blurb on the front cover reads:

The government-patron academics, the Western-worshipping intellectuals, and Big Mass Media have lost their authority.
A new wind has begun to blow.

The next few posts, and others from time to time in the future, will focus on aspects of the speed and direction of that wind. Perhaps it might blow as strong as a third kamikaze, the divine wind, combining the salvation of the first with the internal origins of the second.

First, however, we must look at what is collapsing, and why.

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

That’s the question asked in the lead article of the 18 March weekly Sunday Mainichi, issued to coincide with the anniversary of the disaster. The tone of Japanese weekly magazines is often wild and woolly, but this time they’re quoting someone else: political commentator Kinoshita Atsushi, a former lower house member from the Democratic Party — the same party as Kan Naoto.

It’s the job of a leader to create a more comfortable working environment, but Mr. Kan did the opposite. You could say he was a Class A war criminal.

Mizote Kensei is the secretary-general for the LDP bloc in the upper house, and a former Minister for Disaster Management. He expressed the same sentiments in a different way:

If this were a backward country, they’d be taken to court, and might even be executed.

The Sunday Mainichi thought that was extreme, but they did spend an entire page discussing the possibility of court action against several former Cabinet members, including whether it would be a criminal or civil proceeding, the precedents for such action, and what might happen. (They conclude it would be possible in theory, but difficult to pursue in practice.)

Lower house LDP member Kajiyama Hiroshi doesn’t have Mr. Kan to kick around any more, but he called for the immediate resignation of Madarame Haruki, the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission:

The LDP certainly has responsibility for promoting nuclear power. But beyond that, Tokyo Electric and the government, particularly Prime Minister Kan, bear a heavy responsibility. After the Fukushima accident, Mr. Kan spoke only to Madarame Haruki, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, about technical matters. That’s because no one else capable of expressing a different opinion was there.

That only Mr. Kan would listen to Mr. Madarame’s personal views on technical matters was decisive. Also, there are no records of their discussions. There is no choice but to assume that the information we’ve received has been doctored, and there are even doubts he didn’t want to hear the views of other technicians….The other members of the commission should have met together to create a consensus, and that should have been the advice given to Mr. Kan.

In addition to allowing other people to use the term Cabinet Class A war criminals, the magazine referred to Kan Naoto as a “self-righteous hothead” and said that Mr. Madarame was “unconnected to the real world”.

Then again, it’s not as if Mr. Kan listened to Mr. Madarame even when he was listening to Mr. Madarame. During the prime minister’s universally lambasted helicopter trip to Fukushima on the morning of the 12 March 2011 to view the facility from the air, the NSC chair tried to communicate several of his concerns en route. Mr. Kan issued an order: “Just answer my questions.” (It sounds even worse in Japanese.)

One of his questions was whether there would be a hydrogen explosion. Mr. Madarame thought not. There was an explosion, however, about eight hours later. When the prime minister saw it on television, he exploded himself:

Isn’t that white smoke rising? It’s exploding, isn’t it? Didn’t you say it wouldn’t explode?

See what they mean about “self-righteous hothead”?

The technicians thought a meltdown was possible at Fukushima the night of the accident, and detected evidence that it had started early the next morning. They informed the government, but Kan Naoto lied about it, not only the next day, but for several months thereafter — including on the floor of the Diet.

He also says he failed to receive information from SPEEDI, the system that generates projections on the dispersion of radioactive material. There are even claims that he didn’t know the system existed. Had the information from SPEEDI been employed, it could have limited the region’s exposure to radiation.

Itabashi Isao, a senior analyst for the Council for Public Study, explains that Ibaraki Prefecture publishes a book for high school students to explain nuclear energy, and that the book contains a description of the SPEEDI system.

They say the data reached the crisis management center and stopped there without going to Mr. Kan or the others. When politicians say they didn’t know something that’s being taught to high school students, it should not be the end of the discussion.

To continue the discussion, in October 2010, five months before the earthquake, a disaster prevention drill and simulation were conducted based on the premise of failure in the cooling function of Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka nuclear plant. The drill used data generated by SPEEDI. The government formed a group to oversee and monitor the drill and simulation. The head of the group was Kan Naoto, the man who supposedly didn’t know about SPEEDI.

But of course he did. Hosono Goshi was then an aide to Mr. Kan. He was later appointed as the minister in charge of dealing with the nuclear disaster, and added the Environmental Ministry portfolio with the inauguration of the Noda Cabinet. Last May, two months after the accident, Mr. Hosono said that SPEEDI information was not made public because of worries the people would panic. (There are also suspicions in some quarters that he held on it to it to enhance his career prospects.)

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

They hid information because they thought if they told the truth, the ignorant people would panic. It is an indication of their viewpoint based on the premise of stupid people, stupid thinking (gumin guso).

We already know that’s the way they think — it was clear in the fall of 2010 during the incident in the Senkakus with the Chinese “fishing boat” captain. The government wouldn’t release their video of the incident because they thought it would inflame both the Chinese government and the Japanese people, but someone in the Japanese Coast Guard solved that problem by uploading it to YouTube. The government also claimed that the Naha prosecutors were in charge of the disposition of the case. More than 80% of the public thought they were lying.

Now the phenomenon of the circular firing squad is emerging as the Fukushima investigation continues. Mr. Madarame has been testifying to the Diet committee looking into the nuclear accident, and said the following about then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

From the perspective of those of us who work with nuclear power, saying (as Mr. Edano did) ‘there will be no immediate effect’, sounds as if he is saying the effect would be late-developing cancer. We would not say anything like that. Therefore, I did not make any suggestion of that sort to the chief cabinet secretary.

Not everyone in the Cabinet was complicit in the war crimes. One of those was Katayama Yoshihiro, then the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. A former governor of Tottori Prefecture, he has an idea about the way government executives are supposed to conduct themselves. He’s on the record about Mr. Kan:

Who was the leader of the operations? It was impossible to understand the intent of too many of the various demands and requests (from the government command center). They were fragmentary and childish. There was no leadership at all.

Mr. Katayama also cited the breakdown in communications between the underground command center for the crisis in the basement of the Kantei, and Mr. Kan’s fifth floor office. He said that the prime minister never took the elevator downstairs, but communicated with the center only by cell phone. Mr. Kan, meanwhile, complained that 90% of the raw data came through Tokyo Electric, and that “the gears of communication did not move”, even when he put Mr. Hosono and then-METI Minister Kaieda Banri on the job. Shifting the blame to someone else is a Kan hallmark.

It will be difficult to find out exactly what happened in the Kantei because no record was kept of governmental discussions immediately after the disaster. It is widely assumed that Kan Naoto didn’t want people to know.

There are no records of the first 18 of the 23 meetings of the main group tasked with dealing with the Fukushima problem. An official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency took records of the 19th meeting on his own initiative, but there is no organizational record.

One of the unindicted co-conspirators is then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, who as the government spokesman said a meltdown had not occurred, and repeatedly insisted there would be no harmful effects from the nuclear accident. Mr. Edano is now the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the body overseeing nuclear power operations in Japan. He has reportedly aligned himself with the METI bureaucrats promoting the continued use of nuclear power. He’s interested in becoming prime minister, and thinks this will help him win the support of Big Business. (A former attorney who defended radical labor unionistas, he could use the credibility.)

Mr. Edano is also backing the METI position in the ministry’s dispute with Tokyo Electric Power. Remember how the Democratic Party was going to take political control of the bureaucracy?

Showdown at the hypotenuse

METI and the past two DPJ governments want to temporarily nationalize TEPCO. Their plan is to inject JPY one trillion of public funds into the company to help offset what could be tens of trillions of yen in eventual liabilities. They would receive a two-thirds ownership stake in return, replace all the top executives, and sell off the generating division. (That last one’s a good idea, and should be applied to all the power companies as part of the implementation of a national smart grid, but that’s yet another one beyond the capabilities of this government.)

Tokyo Electric objects. They think the government is incapable of operating a utility — can’t argue with that — and charge the government has no clear plan for divesting itself of ownership in the future.

So in classic Old Japan fashion, Tokyo Electric Chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa is getting chummy with the Finance Ministry to head off nationalization. The Finance Ministry is sympathetic to the utility, if only because they don’t want to put the government on the hook for paying off the liabilities. Katsu Eijiro of the ministry, serving as an aide to Prime Minister Noda (and dubbed his puppeteer by the press), told his subordinates they should not permit government control of the utility in negotiations, and to draw the line at 49% ownership, no matter how much they have to compromise before reaching that point. With that capital stake, the government could only reject major proposals, and the Tokyo Electric leadership would stay.

Prime Minister Noda, however, has left the responsibility for negotiations with Mr. Edano, as he is said to be too involved with a consumption tax increase to handle anything else. Mr. Noda wants to unify social welfare programs using the consumption tax as funding. The people backing this idea are calling it a “reform”, a term the Western media echoes. Yet the reform so far consists of allocating just one-fifth of the assumed revenues from the tax increase to social welfare programs (JPY 2.7 trillion) while earmarking JPY four trillion to public works projects. Remember how the Democratic Party was going to shift the emphasis from concrete to people? Nor has the Noda Cabinet come up with a specific proposal for the future form of the social welfare system. They just want the taxes first.

