AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Eda S.’

Questionable

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 2, 2012

HERE are a few questions about the responses of some people who have objected to recent actions by the Japanese government.

Questions #1

Early last week, anti-capital punishment activists praised Japan for what Kyodo termed its “apparent de facto moratorium” — whatever that word sequence is supposed to mean — on killing convicted killers.

What really happened, rather than what apparently de facto happened, is this: The last time anyone walked the long green Japanese mile was July 2010. Rather than being a moratorium, it was an unannounced decision by the new prime minister, Kan Naoto, to stop executions. He was abetted in that decision by his second justice minister, Eda Satsuki, long an opponent of capital punishment. Mr. Eda always dodged the question when asked whether he had declared a moratorium on executions, as well on as signing the papers authorizing them. Last year was the first year there were no executions in Japan in 19 years.

Both men are now gone from the Cabinet for good, which means that affairs have reverted to normal. Three men were hung by the neck until dead on 29 March. In keeping with the Japanese practice to reserve the death penalty for multiple murders, one of the three rammed a car into a train station in 1999 and killed five people with a knife.

Capital!

Every survey I’ve ever seen has the Japanese public approving capital punishment with roughly 70% support. A December 2009 Cabinet Office poll found that 85.6% of respondents said capital punishment is “unavoidable in some cases”.

The English-language media says the issue is “hotly debated” in Japan. What they mean is that they want it to become hotly debated in the real Japan instead of the Japan of their imaginations. Most Japanese think capital punishment is a natural response to certain circumstances, in the same way that others think abortion is a natural response to different circumstances. A look at the poll results shows that only a sliver of the population is likely to get hot about it, and then only those who know how to write press releases.

The executions were followed by Justice Minister Ogawa Toshio’s announcement that plans for a discussion panel on the pros and cons of executing cons will not be put into execution after all.

Said the Kyodo English-language article, with typically emotive language:

“The panel would have invited input from experts on all sides of the emotive issue, and Ogawa’s decision to curtail the opportunity for debate, including on the suspension of executions, immediately drew fire from death penalty critics.

“’It is left up to the personal creed of a justice minister whether to debate capital punishment. The DPJ cannot avoid blame for its irresponsibility as a ruling party,’ said Hideki Wakabayashi, an official at Amnesty International Japan.”

Amplified bologna. Mr. Wakabayashi thought it was fine that the personal creed of a different justice minister led him to apparently de facto suspend executions. Further, the only “experts” on capital punishment are those who research the frequency, the means, the standards, the distribution, and the background of the practice. Everyone else is trafficking in moral suasion, regardless of the title on their name card.

Nor did Mr. Ogawa curtail the opportunity for debate. Mr. Wakabayashi is at liberty to debate the subject until he’s gassed. He can write op-eds, magazine articles, or books, give speeches at rented halls or standing on top of upturned beer crates in the park, or wheedle interviews in the broadcast media. The absence of government sponsorship does not mean a thing does not exist.

And since Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has no problem with capital punishment, it certainly wasn’t left up to the personal creed of this justice minister.

The EU is floating in the same boat. Here’s Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, UK Labor Party pol, and a Life Peer who was born into a coal-mining family (i.e., she’s leftist aristocracy):

“The EU deeply regrets the execution of Yasuaki Uwabe, Tomoyuki Furusawa and Yasutoshi Matsuda on 29 March 2012, and the fact that this marks the resumption of executions in Japan after twenty months during which none took place.”

Why does Lady Ashton not mind her own business? Or are her official EU duties as insubstantial as her peerage?

The opponents of capital punishment say it is cruel and inhuman, but that’s looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope. Cruel and inhuman is deliberately stabbing five innocent people to death at a train station.

There were lamentations that the three condemned men were given only a few hours’ advance notice, and that their families were not notified until after the executions. There were no apparent de facto lamentations for the victims, who received no advance notice of their deaths at all. Their families weren’t notified until after they died either.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Lady Ashton and Mr. Wakabayashi are concerned about “social” justice, “social” democracy, and “social” welfare, and therefore about the well-being of society itself.

Why then do they deny society the means for self-defense?

Questions #2

Most Okinawans are getting really tired of having to make room for all those American service personnel. The entire Okinawa island chain is 877 square miles in all, and it is the location of 70-75% of the 47,000 American warfighters in Japan. American military installations occupy slightly more than 10% of all Okinawan territory, which is just over half that of the 1,545 square miles of Rhode Island, the smallest of the 50 American states.

In December 2010, Kan Naoto’s government agreed to pay the U.S. JPY 188 billion a year (about US$2.25 billion then) every year through 2015 to help defray the American military expenses. That’s significantly more than either Germany or South Korea pay.

The Japanese finally convinced the Americans in 2009 to move some Marines from Okinawa to Guam, but they had to accept a bill for $2.8 billion to get it done. That money will be allocated to the construction costs for new facilities in Guam.

But the U.S. reopened the deal in February when Congress wanted to cut expenditures and thought Japan should pay even more to transport American soldiers and build facilities for those American soldiers on American-governed territory. They wanted US$3.5 billion instead.

Why did Japan agree?

The Kyodo report had the answer:

“Japan, which initially resisted the move, has since relented to preserve the harmony of the bilateral alliance, the sources said.”

Ah, so. To keep the Americans from pouting and behaving unpleasantly. But you don’t always gotta have wa.

Why is Japan helping the U.S. out of their budgetary mess by exacerbating their own?

I have an answer for that:

The Japanese government is paying vigorish to the United States of America for a protection scheme.

Now here’s the question no one has an answer for.

Why don’t the Japanese apply the same attitude to the U.S. as they do to Amnesty International or the EU?

It would be salubrious for both parties if the Japanese were to tell the Americans to depart from Futenma in one year and to pay their own way home. The lower American lip would protrude; the neo-cons and many on both sides of the aisle in Congress would raise their voices, but they’d get over it. They’d still have plenty of military firepower here.

The Japanese might even figure out that the Americans need them just as much, if not more, than they need the Americans.

Afterwords:

Here’s another question: Why does Amnesty International and the EU pester Japan — or even Mr. Natural himself, Abdallah Al-Bishi? Those organizations are full of the type of people who think multiculturalism is the contemporary apostles’ creed, can’t bring themselves to hold responsible the European Islamist youth for their actions when they rampage — or even admit their identity — but yet insist the uncivilized un-continentals on either end of Asia conform to their moral code instead of allowing them their own.

Al-Bishi’s implicit comparison of men and women at about the eight-minute mark is most interesting, by the way.

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Kan Naoto’s northern exposure

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 31, 2011

The DPJ has an inseparable relationship with the extreme left.
- Isozaki Yosuke, LDP member of the upper house

Prime Minister Kan was originally a citizen-activist, so in some ways he is likely sympathetic to North Korea.
- Suganuma Mitsuhiro, former member of the Public Security Intelligence Agency

RECENT events in North Korea reminded me of a post I had planned to write earlier but didn’t find the time for. Then again, it’s about former Prime Minister Kan Naoto, whom most people in Japan would prefer to never be reminded of again. But the information it contains demands the stiffening of the upper lip and the blocking of the nostrils to finish the job. It involves the reason he decided to quit jerking the nation around after spending the summer doubling down on his jerkdom after escaping a no-confidence motion in the lower house.

Recall that Mr. Kan insisted he never gave his predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, a firm promise that he would resign in their early June meeting Mr. Hatoyama requested for just that purpose. He stayed vague and hazy about his plans throughout the summer, when he wasn’t hinting he would continue indefinitely in office as the National Torturer in Chief. He even indulged his inner Koizumi by examining the possibility of dissolving the Diet, calling a snap election, and running on the single issue of nuclear power. He finally threw in the spoon on 26 August, though earlier that week an interview with him appeared in one of the Asahi publications in which he again suggested he was in it for the long haul.

What made him change his mind? Here’s a possibility: The exposure of his murky ties with North Korea and other radical leftists was about to get him in trouble beyond his capabilities to ignore.

It isn’t unusual for politicians of the left in Western democracies to have questionable ties with unpleasant elements. For example, it’s well-known in the United States that Edward “Lion of the Senate” Kennedy thought Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov was more approachable and had more peaceful intentions than then-President Ronald Reagan.

The same mindset among Japanese politicians of the left has often become manifest in attitudes ranging from deference to cordiality or even stout defense of North Korea, particularly when Kim Il-sung was in charge. The delusion also infects people not ostensibly of the left; we’ve seen before the suspicions surrounding then-Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji of the DPJ, who quit while the quitting was good, and even Kato Koichi of the LDP, who nearly became prime minister.

The dirty Kan laundry was put through the wash in July, and it stained the water a muddy red. Most of the Japanese news media pretended it didn’t exist at first, but the story grew too big to ignore, and finally some Americans started sniffing around.

But Mr. Kan showed his colors long before that.

Shin Gwang-su

In 1980, North Korean agent Shin Gwang-su organized the abduction of Osaka cook Hara Tadaaki, in part to use Hara’s passport to enter Japan while working as a North Korean agent. He was a foot soldier in a six-year Pyeongyang program of clandestine warfare in which at least 17 Japanese were abducted, though the real total could have been as high as 70 or 80 people. Shin, a zainichi and native of Shizuoka, was also identified by Chimura Yasushi and Hasuike Kaoru as one of the two men who abducted them. The two Japanese and their families were repatriated in 2002.

Shin Gwang-su

North Korea denied the abductions for years, and the useful idiots and politicians of the left in Japan claimed it was all a conspiracy theory cooked up by whacked-out right wingers. Japan’s Socialist Party got along quite well with the North Koreans in friendly solidarity and sponsored a Peace Boat cruise to the country every summer. JSP leader Doi Takako visited Pyeongyang in 1987 for Kim Il-sung’s birthday party and said:

We JSP members respect the glorious success of DPRK under the great leader Kim Il Sung.

She was also shown on television telling the families of the abductees to “get over it”.

Shin was finally apprehended by South Korean authorities when in that country on another secret mission in 1985, and sentenced to death. Their interrogation revealed information about the abductions, his use of Hara’s passport, and his statement that he was instructed to conduct the operations by Kim Jong-il in person.

The plight of political prisoners in South Korea under the military dictatorship became a cause célèbre among the Japanese. (Westerners are familiar with the phenomenon with such cases as that of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the United States.) A petition circulated for their release was signed by 129 Japanese Diet members. In addition to members of the Socialist Party and Komeito, the forerunner of today’s New Komeito (many zainichi are members of the affiliated Soka Gakkai), two MPs from the small Democratic Socialist Federation also signed: Kan Naoto and Eda Satsuki. Mr. Eda would later become the second Justice Minister in the Kan Cabinet, replacing Chiba Keiko, who lost her upper house seat in the 2010 election. A Socialist Party member in those pre-DPJ days, she also signed the petition.

The South Koreans later commuted Shin’s sentence to life imprisonment. Then-President Kim Dae-jung sent him back to North Korea in 2000 as part of the Sunshine Policy, where he was hailed as a hero of the state. The Japanese police have an outstanding warrant for his arrest, but that would require the North Koreans to pinch their hero first and hand him over.

Kan and Eda claimed they had no idea that Shin had been involved in the abduction of Japanese nationals. Mr. Kan said he signed it only because someone asked him to, and he hadn’t paid much attention to the content of the document. The flippancy of that answer is typical of the profound disrespect he has displayed toward his countrymen and the political process throughout his career.

Chiba Keiko was grilled in the Diet on the same question in 2009 (by the Japanese Communist Party). She admitted that she had investigated Shin’s background at the time and discovered that he “probably” was involved in the abductions, but that problem was superseded by the greater human rights issue, which she did not specify. She allowed that signing the petition was a careless thing to do, which is more than Kan Naoto has ever done.

Just for you!

For me?

In late July, a previously unknown photo came to light that showed Kan Naoto during his visit to North Korea in March 1995 as part of a Japanese delegation that included Watanabe Michio and Aso Taro of the Liberal Democratic Party. (Watanabe had been foreign minister two years before and was to die that September.) Mr. Kan was in the Cabinet at that time as a member of the New Frontier Party, and fellow party member Hatoyama Yukio was also along for the trip.

The photo, seen here, was taken by a Japanese freelancer and shows Mr. Kan receiving a present from Kim Yong-sun, then head of the international division of the Workers’ Party of North Korea. In that role, Kim was responsible for directing North Korean spying and other undercover operations abroad.

It’s fascinating how often information potentially damaging to Japanese politicians seems to surface at certain times, even though the physical evidence had been around for a while. The freelancer’s other photographs taken at the time have also been made public. The only other person to have been photographed receiving a gift from Kim during the visit was Mr. Hatoyama.

It is also worthy of note that the New York Times considered Kim Yong-sun important enough to rate a brief obituary when he died following an automobile accident. Alas, they lacked the space to mention his work in the international division.

