AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Edano Y.’

The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012



* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
– Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
– Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.

Afterwords:

A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

*****
Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

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

Shimojo Masao (18): Excerpts from a panel discussion

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

ON 14 September, Prof. Shimojo Masao, author and professor Ikeda Nobuo, and LDP upper house member Katayama Satsuki filmed a panel discussion for broadcast on Nico Nico, a website for videos in Japan similar to YouTube. The subject was Japanese-South Korean relations. Here are some excerpts.

Shimojo: Liberal Democratic Party members in the Diet repeatedly asked (Deputy Prime Minister) Okada Katsuya and (Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry) Edano Yukio whether they thought South Korea has illegally occupied Takeshima. They answered that they would not make a clear statement because it was not in accord with the national interest. They refused to say that Takeshima was illegally occupied. It seems somehow that, in some underlying way, they think Takeshima belongs to South Korea.

The Democratic Party of Japan has absolutely no understanding of the history of their own country, and no view of where they want to lead the nation. The politicians are not looking at their country, they’re looking at their own election districts. They’re putting their own lives first. (N.B.: That’s a play on words using the party’s slogan of “Putting the People’s Lives First”.)

… South Korean President Lee Myong-bak not only went to Takeshima, but also was disrespectful of the Emperor. He did that because there is a member of the Japanese Diet who wanted to make a deal with South Korea and resolve the historical issues by having the Emperor go to South Korea and apologize.

Ikeda: What?

Katayama: No!

Shimojo: Yes, it’s true. It’s Ozawa Ichiro. He visited South Korea in December 2009, going by way of China. During the morning he gave a talk at Kookmin University in which he said the Emperor’s origins were in the Baekche Kingdom. He also offered the theory that Japan was conquered by a tribe of horsemen. At a news conference after his talk, he said, “The government decides the Emperor’s visits to South Korea,” and “We can make the Emperor visit South Korea.”

On 31 August this year, the Dong-a Ilbo reported that during his talks with President Lee during his 2009 visit, Mr. Ozawa told him, “When I become prime minister, I’ll recognize Takeshima as South Korean territory to defuse the hatred of the South Korean people.” In other words, he told them that he’d give them Takeshima. This was reported based on the statement of a “high (South Korean) government official”.

The Dong-a Ilbo was asked whether they had made a mistake, but they’ve never printed a retraction. The government claims it is a mistake because they didn’t identify the informant….

…First, we must recognize that the culture, civilization, and history of Japan and the Korean Peninsula are completely different.

For example, as we recently saw again, there are anti-Japanese demonstrations and violence in South Korean and China. In contrast, Japanese seldom take actions of that sort. Some people say that’s because Japanese young people are lazy and apathetic, but it’s really because the civilization and culture are different.

Though Japan is part of the same Confucian cultural sphere, it had a social structure characterized by regional authority. The culture that developed among the townspeople in the castle towns and the culture of the samurai created clearly separate roles in society, and everyone knew their role.

On the Korean Peninsula and China, however, it is always a relationship between the rulers and the ruled. A person will be buried unless they constantly express themselves. That’s why they are always so self-assertive…

…Historically, there is a tradition in Korean society of (literally) “being opposed to the correct”. There were three dynasties on the peninsula — Silla, Goryeo, and Choson — and each successive dynasty created their “correct history”. In other words, they created the “state history”. These histories always held that the previous dynasties were “evil”, and correct history began with the creation of a new dynasty.

Therefore, (on the Korean Peninsula) “correct history” does not always align with historical fact. There is instead a distortion of history to constantly justify oneself. There has been a long tradition of maintaining one’s legitimacy by making others recognize that they are correct.

Today, the South Korean presidents lose their power at the end of their term, and his successor often sends him to prison. That’s how they make people recognize their legitimacy. That’s the culture.

Afterwords:

* Note again the distinction between that which is “correct” and that which is not. That’s because the Koreans were traditionally Sinocentric culturalists of their own.

* What the South Koreans consider an Imperial apology is not simply a public statement, but getting down on one’s hands and knees in the manner of Willy Brandt in Warsaw. That’s the reason for the Times Square billboard.

* Was Mr. Ozawa being a statesman with his offer, or did it have anything to do with his mother’s family being ethnically Korean? (Jeju, apparently). No, I did not see her family register. Yes, I have it on good authority.

* For the record: Mr. Ozawa denied the story when it appeared in the Dong-a Ilbo.

Posted in China, History, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Edano the economist

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THE Fukushima nuclear accident, the consequent idling of Japan’s nuclear power plants, and the controversial resumption of generation at the Oi plants in Fukui have spurred a debate about the country’s use of nuclear power in the future.

The zero option has been criticized by business and financial circles as unrealistic. During a news conference last week, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Edano Yukio responded to that criticism:

“The sooner we develop and spread the use of renewable energy and energy conservation technology, the sooner we can require this be linked to the expansion of domestic demand. I do not think that the zero nuclear option will be a negative for the economy as a whole. Rather, if we do it properly, it will be a plus.”

To paraphrase the late Adlai Stevenson, in a democracy anyone can get elected. That’s the chance you have to take.

Then again, maybe he didn’t really mean it. He is a politician (and a lawyer) after all, so he quickly switched to the other side of his mouth. When asked to what extent public opinion would be incorporated in energy policy, he answered:

“It can’t be done mechanically. A comprehensive evaluation is our only choice.”

The reason a comprehensive evaluation is important is to prevent one segment of public opinion, based only on emotion, from swaying the determination of final policy. Elected officials with access to expert opinion should make those decisions by incorporating such considerations as technology, safety, and the economic impact.

Oh, wait…

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

Thanks for nothing

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.
– Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon

IN retrospect, the election and formation of a government by the Democratic Party was the best thing that could have happened for the development of the political consciousness of the Japanese public. Not because they’ve been successful — Good God Almighty! — but because they allowed the public to see how certain elements of the political class behave when in power. Namely, them.

The records of videoconferences held by Tokyo Electric Power during the Fukushima crisis have recently been released, and one involves a conference held on 14 March to discuss the planned rolling power blackout in the Kanto area.

It was to start early in the morning of the 14th in part of Tokyo’s 23rd ward and part of Yokohama. There was a “strong request” from the Kantei (executive branch) that it be postponed, however.

Very early in the morning of the 14th, Tokyo Electric Vice-President Fujimoto Takashi told a meeting that Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro, and Ren Ho, then in charge of energy saving awareness, demanded that the blackout be put off.

Mr. Fujimoto did not reveal which of those three made the following statement:

“You will kill the people using artificial respirators and heart-lung machines at home. If you go ahead (with the plan) knowing that, we will call you to account for murder.”

The word used for the pronoun “you” by the executive branch was “omae“, which is extremely crude (and rude) in this context.

It’s a toss-up which one it could have been. Mr. Edano was a lawyer associated with radical labor groups, so perhaps some of the faux tough guy attitude rubbed off. Waseda grad though she is, Ren Ho’s ceiling in government would have been service as someone’s aide were her electability not been enhanced by a prior career as a photo model and television MC. She wouldn’t be the first female pol to combine a light resume, a sense of exaggerated self-importance, and the need to talk as if she were in a locker room to prove she can hang with the boys. I know little of Mr. Fukuyama other than that he is the chair of the upper house Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Wouldn’t that be just ducky if it were him?

In view of the government’s “request”, Tokyo Electric postponed the blackout. The reason they gave the public was that power demand was less than supply.

It is a fascinating phenomenon. In a modern democracy, it is always the politicians of the left who think this is how people in leadership positions are supposed to conduct themselves. (After spending some time working in the service industry, I discovered that it is almost always people aligned with this group that abuse the help too.)

Then again, what is to be expected from people whose politics consist of 50% resentment and 50% fashion statement?

Sometimes moving forward requires a retreat. By demonstrating their incompetence, utter lack of character, and 19th century solutions to 21st century problems, the DPJ has done the nation a service. Now the country will be able to get on with the business at hand without them.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to find some shelter until the next election.

Posted in Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The face of the disaster

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 4, 2012

K(an) needs some coolant water

-Shimomura Ken, cabinet councilor, in notes taken during 11-12 March 2011 during the Fukushima nuclear accident.

He was not just the worst prime minister in history. As a human being he was no better than a common criminal.

- Ishii Taka’aki, technology and energy policy journalist

IN their coverage of the two Japanese commissions that investigated the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the government’s response, the English-language media seems to have overlooked the findings of both panels on the response of the Kan Cabinet in general and then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto in particular. Indeed, many have avoided that subject altogether, and some have even tried to defend the Kan Kantei behavior. They seem to be uncomfortable with findings that make clear the conduct and crisis management of the Kan Kantei was just as much a disaster as the nuclear accident itself.

All of Kan Naoto’s evasions and fabrications have now been exposed. What has emerged is a disturbing portrait of a prime minister whose flawed character was manifested in ugly, erratic behavior that exacerbated the crisis. A few diehards, mostly foreigners, still insist that Mr. Kan “saved Japan” by demanding that Tokyo Electric Power official keep their workers on the site of Fukushima reactor #1 when the utility wanted to abandon it. The two panels have concluded that the story is a falsehood, and their verdict is now a part of the official record.

This has not been overlooked in Japan.

The first report was from an independent panel associated with the Diet and headed by Kurokawa Kiyoshi, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. One of the members was Tanaka Koichi, who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2002. The commission was given broad authority to ask for documents and question witnesses, and it interviewed more than 1,100 altogether. Among those answering questions were the three men responsible for the government’s response to the crisis: Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Kaieda Banri, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Prime Minister Kan Naoto. None of the three men have those jobs now.

Anyone who has seen a courtroom scene in a gangster movie already knows what happened when those men answered questions about their conduct during the first days of the Fukushima nuclear accident. It is not possible to plead the Fifth Amendment in Japan, but that, in essence, is just what Mr. Edano did. For example:

Mr. Edano was asked about the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the first evacuation zone at a three-kilometer radius from the plant and about the expansion of the zone to a 20-kilometer radius after the explosion at Reactor #1 on 12 March.