What they don’t want is to remind everyone that the last time the consumption tax was raised, during the Hashimoto administration, it had a negative impact on the economy that further decreased tax revenue.

Edano Yukio, however, says there will be no government support without a two-thirds stake. For negotiations, he has enlisted his political patron, Sengoku Yoshito, who became a Class A war criminal as chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Cabinet during the Senkakus incident.

The METI bureaucrats are said to like Mr. Sengoku, including those with greater political ambitions, as well as banking industry veterans now in subordinate Cabinet positions. They think he’s a genius at lobbying and working behind the scenes. (Yes, they said “lobbying”; in Japan, the politicians in government are the lobbyists.) Mr. Sengoku is thought to be interested in shifting the power industry’s votes and money from the Liberal Democratic Party to the DPJ.

Another aspect of the stalemate is another Old Japan struggle for the authority over the nuclear power industry itself, with METI, the Ministry of Education (which includes science affairs), Defense, the National Police Agency, and the Cabinet Office duking it out.

While the servants of the people have been attending to what they perceive as national affairs, others have offered many good ideas for recovery programs. These included making the Tohoku region a special economic development zone as a trial for a move to a state/province system, giving tax breaks to donations (there are donation boxes nowadays in most public places and commercial establishments), and issuing long-term bonds bought by the Bank of Japan.

Neither the Kan nor the Noda governments could manage any of that.

Shiva’s second coming

Talk of dinosaurs brings up the subject of Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general of several political parties, and now suspended as a member of the ruling DPJ, though he was their secretary-general until May 2010 and president until a year before that.

He’s back in the news because the government he wants to topple this time is the one led by Mr. Noda — ostensibly for failing to uphold the party’s 2009 election manifesto, but really for not paying attention to him.

One of the weekly magazines conducted an interview with him on 14 December 2011 and published it in their 31 January edition.

Ultimately, I look at Japan with doubt, wondering whether it is a democratic state…In Japan, the power of the citizenry is not linked to changing politics.

No one has to doubt who’s ignoring the democratically expressed desire for change. The Japanese say hansei, or reflecting on one’s past conduct, is a national trait, but that’s one mirror Mr. Ozawa passes by without looking in.

The interview contained the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s the good (or at least the accurate) part:

If Japan had the ability to negotiate with the US as equals, there would be no worry about TPP. But the present government isn’t capable of doing anything like that. The people are concerned that in the end, it will turn out the way America wants it.

It isn’t just TPP. It’s everything, including the security issue, starting with the Futenma base. It’s the same with economic issues. What has to happen is that the Japanese become independent. But the government has to be able to stand up for the Japanese national interest….I agree in principle with free trade, and we should negotiate based on that. If the government had any ability to negotiate, there’d be nothing to worry about.

Now for the bad:

To prepare for the market opening, the DPJ put in the manifesto a domestic policy of income supplements for agricultural households. If we (upheld) that, agriculture would survive.

The legal vote-buying schemes of power politicians might buy a few votes, but that wouldn’t ensure the survival of agriculture. The romantic vision of the family farm is no longer enough to put food on the nation’s table, especially considering that most farmers in Japan are not exclusively engaged in farming. Policies that promote agribusiness are the means for survival, but few politicians want to campaign on that.

Now for the ugly:

People who criticize my assertions don’t understand anything at all.

He also sat for an interview with the Asahi Shimbun earlier this month, which they thoughtfully translated into English:

Question: It has been two and a half years since the change of government, but the political sector does not appear to be functioning. Why?

Ozawa: That means that democracy has not matured to a point of taking hold in Japan. It is often said that politicians are only as good as the people who elect them.

Remember what the journalist said about stupid people and stupid ideas?

Ozawa: The change in government with the Lower House election of August 2009 was a major decision by the Japanese public, which dislikes change. I believe they held a dream.

The Japanese public likes change a lot in politics. They keep voting for it. They don’t get to realize the dream they hold because Mr. Ozawa and his party keep stepping on it.

Ozawa: However, the DPJ did not have the qualifications necessary to respond to those expectations. It was unable to fulfill its role because the responsibility may have been just too large.

Either that or their capacity to fulfill their role was too small.

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

Noda Yoshihiko isn’t as appalling as the vaporous Hatoyama Yukio or the repellent Kan Naoto, but the performance of those two has jaundiced the media’s view of anyone who would lead the DPJ government. Here’s the 16 March edition of the Shukan Post:

It is usual for prime ministers to make frantic efforts to get the people on their side when managing the affairs of state becomes difficult, but this man, who has little experience or few accomplishments at the upper levels of government, does not understand the meaning of authority. He increasingly curries favor with the bureaucrats, the Americans, and his powerless supporters, while showing his fat ass (肥えた尻) to the people.

What has been appalling are his Cabinet appointments, despite his trite claim that he was putting the right people in the right places. A career bureaucrat was quoted on his opinion of Finance Minister Azumi Jun, a former NHK broadcaster:

He’s pretty good. Like Kan, he doesn’t pretend that he knows anything. He admits that he doesn’t understand fiscal policy. He stands up for (Finance Ministry policy positions) in the Cabinet. He’s also cute, and has a cute personality.

Yes, he said kawaii.

With public sentiment running against his plan to increase taxes, Mr. Noda is trying to trim expenditures to convince the public that he actually is the fiscal hawk in the portrait the spin doctor present.

He’s announced a plan to reduce public sector hiring 40% from 2009 levels in 2013, to about 5,100 people. The figures are likely to be similar in 2014. Hiring was already down in 2011 and 2012, however.

Another plan to cut civil servant salaries by 7.8% passed the Diet rather quickly. Japan’s industrial media played up the legislation, but one of the jobs of kisha club reporters is to circulate the PR handouts for the Finance Ministry.

The Shukan Post points out that’s officially only JPY 300 billion a year for two years, and probably closer to 270 billion. The politicos said the savings would be spent on Tohoku recovery, but the bill contains no specific mention of that, nor has a framework been created for that expenditure. It hasn’t even been allocated to the special recovery account.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda not only rescinded the freeze on civil servant salary increases in place since 2006 this spring, he gave them a double bump. That increase will also be reflected in overtime allowances. The bureaucrats still get overtime while attending to Diet members, i.e., sitting and watching the Diet in session or going out drinking with MPs after the session is over. They also get taxi vouchers for the trip home.

He’s also retained the special allowances public employees receive in addition to their salary — JPY 26.4 billion a year in residential allowances, apartments in Tokyo at roughly 20% the rent of commercial properties, and JPY 7.1 billion for cold weather assignments. There’s even a special allowance for those assigned to work at a ministry or agency’s main office, which eats another JPY 10.2 billion a year.

Former bureaucrat and current freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki asked them why they needed a special allowance to work at headquarters. She was told assignments there had the unique and difficult responsibility of formulating legislation and policies.

In other words, they get a bonus on top of their salaries to do the jobs they were hired to do.

But the generosity of the Japanese public sector doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. They’re also giving the money away overseas.

International exchange

This week the Foreign Ministry released its 2011 white paper on ODA, which offered their explanation of the reasons for foreign aid. They emphasized the importance of international cooperation and pointed out that the feelings of trust and thanks toward Japan from overseas were fostered by lavish ODA. To support their assertion, they cited the assistance received from 163 countries, including developing countries, after the Tohoku disaster.

You might have thought money can’t buy you love, but the Foreign Ministry has other ideas.

Some of it read as if it were a script for the TV commercials of the kind that oil companies produce to convince viewers of their environmental awareness: Students in Sierra Leone sold their meals and collected US$ 500 for donations, and all the national civil servants of Mongolia donated one day’s salary to Tohoku relief. While Japan’s ODA has declined for 13 straight years, the Foreign Ministry touts it as a great success, saying “active donations to the international community are connected to Japan’s own benefit.”

The prime minister thinks so too. Mr. Noda met Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on 7 March in Tokyo and promised to help rebuild her country’s infrastructure, including expressways, railroads, and IT, after last year’s floods.

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

A friend in need is a friend indeed. We will never forget the goodwill of the Thai people, who offered us support as a country during the Tohoku disaster. There are many Japanese in Thailand working for companies in the Japanese manufacturing industry, and the expectations toward Japan are great. We want to formulate solid measures that will not betray those expectations.

The folks at the Seetell website are on the case again. They quote this from the Nikkei:

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to provide Japanese companies with subsidies for their 18 infrastructure-related projects in China and other Asian countries, The Nikkei learned Saturday. The subsidy program mainly targets projects for building smart communities in China and Vietnam. It covers not only exports of infrastructure facilities and systems but also smart community projects involving land development in China, Thailand and Vietnam, sources said.

After providing some details about the programs, the paper added:

The ministry will extend subsidies of tens of millions of yen to these projects, sources said.

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

So, the bureaucrats at METI can allocate funds to build cities in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, but no one in the government can seem to rally any focused effort to rebuild cities in Japan? What could possibly cause such a mismanagement of resources and priorities? Are not the Japanese people of greater concern than the Vietnamese, Thais, and Chinese?