Campaign Cash

After Mr. Kan deflected the no-confidence motion in early June, the nation was livid at both his weaselly maneuvering and his refusal to specify a date for stepping down. That and the effect it would have on the Tohoku recovery occupied the public’s attention for the rest of the month.

The Kan-Sakai handshake

When it appeared that that the prime minister was digging in, some new information just happened to come to light in the first week of July. It was revealed that Mr. Kan’s political fund management committee donated JPY 62.5 million yen (more than $US 800,000) from 2007-2009 to a small political group linked to suspects in the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. Further, JPY 50 million of that amount was donated to the group in 2008. That is the maximum allowable amount, and it accounted for 60% of the group’s funding for the year.

The group benefiting from the Kan largesse was the Citizens’ Council for a Change of Government (shortened to Mezasu-kai in Japanese). It originated in and was created by the Shimin no To (Citizens’ Party).

CP head Sakai Takeru, who also travels under the name of Saito Masashi, has known Kan Naoto for 30 years. (photo). In fact, Mr. Sakai worked in the first Kan campaign for a Diet seat. He is a self-identified Leninist who has expressed solidarity with and support for the Red Army Faction of the Communist League, which hijacked a JAL flight to North Korea in 1970. In 2004, he wrote in the quarterly Risen (short for the Japanese “Theoretical Battle Line”):

I am (involved with) elections for the sake of revolution…my objective is revolution, so we must eventually change the central authority. But it is important to create a central territory where the revolutionaries are strong.

The Citizens’ Party walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Two members, Inoue Sakura and Yonahara Hiroko, managed to get themselves elected to the municipal assembly of Yokohama. On 29 May, 2002, they tried to pull down the Japanese flag displayed in the assembly’s main conference hall, and duked it out with the assembly staff before they were subdued. One week later, on 5 June, they took control of the seats of the assembly chairman and the secretary-general and blocked the session by refusing to move for six hours. The city of Yokohama finally expelled them as delegates.

The CP publishes a newspaper that openly supports North Korea and promoted the views of the Red Army Faction. It has also given space to Kan Naoto to promote his own views. He wrote for the paper:

I most definitely want to seek the ideal approach for a movement that combines both the labor movement and the citizens’ movement.

Under the direction of Mr. Sakai, the group created the Mezasu-kai in 2006 to back the then-opposition Democratic Party’s effort to win control of the government. One member of the new group was Mori Taishi, the son of the late leader of the Japanese Red Army, Tamiya Takamaro, and his wife, Mori Junko. Father was the leader of the JAL airliner hijacking group. Mother is on Interpol’s wanted list for abducting Ishioka Toru and Matsuki Kaoru from Europe to North Korea in 1980.

Their son Taishi was born in Pyeongyang and first came to Japan in 2004.

Said LDP Diet member Kawai Katsuyuki:

(He) was in North Korea until the age of 20. It is easy to imagine what sort of education he received.

It isn’t necessary to imagine his education at all, because the facts have been reported. He grew up in the “Japan Revolution Village” created on a site about an hour from Pyeongyang for eight Japanese families, including those of the hijackers. Mori received what has been described as a “revolutionary education” to convert Japan to Kim Il-sung-ism. In addition to textbooks, the village also had rifle ranges and boxing rings, and the training was conducted as a family. Every morning the village turned out to sing “The 10 Pledges”, which included promises to conduct the unconditional and thorough implementation of the Two Kims’ teachings, to protect the organization’s secrets with their lives, and to create revolution in Japan. The families had 20 children altogether, and all of them came to Japan.

Citizens’ Party head Sakai Takeru, Kan’s pal of 30 years, visited them in North Korea 10 years ago and met the villagers.

In April, Mori Taishi ran for the municipal assembly of Mitaka, a municipality in the Tokyo Metro District, but lost. He was officially endorsed by the Citizens’ Party.

As you might imagine, the opposition parties thought Mr. Kan had some explaining to do. Kan Naoto was his usual charming self:

I made the donation to provide solidarity and support to a local party to fulfill my job as an officer (acting president) of the party (DPJ) at the time…It was my decision to make the donation, so I have no intention of asking them to return it.

And:

The flow of my political funds has been properly submitted in its entirety.

Well, that wasn’t the issue, was it? He continued:

I thought it would be a positive to become allied with them.

He added that he saw no reason to apologize to the abductees’ families, and that he didn’t know of the Mezasu-kai membership links to the abductions. Incidentally, as prime minister, he was the head of the special government group for dealing with the abduction issue.

His lack of knowledge about the group didn’t stop him from personally funneling the maximum donation to them in 2008. People wondered why he spent that much money on a group he knew so little about — unless his knowledge was limited to their affiliation with the political party of his Leninist friend. In any event, no one believed him any more this time than they did when he cavalierly dismissed his signature on the petition to free Shin Gwang-su.

For another perspective, here’s Prof. Iwai Tomoaki of Nihon University:

It is commonplace for politicians in Japan to make donations within the framework of one political family – usually through the parent organization to several sub-organizations as a means of helping them financially. I have seldom seen a case like Mr. Kan’s, in which political funds have been channeled into an outside political organization that seemingly is not directly linked with his body. In view of the prevailing accepted practices in Japanese politics, it certainly is a puzzling flow of funds.

It gets more puzzling: Tokyo prosecutors agreed to a request to investigate the donation for possible criminal prosecution. They checked the books of the Kan political fund committee and found a negative balance of funds on the date one of the donations was made. That meant it should have been impossible to give them any money. There is also no evidence of a loan. How can a donation be made with invisible funds?

Mr. Kan finally apologized in the Diet on 21 August, though he made sure to attach qualifiers to it first. He was unable to look his questioner in the eye.

In addition to their election activities, Mezasu-kai was also discovered to have spent money lavishly in Ginza nightclubs, Tokyo-area restaurants, and a Naha, Okinawa steakhouse. Lavish in this case is the equivalent of thousands of dollars at a time.

There’s more. Isn’t there always?

The political fund group of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio also donated JPY 10 million yen to Mezasu-kai, and groups affiliated with six DPJ MPs gave money to the Citizens’ Party. But turnabout is fair play: Mezasu-kai donated JPY 16.9 million to groups affiliated with three Democratic Party members.

The group received JPY 249.6 million yen in all from several DPJ Diet members. One of them was Washio Eiichiro, who served on a special lower house committee for the abduction issue. You guessed it: he claimed his group didn’t know the Mezasu-kai back story, either. Mr. Washio was seen as a “conservative” (whatever that means in the DPJ universe), but Citizens’ Party head Sakai served as his aide for four years. Mr. Washio explained that he was a friend of his father, was introduced to him as a reliable person, and helped with his election campaigns. He said that he felt somewhat betrayed.

What an incurious lot, these Japanese politicians.

It was then revealed in August that the Citizens’ Party had dispatched six people to work as aides for four DPJ diet members to help in election campaigns. They were paid with public funds, which were divvied up into equal shares and distributed to all the party members. Spreading the wealth!

Finally, the Citizens’ Party is registered as a political group that is affiliated with Diet members, in this case four DPJ members.

South Korean money

Kan Naoto was also discovered to have received substantial donations twice from a South Korean national — quite against the law — once in 2006 and once in 2009. These donations came to light on 11 March, the same day as the Tohoku earthquake, so the news was lost to the public consciousness. But prosecutors in Tokyo were sufficiently curious to begin an investigation in May. Mr. Kan later returned the money, but the opposition boycotted an upper house Budget Committee session when he refused to hand over documents on the illegal donations.

The Kan government and North Korea

How did the prime minister’s feelings of solidarity for socialism Korean style translate into actual policy? The record is mixed. In April, still spending most of its time dealing with the Tohoku disaster, the Kan government extended the existing Japanese sanctions on North Korea. Those include the prohibition of imports, luxury exports, and Japanese port calls by North Korean ships. Mr. Kan instructed officials to study the possibility of tougher sanctions if Pyeongyang continued to stonewall the proposal for talks to discuss Japan’s doubts that all the abductees have been returned.

This does not necessarily mean he favored additional penalties or even the ones already in place. He may not know much about the recipients of his political donations, but he knows as well as any other politician the emotional resonance of the issue in Japan.

More in accord with his inner compass was his government’s granting of visas to five members of the North Korean Olympic Committee for meetings of the Olympic Council of Asia in Tokyo in mid-July. It was the first time in five years anyone with a North Korean passport had been allowed to enter Japan. The government explained that the constitution of the OCA, the governing body for sports in the region, calls for the separation of sports and politics.

Apparently the Olympic authorities do not consider North Korean concentration camps to be as reprehensible as the behavior of apartheid-era South Africa, which was prevented from participating in the 1964 Summer Olympics and was expelled from the IOC in 1970.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said they hoped this would lead to improved relations with Japan.

But if any act of the Kan government encapsulates the Kan approach to politics, it was the prime minister’s request of the education ministry to resume its consideration of permitting free schooling for the Chongryon-operated high schools in the country — on the morning of the day the DPJ was to caucus to select his successor. (Chongryon is the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan.) In other words, one of Kan Naoto’s last acts in office was a political middle finger. One plank of the DPJ election platform was to make high school attendance free for all students. (The Japanese once took seriously the concept of compulsory education ending at age 15 and required tuition for high school.)

This would seem to be in violation of Article 89 of the Japanese constitution that prohibits public expenditures for any educational enterprise not under the control of public authority. The Chongryon schools have their own curriculum, teach the juche philosophy/religion, and have pictures of Kim I and II on the walls. It has not been reported whether they sing the Ten Pledges to start the day, as Mori Taishi did in the Japan Revolutionary Village.

The DPJ was working to implement this part of their manifesto when the North Koreans conducted a rocket attack on a South Korean island in November 2010, so public opinion would not allow them to move further. Mr. Kan said the resumption of the effort was justified because conditions on the peninsula had reverted to those prevailing before the attack. He also said it would be possible to provide the students with money retroactively to April, when the school year starts.

Waking up

Most of the information on the donation to the Mezasu-kai and the connections of the principals was reported by the Sankei Shimbun starting in July. The rest of the print and broadcast media looked the other way in public, even though the revelations caused some sharp questioning in the Diet. That ended on 28 July, when the Yomiuri Shimbun published its first report on the matter.

One day later, a project team was formed in the Diet with members from several parties to investigate the donations. Attending the first meeting was Azuma Shozo — a DPJ Cabinet member who was the deputy minister for handling the abduction issue. Talk began of an intra-party DPJ coup organized by four senior members of the party.

More ominous was that the controversy had started to attract attention in the U.S. and generated concerns about Kan Naoto’s trustworthiness. Better late than never, eh? The American ambassador John Roos even traveled to Niigata at this time to visit the site where the 13-year-old Yokota Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977.

These revelations and the reaction to them seem to have finally budged the intractable Kan. Everyone knows he announced his resignation on 26 August, but few know the exposure of his political associations is the factor that seems to have pushed him into it.

People will be singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight on New Year’s Eve throughout the English-speaking world. The song begins: Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Ask that question in Japan about Kan Naoto, and the answer will be yes. Many people will be taking a cup of kindness, but no one will be toasting him.

Afterwords:

* The Cabinet of Noda Yoshihiko, Mr. Kan’s successor, declined to strengthen economic sanctions against North Korea. For some reason, they think there are prospects for new talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

After taking office, Mr. Noda said he would carefully examine the Kan order to re-examine the benefits for Chongyron schools. That means he isn’t going to quash it and is buying time until emotions subside.

He also appointed Hiraoka Hideo as justice minister. Mr. Hiraoka is a pacifist who attended the 50th anniversary party for Chongyron schools. He supports diplomatic recognition for North Korea, opposed the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to deal with the Somalian pirates, and thinks the law is too strict on political donations from foreign countries.

One criticism of Noda Yoshihiko’s behavior as prime minister is that he gives precedence to the party over the national interest. His personal attitude toward the countries on the Korean Peninsula would be at home in the LDP, but his party is populated with so many people who share the ideas of Kan Naoto, Eda Satsuki, Chiba Keiko, and Hiraoka Hideo that he has to take them into account. The perpetual eggshell walk of DPJ leaders to prevent party dissolution is one of the many reasons they are not fit to govern.

* Some of the conversation between Kim Jong-il and the late South Korean President Ro Mu-hyeon at their Pyeongyang summit on 3 October 2007 was revealed by South Korean government sources on the 30th. Ro pressed Kim to take a forward-looking approach to returning South Korean abductees — the North Koreans have plenty of them, too — but Kim rebuffed him. He said:

Even though we went so far as to apologize, Japan attacked us.

In other words, Kim viewed his return of the Japanese abductees as a diplomatic failure, and he wasn’t about to let that happen again. He also alluded to criticism he received from the military when he added:

There are people around me who are known as hardliners.

So the abductions have blown up in everyone’s face, including that of Kim, thought to be the man responsible for them. That alone might say more about the state of governance in North Korea than the opinions of all the pundits put together.