He said he didn’t know why it was set at three kilometers, he didn’t remember why it was expanded to 20 kilometers, and didn’t remember whose idea it was. He also said he didn’t know that the requirement for removing the evacuation zone designation was an improvement in the situation.

One issue of intense focus in Japan was whether or not Tokyo Electric officials asked for authorization to withdraw from the site. On one occasion, Kan Naoto said he was given that information by Kaieda Banri, and at another time said both Mr. Kaieda and Mr. Edano told him that.

During the questioning, however, Mr. Edano couldn’t recall exactly what was said, and tried to change the subject. (He is a lawyer, after all.) Mr. Kaieda’s story was that he didn’t recall then-Tokyo Electric President Shimizu Masataka saying the withdrawal would be partial. Both men soft-pedaled the incident when it came time to talk to an official inquirity. That’s not what they had told the media before.

SPEEDI

Japan has a nationwide system of radiation detectors administered by the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NSTC) known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI. It transmits information in real time during an emergency over dedicated circuits to the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), all the related agencies in the government, and all prefecture governments. It is used to determine which areas are to be evacuated in the event of an emergency.

Tokyo Electric informed the government of the power loss at Fukushima on 3:42 p.m. on 11 March, slightly more than one hour after the earthquake. The government immediately instructed the NSTC to operate in emergency mode, which it did at around 5:00 p.m. SPEEDI began sending data hourly, and the amount of data transmitted reached 6,500 pages by 20 April.

The NSC head has said that the system began functioning immediately, and all the local governments involved started receiving information. The Ministry of Education was originally responsible for SPEEDI, and the ministry’s bureau chief in charge said that a “senior Kantei official” ordered the information to be withheld from the public. The responsibility was transferred to the NSC the next day.

Japan conducts nuclear emergency drills every year, and the chairman of the government group overseeing those drills is the prime minister. Data from SPEEDI is used in all of those drills. The last drill conducted before Fukushima was in October 2010 and postulated a problem at the Hamaoka nuclear plant. The data was distributed to every member of the Cabinet.

The Kantei didn’t use any of the SPEEDI information because Kan Naoto said he didn’t know of the existence of the system until a few days after the accident, even though we was provided with information from the system five months before. The Ministry of Education said it didn’t provide information directly to the Kantei because they weren’t asked for it.

Mr. Edano was also asked about SPEEDI. He claimed he didn’t know about it until 15 or 16 March. He also said Ministry of Education officials told him a SPEEDI simulation wasn’t possible because there was no data on the actual amount of radioactive material being released. As we’ve seen, the system started creating simulations almost immediately (using a different calculation method).

Kawauchi Hiroshi of the DPJ (the same party these three men are members of) said the details of the Kantei’s explanation were either contradictory or a lie. Mr. Edano said he wasn’t in the Cabinet in October 2011, and didn’t know about the simulation. The weekly Shukan Shincho wondered whether he started work at the second most important job in the Cabinet without looking at the crisis manual.

Edano Yukio has also been widely criticized for repeating in the first days of the disaster that the Fukushima accident would have “no immediate effect on health”. One of the panel members was a Fukushima resident forced to evacuate because of the accident. She asked him about that statement, and got snapped at in return: “You should review the transcripts of my press conferences.”

Understanding that he put his foot in it, Mr. Edano later said it was regrettable that people thought his statements meant something other than what he intended, though he did add that the government should have provided more information.

That information might have started with the fact that everyone was aware on the night of the disaster that a core meltdown had probably occurred. Speaking of core meltdowns, that brings us to Kan Naoto.

The Savior of Japan

NISA officials told Kan Naoto at 10:44 p.m. on 11 March that they expected a meltdown at Fukushima. That was confirmed early the next morning by readings of iodine levels at the plant. Nakamura Koichiro, METI’s deputy director for nuclear safety, held a televised news conference at 2:00 p.m. and said:

“It’s a core meltdown. We believe the fuel has started to melt [in the No. 1 reactor].”

He was authorized to make the statement by Terasaka Nobuaki, NISA director general. “We have no choice,” Mr. Terasaka said.

Mr. Nakamura was dismissed from his position that night, reportedly at the instructions of Kan Naoto and Edano Yukio. And Mr. Kan kept insisting until mid-June that a meltdown had not occurred. In fact:

“An hour after the press conference, staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office were taken aback by Nakamura’s remarks when they watched live coverage of the press conference on TV.

“”What’s this media coverage [of the press conference]?” shouted Keisuke Sadamori, then secretary to the prime minister and a former METI bureaucrat.

“He telephoned the agency and demanded that it inform the Prime Minister’s Office in advance whenever it had important information.

“”It’s wrong for the prime minister to get such information via TV,” Sadamori said over the phone.

“Thereafter, the Prime Minister’s Office established a rule that it would hold a news conference on important findings and other information ahead of the agency.

“”As we couldn’t get the necessary information, our distrust in the agency knew no bounds. I had to phone the agency,” Sadamori said as he recalled the tense atmosphere at the Prime Minister’s Office that day.

““At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion destroyed the upper part of the building housing the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima plant. TV stations broadcast white smoke rising from the damaged building.

““While the government struggled to gather information on the explosion, the agency clammed up and refused media’s requests to explain what is happening.

“”We’re unable to get approval [for a press conference] from the Prime Minister’s Office,” an agency official told the media.”

Note that the prime minister’s office complained to NISA that it wasn’t being given information that it had already received. Edano Yukio admitted on 13 March that a meltdown might have occurred. When asked about that by the Kurokawa commission, he denied knowing about the Nakamura statement the previous day.

Hosono Goshi, the minister in charge of nuclear power policy, said a month later, on 15 April:

“We weren’t of a mood to proactively announce it. It would have created a negative mood.”

One month after that, in May, he said that SPEEDI information was not made public because of concerns of a public panic.

That was around the time Kan Naoto got around to admitting that there had been a meltdown. Watanabe Yoshimi, the head of Your Party, said:

““The day after the earthquake, I asked the prime minister, ‘Hasn’t a meltdown occurred?’ He answered, ‘It’s not a meltdown. It’s not a situation in which there has been radiation leakage. The cooling water level has been restored, the situation is under control, and everything’s OK.’ The hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1 occurred right after that. The series of false announcements that belittled the common sense of experts continued.””

Kan Naoto blamed everyone but himself. In May 2011, in the Diet:

“What I told the people was fundamentally in error. I am deeply sorry in the sense that the government was unable to respond because of the mistaken assumptions of Tokyo Electric.”

What about the meltdown?

“Until the announcement (of the meltdown earlier this month), I hadn’t heard anything about it. It wasn’t that I knew about it and didn’t say anything.”

Kakiwaza Mito of Your Party reminded Mr. Kan that on 12 May, just three days before the government announcement, he told a meeting of party leaders in the Diet that there was no meltdown. “Didn’t you lie?” he asked. Said Mr. Kan:

“I merely expressed the official government view.”

On his approach to information disclosure about the meltdown, he told the Kurokawa panel:

“Both Mr. Edano and I shared the idea of clearly disclosing facts to the public…But this was not a confirmed fact, it was the result of an analysis. It is not necessarily appropriate to explain forecasts.”

And shifted the blame again:

“I asked the Chief Cabinet Secretary to take responsibility for informing the public.”

Blame shifting is a Kan hallmark. In his opening remarks to the Kurokawa panel, he said it was all the fault of the state (nation) and he apologized as the person responsible for the nation.

“From the time I assumed office as prime minister until the accident, I heard no detailed explanation of what authority the prime minister had or the head of disaster response headquarters had in regard to a nuclear power accident…I wish I had received a proper explanation.”

What is there to be said about a man who would seek the job of prime minister without proactively familiarizing himself with the authority that entailed in a disaster, and denied knowing anything about it, even after it became public knowledge that he was the nominal head of a group conducting a nuclear disaster drill?

“Almost none of the information that should have risen through channels to me did so. Forecasts and possibilities from the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, none of that information got to me. I felt frightened that there was nothing I could do to resolve the situation.”

None of the information in the first two sentences is true, and was contradicted in testimony to the two panels. Further, he not only failed to proactively seek information, his behavior actively prevented information from reaching him. An example is his reaction when the emergency diesel power generator broke down at the Fukushima plant. The normal response from someone coordinating actions would be: What do we do now? Mr. Kan’s response was to ask why it broke (a problem of no concern to him at the moment). When no answers were immediately forthcoming, he dismissed Tokyo Electric officials by telling them to “discuss it with the professors I know at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and come back”. When he received reports from NISA on changing conditions at the site, he informed them: “You haven’t seen the site. I’ve been there and seen it (from a helicopter).”

Only one person denies that Kan Naoto continually screamed at all the upper level bureaucrats and Tokyo Electric officials who came to report to him — Kan Naoto. Mr. Kaieda tried to get around it, but even he admitted it:

“It’s natural that people who heard Kan speak would feel a sense of incongruity and easily misunderstand.”

Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun provides more specific information. He says that Diet members and bureaucrats tell him that having a serious conversation with Mr. Kan requires a shouting match. When he attacks you have to attack back. Only after that can you have a normal conversation with him. He always says politics is a fight between stray dogs, so in human relations, he has to bark long and loud to get someone’s measure.

Rather than rely on the pre-existing disaster response system, which he claims not to have known much about, Mr. Kan brought 20 people he knew to crisis headquarters, which threw the government response system into confusion.

Tokyo Electric officials have consistently stated that his claim he received no information is not factual. One asked, “Why is he lying like that?” Part of his screaming at Tokyo Electric headquarters involved going up to people and saying: “Are you a technician? You’re going to explain it!” A NISA official retorted, “We worked like crazy to gather information. Saying that is reprehensible.”

Writing on his blog:

“The atomic power industry interests (Tokyo Electric, Federation of Electric Power Companies, bureaucrats) continue to seize more authority for nuclear power administration without serious reflection on this accident. These interests resemble the military before the war. Clarifying their organizational structure and their psychosocial structure, and then breaking it up is the first step toward drastic reform of nuclear power administration.”