And how does it fit that Japan is building cities in China when the US occupation of Okinawa continues for its 67th year because China is seen as a threat to Japan?

Here’s one Seetell missed:

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria today welcomed a $340 million contribution by Japan, the highest amount that Japan has ever made in 10 years of vigorous support for the Global Fund. Japan is now making its first payment of US$ 216 million for its 2012 contribution.

“Japan has always been a leader in the fight against disease, but this is a great vote of confidence in our commitment to saving lives,” said Gabriel Jaramillo, General Manager of the Global Fund. “We recognize Japan’s determination to see real advances in global health, and we are equally determined to deliver.”

This new contribution represents a significant increase over Japan’s previous highest contribution of US$ 246 million in 2010. In 2011, Japan’s contribution was reduced to US $114 million following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan in March of last year, but this new contribution demonstrates that Japan’s commitment to the Global Fund remains steadfast.

The Boy Finance Minister Azumi the Cute is warning of a Greek-like catastrophe, people in the cold Tohoku region spent the winter in prehabs, but Japan had to almost triple the amount of money it gives to this group? The Global Fund couldn’t get by with just 100 million again this year? Japan was the only country they could tap for cash?

Here’s another from the Shukan Post. The IMF wanted $US 100 billion (about JPY 8 trillion) from Japan to help bail out the Europeans. Japan said it could only contribute about half of that, but the IMF insisted. The Finance Ministry finally told Mr. Azumi to cave again, so now Japan will help bail out the unbailable Greeks. The magazine points out that this amount of money, if kept in Japan, would remove the necessity to raise taxes for the Tohoku recovery, and the necessity to float bonds to cover national pension outlays.

To be fair, returning favors and gifts for favors and gifts received is an important element of Japanese culture. Nonetheless, one has to suspect that part of the motivation is the fear of government ministries and agencies that they’ll lose the budget money they don’t use. Besides, the government has been selectively generous about which favors it returns. Taiwan, which contributed JPY 20 billion to the Tohoku recovery, sent a representative to the memorial service in Tokyo last Sunday. They were left off the list of donor acknowledgments, and the representative was shunted to the general seating area on the second floor while the other foreign delegates sat downstairs in a VIP section.

Prime Minister Noda later said he was sorry if he offended anyone, but his lack of sincerity was offensive in itself. Chief Cabinet Minister Fujimura admitted the seating arrangements were settled at the Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet Office.

Na Nu Na Nu

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio enjoys his nickname of The Alien, but one has to wonder if the entire DPJ that he once led is just the Martian Space Party morphed into human form.

Last week, the DPJ announced the appointment of Mr. Hatoyama as their supreme advisor on foreign policy and Kan Naoto as their supremo for new energy policies.

How fitting. One screwed up relations with the U.S., and the other screwed up Fukushima.

Mr. Kan also gave a speech to a DPJ study group on the 5th, attended by mid-tier and younger party members. The topic: Achieving real governance by the political class. “Japan should give serious thought,” he said, “to its approach toward state governance organs.”

Considering his accomplishments in office, that speech was over before his listeners could settle in for a nap.

If this were a backwards country, as the man said, Ozawa Ichiro might wind up being hung. But civilized Japan instead hung his portrait in a room in the Diet chambers last week.

A rule allows those MPs with 25 years of service to put their picture on a wall as long as the governmnent doesn’t pay for it. One of his political protégées did the painting, so he didn’t have to dip into his well-stocked safe at home for the petty cash.

If this were a backwards country, he might also be in the dock along with the other war criminals. But then again, he already is in the dock for political fund problems.

The party that insisted every day from 2007 to 2009 that elections be held immediately is none to excited about holding one themselves now that the executioner is motioning for them to stick their head into the hole of the guillotine. During a TV interview on the morning of the 10th, Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya said:

If we dissolve the lower house now, the anger of the people will be directed at the existing political parties.

It already is, but then Mr. Okada is not known for his insight into popular sentiment.

They would complain that we were only holding elections without accomplishing anything.

Instead, they’re complaining that the DPJ has done little, what little they did was bad, and what they want to do now is what they promised they wouldn’t do.

Anachronisms

It is clear to everyone that these are men whose time has gone. They are living relics of a now irrelevant age. Their approach and viewpoint, while stemming in part from the self-interest endemic to politicians everywhere, is as obsolete as the Cold War. Adding their evident contempt for their own citizens to the list of charges means they’ll have a dread judge to face in the next election.

Disturbed as much by the failure of the Iron Triangle to deal with the triple disaster as they were by the disasters themselves, the people — wiser than their leaders — have moved on. Former Koizumi privatization guru Takenaka Heizo recently published a book-length dialog with former Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi, who is working as an advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru. Mr. Takenaka observed:

The people now have high hopes for new regional parties, and I think there’s a good reason for that. The era of putting government administration in the hands of the bureaucracy and somehow achieving consistent growth is over. This is now an era for solving our problems. In society’s terms, people are looking for new CEOs. In fact, the best CEOs are the heads of local governments.

The next posts will examine Mr. Hashimoto, the most prominent of those local government heads.

Afterwords:

Try this for a refresher of what democracy means in Ozawa World.

Worried about the potential unpleasantness of Kusaka Kimindo’s comment about “Western-worshipping intellectuals”? Don’t be. Nothing bad will happen, and a renewed appreciation for Japanese values might be salubrious. Besides, even a cursory glance at current social, political, and economic conditions in the United States and Europe is enough to know how well contemporary Western values are working out.

*****
Here’s Takeuchi Mari singing Genki wo Dashite (Cheer Up!).

There’s a good reason this is an evergreen song in Japan, and it’s not just the melody. The premise of the song is that a woman is singing to a friend who’s down in the dumps because she’s been dumped by a man.

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

All you have to do is start again at the beginning…

If you feel like you want to be happy,
Tomorrow will be easy to find.

Life isn’t as bad as you think
So cheer up and show me that smile.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Government, International relations, Politics, Social trends, Taiwan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Letter bombs (23): Big surprise in every tranche

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 7, 2011

IT’S not a good sign when the Japanese government lifts a PR strategy from Cracker Jack.

Reader Marellus sent in a link to this story of the Finance Ministry’s big idea for boosting sales of reconstruction bonds:

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi will be rewarding investors who buy more than 10 million yen ($129,000) in reconstruction bonds with gold in the government’s latest attempt to bolster demand for the debt.

Individual investors who hold the bonds for three years will be eligible for a gold commemorative coin valued at 10,000 yen, the Finance Ministry said in Tokyo today. At 15.6 grams, (0.55 ounces), it would be worth about $948 based on prices for the precious metal.

I’m not joking with the Cracker Jack crack, either. Here’s what Frito-Lay, the owners of the brand, did in 1998:

Cracker Jack announced today its first-ever holiday prize give-away of limited edition collector jewelry designed exclusively by Neiman Marcus. Cracker Jack will replace the customary toy surprises in 16 packages of the caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts with special certificates for the jewelry. The holiday certificates will be sealed in the traditional Cracker Jack surprise envelopes and randomly distributed inside the new 4-ounce bags and 7-ounce box of Cracker Jack sold at retail stores nationwide…

Cracker Jack’s seasonal surprises include eight 18-karat gold rings with a ruby, emerald or sapphire stone and valued at $950 each.

Even accounting for the increase in gold prices over the last 14 years, some Cracker Jack purchasers got a bigger surprise than buyers of Japanese government bonds. (Note: For readers outside the United States, Cracker Jack is perhaps the world’s first commercially produced junk food. It is molasses-flavored, candy-coated popcorn and peanuts, created in the late 19th century. Everybody in America knows about them if only because they’re mentioned in the song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. For that reason, every boy in America buys them once to see what they’re like. I don’t know anyone who bought them twice. The only thing surprising about the big surprise in every box was how cheap and pointless they were.)

But back to Azumi the Lad. He bought JPY one million worth (roughly $US 12,860) on his own, perhaps deducted from the salary he gets as finance minister on top of the one he gets as a Diet member.

All investors receive a thank-you note from the minister, who showed his to reporters in Tokyo today as proof of his purchase.

In other words, he showed reporters a note he wrote to himself. Why yes, he did get his start in television. How did you guess?

So there we have the DPJ government in miniature: Big kids in short pants playing grownup without realizing how childish they look.

Reader Yebisu comments:

The fact that Japan is having to bribe people with gold shows that they are starting to realize that it is going to get very difficult to find buyers of J bonds. The game is coming to an end.

I agree that’s possible. But off the top of my head, here’s another possibility: Most Japanese debt is bought by institutional investors, i.e., the private sector side of what they used to call Japan Inc. If I’m not mistaken, the government (or rather the Finance Ministry) is offering these bonds to individual investors, and has added this Big Surprise as a bonus to encourage prospective punters to pitch in financially and promote national solidarity while doing their part for the recovery effort. The U.S. government sold War Bonds for the same reason, albeit without a trinket to accompany the coupons.