*****
British rocker Peter Frampton saw a documentary on Yokota Megumi and the abductions and was moved to dedicate two songs to her.

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Ichigen koji (43)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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

Prime Minister Kan was made the recipient of (the nation’s) stress.

- Justice/Environment Minister Eda Satsuki, explaining the Kan administration’s low approval ratings on a television program. He, his father, and Kan Naoto were among the founding members of the small Socialist Democratic Federation in 1978.

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Substitution

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 7, 2011

HERE’S a passage worth reading from a longer article I saw on the Web this morning:

If we have learned anything from the experience of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, it is the rediscovery of an old truth: dependency corrupts and absolute dependency corrupts absolutely. To the degree that Japan has been dependent upon the United States, the Japanese will has been corrupted and Japanese political vitality has diminished. A reconstructed alliance could reverse that process. But it would have to be an alliance with Japan as an equal partner.

Such a Japan might regain its self-respect, a feeling of control over its own national destiny, and, above all, it might recapture the spirit of nationalism that is indispensable to any successful foreign policy.

Well, wait — like little Georgie Washington copping to chopping the cherry tree, I cannot tell a lie. I did find the article on the Web this morning, but I made a substitution here and there for the sake of argument. The original is from a 1983 Irving Kristol essay called What’s Wrong with NATO? Replacing the references to Japan with Europe will restore the passage to close to its original form.

The post-substitution point is one that more than a few Japanese also make, but almost exclusively in Japanese-language publications for a Japanese audience: absent the drastic restructuring of the Security Treaty and the Constitution, Japan will never regain the sense of nationhood it lost in 1945. To be sure, there’s a culture, a country, a flag, and a national anthem that the current prime minister dislikes and has refused to sing on occasion, but there’s also little sense of Japan as a nation acting to uphold its legitimate interests in the world.

The position that a nation has legitimate interests to uphold is now doubleplusungood in some eccentric circles. Critics deride the people unafraid to support this position as right-wing nationalists, thereby yoking two political code words for “evil, wicked, mean and nasty”. The use of “right wing” as a substitute term for uncool people (usually, but not always, for people not on the meridian of social democracy or points left) became hackneyed decades ago, but the old-time glossary is still good enough for some.

In the same way, “nationalism” has more recently been added to the global governance jet set’s Lexicon of Shorthand Insults. The GGJS and their acolytes tend to view the concept of national interest as a Derridian construct and the people who would promote those interests as atavistic throwbacks. The combined application of those terms to Japan gives them a greater aggregate weight than the sum of their individual poundage. It’s a dog whistle blown to manifest the phantasmagorical image of a Japan that would recreate the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the 21st century. The whistle-blowers apparently have earplugs that prevent them from hearing the sounds emanating from Beijing.

Clear-eyed observation of How The World Works (HTWW) should be sufficient to disabuse anyone of those notions. The shared hallucination that is the Vision of the Anointed will not evaporate, however. Clear-eyed observation involves engagement with reality, and facts aren’t as important as feelings, so extended debate is meaningless. Besides, the idea of the Anointed Ones is not to create arrangements that provide for the greater good — it is to create arrangements for assuming positions of power to dictate how everyone else should live, once the proles assume the position. That also became apparent decades ago. Limiting them to the margins of the debate is the best we can hope for.

One critical step to nationhood for Japan will be removing the clause from Article 9 of the Constitution prohibiting military forces and recognizing that the use of military forces for self-defense is wholly legitimate. Anyone who would argue against those positions will ultimately have to explain why Japan, which shares a neighborhood with several atavistic throwback thug states, should not have the same right that other countries take as much for granted as air. They would also have to explain why the Japanese are incapable of exercising that right in a responsible manner. We’re all ears.

But taking that step will require placing the wartime events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a new perspective. Yes, those are terrible weapons, but they were weapons of war used in a war, not talking points in a grad school seminar. Would anti-nuke activists have preferred firebombings of the type to which Tokyo was subjected in 9-10 March 1945? Before they object to that question, here’s another one — do they really think that if they relax and repeat enough affirmations, they’re going to put an end to war?

Yesterday’s ceremony commemorating the Hiroshima bombing was attended by representatives from 66 countries, the second-highest total of foreigners ever, and it was lavished with extensive media coverage for all the wrong reasons. (The basic premise is the same as linking the Tokyo firebombings to thermal power plants.) But the emotionalism surrounding that event should revert to the downward trendline of recent years. With the average age of the hibakusha now at 77.4, the media and the activists will presently be deprived of their use as stage properties. The knowledge of that war for young Japanese will continue to decline until it bottoms out at the current level of knowledge of that war for young Americans.

That could well coincide with the United States relinquishing its role as global policeman, both through necessity as well as choice. Younger generations of Americans, atavistic throwbacks included, have grown increasingly suspicious of military adventures abroad. And if the American ruling class remains loathe to put the national financial house in order, the country will have to cut back on military expenditures in the same way its strapped municipalities are cutting back on police and fire departments. Speaking of coincident occurrences, that day could arrive at roughly the same time the Japanese decide they’d be better off spending on themselves the money they now pay the Americans to do a job they could do themselves. As it is, many Japanese already suspect the United States would find some way to weasel out of coming to their defense tomorrow for a foreign attack tonight. Can you blame them?

Those with the eyes to see know that the world is rapidly changing in drastic and unpredictable ways. In 2007, who would have thought that the American budget deficit would be turbocharged by 894% in just four years, leading to a ratings downgrade for government debt instruments?

A Japan ready to promote its national interests is an idea whose time is ready to come. It is not out of the question that the time could come sooner than anyone thinks.

Afterwords:

The Mainichi Shimbun ran an article that quoted the speeches of several of the foreign officials in Hiroshima yesterday.

The Italian Consul-General in Osaka: That Japan would use atomic power in its postwar recovery couldn’t be helped, and besides, the issue of atomic power should not be mixed up with that of atomic weapons.

The German Consul-General in Osaka: Atomic weapons should be banned, but it is not appropriate for people to tell other nations how to deal with their energy problems.

The Russian ambassador: Fukushima occurred due to natural causes, but Hiroshima was a man-made tragedy.

Now how’s this for synchronicity — two hours after uploading this post, I read the report of a speech delivered in Hokkaido today by former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio during one of his periodic study tours among us Earthlings. Mr. Hatoyama said:

We must create an environment in which the work of the Self-Defense Forces can be boldy stipulated in the Constitution. That environment has still yet to be created.

Meanwhile, Hosono Goshi, the minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup, said that a new nuclear power regulatory agency should be created and that it should be placed under the administration of the Ministry of Environment.

He seems to be the designated substitute for the role of Loopy in the Japanese government now that Mr. Hatoyama is no longer prime minister and is making sensible suggestions.

In a perfect illustration of Politics Under The Kan Cabinet, Minister of the Environment Eda Satsuki said he didn’t think the idea was at all practical.

Since it’s too much to ask the government to get on the same page, maybe we should settle for them getting in the same library in the same building.

*****

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Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

後悔先に立たず
- A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

*****
Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

*****
After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

*****
Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

*****
Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”

And:

“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

*****
Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

*****
Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

*****
It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

*****
Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”

Afterwords:

* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

*****
Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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You’d better think twice

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

THE POLITICAL MOBS are meeting in Tokyo this week to gird their loins and line up the troops in anticipation of the submission of a no-confidence motion in the Kan Cabinet by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. Judging from the surface turbulence, a lot of the squeezing and twisting that seems to be going on underwater would surely meet the disapproval of the Marquis of Queensbury. LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita commented that he didn’t think the motion had a chance of passage, but was surprised at the effort the ruling Democratic Party is expending to suppress the rebellion. He wonders if the situation within the DPJ might be more desperate than he suspected.

Here’s a taste of what he’s talking about. Justice Minister and ruling party member Eda Satsuki addressed Kan Naoto’s group/faction within the party yesterday, and said he was baffled that some in the party did not understand what a vote in support of that motion meant. I think they actually understand quite well what it means, but Mr. Eda made sure to remind those who didn’t:

“If there were a movement among some in the party in sympathy with the no-confidence motion, we would bury it with overwhelming force. I hope you really think seriously about this.”

The dread judge Mr. Eda and Mr. Kan, by the way, have been political pals for a long time. The first party both of them joined was a small group whose English name was the Socialist Democratic Federation. Come to think of it, Mr. Eda’s threat does have a whiff of the Politburo about it.

Meanwhile, Shimoji Mikio, secretary-general and parliamentary affairs chief of the People’s New Party, still part of the ruling coalition after all these years, met DPJ parliamentary affairs head Azumi Jun to let him know they would vote against the no-confidence measure. But he also delivered some pointed criticism:

“Half-baked threats are meaningless. Now you should be holding dialogues and working to unify the party.”

That’s an understandable position for the PNP. The party exists only because Koizumi Jun’ichiro threw some of them out of the LDP when they refused to back postal privatization.

At a news conference later, Mr. Shimoji said:

“The DPJ has more than 300 MPs in the lower house. The idea that there is a debate over whether or not the no-confidence motion will pass is strange in itself. Negligence on the part of DPJ leadership is the reason this situation has arisen, and it is very unpleasant.”

Another idea strange in itself is that the PNP continues to stay on board with the DPJ at all. For example, Mr. Shimoji also announced yesterday that the PNP opposes the DPJ plan to increase the consumption tax. The only reason this party of social conservatives has associated with a party of the left for this long is to kill the privatization of Japan Post. Such are the dilemmas of a single issue splinter party.

Contrary to Mr. Eda’s faux befuddlement, those members of the ruling coalition parties who have seriously considered voting for the measure know exactly what it means. At a minimum, they would be voting themselves out of the perks of power, and at worst, they would be voting themselves out of a job if a lower house election is called.

Yet some observers overseas blithely dismiss this whole episode as typical Japanese political infighting. If you want to see someone who doesn’t understand what the no-confidence motion means, that’s the direction in which to look.

*****
There’s bound to be a whole lot of thinking goin’ on:

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Absurd

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 31, 2011

“There is no time to wait for the wobbly and unsteady Democratic Party to acquire the ability to be responsible for government through on-the-job training and for a two-party system to mature…At this rate, there will never be any reason whatsoever for entrusting the government to the Democratic Party.”
- Yosano Kaoru
, Minshuto ga Nihon Keizai wo Hakai Suru (The Democratic Party Will Destroy the Japanese Economy), published in 2010

The treasury says the national debt
Is climbing to the sky
And government expenditures
Have never been so high
It makes a fellow get a
Gleam of pride within his eye
To see how our economy expands
The country’s in the very best of hands
- Johnny Mercer, “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands”

THE WORD politicians themselves are using to describe the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “absurd”. Nishioka Takeo, the president of the Diet’s upper house, called on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito to resign earlier this month. After taking one look at the lineup of the new Cabinet in which Mr. Sengoku was replaced, Mr. Nishioka called it “absurd”.

The presidents of both houses of the Diet traditionally resign their party memberships before assuming office. Mr. Nishioka was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan—Mr. Kan’s ruling party.

Another reshuffled Cabinet card was Kaieda Banri, who moved from the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy to the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. His former slot in the deck is now occupied by Yosano Kaoru, who resigned from the opposition Sunrise Party to take the position. Quitting parties is getting to be a habit for Mr. Yosano. Before last year’s upper house election, he resigned from the Liberal-Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party. Mr. Yosano owes his Diet seat to the LDP because they placed him on their proportional representation list. He lost his bid for reelection to the seat in Tokyo’s District #1 in 2009. The winner was Kaieda Banri.

That’s the same Yosano Kaoru quoted at the top of this post.

When reporters asked Mr. Kaieda about this thoughts on the new Cabinet lineup, he answered, “Life is absurd.”

There was little enthusiasm for the changes even in the ruling party. Said a DPJ member of the Saitama prefectural assembly after the new ministers were announced: “Even today I was asked at the train station, ‘Just what is the DPJ doing?’”

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party—yes, they’re still in the ruling coalition—addressed a DPJ party conference on the day before the Cabinet changes were announced, and put it in their faces:

“The DPJ is now a disgrace. I am sincerely anxious for you to rouse yourselves.”

One of Mr. Kan’s three themes for his administration is “ending the absurdities”, which tells you all you need to know about his political tin ear. He’s given no sign of either stepping down or calling an election any time soon, however.

*****
Mr. Kan’s Cabinet reshuffle may be absurd, but it was that or vacate the premises. One of the several reasons the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku was his attitude and intemperate language during Question Time in the Diet. (That’s why Mr. Nishioka wanted to see him gone.) Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party described it as “impertinence, intimidation, and evasion,” to which he later added “bluster and prevarication”.