The criticism in Japan of national leadership during the war and their inability to stand up to the military is commonplace. Mr. Kan complains that the nuclear power complex was just like the military before the war. So who was the national leader during the accident?

By the way, if you have any idea what “psychosocial structure” is supposed to mean, drop me a line. That’s a direct translation.

He also blamed the capitalists in a speech in Shizuoka:

“For the power companies, if they can’t operate the nuclear plants they spent money to build, the company could go bankrupt if things go wrong. That’s behind their request to let them start operating again.”

He blamed NISA:

“Under the Act for Special Measures for Nuclear Emergency Preparedness as it exists today, I do not think the prime minister’s authority was weak. Rather, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency…is not an organization capable of an accurate assessment of the situation, or presenting sound countermeasures to the prime minister based on that law, and they were inadequate.“

And Tokyo Electric and everyone who was there before he was:

“Most of the causes of the accident existed before 11 March 11 2011, the day of the accident. That’s my conclusion.”

In the Real World

But everyone else, including the two official investigations, blames him specifically and says exactly the opposite of what he’s been saying. One of the problems they found was his dithering in the declaration of a state of emergency. From the Kurokawa panel report:

“Rather than the deal with the necessity for prompt measures at disaster headquarters and issuing a declaration of emergency, Prime Minister Kan kept asking technical questions about why the situation had reached that point, and the various related laws and ordinances. He continued to ask, “”Why did this happen”, and declare, “This is terrible.” Kaieda Banri and officials of the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency repeatedly urged him to declare a state of emergency, saying “You must do this based on the law.” Even though they pressed him on the declaration, he made no effort to understand what they were telling him…Prime Minister Kan repeatedly asked questions about the cause of the accident, which were difficult to answer right away. He gave precedence to attending a conference of party leaders, and left until later the declaration that should have been the start of the government’s initial response.”

But that’s not the Kan story. When asked about the two-hour delay in declaring a state of emergency, he said:

“I have no feeling of the kind, such as it was delayed for some reason, or that someone stopped it.”

Said the Kurokawa Panel:

“When Prime Minister Kan visited the (Fukushima) site in person on the morning of the 12th, rather than lift the morale of the people on site, it applied additional pressure.”

When Mr. Kan was asked about the significance of his helicopter visit at the hearing, he said:

“I could match the faces and the names of the people responsible.”

During questioning in the upper house of the Diet, Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Madarame Haruki gave his explanation for the Kan visit:

“Prime Minister Kan accompanied me because he said he wanted to learn a little about nuclear power.”

Kaieda Banri blames himself for not stopping Mr. Kan from going to the site. He realizes that everyone knows it was an unnecessary trip.

The Kurokawa Commission found that one problem with the Kan Kantei was that it kept getting in the way at Fukushima. They said:

“It intervened in a way that was never intended, such as communicating directly with the plant [management], and [the plant management] had to answer the frequent calls.”

Mr. Kan said he called the plant manager at the site twice. People on-site at the time said that was an outright lie, and that the number of calls was in the double digits. All the calls were made directly to the plant manager while he was working to deal with the crisis.

When the prime minister was asked about those personal calls directly to the plant manager, he said:

“It was like making a telephone call to the cockpit of a crashed airplane.”

It All Falls Apart

The incident that has become the symbol of Kan Naoto’s post-disaster behavior is his visit to Tokyo Electric headquarters on the morning of 15 March. Before the two panels released their reports, even some Kan critics were inclined to give him credit for making the utility keep workers at the site in Fukushima when senior TEPCO officials were said to have asked they be allowed to leave.

Now that both reports have been released, however, we know the story was nothing but bologna. And the self-serving butchers doing the slicing were Messrs. Kan, Edano, and Kaieda.

Here’s what really happened:

On the night of the 14th, Tokyo Electric was concerned that the situation with Reactor #1 might spin out of control. To protect some of their workers, they considered having some non-critical personnel on site take temporary shelter in a location less exposed to radiation (a different reactor on the site) while keeping the critical personnel working on site at Reactor #1. The utility considered this to be the worst-case scenario, which never came to pass.

Some people working at Fukushima thought it might be necessary, but by 1:00 a.m. on the morning of the 15th, the crisis had passed and they knew it wouldn’t be required.

When Tokyo Electric President Shimizu outlined the possibility to emergency headquarters at the Kantei, he used the Japanese word 退避 (taihi). That literally means to leave a place to avoid danger, with the connotation that the departure would be temporary. The word was chosen specifically to convey that meaning, and that word was the only one Tokyo Electric officials used to explain the situation. The utility insisted they were going to keep the core members at the plant and leave Reactor #1 briefly if the situation deteriorated.

That word choice sailed over the heads of the people in the Kantei, however, and Mr. Kaieda in particular. When he passed along the information, the word became 撤退 (tettai). That has the connotation of a complete military withdrawal after a defeat.

Over the course of the evening, it became clear that the temporary withdrawal to a different part of the plant wouldn’t be necessary, but it took a while for the people at the Kantei, specifically Mr. Kaieda, to tell Mr. Kan. Therefore, the prime minister called Mr. Shimizu to his office on the night of the 14th and asked him directly what his intentions were. Mr. Shimizu told him they had no intention of abandoning the site. (This and other emphases are mine.)

In fact, one of the beat reporters covering the Democratic Party for a national newspaper told the weekly Shukan Shincho for their 7 June edition:

“About the withdrawal, during questioning in the Diet on 18 April 2011, Kan replied to an opposition member, testifying, ‘President Shimizu came to the Kantei and explained that he did not particularly mean a complete withdrawal.’”

And then:

“But then during this questioning, before we knew it, Kaieda and Edano put their heads together and changed the story to ‘complete withdrawal’.”

The story they all settled on was that they thought it would be an “all-out” withdrawal because Mr. Shimizu didn’t specify that the withdrawal would be either complete or partial. (Mr. Edano’s memory started failing him, however, when it came time to testify to the commissions.) Mr. Shimizu said he was surprised the government misunderstood the word he had carefully chosen to mean temporary shelter (taihi) as a full retreat (tettai) — especially because Mr. Kan asked him to stay on the night of the 14th, and Mr. Shimizu said, of course.

The Next Morning

That should have been that, because the immediate crisis was over. But that wasn’t that. Kan Naoto decided to go to Tokyo Electric headquarters the next morning and give them a piece of whatever remained of his mind. He stormed into the operations room where dozens of people were working, mistook it for a meeting room, screamed “What are these people doing here,” and launched into a 10-minute rant:

“Why is this happening? At this rate, Japan will be finished. If you leave, Tokyo Electric will be 100% crushed. You can’t run away even if you try. What’s the air pressure in the nuclear reactor now? Even if I ask, none of you know, right? All you executives who are 60 should be willing to go on site and die. I’ll go too. The President, the Chairman, resign yourselves to your fate and do it. (Looking around the operations room) Why are so many people here? Important things are solved by five or six people. This isn’t the time to be screwing around. Get a smaller room ready. Who around here really understands nuclear reactors? Who’s in charge? (Vice-President Takefuji: I am.) Why has this happened? Do you really understand this? (Looking at employees’ faces) What can you do? What is it that you can do?”

The scene was picked up on the monitor at the main office and transmitted to Fukushima’s Reactor #1, along with his voice. Said a worker at the site:

“We could see the back of the prime minister running down all the employees at the main office. There was never any intention to withdraw completely from the site, and you could feel a pall descend.”

Asked one Committee member:

“Did you take into consideration the people on the scene who were risking their lives when you said what you did?”

The answer:

“I found out later it was also transmitted to the site.”

And:

“Well, you know, I said a lot of different things, but finally I said shouldn’t the chairman, who is over 60, and the president, and me and a few others, take the lead in a sense. There was absolutely no emotion of something like dressing them down, and I would like everybody to understand just that.”

Question:

“I understand how you feel, but before, we had the people who were putting their lives on the line for their company and their country say they would most certainly not flee from the site. This was confirmed by telephone. The other day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said that he got in contact with the people on the site and confirmed they had no intention of leaving. Then you came, and yelled at the people who had no intention to leave, why are you leaving? Do you think you should reflect on your mistaken attitude toward these people?

Kan answer:

“It’s the same as I said before, but the feeling of dressing them down, particularly the feeling toward the people on the site, was really not like that at all….Myself, I wanted all the senior executives there to rethink their position if they were thinking of withdrawing, and do their best, even if they had to risk their lives. That’s the emotion with which I spoke, and I most sincerely want people to understand that…I wanted to communicate my feelings directly, and I had no intention to criticize anyone. People often say I was shouting, but I intended to speak more softly than I do during an argument with my wife. “

That last was a Kan attempt at a joke, but no one in the room laughed. Both Mr. Kan and his wife are commonly assumed to be heavy drinkers, and everyone has an idea how loud arguments can get between married lushes several sheets to the wind.

After two hours and 50 minutes of questioning, Mr. Kan decided he’d had enough and left.

The Verdict

Based on all the testimony, the Kurokawa panel determined, “There was no intention (by Tokyo Electric) to withdraw completely”. As to the post-accident response, the panel said “the key was the sense of mission by the people at the plant who understood the condition of the reactors best.”

The government committee investigating the accident issued their report at the end of July. It was chaired by Hatamura Yotaro, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, who is an expert in the mechanism of failures. Their final report also said that Tokyo Electric did not intend to leave and that Kan Naoto misunderstood. (They’re being charitable; as we’ve seen, he confirmed their intention on the night of the 14th.)

The Kurokawa Commission determined that none of Kan Naoto’s explanations were true. Among their other conclusions:

* The government lacked awareness of crisis management

* It had a broken chain of command

* It had insufficient expertise in organization and operations

* The Kantei responded in a way that made it more difficult for the government to concentrate all its powers.

* They lacked the proper frame of mind required for the heavy responsibility.

* The initial Kantei reaction increased the risk of making the situation worse by creating a situation of needless confusion and stress. It was “haphazard, stopgap crisis management”.

* They added that the excessive interference by the Kan Kantei was “the primary reason the progress of events in the accident could not be stopped, and the damage could not be minimized.”