In any event, the Cracker Jack aspect of the promotion is demonstrated by the return. Purchasers recieve a JPY 10,000 gold coin for a JPY 10 million investment that pays 0.05% for the first three years. Assuming that same rate over the full term of the bond, that’s only a 2% increase in total yield. What is there to say about a finance ministry that would trade on public fears of a financial panic, the belief that gold is a safe investment in troubled times, and the nagging suspicion that the gold might be worth more than the face value of the bonds when they mature?

One thing we could say is that it’s offensive, because neither the promotion nor the bonds themselves might be needed at all. Many observers insist the Japanese government has the resources, both in cash reserves and property, to fund the recovery without issuing bonds at all. Indeed, they could use the proceeds from privatizing Japan Post, a step 70% of the public favored during the Koizumi administration, and which the DPJ halted. But that would upset their junior coalition partner, the People’s New Party, a splinter group formed to thwart the popular will block the privatization. The exercise of power and the use of the funds in the postal savings and life insurance system is more important than effective and efficient governance, after all.

And one final word:

Azumi, whose hometown was devastated by the March 11 disaster, said today he bought 1 million yen of the debt to support rebuilding efforts from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

A report emerged a week or two after the disaster that Azumi pulled strings to divert gasoline deliveries to stations in his Diet district before full-scale recovery efforts got underway, even though there was a serious gasoline shortage throughout the entire Tohoku region and supplies were limited. The story was lost in the deluge of other events at the time.

UPDATE: From Japanese reports, the bonds are 10-year instruments with three different yields ranging from 0.18% to 0.72%. That means the premium received from the gold coin is worth even less than I thought. They’re going to be sold through banks, and one of the bankers interviewed said they were going to make a special effort to sell them to people who normally don’t buy JGBs.

*****
This Cracker Jack commercial won an award at Cannes in the 70s. Perhaps they should show it to the Finance Ministry. Some in the DPJ might enjoy it too. The actor, Jack Gilford, was fingered as a Red in the 1950s.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried | Tagged: , | 14 Comments »

Kidz Я the Cabinet

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 27, 2011

IGNORANCE of the law is no excuse, say the authorities, in their perpetual search for new handholds by which to seize us by the scruff of the neck and keep us docile and lowing.

If the authorities have it right, there’s no excuse for the presence in the Cabinet of Azumi Jun, the Boy Finance Minister who’s extended to three the DPJ string of finance ministers that know squat about finance and even less of the law. Then again, Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko, numbers one and two in the sequence, used the position as a steppingstone to the premiership despite their comradeship in the blind mice brotherhood. There might be hope for Master Azumi yet. After all, his only job experience before becoming a national legislator was as an NHK newscaster, and he’s never held a major Cabinet post until now. Thus, his one marketable skill is the ability to read without stumbling over someone else’s script on camera or in public. What other qualification is there for serving as a politician these days?

It was Mr. Azumi’s turn to flunk the test during Question Time in the upper house of the Diet on the 15th. Kawakami Yoshihiro, a fellow traveler in the Democratic Party, was ragging on the Bank of Japan and their monetary policy due to the presence in that chamber of the bank’s Deputy Gov. Yamaguchi Hirohide. Pressing Mr. Yamaguchi on what he considered to be an insufficient money supply, Mr. Kawakami fumed, “The Bank of Japan is hindering the Democratic Party.”

Azumi the Lad quickly stepped up to their defense and explained:

Under the Bank of Japan Law, we cannot disregard (the objectives) of price stabilization and increasing the value of the currency. It is an important requirement to conduct monetary easing to the extent possible in that context.

It would seem that he is under the impression monetary easing is something central bankers are supposed to be in the habit of. He’s also confused about the provisions of the law regarding the Bank of Japan’s activities.

Article 1.1: The objectives of the Bank of Japan…are to issue banknotes and carry out currency and monetary adjustments.

Article 1.2: In addition to the provisions of the foregoing item, the Bank of Japan shall contribute to the maintenance of trust and order.

Article 2: When conducting currency and monetary adjustments, the Bank of Japan shall contribute to the sound development of the national currency through price stability.

There’s no mention anywhere in the law of “increasing the currency’s value”, so his answer raises the question of where he came up with that idea.

There’s only one possibility. His knowledge of fiscal and monetary matters before Mr. Noda thought he was just the man to be finance minister was no greater than the average convenience store clerk, and that means he requires tutoring by Finance Ministry bureaucrats. They’re only too glad to help. That allows them another handhold to seize fiscal policy by the scruff of the neck. Besides, how could he convincingly read his script without special instruction? (Kan Naoto made a point of getting up earlier than usual to make his 8:00 a.m. briefings.)

Thus, Mr. Azumi’s only source of information is his ministry minders. QED, they have convinced him a strong yen is a Good Thing. Japan’s major exporting companies are groaning from their yoga contortions to deal with the havoc the high yen has caused, but the Finance Ministry seems to think it’s copacetic. The limited monetary easing during the Koizumi administration was a factor in helping the economy recover, according to some observers, and the average rate then was 116 to the dollar. Yes, so much better for the nation at the mid-70 level, isn’t it?

But more to the point is that the two elements of the Azumi Definition of the BOJ role —- price stabilization and increasing the value of the yen — are incompatible. Under the purchasing power parity theory, if there is price stability in all the advanced industrialized countries with, for example, a 2% annual rate of increase, the currency would also stabilize and could not increase in value relative to the others.

While we’re on the topic of what Mr. Azumi doesn’t know, it was apparent from his response to an Eda Kenji question in the lower house on the 9th that his education hadn’t progressed to an explanation of credit default swaps yet.

That would be ever so helpful for a finance minister to understand. If any of the European sovereign debt falls, the American financial institutions that issued swaps against the debt —- you know, like Goldman Sachs — will be liable for gadzillions of dollars they don’t have, even after Mr. Obama bailed out his campaign financiers. That would put the U.S. financial system at risk of default.

The swaps are also important in Europe, too. Or at least they used to be.

But perhaps the biggest sin of the lot was effectively to render all credit default swaps (a form of insurance against default) on sovereign debt essentially worthless, or void, by making the Greek default “voluntary”.

This has made it impossible to hedge against eurozone sovereign debt purchases, and thereby destroyed the market. Worse, it’s made investors believe that the euro cannot be trusted, that it’ll repeatedly find ways of reneging on contract. That’s the point of no return. This is no longer a serious currency.

So, we’ve got the combination of people openly talking about the extinction of the Euro as a currency, other people openly talking about a global economic crisis worse than that of 2008, still others who think the collapse of the massive Chinese real estate bubble is underway, and Japan’s finances under the nominal stewardship of Azumi Jun.

Isn’t that just ducky?

*****
An interesting theory was floated recently about all the pratfalls Japan’s “finance ministers” take on the Diet floor during Question Time. When Kan Naoto appeared before the Diet after his appointment as finance minister, it was obvious that knowledge of the multiplier effect was not part of his résumé. (Meanwhile, it was just at this time the English language media of the West was touting him as a “fiscal hawk”.)

Mr. Kan too was given daily instruction by the Finance Ministry bureaucrats. The story goes that he had trouble grasping the concept of the multiplier effect during his briefings. (That’s understandable; a lot of concepts can be slippery that early in morning if you’re nursing a hangover.) The LDP Diet member who asked the question that tripped Mr. Kan up is said to have close ties with ministry bureaucrats. Some people suspect that the ministry deliberately tipped off the questioner about the lacuna in Mr. Kan’s knowledge to make him look bad.

But why would they so blatantly humiliate a politician with whom they were working? The answer is that it was an object lesson to Kan Naoto in particular and all politicians in general. He had to have known the ministry deliberately handed a weapon to the political opposition to knife him in public. Unless he was forever after their humble and obedient servant, the ministry would find other ways to make life even more unpleasant for him…

Recall that the ministry has jurisdiction over the National Tax Agency. Was it coincidental that the tax problems of Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro came to light just two or three months after the DPJ formed a government in 2009 which promised to keep the bureaucrats from meddling in national governance? (Let’s assume for the moment they were serious about that promise, dodgy though the assumption may be.) Mr. Hatoyama had to pay the equivalent of $US six million in back taxes and penalties. The case against Ozawa the Real Estate Tycoon, who pulled the equivalent of roughly $US four million out of his safe at home in cash to give an aide so his political funds committee could buy some property, is still to be resolved.

*****
And we can’t end without a mention of Kawakami Yoshihiro, yet another rare bird in the DPJ aviary. Did you notice from his question that he thinks the Bank of Japan is supposed to conduct itself as an arm of the Democratic Party government?

His background makes for entertaining reading. Originally an LDP lower house member, he was one of the MPs that Koizumi Jun’ichiro tossed from the party for opposing the Japan Post privatization. He later joined the opposition DPJ and won election to the upper house in 2007, two years later.

One of his pet causes is the integration of the residents of Chinese and Korean nationality into Japanese society. In fact, according to a 2010 interview with China’s Global Times newspaper, he favors the common administration (共同統治) of Japan with the Chinese and Korean permanent residents, who should be given full political rights. He also advocates closer ties to North Korea and thinks Mr. Koizumi’s two visits while prime minister should have resolved all the problems with that country. He’s been quoted as saying that it’s strange Japan doesn’t support (支援) North Korea.