How can the nation be in the very best of hands when they've got them on their hips? (Sankei Shimbun photo)

The upper house also censured the generally well-liked Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Mabuchi Sumio because his ministry is responsible for the Coast Guard, and he had to take the fall for the YouTube release of the Coast Guard video of the Chinese banditry in the Senkaku islets. While the censures are not legally binding, the opposition refused to discuss legislation with the ruling party with those two men still in the Cabinet, and the opposition has more seats in the upper house.

Another reason for the realignment was that the prime minister is desperate to juice his flagging popularity among the electorate. (He is said to be particularly unpopular among women.) An indication of his standing with the public was the ratings for his live appearance on the television program Hodo Station (News Station) on 5 January. The program usually pulls in an audience of 13% to 14%, and averaged 14.7% for the four weeks prior to his appearance. Those ratings often rise slightly when a sitting prime minister shows up. Then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo picked up a 16.7% share.

Mr. Kan could manage only 6.9%.

But it’s not his fault! Said the PM at the DPJ party conference earlier this month:

“What we have done so far was not wrong. We have carrried out our job with resolution, but the problem is that we’ve failed to fully convey what we’ve done.”

If you think that sounds as if he’s channeling Barack Obama, here’s more: To remedy the situation, he’s considering a televised address to the nation, after the style of American presidents.

It had better be a good speech. The latest Shinhodo 2001 poll has his rate of support at 28.8%, with 67.0%–a cool two-thirds—opposed. Just a skoche under half of the respondents want a lower house election now, at 49.6%, while 41.8% were content to let it ride.

Here’s why the DPJ falls into the second camp. The 16 January edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi features a simulation by two university professors of a lower house election. The magazine admits it’s a speculative endeavor because candidates for several constituencies have yet to be decided by some parties. That caveat notwithstanding, they project the DPJ to lose 124 seats from their current total of 306 to fall to 182. They think some of the DPJ party stalwarts could be at risk, including Hatoyama Yukio and Sengoku Yoshito, and that most of the Ozawa-backed candidates who won for the first time in 2009 should think about other employment. The LDP would regain its position as the party with the most seats at 212, a pickup of 96, but that’s still short of the 241 needed for a majority. The magazine suggests they would have to create a coalition with both New Komeito and Your Party (+25) to form a government.

Former Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi observed that Cabinet reshuffles to boost electile dysfunction are a perverse part of Japanese political culture. He’s also concerned that the use of the censure weapon in an upper house controlled by an opposition party could get out of hand and turn the Diet into a political battleground. Mr. Nakata has a point, but in this case the DPJ were hoist by their own petard. They were the ones who created the weapon after their 2007 upper house election victory.

Now the DPJ wants to introduce Diet rules that would prevent upper house censure motions from causing Cabinet members to lose their position. Fancy that.

The new lineup

A common observation is that the DPJ, which proclaimed itself the standard bearer for new politics, has become a throwback to the bad old days of the LDP with a leftward tilt. Five of the 17 Cabinet ministers are affiliated with Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.

One criticism of the old LDP was its faction politics. During its heyday, five major factions functioned as parties within the party. The DPJ criticized that approach, but in 2008, Keio Professor Kusano Atsushi argued in Seiken Kotai no Hosoku (The Law of the Change of Government) that the formation of factions was inevitable in the DPJ.

The new Cabinet suggests he was prescient. Six “groups” in the DPJ have two members each. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s group has only one. No one affiliated with former party President and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro was appointed. All the members have won at least five terms in the lower house, similar to an older informal rule of thumb used by the LDP.

The absence of Ozawa allies suggests there might be something to the rumors that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are ready to purge him. The Asahi Shimbun gossips that they’ll dump him if a citizen review panel forces his indictment. UPDATE: Mr. Ozawa was indicted. (The appointment of only one Hatoyama affiliate—the man who launched and bankrolled the party, and its first prime minister—might also be a sign they’re ready to have Mr. Hatoyama leave along with him.)

The game

They say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but in this case, a scorecard won’t make much sense without knowing the game they’re playing.

People often cite the system of 1955, when two conservative parties merged to create the LDP and dominated politics for the rest of the century, as Japan’s primary political problem. Others, however, such as Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party and Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, point to the statist system implemented in 1940 as explicated by Prof. Noguchi Yukio. That system instituted a total mobilization for the war effort and concentrated power in the central government under bureaucratic control. In that system, it makes no difference who the prime minister is. (Prof. Noguchi also thinks that the consumption tax would have to be raised to at least 20%–European VAT levels—to pay for social welfare programs.)

The Kan worldview

On 25 December last year, Kan Naoto met at the Kantei for three hours with a group of long-time friends who included Shinohara Hajime, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and Kataoka Masaru of the old Shakai Shimin Rengo (Socialist Citizens Federation). It is thought they gave the prime minister a pep talk, urging him to stay the course to achieve a citizen revolution. They might have suggested Mr. Kan remember his lifelong political motto of “Deal with one problem and then move forward on all fronts.”

We already know the prime minister is a devotee of the ideas of Matsushita Keiichi, who looks forward to the dissolution of the nation-state and its replacement by supranational institutions above and local institutions below. Another aspect of the Kan philosophy is found in Prof. Shinohara’s book Shimin no Seijigaku (The Citizens’ Political Science), which holds that modern legislative democracy is unresponsive. Instead, Prof. Shinohara thinks policy should be determined by a random and compulsory (yes, compulsory) sampling of public opinion, followed by a time-limited debate in so-called “planning cells”. This would include even central government policies for science and technology.

That vision was shared to a certain extent by Hatoyama Yukio, who in his first Diet speech in October 2009 called for the creation of new values in a society that would enable greater participation by regional NPOs and citizens in issues involving public services. The DPJ favors greater support of NPOs with public funds.

Americans are familiar with the potential abuses of taxpayer-funded support of NPOs, as exemplified by the activities of the nefarious ACORN in the United States, which was forced to disband. Other Japanese point out that the Shinohara model resembles the Russian system of soviets (soviet being the word for “council”), originally worker and soldier councils thought to be a grassroots effort to promote direct democracy.

During the DPJ Party Conference held earlier this month, the delegates expressed the opinion that they had to return to their roots and differentiate themselves from “neo-liberals”.

Player transactions

Sengoku Yoshito traded for Edano Yukio

The widespread assumption that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was the real power in the government prompted Kan Naoto to grumble to associates that he, and not Mr. Sengoku, was the prime minister. It was also widely assumed Mr. Sengoku took on so much responsibility for the operation of government because Mr. Kan was a constant threat to walk smack into the proverbial lamppost on the street.

As we’ve seen, however, the problem with this arrangement was that Mr. Sengoku’s behavior in office was so repellent people were fed up with him in just a few weeks.

He was traded straight up for Edano Yukio, the party’s acting secretary general, another former labor lawyer with ties to radicals. Mr. Sengoku will take Mr. Edano’s old job, and will also serve as the head of a party committee dealing with pension reform and whatever euphemism they’re using for raising taxes.

People thought Sengoku Yoshito was Kan Naoto’s puppeteer, and they think he operates the strings for Mr. Edano too. As far as it is possible to speculate about such matters, the most common view is that Mr. Sengoku is trying to take control of the party. He seems to be waiting for his chance to cut Ozawa Ichiro adrift, and the latest rumors have him trying to elbow aside the real party secretary-general, Okada Katsuya.

Here’s one DPJ MP on the selection of Mr. Edano as chief cabinet secretary:

“He was the secretary-general when we lost the upper house election last year. Should we forget his responsibility for that in just six months? I don’t understand it…none of the people have any expectations for this Cabinet.”

That was former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, speaking of his own party while on a visit to India.

Okazaki Tomiko released outright

Okazaki Tomiko is another rodent who fled the sinking ship of the Socialist Party and scampered up the gangway to the Democratic Party vessel. She is opposed to Japan’s national flag and anthem. In July 2001, her political group illegally received funds from foreigners, including the director of the North Korean-affiliated schools in the country—a North Korean citizen–and a South Korean citizen who operates a pachinko parlor. The most controversial aspect of her career, however, was this:

That’s Ms. Okazaki participating in one of the weekly Wednesday comfort women demos at the Japanese embassy in Seoul in March 2005. She called for a Japanese embassy car to take her there.

They didn’t find some token make-work position for her in the Cabinet, either. She was named the chair of the National Public Safety Commission, which administers the National Police Agency. In other words, she was the head of the government agency in charge of maintaining public safety.

Politicians have the same right to free speech as anyone else, but they’re expected to exercise it with common sense and an awareness of their position. When a member of the Japanese Diet participates in a demonstration with Xs over the Japanese flag, it suggests an absence of common sense and self-awareness. Consider also what it suggests about Kan Naoto, who appointed her knowing about her background.

Ms. Okazaki’s immediate problem was that despite the ease with which she showed up for an anti-Japanese demonstration in Seoul, she couldn’t manage to drag herself to her office in Tokyo after North Korea shelled the South in November. Also, documents related to international terror investigations put together by the NPA somehow wound up on the Internet, and she made no effort to find a way to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

She lasted just four and a half months in office.

Signed Yosano Kaoru to a free agent contract

Yosano Kaoru is the bad penny of Japanese Cabinet members. He’s now been a part of every Cabinet since Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s last one, with the exception of Hatoyama Yukio’s brief spell. He so often shows up when a Cabinet is on its deathbed that he became known as “the gravedigger” in the LDP.

He holds three portfolios in the Kan Cabinet: Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy, Social Affairs and Gender Equality (which includes responsibility for the population decline), and Comprehensive Reform of Social Security and Taxes.

“Comprehensive reform of taxes” means promoting the Ministry of Finance position of raising taxes instead of cutting spending to fix the country’s budgetary problems. He’s long been known as the MOF bat boy. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji was an aide to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro when Mr. Yosano was the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. Mr. Eda says he pushed the Finance Ministry line within the government more than even some ministry employees. Hashimoto wanted to reform the ministry by dividing up their responsibility for fiscal and financial service oversight, but the ministry was opposed. Mr. Yosano argued their case most strenuously. (A new agency for overseeing the banking, securities exchange, and insurance industries was created in 2000 after Hashimoto left office.)

Says Mr. Eda: “His entry into the Cabinet is the decisive factor in making this a Finance Ministry government.” That means, he explains, a tax increase government directed behind the scenes by the Finance Ministry.

He wasn’t alone in that opinion. Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said much the same thing using many of the same words.

Takahashi Yoichi, a former official in both the Koizumi and Abe administrations, provides additional evidence in Gendai Business Online. When Takenaka Heizo shifted positions from Mr. Koizumi’s Financial Services Minister to Internal Affairs Minister to push the privatization of Japan Post, Mr. Yosano took his place. He argued within the Cabinet for rolling back government policy investment reforms, another Finance Ministry position.

Mr. Takahashi says he often debated with Mr. Yosano when the latter backed ministry efforts to debone reforms:

“Yosano is said to be an expert on policy, but he offered no policy-based arguments against my explanations. He only mentioned the names of people responsible for specific policies in the Finance Ministry and said we should do as they say. His statements were rather unlike that of a minister in charge of financial services.”

Mr. Yosano has also claimed there is no hidden surplus of funds in the Finance Ministry, but that nothing has manifested into something every year at yearend since 2006, and that something now totals JPY 40 trillion in the aggregate.

Here’s the delicious part: This politician who advocates a sharp rise in taxes to pay for social welfare spending, has no plans to cut spending or modify social welfare programs to make them more inexpensive, and fights governmental reform is referred to as a “fiscal hawk” in the Western media.

Absurdity squared

Mr. Kan’s selection of Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet is just the sort of move a dullwit would think is clever. The prime minister may even have thought the selection of a former enemy would been seen as a coup. The Asahi said Mr. Kan believed it would be the key to breaking the political deadlock. Three strikes and you’re out.

The prime minister had remarkably kind words for his former foe:

“I recognize that he is a politician with whom we have a great deal in common when it comes to the issues of the soundness of national finances and social welfare.”

But when Yosano Kaoru left the Liberal Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party with Hiranuma Takeo, a high school classmate more than half a century ago, he told Reuters:

“We are fighting against the DPJ outside of the LDP. We intend to act as a brake. None of us is thinking about becoming the ruling party.”

In an April 2010 interview with the Asahi Shimbun, he said:

“This slovenly DPJ government must not be allowed to continue.”

And:

“I have doubts about the DPJ policies overall, their political methods, and their use of the bureaucracy. It is unusual among the world’s democracies for a party to lack such clarity in the decision making process as the DPJ.”

During the same interview, he defined political leadership:

“Chart a general course and take responsibility for it. Take responsibility for your statements. That’s political leadership.”

Speaking to the Nikkei Shimbun about government pensions in 2005, he said:

“The DPJ follows the Swedish model. They’re trying to pull us toward a society in which the people are liable for 75%. It is clear they will rely on taxes, which will result in a large tax increase.”

In 2009, he called the DPJ party manifesto “almost fancy,” said it resembled “works of illusionist paintings”, and was “something like artificial bait for the election.” He also said the DPJ’s pet policy of child allowance payments “would not be fully achieved unless the consumption tax rate was raised to 25 percent or higher.”