The Solution

On 13 June, the ruling DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito reached an agreement on the extent of a prime minister’s authority over a new regulatory agency in the future in the event of a nuclear disaster. It specifies what the prime minister can do if technical questions again arise, such as filling a reactor with seawater.

The prime minister will now be limited to asking for a decision from new body of specialists formed to deal with a problem. He can only urge them to work more quickly. He will not be able to overturn their decision.

The Japanese media described this as a measure to avoid “Kan Risk”.

The Post-Mortem

When Kan Naoto resigned as prime minister last August, he said:

“I did what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately the people do not fully understand that.”

The Democratic Party of Japan appointed him their supreme advisor on new energy policy.

After the Kurokawa report was released, Mr. Kan wrote on his blog:

“In regard to their evaluation of the Kantei’s response to the accident, the problem about the Kantei, and the withdrawal of Tokyo Electric, my understanding is different on several points.”

There is enough information here to draw your own conclusions on the behavior of Kan Naoto and his government. The English-language news media thought having to report any of this information was a botheration.

You can draw your own conclusions about that, too.

Afterwords:

* Psychoanalyst Kishida Shu, writing in another context:

“There is no tradition in Japan of removing an incompetent leader because of an evaluation of their performance…Not one Japanese military leader was clearly denounced for the paucity of their strategic leadership, or discredited in any way.”

* Hosaka Masayasu, non-fiction author:

“I don’t know a lot about citizen activism, but if this (Kan Naoto) is the only kind of person those movements create, it gives me a real sense of the sort of warped world citizen activism is.”

* From a Kyodo report this week:

The United Nations picked former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others Tuesday as members of a high-level panel that will advise on devising new development goals.

The current Millennium Development Goals, which the international community aims to achieve by the end of 2015, include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, improvement in maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Kan is among the 26 social, private-sector and government leaders appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to advise on a new development agenda beyond 2015. The panel will have Cameron and two other co-chairs. It will hold its first meeting at the end of next month.

“I have asked my high-level panel to prepare a bold yet practical development vision to present to member states next year,” Ban said.

You can draw your own conclusions about the United Nations, too.

******
Kan Naoto did everything but blame it on the boogie.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 16, 2012

THERE was a demonstraton yesterday in front of the Kantei to protest Prime Minister Kan’s efforts to have Japan’s idled nuclear reactors resume operation. The protesters enjoy broadcasting the message that people’s lives are more important than the potential dangers of nuclear power.

Here’s one of the pictures of the demonstrators that Reuters took:

One custom at Japanese funerals is to place a black and white photograph of the deceased above the casket. The mourners carry the photograph to the crematorium after the funeral service. The photographs are exactly as those shown in the photo, except they are framed, don’t have the English RIP above them, and don’t have Hitler moustaches drawn in. That’s a photo of Prime Minister Noda on the right, and Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Edano Yukio in the middle. All five are very much alive.

The protesters successfully sent a message, but it wasn’t the one they wanted to communicate. It wasn’t well received, even among those people opposed to nuclear power.

Then again, you can’t not communicate, as the saying goes. We now know all we need to know about the people holding those photos.

Actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Posted in Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showdown at the hypotenuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiva’s second coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the bad:

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

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

Now for the ugly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

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

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

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

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

Yes, he said kawaii.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International exchange

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

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

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

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

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

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

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

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

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

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

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

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

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

Here’s one Seetell missed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na Nu Na Nu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anachronisms

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

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

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

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

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Corrupt

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 1, 2012

Corrupt: 1. orig., changed from a sound condition to an unsound one; spoiled; contaminated, rotten 2. deteriorated from the normal or standard; specif., a) morally unsound or debased; perverted; evil; depraved…c) containing alterations, errors, or admixtures of foreignisms; said of texts, languages, etc.
– Webster’s New World Dictionary

THE Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, a panel consisting of 30 “university professors, lawyers, and journalists”, released its report this week on the response of the Japanese government and industry to the Fukushima nuclear disaster last March.

The coverage of that report by some elements of the mass media, both in the Anglosphere and Japan, can only be described as corrupt.

The foundation’s founder, Funabashi Yoichi, is the former editor in chief of the Asahi Shimbun. The New York Times’ Martin Fackler writes the following in his article on the release of the report:

“(Mr. Funabashi) said his group’s findings conflicted with those of the government’s own investigation into the accident, which were released in an interim report in December. A big difference involved one of the most crucial moments of the nuclear crisis, when the prime minister, Mr. Kan, marched into Tepco’s headquarters early on the morning of March 15 upon hearing that the company wanted to withdraw its employees from the wrecked nuclear plant.

“The government’s investigation sided with Tepco by saying that Mr. Kan, a former social activist who often clashed with Japan’s establishment, had simply misunderstood the company, which wanted to withdraw only a portion of its staff. Mr. Funabashi said his foundation’s investigators had interviewed most of the people involved — except executives at Tepco, which refused to cooperate — and found that the company had in fact said it wanted a total pullout.

“He credited Mr. Kan with making the right decision in forcing Tepco not to abandon the plant.

“‘Prime Minister Kan had his minuses and he had his lapses,’ Mr. Funabashi said, ‘but his decision to storm into Tepco and demand that it not give up saved Japan.'”

Ah, so. Kan Naoto is the savior of Japan.

The AFP news agency report identifies Kitazawa Koichi as “the panel head” and contains the following passage:

“The panel said as the situation on Japan’s tsunami-wrecked coast worsened, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers.

“But the utility, which refused to co-operate with the study, was ordered to keep men on site by then prime minister Naoto Kan.

“Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

“‘When the prime minister’s office was aware of the risk the country may not survive (the crisis)…TEPCO’s president (Masataka) Shimizu….frantically called’ to tell the premier he wanted his staff to leave the crippled nuclear reactor, panel head Koichi Kitazawa told a news conference.

“Kitazawa said Kan threatened to break up the powerful utility if the company insisted on pulling its men out.

“He said Kan’s refusal to bow to TEPCO’s demand had averted a worse crisis.

“Kan told Shimizu: ‘It’s impossible. If you withdraw staff, TEPCO will be demolished,’ according to Kitazawa.”

That last sentence is a mistranslation, perhaps deliberate, but we’ll get to that later.

“‘Consequently, it’s Mr Kan’s biggest contribution that the Fukushima 50 remained at the site,’ added Kitazawa, referring to dozens of operatives who worked to contain the accident and were feted as heroes.”

In their haste to set the agenda and disseminate their narrative, both the New York Times and AFP omitted some details.

For example, here is what Mr. Kitazawa actually said, from the original Japanese:

“(Mr. Kan) himself rushed into Tokyo Electric’s headquarters, which had requested that they be allowed to leave the site. In the end, 50 workers remained on the site. It is thought by some that this ultimately averted the worst-case scenario and was a great achievement. However, most of the excessive intervention on the site by the Kantei (i.e., Japan’s equivalent of the White House or 10 Downing St.), including the former prime minister’s involvement — down to the size of one of the batteries at the site — cannot be praised. In addition, the prime minister’s information disclosure was a failure and caused a sense of mistrust to spread among the people. We have no choice other than to say that overall, their response was a failure.”

(N.B.: The second use of the word failure was fugokaku, which has the sense of failing a school examination.)

Of the English-language reports that I read, only Reuters conveyed the panel’s conclusion that Mr. Kan was a failure, and then only on the second page of the website report I saw (The Chicago Tribune).

Fackler and the New York Times quotes Mr. Funabashi as saying that Kan Naoto saved Japan. No Japanese media report I’ve seen — and I’ve read several — has quoted that statement. Of course they quote extensively from the report on the behavior of Mr. Kan and the Kantei, but the tone is quite different.

Some direct quotes from the report follow. In regard to the intervention of Mr. Kan and the Kantei:

“It is not clear that it was useful in preventing the spread of the damage, and it undeniably increased the risk of needless confusion and the further development of the accident.”

And:

“The prime minister and the Kantei command center fell into an abnormal state of tension and confusion.”

That allows you to put into context the breathless “reporting” in the West, such as this from AFP:

“A worst-case scenario sketched out by the Japanese government foresaw the end of Tokyo in a chain of nuclear explosions as the Fukushima crisis erupted, an independent panel said.

“Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told investigators: ‘I had this demonic scenario in my head’ that nuclear reactors could break down one after another. If that happens Tokyo will be finished’.

“Plans were drawn up for the mass evacuation of the capital as Edano — the government’s point man on the nuclear crisis — fretted that reactors all along the coast could go into meltdown and engulf the city of 13 million people.”

No excerpt of the official report I read contained the conclusion that Tokyo was in danger of being “finished”. They did say that Mr. Kan and Mr. Edano had lost their heads, however. Though the AFP calls Edano Yukio the government’s “point man”, it does not mention that Mr. Edano’s sole professional experience before becoming a politician was that of a lawyer specializing in the defense of labor union radicals.

The portions of the report the Anglosphere media omitted present a rather different picture of events. Such as this in regard to the venting of Reactor #1 on the night of 11 March and the morning of 12 March:

“At a minimum, it cannot be recognized that the decision of the Kantei, the order of the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and the prime minister’s demand were useful in promptly achieving the venting.”

In regard to the decision to insert seawater into the reactor on the evening of the 12th:

“The debate at the Kantei had no effect in the end, but if the Kantei’s (Kan’s) order to stop the insertion had been obeyed, it would have resulted in a dangerous situation with the possibility that the work would have been delayed.”

In regard to the insertion of seawater in Reactor #3 on the 13th:

“The Kantei expressed the opinion that fresh water should be preferred to seawater, and that opinion was conveyed from Tokyo Electric to (Fukushima plant manager) Yoshida….the switch to fresh water in the end brought about little or no improvement in conditions. The change in course had the possibility of needlessly exposing the workers to radiation. Not only did the Kantei’s instructions delay the work, there are suspicions that it increased the danger of failure of the water insertion into the reactor.”

There’s more:

“There are few examples in which the Kantei’s intervention into accident management on-site were an effective response to the accident. In most cases, it had absolutely no effect, or it increased the risk of worsening the situation due to needless confusion and stress.”