Strange is in the eye of the beholder, it would seem. That a man with his background and incongruous combination of beliefs actually sits in the Diet, sponsored by the ruling party, is strange in itself.

****
Ben and Jun got them Young Boy Blues.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, North Korea | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Wrong question, Mr. Noda

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 10, 2011

FOR those who suspect that I exaggerate about Financial Ministry manipulation of Japanese politicians and the unsuitability of those Japanese politicians for either higher office or important government posts, here’s an anecdote from the 7 October edition of the weekly Shukan Post.

*****
After the Tohoku disaster this March, the Kan government discussed issuing more than JPY 10 trillion in bonds as a funding source for reconstruction and having the Bank of Japan accept the tranche. This was unacceptable to the Finance Ministry bureaucrats, who were intent on using the disaster as an excuse to raise taxes. They conveyed their position to then-Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, now the prime minister.

Mr. Noda declared at a news conference that it was against the law for the Bank of Japan to purchase Japanese government bonds, so he wouldn’t even consider it.

During Question Time in the lower house Financial Affairs Committee on 25 March, he was asked the following by LDP member Yamamoto Kozo, a former Finance Ministry official:

“Did you know that the Bank of Japan directly purchases a substantial amount of government bonds every year?”

According to the record, Mr. Noda replied:

“Directly? Uh, well…what the BOJ does is monetary policy, er…”

Asked again whether he knew that or not, the finance minister answered:

“No, I didn’t know that.”

Another LDP member then explained to Mr. Noda that while the law does prohibit BOJ purchases of government bonds, Article 5 of the law permits those purchases for specified reasons, within a specific monetary range, on the approval of the Diet. He also explained that the BOJ already purchases at least JPY 10 trillion worth of government debt issues every year, and this was well known by all government authorities involved with financial matters.

After the committee meeting, Mr. Noda complained to an aide, “Why didn’t they tell me about that?” He was referring to his tutors in the ministry.

*****
More to the point is why Mr. Noda didn’t do his basic homework when the Finance Ministry’s puppeteering skills are so well known in Japanese political circles.

The DPJ government has had four finance ministers in the two years since they assumed power. The last three — Kan Naoto, Noda Yoshihiko, and Azumi Jun — knew less about economic and financial matters when they were appointed than my mailman. They were tutored by the Finance Ministry after they were given the job. (In Mr. Noda’s case, when he was appointed deputy finance minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet.)

The first was Fujii Hirohisa, who lasted all of three months at the post. He resigned, reportedly because he found it too difficult to keep up with the job at his age. There were also stories, however, of friction with Ozawa Ichiro (as well as a taste for liquor in the daytime).

Mr. Fujii was the exception, because he is an ex-Finance Ministry bureaucrat — from the Budget Bureau, no less, which is the locus of power in the ministry. He might have been one of the tutors for the other three. Indeed, it was reported that he told Mr. Noda that true political leadership meant listening to the experts in the Finance Ministry.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Mr. Noda believed him.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rope-a-dopes

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 29, 2011

We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

WATCH how this works.

The EU came up with…a new plan!…this week to bail out its profligates and keep the fiction alive for a while longer. Here it is in brief:

Europe is happy because the European private banks, the creditors of the European governments, have agreed to eat 50% of Greece’s sovereign debt and to be recapitalized by public money handed to them by the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund.

In other words, the banksters are in danger of losing their shirts, trousers, and underwear by placing bets on a government and a polity that conspires to feed on public money but is unable to survive on its own. That will require the people of countries who can survive on their own to feed them with their own public money, and with no guarantee that the Welfare Queens of Europe will ever get off the dole.

But the Europeans are so desperate — they haven’t got enough to cover their bets for Italy, Spain, and Portugal — they have to fly to East Asia to bang their tin cups on the pavements here:

The move comes as European officials have turned to China and Japan for possible funding of the eurozone’s bail-out fund. In Tokyo, Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, told the Financial Times he would like to see “even greater efforts” in Europe to “ease crisis worries by creating a stronger and more detailed approach”.

The world’s third-largest economy remained concerned about possible contagion. “This fire is not on the other side of the river,” Mr Noda said. “Currently, the most important thing is to ensure it does not spread to Asia or the global economy.”

And:

Klaus Regling, the head of the European financial stability fund, travelled to Beijing on Friday in the hope of persuading China to step up support for the beefed-up fund and is expected to also visit Japan.

Japan currently holds just over 20 per cent of the €10bn in bonds issued by the EFSF, and Mr Noda, who was finance minister until becoming premier last month, signalled that Tokyo would continue to back the expanded fund.

Note in passing that the Financial Times refers to the former Media Spokesman for the Japanese Finance Ministry as a “Finance Minister”.

But the lads at the Finance Ministry seem to have forgotten that actions have reactions:

The European Central Bank is following the lead of the Federal Reserve and creating new money to bail out debt. The cost will be paid in inflation and flight from the euro and the dollar. As an indication of the future, despite the positive spin on the news and the rise in US stocks, on October 27 the Japanese yen rose to a new high against the US dollar.

The appreciation of the yen is causing such severe problems in Japan’s business sector that companies are accelerating their moves to shift production overseas.

The fire might now be on the Japanese side of the river too, but that doesn’t mean the Japanese government has to pour gasoline on it while pretending to put it out.

Mr. Noda’s replacement as Finance Ministry spokesman, ex-TV talking head Azumi Jun, whined to the media:

Azumi said today that the yen’s climb to a new postwar high was “extremely unfortunate.” Azumi told reporters in Tokyo he will take “decisive” action in the market if needed, and said the yen’s moves are “clearly speculative and don’t reflect economic fundamentals at all.”

Well, that didn’t work. Plan B?

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet last week approved a 12.1 trillion yen spending plan to rebuild after the March disaster. The package includes 2 trillion yen to help companies cope with the higher yen, with subsidies planned for building plants in Japan and hiring workers.

So, Japan’s government supports the use of public funds to recapitalize European banksters AND to bribe Japanese businesses from moving abroad to counter a situation that results in part from using public funds to recapitalize European banksters.

That cash has got to come from somewhere. Guess where. From Kyodo:

At the Group of 20 summit in early November, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will pledge to hike the consumption tax to 10 percent from the current 5 percent in stages by around 2015, government sources said Thursday.

The pledge will be included in a document to be adopted by the G-20 leaders at the end of the summit in the French resort of Cannes on Nov. 3 and 4, the sources said.

With the eurozone sovereign debt crisis rocking the world economy, Noda will make an international pledge to raise Japan’s sales tax to underline Tokyo’s determination to achieve fiscal discipline.

Evidently fiscal discipline does not include serious cuts in government spending. It will include raising the retirement age, however. It’s OK to give public money to failed European governments, but Japanese retirees will have to wait a few extra years to get their share of the money they paid into the system.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan is indulging in another round of monetary easing, i.e., printing money, while keeping interest rates at close to zero. It won’t be news that they’ll continue to be puzzled why new private sector lending doesn’t expand. The whizzes haven’t figured out that banks might be hesitant to lend money they’re not going to get much of a return for.

This is yet another illustration in the picture encyclopedia presenting the global disconnect between “democratic” governments and the people they “govern” — increasingly, without the consent of the governed.

Did I slip and mention democracy there? How silly of me.

It seems as if the rest of us could well be hung together for a crime none of us committed. Does somebody out there think there’s going to be — what’s the phrase they like to use — “a soft landing”?

Anyone?

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

Takahashi and Hasegawa on the real Japanese prime minister

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 13, 2011

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
- G.K. Chesterton

THE focus of the primary political articles in the 8 October edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai is on the influence of Finance Ministry bureaucrat Katsu Eijiro on the Noda administration. The headline on the front cover just below the logo dubs him “the real prime minister who is manipulating the dojo (fish) Noda”. Following the lead story is a dialogue between Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board, and Takahashi Yoichi, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, official in the Koizumi administration, college professor, and author. They are perhaps the foremost advocates in Japan for curbing the influence of the bureaucracy, and both have been frequently cited here.

Their dialogue is an excellent précis of the issue, both in general and how it involves the Noda administration. The amount of detail in the complete dialogue is overwhelming, so I’ve excerpted the important points in English.

*****
Hasegawa: A look at the personnel appointments of the Noda Yoshihiko administration shows a clear shift to a policy of tax increases. Also, the consensus of opinion is that Katsu Eijiro, the administrative vice-minister for the Finance Ministry, is the producer and scriptwriter for this administration that’s making a beeline to tax increases.

Takahashi: In short, he’s the backstage prime minister (laughs).

Hasegawa: …I’d like to touch on some of the Noda administration personnel appointments. First, priority was clearly given to circumstances in the Democratic Party. Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was named the party’s policy chief, a position that is key for the determination of policy. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito (N.B.: a Maehara ally) was named as the acting policy chief. Finally, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa was appointed the party’s tax policy chief.