He maintained that attitude through the 14th of this month, when he said at a press conference:

“The certainty of the effect of the (child allowance) policy was not fully explained when it was introduced…my spirit of criticism remains.”

He changed his mind in the intervening five days. On the 19th in an interview with Fuji TV, he said:

“I have little sense that it is unnatural”

Fujii Hirohisa named bench coach

The Hatoyama Cabinet’s first Finance Minister, Fujii Hirohisa (78) was brought back as the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. He is the former head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, and his appointment is an unmistakable signal to both the ministry and those hoping to reform Japanese government by curbing its influence.

He left the Hatoyama administration after little more than three months for “health reasons.” Those weren’t specified, but it might have been a sore back from being pushed out the door by former friend and ally Ozawa Ichiro. There were also rumors he had to carry a stash of liquor in his official vehicle to help him make it through the day. Perhaps Mr. Kan finds him a kindred spirit.

Other transactions

Sengoku Yoshito assumed the Justice Ministry portfolio when the former minister Chiba Keiko finally resigned after losing her upper house Diet seat last July. He was replaced by Eda Satsuki, who years ago started out in the same party as Kan Naoto: the Socialist Democratic Federation. He is known to be an opponent of the death penalty in a country whose electorate consistently polls from 60% to 70% in favor of capital punishment.

It was rumored that party poster girl Ren Ho was thinking of jumping the Kan Cabinet mudboat and running for governor of the Tokyo Metro District, but she chose to stay on board. Her puny 8.8% support rating among Tokyoites from among a hypothetical slate of candidates in a Shinhodo 2001 poll might have been one of the reasons.

Also staying put is Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko. This is Mr. Kano’s second time in that post (the first was in 1989 during the GATT Uruguay round discussions). He is viewed as an ally of the Agriculture Ministry bureaucracy. As such, he is opposed to the prime minister’s proposal to join the TPP. Many thought he would be replaced for that reason, but now he most surely will join with ministry bureaucrats and the national agricultural co-ops to try to block entry into the TPP.

If you’ve gotten the idea by now that Kan Naoto has no idea what he’s doing, I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise.

Absurdity cubed

Political commentator Yayama Taro was a long-time LDP supporter who backed the DPJ in the 2009 election because he saw them as the only way at the time to push forward with reform of the bureaucracy and government. His views have changed again:

“Prime Minister Abe of the LDP was the one who began to attack this disease, and Watanabe Yoshimi took up the baton as Reform Minister. They were unable to separate the adhesion between the politicians and the bureaucrats that has lasted 60 years. The DPJ won a massive victory in the 2009 election using the slogan, “Disassociation from the bureaucracy”.

“The resolution of this problem required the establishment of a National Strategy Bureau, a governmental reform council, and putting fiscal policy under the direction of the politicians. While implementing reform, they would establish a cabinet personnel bureau to evaluate civil service personnel.

“It should have been the work of the Hatoyama administration to pass the required legislation, but Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa said a National Strategy Bureau wasn’t necessary and an office would do. Deputy Prime Minister Kan headed the office. He later became Finance Minister and was completely brainwashed by the ministry. He has not been interested in disassociating from the bureaucracy since becoming prime minister.

“Yosano is the politician the Finance Ministry bureaucrats have relied on the most. Based on his ideas and what he’s said, some have even referred to him as a Finance Ministry plant. Now he’s the Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister and Fujii is the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. There are no laws securing the political disassociation from the bureaucracy. These personnel choices are simply to enable tax and social welfare policies in accordance with Finance Ministry specifications. The specifications for both policies were proposed by Yosano during the Aso administration. If the DPJ thought those policies were acceptable, they should have been adopted a long time ago.”

One economic news website quoted a politician whom the identified only as a former member of an LDP government:

“I have no idea what that person (Kan) wants to do. Even when he talks about the Heisei Opening of Japan, it has no backbone, and I can only view it as playing with words. The Cabinet reshuffle was just a switch from Mr. Sengoku to the Sengoku henchman Mr. Edano. The entry of the “lost bird” Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet has brought criticism rather than acclaim. A key will be how they change their methods of conducting the Diet. During the extraordinary session last fall, they adopted the fewest amount of bills as a percentage of proposed legislation in history.”

Coalition partner Kamei Shizuka was asked at a news conference on the 19th what he thought about the Cabinet and the prime minster’s policies about taxes, social welfare, and TPP. He answered:

“To present policies that you cannot achieve is not politics.”

As we’ve seen, one of those policies he might not achieve is participation in TPP. A total of 110 DPJ MPs affiliated with Ozawa Ichiro has formed a group to oppose Japanese participation, even though Mr. Ozawa has said he supports a free trade agreement.

Does even Mr. Kan know what he’s going to do? He just got back from giving a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he said that Japan will make a decision on its participation in TPP by June.

Before they worry about opposition either from inside or outside the party, the Cabinet still has to get on the same page. Kan Naoto says the issues of pension reform and the consumption tax are separate, but Yosano Kaoru says they must be considered together. Mr. Yosano’s stance on social insurance differs from the tax-based approach of the DPJ manifesto. The DPJ still does not have a common policy for a system for health care for the late stage elderly, despite their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration.

At a news conference on the 24th, Fujii Hirohisa was asked about Mr. Yosano’s statement that the age of eligibility for pension payments should be raised to 70:

“That’s his personal opinion. That question hasn’t been raised in a formal discussion.”

Absurdity in the fourth dimension

Mr. Kan is a recent convert to tax increases, at least in public. Speaking as the Finance Minister in the Diet on 21 January 2010, he said:

“First, there is the debate over the consumption tax, but as both the prime minister (Hatoyama) and I have said repeatedly, the current coalition government will not raise the consumption tax for four years….I think the primary reason the tax hasn’t been raised is the lack of trust by the people. They believe if they allow a government spending so wastefully is allowed to increase taxes, they will use the money wastefully.”

He also gave an opinion on when the discussion of a tax increase should begin:

“When we have so completely eliminated government waste that we could stand on our heads and not get a nosebleed…If we were to raise taxes at the present stage, when waste has not been sufficiently eliminated, we’d just repeat the same mistakes.”

Since he made that statement, there has been no sale of government assets, no effort to uncover the special accounts and hidden reserves in the bureaucracy, no effort to reduce personnel expenditures (they’ve put it off until 2013 at the earliest), only the most half-hearted of efforts to reduce government programs, a record-high budget with a record-high deficit, and a new proposal for an even higher budget.

The scorecard

The Cabinet reshuffle had no effect on market trading. Said Segawa Tsuyoshi, an equity strategist at Mizuho Securities:

“That it has absolutely no impact on stock prices demonstrates the relationship between politics and the market.”

In other words, the markets expect nothing from this bunch.

Kamei Shizuka visited the office of the Chief Cabinet Secretary as the official representative of the DPJ’s coalition partner to ask for an explanation of the prime minister’s Diet speech. He was angered when he discovered that Mr. Edano was not there, and the deputy secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro agreed that he should have been. Said Mr. Kamei:

“Don’t hold it against us if we leave the coalition.”

Mr. Edano belatedly showed up to provide an explanation, but Mr. Kamei was not mollified:

“They are incapable of consideration for other parties in their coalition. Politically, they have no idea what to do.”

One Western commentator observed that the DPJ is finding out that governing is different than campaigning. The real problem, however, is that they still haven’t found out, and the people in charge likely never will.

They’re certainly unlikely to find out in time for the 1,402 sub-national elections scheduled for April. DPJ-backed candidates have had their clock cleaned in several local elections after the government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with China, and their prospects are growing dimmer.

Yet at a party conference earlier this month, here’s what the prime minister had to say about DPJ support for those elections.:

“I’ve been in political parties that had no money for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve been in a party that can use all these funds for its activities. Shouldn’t I generously use the money that’s required (to compete)?

“All these funds” refers in part to the subsidies each political party receives out of public funds. The amounts vary based on their Diet representation. Those are the views of the man the foreign media hailed as a “fiscal hawk” when he assumed office last June on his fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer funds.

******
If Mr. Kan thought he would be showered in glory for the brilliant maneuver of including an opponent in his Cabinet, he was mistaken. An Asahi poll found 50% of voters opposed to Mr. Yosano’s selection.

On the 19th Oshima Tadamori of the LDP, the new minister’s party two parties ago, said Mr. Yosano had signed a pledge during the previous election in which he promised to resign from the Diet if he acted against the LDP. He’s now part of the DPJ caucus, but still in the Diet.

Said his old high school running buddy and co-president of the Sunrise Party, Hiranuma Takeo:

“It’s too bad that he’s leaving…When we formed the party, Mr. Yosano said that if we entrusted the government to the DPJ, Japan would be finished, so we had to bring it down. I wonder what’s going to happen with that.”

When Mr. Yosano gave his first speech as a member of the Cabinet in the Diet last week, he was heckled by members from both the LDP in the opposition and the DPJ in government. Would you dislike someone more if he was an enemy, or if he was a traitor?

After the speech, LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro said:

“This is like a marriage proposal without a wedding ring. They won’t make any headway without sincerity and trust.”

And DPJ MP (and former Foreign Minister) Tanaka Makiko said:

“I do not sense any enthusiasm.”

Left unprotected

Sengoku Yoshito saw as one of his primary duties the prevention or amelioration of the inevitable Kan Naoto blunders. His departure from the Cabinet thus presented the country with the unlovely prospect of Mr. Kan fending for himself. The prime minister’s only political skill is the bullying of opponents—a skill no doubt honed by all those years of arguing politics in drinking establishments. His sense of the appropriate is also different from that of most people. (That is not photoshopped, by the way.)

It’s only been two weeks, and already we’re going to have to shift to a second hand to get enough fingers to keep up with the blunder tally.

His temper has earned him the nickname Ira-Kan, which translates nicely to the Irascible Kan. At a recent news conference he was asked whether he would call an election to have the people revalidate the party’s promise to cut waste before boosting the consumption tax. He glared, turned away from the questioner, and gave no answer at all.

He was also asked what he thought about the general perception the new Cabinet is a group put together to raise taxes. He answered:

“It’s unfair to be judgmental and change the subject of discussion.”

When the opposition suggested it would not participate in DPJ-led discussions about social welfare reform, he got judgmental himself.

“If the opposition parties do not actively participate in discussions about social welfare reform, it is no exaggeration to say that will be an act of treason against history.”

See what I mean about his only political skill?

That’s when he lost New Komeito. The DPJ has been hoping to tempt the opposition party into the coalition and thereby solve its problems in the Diet, but his statement seems to have ended any chance of that. Said party head Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“That’s a rather presumptious choice of words, isn’t it? The prime minister has a responsibility. What does he think he’s doing, challenging the opposition like that?”

The prime minister most recently stepped in it when he was asked about rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Japanese government bonds, partly because they thought the DPJ didn’t have a coherent strategy for dealing with national debt. Mr. Kan, a former Finance Minister, replied using the word utoi, a word seldom used by prime ministers. The word has several meanings depending on the context. One is that he hadn’t heard the news, and another is that he doesn’t really understand the subject very well because it doesn’t have much to do with him.

He was immediately called on his word choice by the opposition, the media, and his wife (during an event in Kyoto). Mr. Kan explained that he meant he hadn’t been given any information about the news at the time, which is a) probably untrue, but if true means b) his Cabinet is inept at gathering and managing information. The news had already been out for an hour.

Everyone else suspected the other nuance, in part because of the financial illiteracy he demonstrated when Finance Minister. He made a statement in the Diet that revealed he had no idea what the multiplier effect was. He also admitted to giving up on Paul Samuelson’s standard textbook Economics after the first 10 pages.

Mr. Kan was forced to explain at a news conference that his latest blunder didn’t mean he didn’t know government bond ratings from hot pastrami. Yosano Kaoru defended him, however:

“That is not a problem about which the prime minister should make a statement. It was proper for him to use the word utoi.”

In other words, interpretation #2. One wonders whom Mr. Yosano thinks should deal with the problem—the Finance Ministry bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki?

But that was not Mr. Kan’s position in May 2002 when the rating of Japanese government bonds was downgraded during the Koizumi administration. He publicly slammed the prime minister and finance minister and sarcastically asked whether they knew of the ramifications of the change. The Japanese media quickly dug up this old quote and dubbed it the “boomerang effect”.

No excuses for this absurdity

And how have the members of the English-language news media who cover Japan reported the Cabinet reorganization story? They played mimeograph machine for the government’s (or the Finance Ministry’s) briefings by filing articles under their own bylines that almost unanimously described Yosano Kaoru as a “fiscal hawk” and claimed the new Kan Cabinet was committed to “tax and pension reform”. And they think the Japanese media practices convoy journalism?