And:

“The risk involved in the leader of government intervening on-site in the response to the nuclear disaster should be an important lesson from the Fukushima accident to be shared by all.”

And:

“The Kantei’s initial response after the Fukushima accident was a series of crises. During the systemically unexpected developments, the core (of those responding) consisted of a handful of politicians without specialized knowledge or experience. Their grandstanding response continued as the crisis unfolded. It cannot be said that (this response) was at all sophisticated. Rather, this was immature and slapdash crisis management.”

Remember, these are direct quotes from the report.

On Mr. Kan specifically:

“The excessive involvement and intervention under Kantei leadership was criticized for its micromanagement. The Prime Minister was deeply involved in accident management, and it is undeniable that he was negligent in providing sufficient attention to overall crisis management.”

But wait: Martin Fackler and the New York Times quoted Funabashi Yoichi as saying that Kan Naoto saved Japan. In fact, Fackler also wrote:

“Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor in chief of the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, is one of Japan’s most respected public intellectuals.”

Keep in mind which newspaper that respected public intellectual edited as you read the following website commentary by Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Abiru begins by noting that every major Japanese newspaper extensively quoted the report’s criticisms of Mr. Kan and used that criticism for their headlines.

Except one.

He explains the reason for that:

“Though all of the newspapers accurately reported the private sector panel’s severe criticism of Mr. Kan and the Kantei, the Asahi did not include any of these problems in its headlines. The text of the articles does not refer to them at all. The newspaper ignored them completely. This can only be said to be abnormal.

“The Asahi (previously) ran a series of articles titled The Trap of Prometheus. They praised Mr. Kan to an unbelievable degree, and continued to beautify his behavior to the extent it sets one’s teeth on edge…Of course, the Sankei will insist on its own viewpoint, and it can be understood that the Asahi will do the same. But to go to this extent to avoid writing about Mr. Kan’s problems, and not informing its readers of the facts, is to betray its subscribers.

“The articles in The Trap of Prometheus are written as if Mr. Kan’s behavior was calm and collected from start to finish, but the panel’s report says that he panicked. Were the circumstances inconvenient for them? In any event, (the articles in) The Trap of Prometheus had the appearance of thoroughness — they even captioned a photograph of a sandal of Terada Manabu, one of the prime minister’s aides.

“The chairman of the group that conducted this investigation was the Asahi’s former editor in chief, Funabashi Yoichi. It seems as if they didn’t care what anyone unconnected with the company had to say. Rather, it was a case of “We will convey the Asahi’s strong determination and resolve to protect Mr. Kan.”

Do I need to mention that the New York Times, the Asahi Shimbun, and Kan Naoto share the same political philosophy?

The sober and steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state

You also won’t read that when Kan Naoto “ordered” the Tokyo Electric Power officials to keep personnel on the site, he had no authority to issue an order to them, as a private-sector company, to do anything at all. There are only glancing references to his threat to dismantle the company if they didn’t listen to him (which he also has no authority to do). His threat to break up the utility was the mistranslated part of the AFP piece.

In fact, there’s quite a lot of information that you won’t read in these accounts — That Mr. Kan did order the Self-Defense Forces to leave the site when he thought it was too dangerous. (Government employees should be saved, but private-sector employees should be sacrificed?)…That Mr. Kan told Tokyo Electric that employees “60 years old or older” could be sent to the site (Younger employees should be saved, but older employees should be sacrificed?)…That it is widely suspected Mr. Kan promised to save Tokyo Electric if the utility started contributing to his Democratic Party instead of the opposition LDP.

The Japanese mass media — other than the Asahi — didn’t miss any of that.

It is curious. Many news media consumers in the Anglosphere would never take at face value anything the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, or the BBC had to say about Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, or the EU, to cite a few of many examples.

Yet they think that turning the cyberpage somehow waves a magic wand of objectivity and credibility over the cesspool. For some reason, the readers swallow it whole and start “retweeting” and “liking” and getting all social media about everything. You know — “having their say”.

More than 60 years ago, former U.S. President Harry Truman said that he felt sorry for the average citizen who wakes up in the morning, reads the newspaper, and thereby thinks he knows something of what is happening in the world.

Sixty years and many revelations later, however, I am not inclined to be so generous.

It is no longer possible to be sympathetic to people who accept without reservation the work of those who are so clearly corrupt.

Afterwords:

Tokyo Electric Power officials chose not to be interviewed by the panel. The panel thinks there is insufficient evidence for the utility’s claim that it did not intend to fully withdraw from Fukushima. While agreeing that the panel could very well be correct, some people in Japan are now wondering if that conclusion was influenced by the statements of Mr. Kan and other government officials, who might have gotten carried away by their panic and mistrust of the utility. They are even finding some evidence to suggest that might have been the case. But this post is long enough already…

As always, links are only for the legit. Certainly not for the corrupt.

UPDATE: The Asahi English edition finally has an article on line that is critical of Mr. Kan and his government’s response. Some of the Japanese to English translation is amusing. For example:

“He cannot be given a passing grade from the overall perspective of his handling of the crisis,” Kitazawa said.

As I noted above, Mr. Kitazawa clearly said “He failed”.

Also:

The report quotes Kan as saying: “How large is the battery that you need? What are the dimensions? Weight? Can it be transported by helicopter?”

One participant who overheard the exchange told the investigative committee: “I became somewhat frightened when I thought about whether it was good for the nation to have the prime minister looking into such details.”

“Somewhat frightened”, eh? The original was zotto shita. That means “I shuddered to think that…” It can even be rendered in more intense language, such as “It made my flesh crawl”, “I was horrified to hear”, or “It made my blood run cold”.

But in Asahiworld, that’s “somewhat frightened”.

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There goes the last fig leaf

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 8, 2011

NOW this is getting interesting: The lead story on the front page of the Nishinippon Shimbun this morning is an expose of the Democratic Party government’s policy reviews, in which panels of politicians and private sector experts grill bureaucrats, ostensibly to eliminate wasteful programs and save taxpayer money. The first was conducted to popular acclaim in late 2009 by former cheesecake model/TV personality-turned-Cabinet Minister Ren Ho and Edano Yukio. Mr. Edano later went on to preside over the party’s poor showing in the 2010 upper house election as DPJ secretary-general and the government cover-up of the Fukushima disaster as Kan Naoto’s second chief cabinet secretary. He’s now the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Ministry.

While the public was thrilled by the first such review — Japanese taxpayers know there’s enough pork being distributed to feed every nation in Christendom during Easter — those who paid close attention soon discovered the process was a dog and pony show orchestrated and scripted by the Finance Ministry, both to assert its dominance over the rest of the bureaucracy as well as the DPJ government. Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji revealed on his website that he was given a copy of the first script. The panels’ only authority was to recommend cuts, most of the cuts the panels recommended never materialized, and subsequent panels were largely ignored by the public.

Now, for the first time, this story has hit the fan of the industrial mass media, or one blade of it at least. The government conducted another policy review last month on the subject of social welfare programs. The Nishinippon Shimbun managed to obtain copies of what they call a “crib sheet” citing examples of issues to be discussed, and another document with suggestions for how to summarize the proceedings at the end. The documents were created by the Cabinet Office with input from the Finance Ministry. The newspaper reports that most of the panel’s conclusions were in line with the ministry’s initial proposals. The crib sheet suggestions on reevaluating social welfare systems were identical to documents distributed at the session presenting Finance Ministry positions.

Here’s what Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko had to say about the recommendations of the policy review on Monday:

All the declarations presented to the people at these reviews are important for the future of our country…The Cabinet takes these declarations very seriously, and we must link them to concrete results.

Mr. Noda, by the way, reportedly gets very upset at the charge that he is a Finance Ministry puppet. He’ll also get upset at this passage from the newspaper’s editorial:

When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, the Finance Ministry would cut budget requests from each of the ministries when the following year’s budget was formulated at yearend, and each of the Cabinet ministers would negotiate directly with the Finance Minister to restore them. It was a set performance to give the public the impression that the politicians were in charge. The opposition Democratic Party lambasted this as an event staged by the politicians and the bureaucracy. Now, their criticism could boomerang on them.

The paper prominently featured this comment by political scientist and political devolution advocate Shindo Muneyuki, a former Chiba University professor and current director of the Research Center for Decentralized Policies and Systems:

It is clear that the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office tried to manipulate public opinion to gain support for themselves by creating a script and employing a group of prominent private sector individuals who favor cutting some expenditures…the government is no longer qualified to criticize Kyushu Electric Power for its fake e-mail campaign (to restart the Genkai nuclear plant).

They also ran some comments from former METI official and bureaucratic reform advocate Koga Shigeaki. Remember that Mr. Koga was on the receiving end of a veiled threat on the floor of the Diet during his testimony last year by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. Here’s what he wrote:

The Finance Ministry was viewed from the start has having set the boundaries for the policy reviews, but this is blatant. They might have been fearful of getting caught at first, but over time, they lost their sense of caution and no longer bothered to create the impression that the reviews weren’t choreographed. The DPJ and the Finance Ministry just began to accept this as a matter of course. Most of the members of the Government Revitalization Unit in the Cabinet Office are from the Finance Ministry…and the topics they choose to discuss are arbitrary. For example, proposals that would upset the Finance Ministry, such as the one calling for a 20% reduction in civil servant salaries, will never be discussed.

The ministry creates a sense of gratitude in the Democratic Party, which wants to raise taxes, and it benefits by being allowed to eliminate parts of the budget over which it has no discretion. The DPJ benefits from the PR…In any event, there is no meaning in debating serious issues such as these in just a few hours, and it’s only advertising for the government. (The panel) presents conclusions in a tangible form, and all it does is give Ren Ho a stage on which to perform.

Also of interest is that it is not easy to find reports on the panel’s recommendations for social welfare programs, though there were reports on a different investigation last month into nuclear power policy. Thus, it is difficult to know whose ox is being gored by the revelations. And speaking of government PR, here’s a report of Mr. Noda addressing the opening meeting of the panel on a government website (Ren Ho is to his right in the photo). He says:

The ‘proposal-based policy review,’ which was decided in the previous Unit meeting, will start on November 20. I would like to position it as a tool for building a new, stronger Japan moving forward…In order for Japan to regain robust growth potential and bring more prosperity to people’s lives, we need to overhaul outdated regulations as well as regulations and other systems that only serve to protect the vested interests.