The party seems to have been allocated a rather important role during the preliminary spadework of policy formation, but that’s because there are elements within the party that are either opposed to a tax increase or are hesitant about supporting them. The reason for a structure with this depth of personnel is to suppress the anti-tax sentiment (in the party) and achieve a tax increase.

Takahashi: In the normal process of policy determination, the government first creates a proposal, the (ruling) party massages it, and then it is submitted to the Diet. Absent Diet gridlock, the primary emphasis is on either the government or the ruling party.

We have Diet gridlock now, however, and the (primary opposition) LDP is in agreement with higher taxes to begin with. Therefore, for the Finance Ministry, the ideal tax increase proposals will be raised by the government, and they will be leveled down to a certain extent by the party. Then, in the Diet, they’ll get the LDP involved and make the tax increase a reality. The script has already been written. In short, the key is how to weaken the anti-tax elements in the party. That’s why the priority in the selection of the personnel appointments was placed on the party rather than the government.

Hasegawa: They certainly picked some lightweights for the Cabinet considering how much emphasis they placed on the party. There’s Azumi Jun as Finance Minister, who knows very little about financial policy, and there’s the former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Furukawa Motohisa, as the Minister for National Policy. (N.B.: Also Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister for Total Reform of Social Security and Tax) The Finance Ministry can completely control these two. Also key is the appointment of Katsu Eijiro as administrative vice-minister.

Takahashi: That’s right. The Cabinet itself consists of lightweights, but the Finance Ministry bureaucrats that were sent over are all heavyweights….

Hasegawa: Tango Yasutake as a deputy Finance Minister is a dead giveaway of Finance Ministry control….

Takahashi: …Also surprising was that a Finance Ministry bureaucrat (a former division head of mid-level seniority), was appointed as the parliamentary secretary for Ren Ho, the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Usually, that sort of post is given to the aides of division heads at the end of their career, but the Finance Ministry sent over Yoshii Hiroshi, who joined the ministry in 1988.

Hasegawa: The portfolios of government revitalization and civil service reform given to Ren Ho are important for the bureaucracy, so it’s clear their objective is to keep a lid on it. In addition, she has some star appeal for the DPJ, is a capable speaker, and attracts a lot of attention.

Takahashi: Actually, Mr. Katsu sent Mr. Yoshii over to be her secretary when she was a minister in the Kan Cabinet. He kept his post as her advisor even after she was downgraded to the job of special advisor to the prime minister, and he’s been with her ever since. Mr. Katsu has perceived the value of using Ren Ho and so is keeping her marked.

Hasegawa: 1988 is also the year that Furukawa Motohisa entered the Finance Ministry. Another member of that class is Ito Hideki, the parliamentary secretary for Minister of Financial Services Jimi Shozaburo.

Takahashi: That’s because Mr. Furukawa combines the functions of Cabinet minister and parliamentary secretary (laughs). These three men are a powerful trio. In addition to the normal orientation that all new employees are given when they enter a government ministry, the Finance Ministry has its own three week intensive “boot camp”. This cements the ties between the people who were hired at the same time, which results in a personnel network unlike that at any other ministry.

Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu’s personnel choices were well thought out, weren’t they?

Takahashi:…With Ota Mitsuru of the class of 1983 as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, and the number of parliamentary secretaries they’ve had assigned, the Finance Ministry can pretty much run the Cabinet. To be blunt, they don’t care who the ministers are…

*****
Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu has engineered a complete shift toward a tax increase both within the Cabinet and in the ministry…the question is now whether he’ll make a headlong rush toward a tax increase.

Takahashi: That question was already answered by Prime Minister Noda during Question Time in the Diet. He was asked by the opposition whether he should take the issue to the people (in a general election) before increasing the consumption tax. The prime minister answered, “We will ask for their trust before it goes into effect.” That seemed to satisfy both the public and the mass media, but there’s no question that’s a trap laid by the Finance Ministry. “Asking for their trust before the tax is raised” usually means holding a lower house election on that issue, but “asking for their trust before it goes into effect” means they’ll hold the election after the bill for the tax increase has passed and before it is implemented. In other words, they’ll submit and force through an increase in the consumption tax during the regular session of the Diet next year, as is already planned. After that, they will hold an election at what they consider to be a suitable time. That way, because the bill has passed, the consumption tax will be raised whether or not the ruling party wins the election. That is the Katsu/Finance Ministry scenario.

Hasegawa: The tax increase could be stopped by legislation freezing it before it goes into effect.

Takahashi: Not possible. Not possible. If they hold a general election just before taxes are raised, there won’t be enough time to submit a bill freezing the implementation. That sort of schedule management is the forté of the Finance Ministry, and that’s why they sent all those accomplished people over to the Cabinet as parliamentary secretaries. They’ll also have no compunction at all over threatening the politicians by telling them that freezing the tax increase will cause a major disruption in the economy…
…One more thing we shouldn’t forget is the use of the media to brainwash the public.

Hasegawa: The problem of the pet reporters who cozy up to the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. If you dig just a little deeply, you find that the Finance Ministry is really driving the government. A reporter antagonistic to their bureaucrats gets cut out of the loop. That’s why the reporters themselves cozy up to the bureaucrats. Nearly every day you can pick up the newspaper and read stories about the need for all sorts of taxes — income taxes, corporate taxes, inheritance taxes, environmental taxes. The Finance Ministry lobs them fat pitches, and they’re more than happy when they get converted into articles. It isn’t long before the people turn numb, and that creates an atmosphere in which everyone believes tax increases are unavoidable. That’s what’s happening now.

Takahashi: People can only think about things based on the information they’re provided. There are other revenue sources besides higher taxes, but people gradually stop looking in that direction. It really is brainwashing.

Hasegawa: That is the Finance Ministry’s strategy for the masses using the media. And the person driving the Finance Ministry now is Katsu Eijiro.

(end excerpts)

*****
Note that Mr. Takahashi said the script was already written. On the morning of the 12th, Finance Minister Azumi Jun read his lines:

“Next year, the bill for the consumption tax (increase) and the reform for integrating the tax with social security will definitely be introduced together.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Finance Minister Igarashi Fumihiko said in a television interview on the 11th that based on his own calculations, a 17% consumption tax rate would be necessary in the intermediate to long-term. That same rate has already been floated by the Japanese Association of Corporate Executives, one of the country’s major business groups.

In short, the problem of the alliance between Big Government and Big Business is just as serious in Japan as it is in the West, if not more so.

*****
The hucksters of the DPJ campaigned on ending the political dependence on the bureaucracy and not raising taxes for four years.

They’ve been in office now just a few days more than two years.

*****
How many more years are we going to have to let them dog us around?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

The little rascals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 24, 2011

IT didn’t take long for Japan’s media to come up with a nickname for Prime Minister Noda’s Cabinet. In some quarters, they’re now known as the “Chibikko Gang”. That’s how the Japanese translated the name of the troupe of children that starred in the Our Gang comedy shorts made in Hollywood from 1922 until 1944.

No, it is not a term of endearment.

The two main reasons for the selection of the nickname are the new Foreign Minister, Gemba Koiichiro (47), and the new Finance Minister, Azumi Jun (49). Mr. Gemba was elected to the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly at the age of 26. He won election to the lower house of the Diet two years later. His previous Cabinet experience consists of positions created to pander to passing fancies rather than do any real work — three months in the first Kan Cabinet with the responsibility for sexual equality in the workplace, the population decline, and the creation of a new public commons. The latter was a Kan inspiration for building a bottom-up leftist government from the top down. He then was given responsibility for science and technology policy this January.

Mr. Azumi was an NHK announcer for eight years before he was elected to the Diet. He was the host of the network’s Sunday morning political discussion program for a few of those years. He was deputy defense minister for four months in the first Kan Cabinet, and then became the party’s Diet affairs chairman in January. And there you have his resume.

But this doesn’t require a detailed explanation. All you have to do is look.

Here’s a photo of Mr. Gemba and Mr. Noda in the Diet.

And here’s Mr. Azumi meeting World Bank President Robert Zoellick this week:

Now you know the reason for the Chibikko Gang nickname. You also know the reason it’s generally assumed that foreign and fiscal policy are being formulated and executed by the bureaucrats, and enunciated by the ventriloquist’s dummies seated on their laps. Everyone’s long forgotten the DPJ’s pledge to wrest political control from Kasumigaseki.

It is to sigh. The DPJ was finally able to give the country an adult as prime minister on the third try in Mr. Noda. Unfortunately, he was unable to do the same for two of the only four essential Cabinet positions in any government.

*****
What could possibly go wrong when children are given adult roles?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

Going…going…

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 12, 2011

I have done what I should have done. Unfortunately, the people did not fully understand this.
- Kan Naoto, attributing his failures to the people’s stupidity in the Diet this week

THE great festering boil on the butt of the Japanese body politic is about to be lanced, if the reports that Prime Minister Kan Naoto could step down as soon as the end of the month are to be believed. When or if the national prayers are answered, it will end a stalemate perhaps unlike any that has existed in a modern democracy — a standoff created by the unfortunate intersection of nature, circumstances, and the inbred impotence of the political Chatterley classes.