Rick Wallace in The Australian even went so far as to say this about Mr. Yosano:

“Perhaps the closest thing to a deficit hawk in a country where governments routinely live beyond their means…”

If Wallace is interested in seeing what a Japanese deficit hawk looks like, he might try some of the books by Nakagawa Hidenao, Eda Kenji, or Watanabe Yoshimi. If reading written Japanese is not his forté, he can always try this. I’d also suggest he look at the deficit totals in the annual budgets for the past 10 years to see who’s supported living beyond the country’s means and who hasn’t, but all that research might give him vertigo.

Lisa Twaronite, meanwhile, seems committed to getting it wrong, despite reading this post, which she commented on. She had this to say:

“Yosano, known as a fiscal conservative, has called for raising Japan’s 5% consumption tax to help chip away at Japan’s mountain of public debt.”

…thus bringing an entirely new dimension to the term, “conservative”. At least she briefly mentioned the reason Sengoku Yoshito was censured, which was more than Rick Wallace could do.

In an admirable display of corporate loyalty, the BBC took its correspondent’s word for what was happening:

“Our correspondent says the changes also bring to the fore ministers who support reform to tackle Japan’s massive public debt and the trade liberalisation sought by business leaders.

“The appointment of a veteran fiscal hawk, Kaoru Yosano, as economic and fiscal policy minister is being taken as a signal that Mr Kan is serious about reining in the costs of Japan’s rapidly ageing society.”

In contrast, the People’s Daily of China wrote last 24 December:

“The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday approved a draft budget which hit a record 92.40 trillion yen (1.11 trillion U.S. dollars) for fiscal year 2011.The figure is marginally higher than the initial budget for 2010, which stood at 92.30 trillion yen, as the government seeks to raise spending on key policies amid rising social welfare costs.The budget will include more than 44 trillion yen (530.11 billion U.S. dollars) from issuing new government bonds, a second straight year when bonds have exceeded tax revenue as a source of income. The swelling budget is believed to be contradictory to Kan’s pledge to cut spending to restore the nation’s fiscal health.”

When the People’s Daily reports on Japan are more accurate than those of the BBC, it’s time for some people to reevaluate their assumptions about contemporary journalism.

Assuming any of these people are not European-style social democrats and actually are interested in a functional definition of fiscal conservatism, they might consider this by columnist Robert Samuelson:

“If we ended deficits with tax increases, we would simply exchange one problem (high deficits) for another (high taxes). Either would weaken the economy, and sharply higher taxes would represent an undesirable transfer to retirees from younger taxpayers.”

They might also look into how other countries have accomplished spending reductions, as Dan Mitchell explains here.

What can you expect?

After reading those reports, it will come as no surprise that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan is “facing difficulties”:

Georges Baumgartner, current president of the FCCJ and a veteran reporter for Swiss Radio and Television, expressed his frustration with the lack of news in Japan that would interest people elsewhere. “It’s quiet, like a little country like Switzerland,” said Baumgartner, who has been reporting from Japan since 1982. Japan is “blocked and paralyzed by the politicians and bureaucrats who don’t have the political will and courage to restructure the country to give a chance to young people. There is no new energy. . . . There are days that you can’t sell any story to your editors back home.”

Any journalist who thinks Japan is a quiet country with no news of interest is unqualified for his position on the face of it. True, they do have to please their editors back home, the ones responsible for turning their business into the smokestack industry of the information age. Then again, Baumgartner thinks the FCCJ is “a little island of freedom in Japan”, a presumptuous and arrogant bit of horsetootie that might explain why his organization has become irrelevant. (Let’s play journalistic poker. For every story someone can cite that the Japanese press has ignored, I can call and raise that bet with stories the New York Times et al. have ignored.)

If the FCCJ were populated by people nimble enough to hop off their bar stools and conduct serious research, they might have taken the approach on this story adopted by Takahashi Yoichi in Gendai Business Online:

“It is a restructure of a government facing its final days.”

And:

“(Yosano) is called a fiscal hawk because he parrots the Finance Ministry line. The objective is a fiscal balance, and the means is a tax increase.”

And:

“The new cabinet is a lineup of people whose arguments support continued deflation and tax increases. Prime Minister Kan says the economy will improve with a tax increase. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano says the economy will improve with a rise in interest rates. Fujii Hirohisa favors a higher yen and “fiscal restructuring”. If these people put their ideas in practice, the DPJ really will destroy the Japanese economy, as the title of Mr. Yosano’s book had it.”

Afterwords:

* Mr. Yosano now says he thinks the consumption tax should be “more than 10%” by 2015. Watch for closer to 20%, assuming the same or similar people are still in charge.

* Another avenue the journos choose not to explore is Standard & Poor’s record of credit ratings. For example:

“Investors snapped up the $340.7 million CDO, a collection of securities backed by bonds, mortgages and other loans, within days of the Dec. 12, 2000, offering. The CDO buyers had assurances of its quality from the three leading credit rating companies –Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Group Inc. Each had blessed most of the CDO with the highest rating, AAA or Aaa. Investment-grade ratings on 95 percent of the securities in the CDO gave no hint of what was in the debt package — or that it might collapse. It was loaded with risky debt, from junk bonds to subprime home loans. During the next six years, the CDO plummeted as defaults mounted in its underlying securities. By the end of 2006, losses totaled about $125 million.”

S&P downgraded Japanese government bonds, but they’re maintaining their top AAA rating on U.S. debt despite the huge American deficit and phalanx of foreign creditors.

******
The country’s in the very best of hands.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (6): Heigh ho, silver lining!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

The reason the left loses is, paradoxically, because of its periodic successes: once in power the mask slips, they cannot control themselves, and so the people ultimately recoil.
- Michael Walsh

LAST SUNDAY, the voters of Japan again unsheathed their terrible swift sword to lay vengeance upon and smite down the latest cohort of a political class that believes what it says is more important than what it does.

After eying the results, the broadcast media in Japan and the print media overseas chose to believe the sky is in danger of falling. In a matter of months, the Democratic Party of Japan showed that it still isn’t ready for prime time and probably never will be as presently constituted. Yet the bien pensants are in anguish because they didn’t win an outright majority.

Some nattered that the loss will hinder the DPJ’s effort to rein in Japan’s massive government debt. One outlet even said it would “create obstacles for much-need fiscal reforms”. And who do they think was responsible for the ultra-redlining of debt levels with a 33% boost in the amount of deficit-financing bonds to cover a budget increase for programs only they wanted and no one needed? The record-high budget with record deficits and record deficit-financing bond totals passed when Prime Minister Kan Naoto was Finance Minister, and was written with his input. The preceding Aso administration also has a lot to answer for, but at least they had the excuse of following the same clueless path as the United States. Isn’t it time for the overseas media to keep its big government / Keynesian stimulus / tax increase agenda overseas and limit the wreckage to their own countries?

Some asked rhetorically if anyone can govern Japan. Maybe they should knock off the rhetoric and ask Koizumi Jun’ichiro straight up about how he managed for five years and left office with popularity ratings of 70%. Just because Hatoyama Yukio was more empty schoolgirl uniform than empty suit and hangover seems to be the default state for Mr. Kan’s sobriety doesn’t mean the people are ungovernable because they coughed out both of them like hair balls.

Some also worry that the “twisted parliament” (i.e., gridlock resulting from the DPJ’s loss of upper house control) bodes ill for the country.

Why should they worry? It’s great news. The election results were a red letter day for politics in Japan, which should be apparent even to realistic DPJ supporters.

To find out why, let’s push the reset button.

Track 01

Many people are using Prime Minister Kan’s ill-timed discussion of a consumption tax increase as a facile excuse for the defeat. Well, that was one reason—of many. Other contributing factors included rank incompetence, breaking their word as expressed in the party platform, and the political acumen of an empty catsup bottle.

Yet, despite more negative factors that can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and the voters’ readiness as demonstrated over the last three national elections to punish politicos who don’t pay attention, some people claimed to have been surprised by the result. They must not have been paying attention either.

Then again, neither were the pollsters. Most pre-election polls forecast the DPJ would take roughly 50-54 seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning from 40-45. The DPJ wound up with 44 and the LDP with 51.

To be sure, some circumstances did conceal or delay trends. According to this previous analysis of Jiji polls over the past five years, a majority of the Japanese electorate is independent and tends to break for one party or the other four to six weeks before an election. Everyone was thrown off stride by the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and DPJ Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro six weeks before the election. New Prime Minister Kan’s open humiliation of the unpopular Mr. Ozawa delighted the public and led to a sharp but ephemeral bounce in the polls. In retrospect, it’s clear that the brief interlude of poll sunshine for Mr. Kan was due to gratitude for removing the Ohato duo rather than a vote of confidence in the new prime minister himself.

Also, the voters’ interest in the election took longer than usual to build, but rapidly picked up momentum at the end. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji thinks the public did not become engaged until Japan was eliminated in the World Cup. He also said the intensity level at the end of the campaign was higher than he had ever seen it. The crowds of people that listened to his speeches at train stations were so large and animated they created obstructions that angered station personnel.

That bears some resemblance to the American presidential elections of 1968 and 1976. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter held comfortable leads in those contests coming into the final stages of the campaign, but there was a massive, last-minute swing in voter sentiment that almost tipped the elections to Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford. Some hold the latter two would have won had the elections been held a few days later. Mr. Eda also thinks his party would have picked up two or three more seats had the election come three days later, and that’s probably true for the LDP as well.

Nevertheless, it was the first national referendum on a new DPJ government that had been tested and found wanting as stewards of the government. Most of them seem incapable of running a fried octopus stand at a summer festival, much less a Cabinet ministry. The task of any administration is to get things done and to make things work in the public sector, and they failed at both. Though once hailed as major policy wanks who were finally ready to lead the nation, the spectacularly unprepared DPJ accomplished less in its first Diet session than any previous government in the postwar period, and what they did accomplish amounted to little more than bribing voters with their own money.

Taxing

Some claim the decisive factor was Kan Naoto’s readiness to talk about an increase in the consumption tax and his subsequent incoherence on the subject. The analysts at NHK offered this explanation on Sunday night. So did many in the English-language media, but we’ve long ago passed the point where they should be taken seriously. After all, they’re now saying the public voted against a higher consumption tax while trumpeting polls saying the public is willing to pay it.

While the consumption tax issue itself was a factor, it also served to remind people of the reasons they were unhappy with the DPJ to begin with. People seem to have forgotten that the Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating was in the high teens at the end of May.

Here’s a more coherent explanation: Mr. Kan and his party lost credibility because after talking for more than a decade about politicians exerting control over the government, they ceded control to the bureaucrats shortly after taking power while deboning reform of Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho. It was suicidal to swallow whole the Finance Ministry’s excuses for their objective of tax increases and the Ono Yoshiyasu theorem that tax increases help economies grow. The people gagged on them both.

Add to that the record budget with the record float of deficit-financing bonds while pushing greater government expenditures through a child allowance and other giveaways…The sheer incompetence in handling the Futenma issue…Backtracking on the pledge to eliminate the gasoline surtax and highway tolls…Filthy Ozawa money and illegal Hatoyama Mama money blamed on the Lords’ loyal retainers…Ozawa Ichiro’s mid-campaign criticism of his own party’s officials…Slips, blunders, petty dishonesties, attitudes, the failure to overcome the giddiness of their September victory and the failure to find a voice of reason or a sense of leadership.

What they did have was a sense of entitlement combined with the expectation that people just shut up and listen. Here’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito on 5 July:

It would be best if the media itself were to do us the favor of having a proper position on the consumption tax, government finances, and social security issues.

But why would anyone expect tolerance for free speech and a free press from a former Socialist?

Mr. Kan is clutching at the tax straw himself. He said to aides this week:

I caused a lot of trouble for the party by suddenly bringing up the issue of the consumption tax, which led to this result. I am seriously reflecting on my errors.

His real problem was an ignorance of anything related to the economy and government finances, yet presenting himself as an expert because he could recite half-digested knowledge from the Finance Ministry and other home tutors such as Mr. Ono. He actually claimed to have bested economist Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s financial services minister, in a debate while he was in fact asking him for help on the QT. He pretended to know what he didn’t know while parroting the last things he heard to impress his audience. The Sufis call this “unloading”.

Other people were willing to entertain other theories. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was asked about the appointment of Saito Jiro to head Japan Post last fall. That was widely viewed as a capitulation to the bureaucrats and an abandonment of the attempt to reform civil servant employment practices before it began. Mr. Haraguchi responded with some tongue calisthenics:

I can’t say very strongly that I can completely deny the appointment had a negative effect.

He also defended the choice, but people weren’t listening when he got to that part of the sentence.

Some people couldn’t look beyond their own front yard. Kina Shokichi, the famed Okinawan roots musician and airhead extraordinaire, lost his reelection campaign. He said:

There was a strong feeling that the people of Okinawa were betrayed by the government in the move of the American base at Futenma.