Fighting the vested interests, eh? How droll.

Finally, it is most interesting that the national dailies have yet to report this story as I write. A Google news search in Japanese turns up only articles from the Nishinippon Shimbun, though Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu was asked about it at his morning news conference. Caught flat-footed, Mr. Fujimura said he needed some time to make up an excuse would look into it. It would be fascinating to know who leaked the information to the newspaper, surely with the intent of injecting it into the public consciousness indirectly.

The newspaper tries to present some balance by offering the opinions of two professors defending the ministry’s input. The ministry is also known, however, to cultivate a stable of university professors and other members of the commentariat to promote its positions and defend it, and this pair likely are part of the group of steeds.

In two short years, the Democratic Party government’s credibility has been shredded in both foreign and domestic policy. These policy reviews have been their only putative success, and their credibility and legitimacy have been hanging by the slenderest of threads. That thread has now been cut.

****
They’ve got all the answers and lovely dancers too.

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Is the truth a lie?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 20, 2011

DURING the past week, a debate has been underway in Japan about whether the government promised the Americans they would join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or whether they promised only to hold discussions about joining negotiations. Wait, don’t fall asleep — I know that’s abstruse, but the Japanese national conversation, in which everyone is participating except the Noda Cabinet, involves more than just buying and selling. It also includes the questions of whether the TPP is an American attempt at economic hegemony in the Pacific to counteract the move of China to establish its own hegemony, and whether the Noda Cabinet is being honest with the Japanese public and the Diet on a matter of critical importance.

Prime Minister Noda and the foreign ministry swear that he never committed to joining TPP negotiations during the APEC summit last weekend. Perhaps they are telling the truth — and perhaps that truth is concealing a lie.

During that summit, Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Edano Yukio met with United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk. NTV (Nippon Television Network) this week ran a video that it claims shows a binder with talking points prepared by the METI bureaucrats for Mr. Edano to use in the discussion.

Here’s a screenshot of the document:

Here are the talking points:

● Immediately before departing Japan, and following a national debate, a decision was made by the Noda administration to participate in TPP negotiations.

● There was discussion about why a decision (should) be made now, when recovery and reconstruction (from the Tohoku disaster) is our greatest priority, but it was resolved that Japan’s participation in TPP would be in Japan’s own interest.

● First, using the TPP to foster a regional order that can comply with sophisticated rules in the Asia-Pacific region, and our participation in that process, is in the Japanese national interest.

● Second, overcoming the trials of extensive liberalization will result in greater growth capacity for Japan.

● Japan is prepared to submit all categories and sectors to negotiation, including non-tariff measures. We intend to conduct a strong debate during those negotiations.

● We understand that the approval of all the nations concerned is required for our formal participation in the negotiations. We want to proceed with lively discussions with your country in particular and participate in negotiations as soon as possible. We would like to ask about specific ways for moving those discussions forward in the future.

In re: WTO – ITA

● Expanded negotiations for ITA (information technology agreements) are, with the TPP, one way to break through to trade liberalization in the future, and will be a good stimulus for the Doha Round. We want to continue to be closely linked to this in Japan.

No one other than those directly involved knows the specifics of the Edano-Kirk discussions, or whether Mr. Edano actually said what is written here. (Here’s what he said they said.)

But if this document is on the legit, it would explain the reason the Americans are sticking with their story (and not changing the report on the government website) that the Japanese promised to hold negotiations and to put all goods and services on the table. It would also demonstrate that the Noda government is, as is widely suspected, lying about it all.

One’s position on the TPP pro or con is irrelevant here. What is relevant is whether the government is lying to the people about a matter that will significantly change Japan. Also relevant is whether this decision is being made by the elected government or is in fact yet another decision made and executed by the unelected government of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, using politicians as their tools.

It should be remembered that many people, some of who are in the DPJ government, were upset for years because they thought the old LDP governments lied about allowing American naval vessels to bring nuclear weapons into Japan. One of the first things they did was to retrieve and make public documents showing that the LDP governments did, in fact, let the Americans bring nuclear weapons into the country. (The U.S. stopped in the early 90s. The public responded with a collective yawn at the revelations, however. It was an issue for people of an older generation.)

The LDP thought their actions were justified to maintain the alliance with the United States. How then does the current DPJ behavior differ in substance from what the LDP did?

Mr. Edano was in the studio during the NTV presentation (that’s him in the screenshot insert), and he kept insisting that Japan only committed to discussions leading to negotiations.

It should also be remembered that Mr. Edano was the Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Kan Cabinet and began lying to the Japanese public with his boss from the first day of the Tohoku disaster. He’s had plenty of practice before this.

*****
During the recent Question Time in the Diet, upper house MP Sato Yukari made the point that the government’s own research shows the ASEAN + 6 free trade scheme would be more economically advantageous to Japan than the TPP.

In a similar vein, the Seetell website has translated into English excerpts from a Japanese-language article by Waseda Prof. Noguchi Yukio that appeared in the Nikkei Veritas (which requires paid registration to view). Prof. Noguchi is known for writing a book arguing that the reliance on/dominance by Japan’s bureaucracy in policy matters and affairs of state did not start during the LDP era, but dates back to 1940. He’s also pessimistic about a resolution of the government’s fiscal problems without a great deal of economic unpleasantness. Here are the excerpts from his article:

The Cabinet Office released estimates on Oct. 25 of the economic boost from the TPP. Real gross domestic product would go up 0.54%, or by 2.7 trillion yen, according to the projections. But that is the expected increase over the next decade or so, which means a yearly average of just 0.05%, or 269.5 billion yen. In other words, the TPP’s potential for growing Japan’s exports and expanding its economy is so small as to be negligible.

He also brings the Chinese into the discussions:

Japan’s biggest export market is China, which makes that nation’s response to the TPP an important element in Japan’s economic fate. Some say that if Japan joins the TPP, China will seek membership as well. That is not going to happen for two reasons.

First, China itself can expect little export growth from joining the TPP, putting it in the same boat as Japan. In China’s case, however, there is also the fact that its U.S.-bound exports will continue to grow even if it does not enter the trade pact.

The second reason China would not join is the investor-state dispute settlement provision. This is an agreement that lets companies sue member countries for damages caused as a result of national polices.

To understand why the ISD clause is such a big problem for China, just think about Beijing’s clash with Google Inc. If China loses in a dispute involving its censorship, for example, it would have a devastating impact that could threaten the very foundation of the country.

So, should Japan take part in the TPP while aiming for an FTA with China? That would be impossible. The TPP is an element of the U.S. strategy in Asia, which seeks to hold back China’s expansion. America is unlikely to tolerate Japan signing both the TPP and an FTA with China.

There is no way to know for sure how China would respond to the TPP. But Beijing clearly is not going to welcome a policy that seeks to exclude the country.

China could very well react by moving toward economic partnerships that do not include Japan, such as pursuing an FTA with the European Union. Because the EU maintains higher import tariffs than the U.S., China has an incentive to sign such an agreement. For the EU, particularly Germany, China is a major market, making a China-EU FTA perfectly plausible. Should that happen, there is a danger that Germany could sweep the Chinese market, bringing ruin to Japanese manufacturing.

Further, he recognizes some real benefits:

Of course, some aspects of the TPP would have desirable effects for Japan. Lower tariffs on farm imports would be good news for Japanese consumers. Domestic food prices are strikingly high from a global perspective. And among industrialized countries, Japanese have a considerably high Engel’s coefficient, meaning that they spend a high proportion of their income on food. Lowering food prices is an urgent matter. That being said, Japan can lower agricultural tariffs on its own, and there is no need to sign on to the TPP for that purpose.

Note that last sentence. There has been a shift in the arguments made by some pro-TPP supporters away from the economic benefits and toward the benefits accruing from a larger economic alliance with the United States. See, for example, the quote from Prof. Ikeda Nobuo in the last Ichigen Koji, which you can access from the top of this post.

When I first arrived in Japan, politics were still dominated by the LDP (and Tanaka Kakuei, for that matter). The DPJ, the current ruling party, did not exist. The primary opposition was the Socialist Party, which survives today as the greatly diminished Social Democrats.

Those Japanese interested in reform and uninterested in the Socialists (which had close ties with North Korea and kind words for Karl Marx in the party charter) viewed the United States government as Japan’s most effective opposition party. That didn’t mean they liked it; that was just how things were.

Is not the argument in favor of the TPP as a means to form an economic alliance with the U.S. in the Pacific, with the unstated but obvious premise of countering the rise of China, a remodeling of the old Cold War alliance model? Also, the argument that the TPP is necessary for domestic reform seems to be an updating of the logic of the Japanese reformers 30 years ago.

Prof. Noguchi and others argue that the Japanese can (or at least should) handle that on their own, and I agree. It’s time to slough off the old and ill-fitting garments handed down to the American stepchild.

Polls show that people in their 20s and 30s are those most opposed to Japan’s participation in the TPP scheme. Some say this is because they’re concerned about their employment prospects in a freer market, but I disagree. That age group never wore those hand-me-down garments to begin with. That too was an issue for an older generation.

Afterwords:
It’s possible that China’s exports to the U.S. may not grow significantly in the future, in contradiction to Prof. Noguchi. There are studies suggesting that rising wages in China mean such regions as the American South (Alabama, specifically) will become competitive for manufacturing and allow companies to shift procurement there before the end of the decade.

*****
So, which will happen by 2016: Japan officially joins the TPP, or this?

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The DPJ promise keepers

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 3, 2011

IT doesn’t require a Diogenes carrying a lantern at high noon to look for the positive accomplishments of the Democratic Party of Japan since forming their first government in September 2009. Their singular achievement is to have irrefutably proven to their fellow countrymen that anything any politician says should be viewed as balderdash of the lowest order. If they’ve demonstrated any excellence, it is in the margin by which they’ve cleared the bar of the global malarkey standard for the political class.

For example, a dip into the party’s own Japanese language news archive reveals that a group of DPJ legislators submitted a package of four bills in the Diet on 9 May 2007 — when they were in the opposition — to root out amakudari. In general, that’s the practice of giving senior civil servants post-retirement positions in quangos in the sectors they were once responsible for regulating. Many of those organizations were created and maintained with the intent of providing that employment.

The DPJ bills would have amended the national civil servants’ law to limit their employment and to adopt other controls on retirement. They would have prohibited the recommendation by anyone in government for hiring an ex-bureaucrat at the quasi-governmental agencies. They would also have extended the period from two years to five for rehiring a civil servant for government work, and extended the restrictions on employment at for-profit firms to non-profits.

One of the MPs submitting the legislation was Mabuchi Sumio, later to become the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the Kan Cabinet.

Matsumoto Takeaki, then the chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council, said at the time:

When the DPJ takes over government, of course a very big broom will be sweeping clean.

Mr. Matsumoto was Kan Naoto’s second foreign minister, and is the great-great-grandson of Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s first prime minister. His very big broom has now turned out to be a foxtail duster.

The primary receptacle for amakudari employment is incorporated administrative agencies. Last month, the Government Revitalization Unit, chaired by Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, submitted a report after examining 103 of those agencies for possible merger or elimination. The unit said that elimination, privatization, or combination for 88 of them — more than 80% — was “either impossible or difficult”. The Cabinet had already decided to eliminate 13 of the remaining 15. As for the other two, the unit “will consider them for privatization”.

Who wants to wager that a private sector auditor or accountant wouldn’t take one pass through those 103 agencies and reverse the ratio of the quick and the dead?

In Japanese, hora is the word for the trumpet triton shell, and the expression “to blow a hora” is a synonym for loud boasting or a gasconade. Another dip into the DPJ archives shows that the party’s bugle boys have been playing seashell reveille for quite some time.

An article dated 8 September 2005 describes a campaign speech by Edano Yukio, then the party’s acting secretary-general. He later became Mr. Kan’s second chief cabinet secretary, and is now the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry. During the speech, Mr. Edano claimed that the then-ruling LDP’s proposed tax reform was actually a stealth tax increase, and said:

Japan has become bound by its debt. What will happen if tax revenues are insufficient? The bill for a tax increase has already been presented to you…It is the LDP who would fill the hole created by debt with reform of the tax code and tax increases….We of the DPJ promise to cut waste and rectify the problem of JPY 10 trillion of wasted tax in three years.

Three years! Just think — one more year and they will have accomplished exactly what Mr. Edano accused the LDP of wanting to do. And that’s after two record-high budgets with record-high deficits and record-high deficit bond floats.

Mr. Edano added that the aging of the population meant that preventing tax increases should be only one part of fiscal policy. The use of tax funds and how to reduce waste is “the most important issue for politics”. He declared that the party would eliminate special pensions for national legislators and reduce the number of seats in the Diet.

He also said that “merely changing the signboard will not eliminate waste.” Rather than “politics that too easily increases revenue, and performance politics that bamboozle the people”, the voters should choose the DPJ, with “politics that will cut out all waste, including that from the body of politics itself, and will present policies earnestly and honestly.”

One of those earnest and honest policies was a promised sweeping reform of the national pension system that would “put people first”.

Last month the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare announced they were considering plans to raise the age of eligibility for welfare pensions to somewhere in the range of 68 to 70. The government is currently in the process of raising the eligibility age to 65 in stages, and they now want to accelerate that process by four years. Their objective is to “stabilize the revenue sources” for the pension program. Another idea they’re mulling, however, is to modify the reduction of pension payments for those people aged 60-64 who both receive a pension and work, if their combined income is greater than JPY 280,000. To encourage the incentive to work, they’re thinking of raising the income limit to either JPY 330,000 or 460,000. That will of course also raise the amount of money the government pays out in pensions. Another part of the plan is an increase in pension premiums.

More news on the putting people first front emerged this week. During the Fukuda administration, a new medical system for the late-stage elderly (people 75 or older) came into force. One aspect of the system was the requirement that the late-stage elderly who could afford to do so would be required to spend more for health care. The DPJ promised to abolish that system in both their 2009 and 2010 election manifestos, and campaigned against it under the slogan, “Don’t torment the elderly”. They said they would create a new system to be put in place in 2013, which means they have to come up with something by next year’s regular Diet session to keep that promise.

Don't torment the elderly, says DPJ pol Watanabe Kozo (79) during an election campaign

The Asahi Shimbun reports that the health ministry has been looking at five plans, two of which include the abolition of the current system. The ministry says they are impossible to implement because they would require an additional JPY 1.1 trillion in funding. The other three plans call for maintaining the system “for the time being”. Two of those plans, however, only change the name of the system and the government body responsible for implementing it. The third would keep it going as a stage to prepare for elimination, and seek additional funding from municipalities to help pay for it. A ministry official admitted to the Asahi: “That means elimination is impossible in all of the plans.”

In a parliamentary democracy, a ruling party that decides to pursue policies that are at such variance with their election manifesto is expected to dissolve the legislature and hold a general election to seek the approval of the people. Indeed, that was another DPJ promise when it was in the opposition, as one more scoop from their archives reveals. During Question Time in the Diet with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo on 21 January 2008, MP Furukawa Motohisa said:

If the party thought raising the consumption tax was necessary in light of a radical reform of social security system, the amount of money to be raised and the use of that money would be written into a manifesto and placed before the public in a general election.

That no election is forthcoming, or will be anytime soon, should not be a surprise, considering the source. In 2005, the World Economic Forum selected Mr. Furukawa as a Young Global Leader. You’ve heard of the Junior Chamber of Commerce? He’s a Junior Davos Man. He’s now a Made Man in the world’s elite.

Not quite nine months after that, on 1 October 2008, then-DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro offered this rebuttal to Prime Minister Aso Taro following the latter’s first speech to the Diet:

Two consecutive LDP presidents have given up their governments in a year’s time, and now here’s the third without a general election. The sight of the prime minister taking office in these circumstances strains credulity.

Not any more it doesn’t. Nothing the DPJ does will ever again be too difficult to believe.

*****
Chuck got there, but the DPJ won’t.

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The Hasegawa-Hachiro interview

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 15, 2011

TAKAHASHI Yoichi might have been the first to smell something fishy in the news media’s version of the second of former Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Hachiro Yoshio’s two gaffes. Mr. Hachiro might have survived the first one, but the second resulted in his resignation.

Mr. Takahashi, a Finance Ministry veteran and a proponent of a radical reform of the bureaucracy, noticed there were variations in the Hachiro comment as quoted by the major media outlets. He provided the following list.

* “I’ll contaminate you with radiation.” Sankei Shimbun 9 September 23:51
「放射能をうつしてやる」

* “I’ll contaminate you with radiation.” Kyodo 10 September 00:07
「放射能をうつしてやる」

* “I’ll put some radiation on you.” Asahi Shimbun 10 September 01:30
「放射能をつけちゃうぞ」

* “I’ve put some radiation on you.” Mainichi Shimbun / 10 September 02:59
「放射能をつけたぞ」

* “Hey, it’s radiation!” Yomiuri Shimbun / 10 September 03:03
「ほら、放射能」

* “How about if I put some radiation on you?” Nikkei Shimbun / 10 September 13:34
「放射能をつけてやろうか」

* “I’ll give you some of this radiation.” FNN 10 September 15:05
「放射能を分けてやるよ」

To be sure, the Japanese news media tends to be less rigorous than their Western counterparts about presenting direct quotes that precisely represent what someone said. One bad habit in particular is ignoring the use of the ellipsis when eliminating some of the quoted matter. Another is a failure to provide sufficient context.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hachiro’s statement was short and made directly to a small group of people. There should have been little, if any, variation.

Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the editorial staff of the Tokyo Shimbun, is another proponent of bureaucratic reform. He became radicalized after serving on what the Americans would call a blue ribbon panel during the Abe administration, when he saw first-hand how bureaucrats attempted to usurp the role of policy formulation from politicians and to destroy politicians that opposed them.

Mr. Hasegawa’s suspicions were such that he arranged for an interview with Mr. Hachiro about the incident. It appeared on the 13th in Gendai Business Online and was updated yesterday. The interview started with Mr. Hachiro’s admission that he did use the phrase “town of death” about the area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant. That was the first gaffe, and he apologized again for it. Here is most of the rest in English.

*****
Hasegawa: Tell us about your informal discussion with reporters on the night of the 8th.

Hachiro: About five or six reporters were waiting for me when I returned to the lodgings for Diet members in Akasaka after my observation trip. I think they were all from the business/economy desk. Until then, I hadn’t had any relations with (reporters from) the business/economy desk, so I knew none of them by sight. I think there were two reporters from the political desk in the rear. I know them.

I had a radiation dosimeter when I was in the area of the nuclear power plant. My reading for the day was 85 microsieverts (N.B.: Higher than normal but not a serious dose.) I clearly remember telling the reporters those numbers. (The reporter who wrote) an article in the Asahi (on 13 September) said, “I peeked at the dosimeter and read the numbers.” That is not correct. I left the dosimeter in J Village (the base for the plant workers in Fukushima).

Hasegawa: Did you really say “I’ll contaminate you with radiation”?

Hachiro: I truly have no memory of saying either “I’ll contaminate you”, or “I’ll give you some”. I might have said, “Hey”, but I don’t even remember that clearly. There’s a report that I said, “Hey, radiation”, but I don’t know if I used the word “radiation”.

What I can say clearly is that I made no gesture of rubbing my work clothes (the overalls Japanese politicians wear at sites where a suit would be inappropriate) on the reporters. I might have taken a step toward the reporters, but I didn’t make any move as if I were going to rub against them. I would remember it if I had.

Hasegawa: Didn’t the reporters record your statements?

Hachiro: I don’t think they did.

Hasegawa: According to the Asahi article, the first report of the “I’ll contaminate you with radiation” statement was by Fuji Television (FNN). Was the Fuji reporter there that night?

Hachiro: FNN wasn’t there. The FNN reporter is XXX, a woman, so I would know if she was there.

Hasegawa: To ask bluntly, there is a theory that (you) were framed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. What do you think?

Hachiro: That’s speculation. I have my own guess, but I don’t want to talk about it.

Hasegawa: Didn’t you have a dispute with the bureaucracy? A story is circulating that you were thinking of replacing some of the senior ministry personnel.

Hachiro: I’ve never discussed with anyone what I should do with the senior ministry personnel.

Hasegawa: What are your ideas for reducing the reliance on nuclear energy and energy policy?

Hachiro: There is a two-tiered arrangement for studying this issue. The government has the Energy-Environment Council at the ministerial level, and METI has the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy. The former is not based in law, but the latter is (the Ministry of Economy and Industries Establishment Act). The Advisory Committee will submit an interim report this year and a formal report next year.

In June, before I was appointed, an internal decision had already been made on the personnel for the Advisory Committee. There were 15, three of whom were opposed to nuclear energy, with the other 12 in favor. After the nuclear accident, I thought we would not gain the understanding of the people unless there was at least a 50-50 balance between those opposed and those in favor. So, I intended to add nine or 10 people opposed to nuclear energy to bring their total up to 12 or 13. The number of committee members was not fixed, so there would have been a balance of about 12 supporters and 12 in opposition.

Hasegawa: The bureaucracy opposed that, didn’t they?

Hachiro: Their answer was that they understood. I had already finished selecting the people from my list of candidates, and all that was left was to announce it at a news conference.

Hasegawa: I’ll ask again. Didn’t you have a sharp disagreement with the bureaucracy? Feigning obedience to your face and opposing you behind your back is one of their specialities.

Hachiro: My mind was made up from the start. I did not want a report with content that presented just one opinion. I wanted both support and opposition. In the end, the Advisory Council would make the decision, so (I thought) it would be a good idea to combine both positions in a report from the government. I gave my list to my successor Edano Yukio. Now the decision is up to him.

Hasegawa: One of the reporters at the news conference during which you announced your resignation shouted out “What are you talking about with this ‘creating a sense of distrust’? I told you to explain!” (N.B.: Other people in the news media have also criticized that unidentified reporter, and referred to his tone and word choice as being yakuza-like.) What did you think of that question?

Hachiro: That reporter and his superior just came to my office a while ago to apologize. I didn’t think anything of it. I said it wasn’t necessary to blame either the reporter or his superior. It’s just their job.

*****
After the interview appeared on the web, the FNN public relations office called the Gendai Business editors on the afternoon of the 14th. The person calling said:

An FNN reporter was present at the conversation with Mr. Hachiro. It’s regrettable that you did not ask us about this.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Hasegawa again spoke to Mr. Hachiro. The latter said, “The female reporter wasn’t present.” When asked if a male he didn’t know might have been there, he answered, “I don’t think a male reporter was there either, but…”

*****
You can see where Mr. Hasegawa is going with this. The lobby within METI that favors maintaining nuclear energy saw Mr. Hachiro as a threat and, perhaps sensing some weakness, moved quickly to be rid of him. That also serves as a warning to the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ.

Mr. Hasegawa explains that the bureaucracy considered the Advisory Committee within the ministry to be the critical group. The council at the ministerial level did not have a statutory basis and could be eliminated with a change of government. That would also dispose of their decisions. The Advisory Committee is a different matter, however. They would submit an official government report containing more than one opinion, which might have a major impact on energy policy. Therefore, Mr. Hasegawa suggests, they could not afford to ignore it.

Note that Mr. Hasegawa thinks it is very possible the ministry (or someone) manipulated the news media. Indeed, he has written an award-winning book (and many articles) explaining how the bureaucracy thinks the manipulation of public opinion through the news media, and the formulation of policy through the manipulation of politicians, is part of their job. Media outlets that don’t cooperate get shut out of the information loop. I’ve explained several times here how some believe the Finance Ministry deliberately created an environment that led to an upper house election loss during the Hashimoto administration when then-Prime Minister Hashimoto wanted to create an independent ministry for the oversight of the financial industry. In addition, when the Abe Cabinet moved forward with the privatization of the Social Insurance Agency, agency personnel revealed the mishandling of retirement accounts dating from a decade earlier. That effectively ended the Abe Cabinet.

Most noteworthy of all, however, is that neither Mr. Hachiro nor anyone in the DPJ is fighting back. It is as if they think this is a fight they can’t win.

*****
This just in: New METI chief Edano Yukio has instructed another reform bureaucrat, Koga Shigeaki, to begin preparations for resigning.

A METI official, Mr. Koga has offered sweeping proposals for reform of Japan’s power industry in general and Tokyo Electric in particular. He’s also published two books within the space of a year. This has so displeased his superiors at METI that they first tried to force him to resign, and then treated him as a potted plant and stuck him by the side of the window.

When Mr. Edano was appointed to his position at METI last week, Mr. Koga sent him an e-mail saying that if he was not given some work to do, he’d quit. Mr. Edano said OK.

The media thinks this demonstrates that Mr. Edano is no reformer, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a long-time associate of Sengoku Yoshito, who barked out a gangsterish veiled threat at Mr. Koga during the latter’s Diet testimony last year.

In fact, the entire DPJ folded like the cheapest of suits on the issue of bureaucratic reform within weeks after forming their first government.

ADDENDUM:

After rereading this, I saw that I left out an aspect of the story that has to do with Hachiro Yoshio’s news conference at which he announced his resignation.

The reporters from the political desk who attended also noticed the discrepancies among the various news outlets in their quote of Mr. Hachiro’s second gaffe. Rather than ask the other reporters who work at the same company about it, they tried to pin Mr. Hachiro down on what he actually said. He told them the same thing he told Hasegawa Yukihiro, but they didn’t believe him. The same reporter who was criticized for his gangsterish attitude (and who later apologized) accused Mr. Hachiro of deliberately obfuscating the issue. He started to harangue the former minister, saying of course it was clear in his memory; if it weren’t, he wouldn’t be resigning. The “I told you to explain” part came right after that.

In other words, younger political reporters saw the inconsistency in the reports of the outlets they represent and badgered Hachiro Yoshio about it instead of making an in-house inquiry.

On the other hand, Takahashi Yoichi and Hasegawa Yukihiro — both older than 50 and both well aware of the bureaucracy’s MO — saw the same discrepancy and what seems to be Mr. Hachiro’s attempt to deny his second statement without directly accusing the media of a high tech lynching, so to speak. Based on their professional experiences, they drew other conclusions.

Are the political reporters playing high stakes charades, or do they really fail to see what’s staring them in the face?

This is yet another example of why I don’t find it necessary to read fiction any more.

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The gaffe overlooked

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PRIME MINISTER Noda Yoshihiko’s first choice as Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister, Hachiro Yoshio, lasted all of eight days before two doofus comments, one in public and one to a group of reporters in private, cost him his job. Neither of his comments was related to policy, but they did suggest a level of discretion and common sense lower than that of the average convenience store clerk.

To replace him, Mr. Noda selected Edano Yukio, the second Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Kan Cabinet. The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Mr. Edano asked the prime minister to reconsider because he needed some time to recuperate after the stress from dealing with the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. He added that he thought there were other people suitable for the position.

The prime minister was faced with two problems, however. First, other party members urged him to appoint someone from the DPJ left wing to preserve the Cabinet’s ideological balance. (Mr. Hachiro was a member of the old Socialist party, and ideological balance was one of the reasons a cuckoo clock ornament was given the job to begin with.) Second, an extraordinary Diet session begins today, and Mr. Noda could not afford to appoint yet another amateur incapable of biting his tongue whenever some stray silliness floated into his brain. Therefore, his choices were limited to the party’s roll of logorrhea-free leftists who knew something about nuclear power plants (which METI is responsible for). That seems to have eliminated everyone except Mr. Edano.

The prime minister called him up for some gentle persuasion. According to the Yomiuri, Mr. Edano said:

It has long been my position that Japan, with its declining population, will not achieve large economic growth. Is that acceptable to you?

“That’s fine,” the prime minister answered.

Soon after the article appeared, former Finance Ministry official, author, university professor, and government reformer Takahashi Yoichi fired off this Tweet. It contains a graph with a comment in Japanese below. The graph is titled, The Rate of Population Increase and Real Economic Growth (2000-2008). The comment below reads:

Japan is in the proximity of the position of origin (of the graph). There are many countries whose population growth is lower than Japan and whose (economic) growth rate is higher than Japan. I do not understand the reason for saying that population decline means there will be no growth.

Mr. Takahashi does not label the axes, but it would seem that the horizontal axis is for population growth and the vertical axis is for economic growth. He also does not identify the countries by name. (This is a Tweet, after all.) I don’t have the time now to do the research, but the first place I’d look for verification is the countries of Eastern Europe that have adopted the flat income tax.

Assuming the Yomiuri report is true, Mr. Edano is guilty of a gaffe much more serious than that of Mr. Hachiro.

Hachiro Yoshio’s gaffe was just dopey. Edano Yukio’s is dangerous.

UPDATE: LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao also jumped on this right away. He examined OECD statistics on population growth and economic growth from 1971 to 2001 and concluded:

While the rate of population growth is an important factor determining a nation’s overall economic growth rate, (the data show that) other fundamental economic conditions such as capital assets, levels of technology, and human capital are equally important.

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The soda pop government

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 14, 2011

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

Here’s part of what AFP had to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Going…going…

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

What, me leave?

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

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

Said the prime minister in the Diet on 19 July:

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

From the opposition benches:

Prime Minister! Give up!

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

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

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

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

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

The Koizumi complex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fury

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 4 August he was saying:

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

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

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

Takenaka Kazuo is a magazine editor in Chiba:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

The political solution

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

One more of the same, my good man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DPJ counterpart, Okada Katsuya: I understand.

Throwing in the spoon

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

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

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

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

Next!

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, the one next to the green bottle of shochu

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

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

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

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

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

On the bright side

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

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

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

Now it has.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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