This time for sure, the media are saying, but let’s wait and see if Jack really does hit the road. People were telling each other he would surely step down by the end of June before they started telling each other he would surely step down by the end of August. But the legend in his own mind is still setting conditions for his departure. His revised terms were supposedly the passage of a second supplementary budget, deficit bond-enabling legislation, and the reappraisal of energy policy. After that, he would hand responsibility over to the “younger generation”, as if it were up to him to determine the age of his successors.

What he should be doing instead is bowing his head at his local Shinto shrine to thank the divinities that he doesn’t live in a country where mobs displeased with their rulers film themselves as they machete off ears, noses, and other protruding body parts before dispatching them.

What, me leave?

People became appalled when they realized he intended to remain in office as long as possible, even though the public had written him off well before New Year’s Day 2011. In fact, a source in the Kantei told the media that Mr. Kan keeps a memo book with a list of the days in office of all the prime ministers and calculates those he’s overtaken. On 30 June he passed Mori Yoshiro’s term of 387 days. The next in line was Ohira Masashige’s 554, but he’d have to stick around until December to beat that.

Last month, Mr. Kan said, “I myself have not used the word quit or resign.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon relayed the news that Mr. Kan told him during their meeting last week he intended to speak at a meeting at the United Nations in September on nuclear power plant safety.

Said the prime minister in the Diet on 19 July:

The never-say-die spirit of the women’s soccer team brought about a wonderful result…I too sense that I must fight and never give up as long as there are things I should do.

From the opposition benches:

Prime Minister! Give up!

Here’s what he said in an interview with the weekly Shukan Asahi that appeared on Monday:

Until whenever the day comes that I leave, I will say what should be said and do what should be done. I want to set a course for the drastic reform of nuclear power regulation. That is my candid thought now.

Nuclear power regulatory reform wasn’t one of the conditions listed in the faux agreement with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio at the beginning of the summer. In fact, just two months ago he said:

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has said the nuclear reactors stopped for periodic inspections will be gradually restarted when their safety is confirmed. I am absolutely of the same position.

When METI confirmed their safety, he changed his mind and decided to put the reactors and the nation through a stress test.

The Koizumi complex

The closest politician Japan has had to a Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan, Koizumi Jun’ichiro ignored the pleas of the know-it-alls in his own party and dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of Japan Post privatization to the people. His reward was the second-largest legislative majority in Japanese history.

As you can see from the plan I drew up on the back of the cocktail lounge price list...

Kan Naoto has always been envious of his success (and resentful of the way Mr. Koizumi toyed with him during Question Time in the Diet), and dreamed of becoming the Koizumi of the Left. Another Kantei source reveals that the prime minister vowed: “I’ll do something that Koizumi couldn’t do.” He saw the issue of nuclear power as his path to the same sort of single-issue election that was Mr. Koizumi’s greatest triumph.

According to the 15 July weekly Shukan Post, Mr. Kan began looking at his options on 2 June, the day after the no-confidence motion was introduced. Passage meant that either the Cabinet would have to resign or he would have to call a lower house election, and he didn’t want to resign. He therefore had the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications investigate whether it was possible to hold elections in the Tohoku area, and he demanded a prompt answer. The media outlets and some politicians still deluded themselves that the prime minister retained a modicum of integrity and would resign when “a certain stage had been reached”. Mr. Kan, however, kept badgering the ministry to submit their report, which they did on 10 June.

The ministry thought elections would be possible. The chief municipal officer of Otsuchi-cho in Iwate died in the tsunami, but they had scheduled elections on 28 August for the municipal council. The whereabouts of most people on the voting rolls in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures had been confirmed. The major obstacle was how to handle those evacuated from Fukushima due to the nuclear accident. They’re dispersed throughout country, but compensation payments from Tokyo Electric were to be completed in July and that data could be used. It would take one month to recreate the voting rolls.

The prime minister then ordered the party to search for candidates to replace those who had been suspended from party activities for three months for their abstention on the no-confidence vote. They would be ineligible to run with DPJ backing. He also hinted at the possibility of an election at a meeting of the party’s MPs on 15 June. After that, it became a topic of daily discussion in the media.

Some believed he was only bluffing to keep the DPJ delegates in the lower house in line, particularly the younger ones with little political experience. Their chances of winning re-election are rather less than those of a World War I infantryman for surviving trench warfare. It might have been a bluff, but the major parties hedged their bets; campaign-style political posters started appearing on signboards and shop windows.

At the beginning of August, however, Mr. Kan signaled that he wouldn’t hold an election after all. He explained that most voters thought this wouldn’t be a good time.

Translation: The numbers in the DPJ’s internal polls added up to slaughterhouse.

Fury

The volume of fury directed at Mr. Kan is unprecedented in the modern era of Japanese politics. People have been angry at other Japanese politicians, but not so broadly or so deeply, and even then most of those politicians retained a core of diehard supporters. In political circles, the people publicly backing Mr. Kan can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

For a taste of the intensity, start with this comment by Tahara Soichiro.

Can we say after all that Mr. Kan is a human being? He doesn’t belong to any category of what I consider to be human beings.

Mr. Tahara was the host from 1989 to 2010 of Sunday Project, a live political blabathon broadcast by a national network on Sunday mornings. For American readers, picture the host of Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or This Week pre-Christiane Amanpour.

The largest organization backing Mr. Kan’s Democratic Party is Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation. Said Rengo Chairman Koga Nobuaki on 28 July:

I want Prime Minister Kan to stop exacerbating the political vacuum immediately.

By 4 August he was saying:

The political vacuum has intensified, and diplomatic issues have come to a standstill. It’s natural for this situation to be resolved by the end of August.

Kawauchi Hiroshi, a Democratic Party MP of the lower house, was once a member of the now defunct New Frontier Party when Mr. Kan was also a member. He said:

The Prime Minister is trying to destroy this country. He is the common enemy of the Japanese people.

Takenaka Kazuo is a magazine editor in Chiba:

Looking for a sense of shame or morality from him (Kan Naoto) is the same as trying to teach a pig how to use a knife and fork….If you idly sit and watch the runaway Kan administration, history will brand you an accomplice to the crime of swindling. That you will be condemned by history is a self-evident truth. The political scientists and journalists who are parasites on the Kan administration are guilty of the same crime.

Most Japanese were willing to give him a chance to deal with the aftereffects of the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. Here’s how that worked out:

For the stricken area to recover, I want you think about the presence of Prime Minister Kan, the heaviest of the shackles weighing down the recovery.

That was Hatayama Kazuyoshi, the president of the of Miyagi prefectural assembly, on 28 July. He was speaking at a national conference of prefectural assembly presidents, just after the representatives of the assemblies of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima — the three prefectures that suffered the most — submitted an emergency resolution to the committee calling for the resignation of Kan Naoto.

The National Governor’s Conference also met last month in Akita. Declared Hirai Shinji, Governor of Tottori:

(The national government) is not trusted either throughout the world or throughout the regional areas of Japan. The government’s response has been grandstanding from first to last…The national government has been doing nothing but holding conferences. We should express this anger in a special declaration.

Finally, more ominous for a country with little political violence, police in Tokyo last month arrested a man carrying an 11-centimeter fruit knife who wanted to “punish” the prime minister for not resigning.

Why?

University professor and author Ikeda Nobuo wrote a blog entry last week to explain Mr. Kan’s behavior. Here’s an excerpt:

Prime Minister Kan plans to attend the Japan-U.S. summit meeting in the U.S. in September. It seems likely he intends to stay in office indefinitely. Even his aides don’t know what he really intends to do. That can be understood rationally, however, considering the objectives of his life in the past.

His entire life has been spent as an activist working against “the system”. He allied himself with the “Structural Reform Wing”, a group that favored a type of syndicalism in which the workers would manage corporations through “factory evaluation councils”. The state was the enemy to be ultimately dismantled. He was not a violent revolutionary in the mold of the Marxist-Leninists; rather, his strategy was to gain a legislative majority and gradually move the hegemony to the left.

But Japanese corporations once had (a system) close to the worker management type envisioned by Gramsci. Kan’s ideal was realized by Japanese corporations, and then fell apart. Management by the workers failed throughout the world. The structural reformers that were part of what was called Euro-Communism, of which the Italian Communist Party was the first example, disappeared, and Socialism collapsed.

In short, Mr. Kan’s objectives were lost when he was still young. Perhaps his only remaining obsession was to smash the state. His life until now has been spent in an assumed guise for the purpose of achieving hegemony. Consider: now, when he has seized the ultimate power, when he causes political turbulence by staying on after saying he will resign, when he stops nuclear power generation and upsets energy policy, and when he has achieved his objective of trashing the state — it is possible to explain the reason he is behaving in such an uncharacteristically dynamic manner.

The political solution

Along with the rest of the nation, the political class was slow on the uptake and failed to immediately recognize Mr. Kan’s unfamiliarity with the knives and forks of shame and morality.