As usual, Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats had an idea. As usual, it didn’t make any sense:

I think the biggest reason was that all the people thought the DPJ had begun cold, unfeeling politics.

Leave it to an adult–Yonekura Hiromasa, the head of Keidanren—to put it in perspective:

The people watched the DPJ for the eight months before the Kan administration began.

Now combine that with the observation of Kono Taro, the LDP’s acting secretary-general:

The upper house election was an own goal for the DPJ. The LDP didn’t even touch the ball.

Mr. Kono, an LDP reformer, used the occasion to issue a warning to his own party.

It would be absolutely unacceptable if this marked the end of (internal) reform.

Good news

Here’s the good news. This presents an excellent opportunity for the politicians to show they’re capable of doing the jobs they’re paid to do, and it will be the DPJ’s second test of adulthood after flunking the first. They failed to reach their target for an outright majority in the upper house, and since their remaining coalition partner, People’s New Party, won no seats at all, they’ll be unable to pass legislation without help.

With the exception of the budget, both houses of the Diet must approve all legislation. If the upper house rejects a lower house measure, the lower house can still pass it with a two-thirds supermajority. The DPJ doesn’t have one. Even if the lower house passes a budget, the enabling legislation, such as that required for deficit financing bonds, must still pass the upper house.

Will they be able to cobble together a new coalition? Here’s what the primary opposition leaders think of the idea. First, Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party:

A coalition is the same as a marriage. Pretty words alone aren’t enough. The DPJ rejected our bill to reform the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. After doing something like that, we won’t be able to join them even if they ask us.

During a television interview the night of the election, he said it was the party’s intention to act as gatekeepers. If they see legislation they like, they open the gate. If they don’t care for the bill, the gate stays shut.

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

(The voters) have just held up a red card to the DPJ. It would be unthinkable to join a partner like that.

He’s got another reason, too–both parties detest each other. Here’s Kan Naoto in the April 2004 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju:

The LDP and New Komeito coalition are not a coalition, they’re a fusion, a fusion party…New Komeito is a religious party…the LDP is like a house that’s been eaten by termites. There’s nothing to prevent its collapse.

New Komeito is unlikely to have forgotten that Mr. Kan thinks they’re termites. Nor did they care for this speech earlier in the campaign from Sengoku Yoshito:

There’s a half-baked party of charlatans called New Komeito. What do they mean, “The party of peace”? What do they mean, “The party of welfare”? Once the order comes down from someplace, 50,000 votes move in three days. What sort of malarkey democracy is this?

Next on the list is Tanigaki Sadakazu, head of the LDP. His answer about the possibility of a coalition was brief:

Zero.

This across-the-board refusal means several things. First, the DPJ can forget about the yogurt-weaving part of their agenda, and that will be one substantial benefit for the nation already. It also means that the DPJ will be forced to do some things it has never shown itself capable of in the past—serious negotiation, self-control, and compromise. Like many on their side of the aisle, gesture politics is a large part of their game. Now they’ll have to stop playing with mudras in front of the mirror and form ad hoc coalitions for each item of legislation they propose. If they develop that skill, everyone wins and they reclaim their reputation. If they don’t, the next lower house election will come before their term expires, and the voters will give other people a chance to pay attention.

It’s by no means certain that they will change their thought process. The party could have behaved responsibly and offered to do the same thing after their 2007 upper house victory, but chose instead to use their position to foment mini-crises as a way to blow the LDP out of office. After they got their wish and finally formed a government, their performance was so miserable the voters turned the tables to put them behind the eight ball. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the party finds some MPs to back an increase in the consumption tax to 10% before they take an axe to government spending. That seems unlikely considering the impact tax talk had on the election, but let’s entertain the possibility. Some of those MPs are going to have to come from the LDP in the upper house. But not everyone in the LDP is on board with their party’s own platform admitting the possibility of a rise to 10%, and neither is the Ozawa Ichiro group in the DPJ. If a tax increase were to pass, it would again allow voters to give other people a chance to pay attention. Or, it could spur the Koizumians in the LDP or the Ozawans in the DPJ to walk, thus accelerating the inevitable political realignment into philosophically compatible groups.

Opposition parties will introduce serious measures of their own to reduce civil service expenditures and the number of Diet members. The DPJ supports those moves, according to their manifesto. But the DPJ’s largest organizational support is derived from labor unions, especially public sector unions, so they’ll have to make a choice. If the government is downsized, everyone will benefit. If the DPJ blocks those measures, the voters will be waiting for them next time around.

It’s all good!

Gemba Koichiro of the DPJ thinks there’s some room to maneuver on civil service reform. He said:

Your Party’s thinking and direction is identical to ours. We might have room for compromise.

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

Some sections (of the platforms) use the same language, but I’m not sure we could get together on the specifics. I’m not optimistic.

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

There is a wild card. Desperate to gets its Japan Post bill enacted, the PNP has asked the Social Democrats in the lower house to informally cooperate with them. Since there are two vacancies in the lower house, the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDPJ together could reach the two-thirds threshold for a supermajority in the lower house. The SDPJ said they’d talk about it amongst themselves, but were otherwise noncommittal. That party is on shaky ground nowadays—they won only two PR seats in the upper house, and there’s talk of dumping Ms. Fukushima as party leader. Will they return to the coalition? We’ll have to see, but they might do the PNP this one favor. If that bill passes, it will provide plenty of ammunition for politicians in the next election. Those who think otherwise might take a hint from current political conditions in the U.S.

The near future

Watanabe Yoshimi jumped on the bully pulpit and isn’t letting go of the mike:

It’s necessary to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election as early as possible to normalize the Diet gridlock. Local elections will be held nationwide next spring, so it would be best to hold them together.

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

It’s necessary for the lower house be quickly dissolved and ask for the trust of the people.

What should Mr. Kan do? Here’s Mr. Watanabe again:

Three years ago (after the last upper house election) when the LDP lost its position as the leading party, they said the Abe administration should step down. I’m telling them the same thing.

The DPJ used to claim that Cabinets should bend to the most recently expressed will of the people. Taking power seems to have created short-term memory loss syndrome in the party, however.

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

His party was thrilled with their election results because they picked up 10 seats in the upper house to bring their total to 11. A Diet member needs 10 co-signers to submit a bill, so they’ve cleared that hurdle. Unlike the DPJ, Your Party members actually have the capability of putting together legislation on their own, and they have several bills ready to go. They’ll surely use this new weapon to publicize their policies, and as the newest television darlings, they’ll surely receive the publicity.

Your Party and the LDP also want to bounce Upper House President Eda Satsuki for what they call his outrageous Diet management. That role requires him to give up his party affiliation, but he’s a DPJ man. The LDP is particularly irritated because they wanted to dump a no-confidence resolution on Hatoyama Yukio. (It would have lost, but it would have forced the DPJ to vote for him, perhaps keeping him in office for the lower house election.) Mr. Eda squelched that, as well as other opposition measures.

Said Mr. Watanabe:

It would be a good idea for the opposition parties to unite and stop this DPJ high-handedness…A change is natural. The opposition parties will work together to choose a new president.

The LDP agreed, but New Komeito doesn’t want to go along. Even though the opposition outnumbers the government, New Komeito says it wants to maintain the principle of having the president come from the party with the largest number of members. Others say that New Komeito might be keeping their options open for a possible coalition down the road. And Mr. Watanabe says he will press the issue.

The DPJ’s future

Several alternative realities could manifest on the material plane for the ruling party, and all of them would be for the greater good.

A Kyodo poll after the election showed the support rate for the Kan Cabinet plunged to 36.3% from the 61.5% figure tallied last month. 52.2% are opposed.

Barring a Kan Naoto-led Era of Good Feelings in Nagata-cho, which would be out of character, the Cabinet’s numbers will continue to head south. Mr. Kan was chosen to manage the election at a minimum, and he choked in the clutch. His return to the minor leagues would seem to be a matter of time.

On election night, despite the national vote of no confidence and the DPJ’s long insistence on obeying the most recent expression of popular will, Mr. Kan appeared on television and said that dissolving the Diet and holding a new election was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not only was Mr. Kan unable to manage an election, he was unable to manage his emotions. His hands shook, his fingers were restless, and he kept touching things on his desk, licking his lips, and drinking water. Those looking for grace or strength under pressure didn’t see any. The photo in my local newspaper the next morning showed him on the verge of tears, and a similar photo already festoons the cover of one of the weeklies.

What, me worry?

Typical of the DPJ, however, everyone thought everyone else was just doing fine. In a round robin show of support, Mr. Kan said that Messrs. Edano and Sengoku should continue in their jobs, and the other two took turns saying the same about the others. The three men met the morning after the election and agreed that keeping their jobs was just the ticket. That leaves them open to the charge of failing to take responsibility, which is a particularly heavy one in Japan.

Mr. Kan in particular seemed to be having a problem with cognitive dissonance. Speaking on the consumption tax:

I don’t think it was a rejection of the debate (consumption tax) itself. My explanation was insufficient…It’s unfortunate that our idea of just moving forward with debate was clumsily and prematurely conveyed to the people.

That reminded more than a few people of Hatoyama Yukio’s comment regarding his own resignation: “The people stopped listening.” In other words, we’re doing the right thing, but can’t get the yokels to pay attention.

Mr. Sengoku came up with a novel spin on the situation on the 12th:

I think we will writhe in agony, but by passing through it Japanese politics will mature.

Thus equating the DPJ with Japanese politics and confirming the observation that self-absorption remains a serious problem in the party. And there was this from Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

We will make a start by calling for cooperation from other parties on a drastic tax reform, including the consumption tax.

Instead of paying for their own mistakes with their jobs, they’re going to make the people pay for their mistakes with their assets. Not a word on drastic spending reform.

But there’s another aspect to the situation. Acting party Secretary-General Hosono Goshi said this about Mr. Kan:

He’s only been in office a month. We shouldn’t replace the prime minister three times in a year.

He’s got a point, but wouldn’t it be better to let him writhe in agony at home, where there’s plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator, instead of subjecting the public to it?

It’s possible they’re just being realistic and waiting until the party presidential election in September, now slated for the 5th. Mr. Kan will surely have to survive a challenge from the Ozawa forces, if not Mr. Ozawa himself. Others might think Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya is starting to look good right about now.

Mr. Kan has kept Justice Minister Chiba Keiko in office even though she lost her election in Kanagawa, which some see as a sign he realizes he’s finished. Ms. Chiba was willing to resign, but Mr. Kan talked her out of it. Mr. Sengoku’s excuse was that it would provide “continuity in government”. As one Japanese wag put it, the role of the Kan Cabinet has been downgraded from election management to office management. In other words, another group of incompetents blocking progress have been unmasked and will soon be kicked to the side of the road.

The joker in the deck

If by some miracle Mr. Kan’s Cabinet stays somewhat intact after September, they still might find themselves out of power due to a sudden reduction in the number of DPJ Diet members.

Even though Kan Naoto was the DPJ leader during the negotiations to bring Ozawa Ichiro and his Liberal Party into the DPJ, the two men do not get along. TV commentator Tahara Soichiro said that when they appeared on his program at the time to discuss the merger, they wouldn’t speak to each other in the studio. Mr. Tahara had to act as a go-between.

The impolite fiction of party unity receded further into the distance when Mr. Kan told Mr. Ozawa to pipe down soon after taking office and stacked Cabinet and party positions with Ozawa foes. The latter then attacked DPJ leadership for bringing up the consumption tax increase during the campaign. It’s entirely possible that he lashed out at Mr. Kan from spite, and to purposely sabotage the DPJ’s chances for his own ends.

The relationship between Edano Yukio and Mr. Ozawa is even more venomous. When the former replaced the latter as party secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa cut their only meeting short after two minutes. He also neglected to pass on to Mr. Edano critical information required to conduct the election campaign, such as which candidates needed financial assistance from the party.

Since the election, Mr. Ozawa has maintained a strange silence and has not appeared in public. The prime minister has sent several messages asking for a meeting, but Mr. Ozawa isn’t returning his calls. The idea, it seems, is to slowly put the screws to him.

Writing in a labor union newspaper, Takashima Hoshimitsu, the DPJ secretary-general of the upper house caucus and an Ozawa supporter, said:

It’s certain that the Kan administration has abruptly come to a dead stop.

According to a mid-level DPJ MP close to Mr. Ozawa:

Edano Yukio and the rest are dead meat. To use a line from the popular comic, ‘You’re already dead.” (The comic is Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the Big Dipper.) They’ll self-destruct sooner or later, so there’s no need to go to the trouble of criticizing them.

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

We’ve already taken steps for the party presidential election. It will be impossible for Kan to be reelected without a vote.

That should be one interesting election. A member of the Maehara Seiji group, part of the hard-line anti-Ozawans, said:

We’ve got three arguments ready.
1. Politics and money and Ozawa
2. His strategy to run two candidates in multiple member districts failed.
3. His criticism of party executives in the midst of campaign harmed party unity.

There’s a rumor from a journalist with ties to the Ozawa camp that he’s resumed conversations with Tanaka Makiko, the former LDP defense minister and daughter of Kakuei, Mr. Ozawa’s political tutor, about serving as prime minister. The two already discussed it when Hatoyama Yukio quit. She told him she wasn’t interested in managing the election, but to come back later.

Her presence might attract some current members of the LDP into a coalition. In fact, there are also rumors that LDP elders Mori Yoshiro and Koga Makoto met with Mr. Ozawa recently. Several Ozawa group members confirm that Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Koga met in Kyushu during the campaign.

To add another ingredient to this unlikely cocktail, a review panel in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said yesterday that the original decision not to take Mr. Ozawa to court for campaign funding violations was inappropriate.

No matter what happens with this most motley of crews, it will turn out for the best regardless of how bad it looks at first. I’ve said before that the Nagata-cho toilet needs a few more flushes, and this will likely present the opportunities. Any group that Mr. Ozawa leads is going to be in the media crosshairs, and they will not stand at ease until he is gone. The combination of Mr. Ozawa and Ms. Tanaka, headstrong drama queens both, would further accelerate their departure from political leadership positions. Regardless of who wins or loses the party presidential election, the inevitable rupture of the DPJ draws closer, leaving the labor unions and the lawyers of the limousine left to their own devices and the creation of a boutique agenda party. A graft with the LDP mudboaters would grease the skids for that greasy group too.

The only downside to the current political situation will be the steps taken in the short term to delay the day of reckoning. Over the long term, it’s a process of purification with nothing but upside.

Numbers of interest

* Few people are talking about it, but the DPJ won more votes than the LDP:

PR districts
DPJ: 18.45 million votes
LDP: 14.07 million votes

Direct election districts
DPJ: 22.75 million votes
LDP: 19.49 million votes

The LDP’s strategy of focusing on single districts trounced the Ozawa strategy. This should put to rest the belief that Mr. Ozawa is an election wizard. His record in big elections is again back to 50/50.

* The only parties to win seats in direct voting were the LDP, DPJ, Your Party, and New Komeito. The other parties won seats through proportional representation.

* Kyodo exit polls showed only 28.8% of independents voted for the DPJ, down from 51.6% in 2009. Independents account for a majority of Japanese voters.

* Several LDP members who lost lower house seats in 2009 won seats in the upper house, including some Koizumians. They included Inoguchi Kuniko, for whom Mr. Koizumi campaigned twice, Katayama Satsuki, and Sato Yukari. Another returnee is Fukuoka Takamaro, who campaigned on the slogan, “Jobs, not handouts”.

* One of the ex-LDP losers, however, was Sugimura Taizo, who became a media sensation after winning a seat in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. No one expected the young, unemployed office worker who registered as an LDP PR candidate in position #35 to win, but Mr. Koizumi’s coattails were very long that year. Mr. Sugimura quickly earned a reputation as a doofus after he babbled about looking forward to eating at the exclusive restaurants where Japanese pols hang out to eat, drink, and hatch their strategies. He was bounced from the Diet last year after moving to Hokkaido, but this year the geriatrics of the Sunrise Japan Party recruited him to run under their banner for reasons that defy logic. He lost again.

* 17 women won seats, or one out of every six female candidates. That’s more than in 2004 but down from 26 in 2007. Their 17% election rate is also down from the 28.6% in 2007. The gorgons in academia, the Japanese version of the Guardianistas at the Japan Times, and the self-appointed wonderful ones will complain, but the only people who care are those who think equality of results trumps equality of opportunity. What little gender had to do with the winning or losing might have worked to their benefit. The DPJ’s Ren Ho capitalized on her good looks and favorable publicity to overcome her lack of experience at anything other than talking in public and posing seminude for photos to reap an impressive number of votes.

Wakabayashi Aki

In contrast, the less attractive but more capable Wakabayashi Aki, a former bureaucrat and journalist who exposed the blunders of the bureaucracy and the DPJ’s policy reform in three books, lost her election as a PR candidate for Your Party. Had the DPJ really been serious about their policy review instead of just using it as TV entertainment, she would have been a much better choice for the panel than Ren Ho.

Incidentally, a sign that someone turned on the light switch at DPJ headquarters is the statement yesterday that they would consider allowing other parties to participate in their policy reviews. That will make it much more difficult for the Finance Ministry to write the script and for the DPJ to slip snipped programs back into the budget later when no one is looking, which is what happened the first time.

* Interest group influence was down with the exception of the labor unions. When voting in the PR phase, voters can either write in the candidate’s name or the party’s name. An indication of union strength was that roughly 80% of the PR votes cast for the DPJ were for the party rather than the candidate. Of the 16 PR seats won by the DPJ, 10 were taken by former Rengo executives. Mr. Edano made sure to visit them and express the party’s gratitude.

* Vote totals were down for those candidates backed by the interest groups associated with doctors, dentists, truckers, pharmacists, the construction industry, and the association for families of the war dead. Those backed by the nurses’ group polled better, as did those backed by Zentoku, the national association of postmasters. The latter group naturally backed the PNP, but the party was skunked in the seat count and failed to win a million votes nationwide.

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

The current issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun has excerpts of a remarkable political stump speech/rant delivered by Ms. Tanaka in her home district. She was for years a member of the LDP, left the party to serve as an independent, and then joined the DPJ last year. She doesn’t seem to have much use for any of them, however.

The term dokuzetsu (poison tongue) doesn’t do it justice. She said the people still in the LDP were “garbage” now that the only ones with popular appeal have left, and she congratulated herself for being the first to leave. She described those who did bolt the LDP as “the Sunset Party” (the Sunrise Party), “Kame-chan” of the PNP (The first kanji in Kamei Shizuka’s family name is “turtle”) and “the bald guy with a head like a scallion who used to be Health Minister” (Masuzoe Yoichi). She dismissed the LDP leadership as “Tubby Mori, Oshima What’s-his-name, and Ishiba What’s-his-name”.

Ms. Tanaka didn’t spare the DPJ. She called Hatoyama Yukio an “elitist who’s always talking about discrimination”, and said the current Cabinet was “packed with nothing but lawyers from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University”. She also took a shot at “the Policy Review Minister who goes around in a white suit” (Ren Ho), but as soon as it turned out she had some dodgy accounting for her office expenses, Kan Naoto hushed everything up by ending the Diet session because it was time for an election.

The crowd ate it up. (Don’t I keep saying that the Japanese love nails that stick out?) But Ms. Tanaka doesn’t have the temperament required of a political leader. She’d be a firecracker as a political commentator or a blogger, however. Koizumi Jun’ichiro could also be wicked, but he was funny. Ms. Tanaka is just cruel for cruelty’s sake. If she ever did manage to wind up as prime minister, her term in office would be nasty, brutish, and short.

* Politicians aren’t the only ones who need to grow up.

Pollsters

All except Jiji use random digit dialing, which is less accurate than more targeted methods. If any of the major polls focus on likely voters only, they aren’t talking about it. Jiji polling suggests more than half of all Japanese adults are independent, but a Kyodo exit poll showed they accounted for only 17.2% of the people who wound up voting.

Print media

The headline of the cover on the 18 June Shukan Asahi, after Kan Naoto took over as prime minister:

DPJ Poised to Take Majority in Upper House / DPJ Reform Resumes

Their 23 July issue had a photo of Mr. Kan near tears with the headline:

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

The late Watanabe Michio, father of Your Party’s Yoshimi, observed that television is the number one means for a politician to promote himself to the public. Number two is weekly magazines, there are no numbers three and four, and number five is newspapers.

Were he to reprise that today, he might put the Net at number 6. Meanwhile, TV and the Net are probably running neck and neck at number 1 in the U.S., and no one else counts anymore. People in Japan have yet to realize that such media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek have lost their influence and preach only to the converted. In fact, Newsweek will be lucky to survive much longer.

Television

Everybody’s irritated with the way Japanese TV covers politics, but one of the more unfortunate events of the last election was their failure to treat the Spirit of Japan Party as the equal of the other parties during televised debates. TV limited participation to those parties who had five or more representatives in the Diet, which left the SOJ out in the cold. That meant they won no seats, though nationwide they did get about half the votes of Kamei Shizuka’s People’s New Party, which had both television coverage and the strong backing of an interest group.

That’s unfortunate because the party leaders have both legislative experience in the Diet and executive experience at the local government level–something the national government desperately needs. They’ve had significant success in rebuilding shattered public finances without automatically reaching for the tax lever.

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

We didn’t have as much time to prepare as the established parties, and we had no organization.

They were organized just three months ago. Another factor was the number of new parties, all of which were led by people with an established national profile. Only Your Party out of this group developed any traction.

Mr. Yamada says they will continue to work with an eye on next year’s local elections. Let’s hope they survive—they’re a little too close to people like social conservative Hiranuma Takeo for comfort, but the opportunity to offer their views and experience on managing government with common sense would elevate the national discussion.

And to close, here’s the best political cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with Japan specifically (though it’s applicable in general), and it comes from a surprising source, but it deserves a larger audience.

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Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mr. Honda goes to Tokyo

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 24, 2008

HERE’S A STORY that flew under everyone’s radar—in the English-language media, anyway. That wasn’t the case in Japan, where it’s all over the Web.

American congressman Mike Honda—perhaps Japan’s least favorite son after he pushed the comfort woman resolution through the U.S. House last year—jetted into Japan earlier this month. Did he come to see the Tokyo Tower, the temples in Kyoto, or the first sumo tournament?

eda.jpg

He might have done all that, but he didn’t release his schedule to the media while he was here. The one stop that did become public knowledge, however, caused more than a few eyebrows to rise. Mr. Honda paid a courtesy call on Eda Satsuki (photo) of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, a former socialist who was elected last year as the president (presiding officer) of the Diet’s upper house.

The weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reports the two men met at about 5:30 p.m. on the evening of 8 January. Also present were two other upper house members from the DPJ and two from the Communist Party of Japan.

The magazine quotes a participant as saying the two chatted pleasantly in English for roughly 15 minutes (Mr. Eda has a law degree from Oxford) about the comfort woman issue and Japan’s death penalty, with no sign of acrimony. Mr. Eda also explained some of the artwork in the room.

Why would the two meet? The magazine offers the comment of an unnamed reporter who points out that the DPJ has submitted a “Bill Promoting the Resolution of the Comfort Woman Problem” to the Diet seven times since 2007. The legislation would provide for a formal apology and compensation from the government. The bill has had six sponsors, one of whom is Mr. Eda.

The upper house president also attended a gathering last March at which one of the comfort women was present. (That might have been Lee Yong-soo, who admitted to the House in her testimony last year that she went with a comfort woman recruiter voluntarily, but who told the Japanese while on a speaking tour here that the Imperial Army abducted her from her home at gunpoint.)

Mr. Eda’s office explained that some Diet members and people associated with NGOs asked the upper house president at yearend to take the time to meet with the American lawmaker. The upper house president himself offered the bland platitude that he agreed to see Mr. Honda because he thinks it is important to hear a wide range of opinions on different issues.

The journalistic style of most Japanese weekly magazines is in-your-face sensationalism, and they often have trouble with the truth. That wasn’t the case this time, however; Kamimoto Mieko, one of the DPJ parliamentarians present, posted two photographs of the meeting at her website, which you can see here. (The second and third links from the top, for non-Japanese readers.)

Considering the approach of the weekly newsmag medium and Shukan Shincho’s tilt to the political right, it was no surprise to see the publication indulge in some lurid speculation. They think Mr. Honda is in the pocket of the Chinese and quote a Washington correspondent speculating that he came to Japan to dig up some more dirt on the Nanjing Massacre and Unit 731, the notorious biological warfare research team. Naturally, said the reporter, meeting an influential Japanese politician would be good PR.

The article concluded by expressing the wish that Mr. Eda had taken the opportunity to raise some objections with Mr. Honda about his behavior, rather than having a pleasant chat.

The strident, second-rate prose notwithstanding, Shukan Shincho does make a valid point. The perquisites of Mr. Eda’s job as upper house president include an official residence, a salary 1.7 times that of an ordinary upper house member, and the probable receipt on retirement of a medal in the grand cordon rank.

A man in such an important and visible position might have been more discreet about meeting someone as controversial in Japan as Mike Honda, even if they are ideological soulmates. A private conversation with no cameras allowed would have been easy to arrange.

On the other hand, if Mr. Eda is such a strong proponent of compensation for the comfort women, why shouldn’t he display the courage of his convictions and discuss his views more openly? Indeed, why not appear before the cameras in Japan with Mr. Honda to make his case to the Japanese public? If the issue means that much to him—and evidently it does—he should be willing to take the political and electoral heat for his beliefs.

The last thing he should do is pretend it’s no big deal—when it so obviously is.

Posted in History, International relations, World War II | Tagged: , | 20 Comments »

 
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