One more of the same, my good man

Senior DPJ members cobbled together a last-minute solution when it appeared the June no-confidence motion would pass and rupture the party. After realizing they had created a political Frankenstein, the same people put together a new strategy to force Mr. Kan from office. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun reportedly set in motion a three-step plot: (1) Hold a new election for party president (2) Ensure Mr. Kan’s defeat, thereby separating the party presidency from the prime minister, and (3) Promote and support a new no-confidence motion.

Some were hesitant to submit another motion because it’s been customary in Japan to limit such motions to one a Diet term. (Some people even wondered if more than one would be unconstitutional.)

That didn’t bother the Destroyer of Worlds and former DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro. He let it be known that he didn’t see any problem at all with a second no-confidence motion. In fact, he said if the DPJ leadership didn’t like it, he’d form a new party and introduce it himself. Meanwhile, he would wait until the end of August to see what Mr. Okada had in mind. This does not seem to have been a bluff; long-time associate and former upper house member Hirano Tadao confirmed it publicly.

New Komeito Secretary-General Inoue Yoshihisa also threatened a new no-confidence motion, and added:

Before that, the DPJ has to take responsibility and return this country to a state of normalcy.

Even former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio had a bright idea. He publicly floated the suggestion of having Mr. Kan’s Cabinet resign out from under him:

Mr. Kaieda (Economy, Trade, and Industry) could resign at any time. Mr. Kaieda is not alone. Mr. Ohata (Land, Infrastructure, and Transport) Mr. Matsumoto (Foreign Ministry), Mr. Takagi (Education), Mr. Hosokawa (Health, Labor, and Welfare)…Five people will probably quit….Mr. Sengoku has resolved to quit at the same time as Mr. Kaieda. That’s also true for Mr. Noda (Finance) and Mr. Edano.

Sengoku Yoshito confirmed that the latter three planned to resign, and added it would be decisive if Edano Yukio were to quit. (Mr. Edano later denied it, however, either pro forma or out of sincerity.) There were also reports Mr. Sengoku got the thumbs up from the Finance Ministry, allowing him to pave the way for their current lapdog, Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

Apart from a few perfunctory jabs, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party followed the grand political tradition of keeping their lips zipped while their opponents formed a circular firing squad, at least in public. Noted Ina Hisayoshi of the Nikkei Shimbun:

The longer Prime Minister Kan holds out, the deeper the cracks run in the DPJ, which will be to the advantage of the LDP in the next lower house election….the LDP is snickering at the idea of a snap election based on nuclear power.

What happened behind closed doors was another matter, however. The DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito worked together to hammer out the legislation Mr. Kan set as his condition for resignation. According a report in the Sankei Shimbun, one conversation during the meetings went like this:

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru: Hold the election to name the prime minister by the end of the month.

DPJ counterpart, Okada Katsuya: I understand.

Throwing in the spoon

What changed Mr. Kan’s mind? Was it the realization that he wouldn’t survive a second no-confidence vote, the threatened desertion of his Cabinet, or a message from The Japan Handlers?

It might have been any or all of them, but what seems to have tipped the balance (for somebody) was the continued nose-dive in public opinion polls. Last week’s Asahi poll showed the support for the Kan Cabinet down to 14%, with non-support more than four times higher at 67%. The figures for his predecessor, Hatoyama The Hapless, fell only as low as 19%.

Meanwhile, the same poll showed that 61% of the public had a favorable view of relinquishing the reliance on nuclear power.

In other words, the electorate knew that the continued service of Kan Naoto as prime minister was an issue unrelated to nuclear power generation. There went the dream of becoming Koizumi V.2

Next!

The departure of Kan Naoto as prime minister does not mean that the long nightmare of the Japanese public is over. Rather, they will have been plucked from the fire and placed back in the frying pan.

None of the possible successors (or the DPJ itself) has a strong power base, a feasible vision, or practical executive experience. Former Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Mabuchi Sumio has a whiff of the alpha male about him, but he’ll need more than smooth lines, good looks, and his few months of experience in the Cabinet. Besides, he wrote on his blog that he refused Mr. Kan’s offer of the position of deputy minister of METI because he can’t accept the ministry’s atomic energy policy. He was also critical of the ministry’s safety declaration to get the idled nuclear plants restarted.

As we’ve seen before, Mr. Sengoku will try to maneuver Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko into the seat. They’ve already been laying the groundwork. An article under his name titled My Vision of Government appears in the current issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju.

Mr. Noda delayed a formal announcement of his candidacy when the Nikkei fell below 9,000 this week. That’s a nice touch for the sake of appearances, though everyone realizes it has no substantive meaning. As with Kan Naoto before him, Mr. Noda’s knowledge of governmental fiscal matters is limited to the information his Finance Ministry tutors fed him after he took the job. There have been exceptions, but the job description of finance minister in Japan most often amounts to serving as the Finance Ministry press spokesman.

In keeping with that job description and his field-specific ignorance, Mr. Noda favors a tax increase. The sound of the world’s social welfare states collapsing is apparently inaudible at the Finance Ministry building. He also favors another stimulus. Why not? The last one didn’t work, so of course they’ve got to do the same thing, only harder this time.

That should not be construed as a criticism of the Japanese political system, incidentally. Japanese behavior is no worse than what the people in charge of economic policy in the United States and Europe have wrought.

No, the one next to the green bottle of shochu

The problem is ultimately the Democratic Party itself. Democrats in America enjoy amusing the dwindling audience for political conventions every four years by telling a joke on themselves that is usually attributed to the humorist Will Rogers: “I belong to no organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” There’s also the remark by an earlier humorist, Finley Peter Dunne: “Th’ dimmy-cratic party ain’t on speakin’ terms with itself.”

Whatever the situation in the United States these days, those are perfect descriptions of the Democratic Party of Japan, a group jerrybuilt with spare parts and whose only common element is “We’re not the LDP.” That worked in 2009, but they’ll never be able to play that card again.

As part of the grand bargain to get the deficit-financing bonds passed in the Diet, Mr. Okada (and presumably Messrs. Sengoku and Edano) agreed to repeal some of the legal vote-buying schemes they put in their manifesto in 2009 and later passed. Those include the child-rearing allowance, which will revert to the status quo ante of the former LDP policy of paying only for small children, and the free expressway tolls.

That’s actually a seldom-seen demonstration of common sense to deal with a situation in which annual government expenditures are twice government revenue. Nonetheless, some party members strongly object to that approach, namely Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio. (Some opposition pols agree.) That insistence on preserving the party platform is prima facie evidence they lack the qualifications for higher office. A casual glance at any newspaper should be enough to confirm for even the thickest of bricks that morbid gigantism and philosophical obsolescence is testing the capacity of governments worldwide to survive in a viable form. Either they can’t be bothered to read the newspaper, or they think saving the face of the party takes priority over preventing national bankruptcy.

Other DPJ members insist that no one currently in the Cabinet should run for the post because they are Mr. Kan’s “criminal accomplices”. That’s a capital idea, but politicians never think it’s in their interest to listen to capital ideas that hamper their job prospects.

On the bright side

For all Kan Naoto’s negatives, some good things did emerge as a result of his term in office. For one, the political parties learned to negotiate and work around the absence of a majority party or coalition in the upper house, the source of past gridlock. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo explained that dealing with Prime Minister Kan was a waste of time, and it was more fruitful to ignore him.

Regardless of the content of the bills or legislation that emerged from these negotiations (and some of it is truly terrible), at least they’ve learned something about compromise. That’s a novel experience for the DPJ in particular.

Also, unlike the electorates of the West, the Japanese public had never before seen the ugliness of the left when in power.

Now it has.

Afterwords:

* Despite Mr. Kan’s insistence on the revision of Japan’s nuclear energy policy before saying his last sayonara, his Hiroshima and Nagasaki declarations of a nuclear-free Japan, and his smartass comment that the Diet should hurry up and pass the bill if they didn’t want to see his face, reports in the media say he left the determination of the content of the bill to DPJ party execs. That will likely result in legislative mush the opposition will slurp down simply to send the man packing. It also makes it easier for subsequent governments to amend or repeal.

* Some people snipe at the Japanese for a narrow-mindedness they claim is a result of their monoracial society, but we now see that the absence of multiculturalism can sometimes have benefits.

For example, consider the tone and content of the wholly justified criticisms leveled at Kan Naoto. If anyone complained about the nature of the criticism, I missed it.

Now imagine what some Americans would say if those identical wholly justified criticisms were leveled at Barack Obama, who shares with Mr. Kan the same political philosophy, character, incompetence, deluded smugness in his imaginary abilities, antipathy toward the nation and political system he is supposed to lead, and lack of interest in legislative detail.

A man could get rich buying stock in companies that manufacture anti-enuretic devices.

* A Rasmussen poll in the U.S. released earlier this week shows that only 17% of the respondents agree with the statement that the American government “has the consent of the governed”, to use the wording of the Declaration of Independence. That’s the lowest figure ever recorded for that question. It’s also been roughly the final approval rate for the past two DPJ governments in Japan.

It’s about time for Japanese pollsters to ask the same question. In the Westminster system, that result should be grounds to call a new lower house election.

******
And now, for the reaction of the Japanese public to the news of Mr. Kan’s tabun maybe perhaps desho departure…

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers