AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Kan N.’

Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

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

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

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

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

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

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

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

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

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

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

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

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

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

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

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

More Peculiarities

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

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

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

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

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

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

*****

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

The real losing dogs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SEVERAL years ago, novelist Sakai Junko coined the expression makeinu, or losing dog, to refer to single people over the age of 30.

The term has other useful applications, however. Is that not the perfect descriptor for a left-of-center political party that loses the confidence of left-of-center newspapers? That’s exactly what happened to the Democratic Party of Japan. This article by the Asahi Shimbun is several months old, but it explains very clearly one of the most important reasons the party lost the trust of the Japanese public, and lost it almost immediately after they took office.

Among the Democratic Party of Japan’s many pledges when it came to power was to loosen the hold that bureaucrats had on policy issues and put politicians in charge.

Yet it never challenged the Finance Ministry, the bastion of the nation’s bureaucratic hierarchy.

In reality, the Finance Ministry has gained more clout under successive DPJ administrations, winning over prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Yoshihiko Noda.

One of the key persons appearing in the story is former Budget Bureau chief Katsu Eijiro, who I’ve mentioned several times on this site.

In late September of 2009 (N.B.: one month after the DPJ took power), Kan (Naoto), who was national policy minister, was irritated because the government had not been able to decide on a basic budget policy due to a lack of revenue for the DPJ’s campaign policies.

Which everyone knew would happen even before the election, but then I interrupt.

Katsu, chief of the Budget Bureau, appeared. Kan asked when the basic budget policy should be drawn up if the budget was to be compiled by the end of the year.

“The DPJ has a grand manifesto,” Katsu said. “If you issue a sheet of paper and tell us to compile the budget based on the manifesto, we will follow the instruction.”

Kan was visibly relieved. “That makes it easy,” he said.

The meeting effectively put Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, not Kan, in charge of compiling the budget under the first DPJ administration.

Fujii, 79, is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat. He became a Diet member after Hatoyama’s father, who was an administrative vice finance minister, advised him to go into politics.

“I don’t think politicians can make correct judgments on details of the budget,” Fujii said. “The Finance Ministry has a tradition encompassing more than a century. What is expected of politicians is to make decisions.”

Fujii was instrumental in installing Noda as senior vice finance minister under him.

Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know? Well, most of it, but not quite all:

Heizo Takenaka, who battled with the Finance Ministry over the initiative in budget formulation when he served as a Cabinet minister under Junichiro Koizumi, said tax increases, not spending cuts, benefit the Finance Ministry.

“The Finance Ministry derives its power by allocating money from a fat pocketbook,” he said.

Twas ever thus, in every country, but particularly in Japan. That’s why the relationship between the bureaucracy and the political class is always an issue here. Ending bureaucratic control of the government is one of the primary issues that has motivated the regional parties.

You know what they say about reading the whole thing? Read the whole thing.

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

Banzai

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

NHK broadcasts Question Time in the Diet live on both television and radio. Most of the time it is the usual hot air accompanied by the usual posturing. That makes the broadcasts a public service in the true sense of the word.

Sometimes, however, there are exceptions. It was always entertaining to listen to Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who combined a mastery of wit and repartee with remarkable bluntness, deal with the opposition. Then there was the day Tsujimoto Kiyomi, then of the Social Democrats, was questioning/berating Suzuki Muneo, then of the Liberal Democratic Party, for his involvement in several scandals. She got carried away with herself and called him a trading company for scandal. If you can imagine someone getting hysterical and going ballistic simultaneously, then you can see in your mind’s eye how Mr. Suzuki erupted/reacted.

Today’s session between LDP President Abe Shinzo and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was another exception.

Mr. Abe pressed the prime minister to keep his vague promise for calling a lower house election when certain conditions had been met, and the dialogue quickly became heated. Finally Mr. Noda said that he would dissolve the lower house and call for elections on Friday if the opposition would agree to support the redistricting bill to remove the electoral imbalance among Diet districts that the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional, as well a deficit financing bill.

The LDP leader snapped at the offer. As soon as the session was over, he convened a meeting of party executives. Their answer to Mr. Noda was, bring it on.

Less excited were the members of the ruling Democratic Party — they and everyone else assume many of them will be job-hunting after the election — and just the day before some senior members were talking about dumping Mr. Noda. But they decided to set the date for the polls at 16 December.

The Associated Press report was entertaining, if not informative. For example:

The pledge to call elections highlights the gridlock that has paralyzed Japanese politics for years, hindering progress on reforms needed to help revitalize an economy on the brink of recession and revamp government finances to cope with a fast-aging population.

The gridlock is five years old and started with the DPJ’s victory in the upper house election of 2007. They spent the next two years sticking a rod into the LDP spokes every chance they got to force the lower house election that finally came in 2009. It ultimately didn’t matter, because the LDP had a supermajority in the lower house and could overrule upper house decisions whenever it wanted.

And if reforms to revitalize the economy and revamping government finances were on the menu, the last people anyone should have entrusted with that task was the DPJ. They were capable of passing the legislation they wanted to implement because they started out with a ruling coalition in partnership with two smaller parties. They set records for the fewest bills passed during a Diet session on more than one occasion. Their performance was such that roughly 70 of their lower house MPs and one of their coalition partners have deserted them.

The AP also drags out an academic. It’s part of the template:

“There’s a real failure of leadership. That’s in part because Japan’s expectations for leadership are unrealistic. But also because the quality of leadership in Japan is really low,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University.

Japan’s expectations for leadership are basic competence, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking a stab at doing what the voters actually want you to do. If that’s unrealistic, participatory democracy is in bigger trouble than we thought.

As for the quality of Japanese leadership, it’s low compared to that in which country?

Take your time.

The best pre-post-mortem for the DPJ government I’ve seen was on the blog of Sankei Shimbun reporter Abiru Rui. Here it is in English.

*****
The lower house dissolution that I’ve been waiting so long for has finally, at last, somehow, been decided and a new election set for 16 December. After nearly three years and three months, the opportunity has come for the expression of the public will in a lower house election. The opportunity has come for the people to boldly proclaim what they’ve learned over the past few years. It’s fortunate that this situation has emerged before Japan is destroyed any further.

Before the change in government, the Liberal Democratic Party had also come to a dead end, there was systemic fatigue, and the LDP had gone far off course due to their mistaken idea that they could win enough votes to return to the days of the old LDP. Many people left the party, internal party governance fell apart, and they were still attached to the old vested interests.

Therefore, it was not unusual in the slightest that many voters would have some hope for the Democratic Party, which seemed at a glance to be a new alternative. Also, the change in government exposed the different problems and irrational aspects of the Diet, the national government, and the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy

All that is true, but these three years have been too long. The DPJ government has no ability, is not prepared, and has no qualifications to lead. It was very clear that they had reached their limit in the first few months of the Hatoyama administration. The subsequent Kan and Noda administrations were a series of blunders that elicited the contempt of foreign countries and furthered Japan’s stagnation and retrogression. Rather than being my feeling, that is what I believe.

We have learned about the costs and risks of democracy to an extent that is unpleasant. Perhaps that was one of the few effects of the change of government. Perfection isn’t possible for the systems people create, so that makes it necessary to ceaselessly check and reexamine them. It’s perhaps possible to say that the change of government has given us plenty of food for thought.

There will be no forgetting the lack of ability, impotence, mendacity, deceit, chicanery, evasions, deception under the pretense of benevolence, arrogance, cowardice, swelled heads, misconceptions, and bitterness the DPJ showed the people. From time to time I have written about the contempt, disparagement, and scorn they had for the public, and it is not possible to forgive them.

Both Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and the senior members of the DPJ say they have no intention of handing over the control of government to another party. That might be bravado, but it can also be taken as an expression of their deep-rooted hubris.

The Japanese voters should express their will and say they’ve had enough. It is my small hope now that they realize they want no more Hatoyama, no more Kan, and no more Noda, and show that through their votes.

Of course not everything will go well after the election. The difficulties will still be with us. We don’t have a clear idea who will administer the government, nor in what sort of framework that will be. But even that will be far better than the Democratic Party of Japan, for whom words, common sense, laws, rules, and conscience have no meaning.

Banzai.
*****

Another news item passed by almost unnoticed in the drama of the day. Minister of the Environment Ozawa Sakihito announced he is leaving the DPJ and expects to join Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The DPJ is now down to 247 members in the lower house, after starting out with more than 300 three years ago. A majority in that chamber is 241.

The mudboat is sinking.

UPDATE: That mudboat is sinking very fast. Three more DPJ lower house MPs have announced they have quit the party, including former Agriculture Minister Yamada Masahiko. Two more have announced their intention to leave the party, which means they have already de facto lost their stand-alone majority in the lower house.

One of the departees, Tomioka Yoshitada, said that most of the DPJ MPs were opposed to the decision to dissolve the Diet and call an election. (No surprise there.) There are also reports that Mr. Noda planned on dissolving the Diet on the 22nd, but moved up the date a week to forestall DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma’s efforts to unseat him as party president. (No surprise there, either; Mr. Koshi’ishi is a teachers’ union leftist, and they would rather drink gasoline than voluntarily give up power, even though a lower house election had to be held by next summer.)

It isn’t just the DPJ, either. Abe Tomoko of the Social Democrats said she was leaving that party to hang out with the Greens. If this keeps up their membership will be able to meet in a sedan instead of a minivan.

UPDATE 2: Some are of the opinion that Mr. Noda expects the party to lose up to 160 of their 240-odd seats, but that none of the other parties will win a majority, either. Therefore, goes the theory, he wants to create a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito after the election, to last probably until the upper house election in the summer.

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

Kan non-power

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When Kan was out of control, his anger was frightening…One prime minister destroying Japan…In terms of the monetary of damage they caused, the prime ministers would rank in this order: Konoe Fumimaro, Tojo Hideki, and Kan (Naoto).
– Ishii Takaaki, freelance journalist covering science and technology issues

THE following news report speaks for itself:

The nation’s 10 electric power companies released their interim reports for the term ended September 2012. The sharp increase in fuel costs for thermal power generation (i.e., oil and coal) to replace the idled nuclear power plants resulted in eight utility companies recording net losses of JPY 670 billion, or about $US 8.4 billion. (The exceptions were Hokuriku and Okinawa.) Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric have already announced they will raise rates, and Tohoku Electric, Shikoku Electric, and Hokkaido Electric said they were considering it.

The aggregate fuel costs for the 10 companies totaled JPY 3.5 trillion, 1.4 times greater than the year-before period.

In other words, the losses average out to one billion dollars per utility over the past six months.

This insert is from another source about Kyushu Electric Power:

The utility posted its worst performance ever on the interim report for September 2012 when it showed a final loss of JPY 165 billion yen. Kyushu Electric will probably not pay dividends, the first time that will have happened since its founding in 1951.

Back to the conclusion of the original report, which is difficult to read without choking:

The rate increases will have a serious impact on household budgets and corporate operations. If the companies apply to raise rates, the stance of the government will be to strongly urge them to cut personnel expenses and other costs.

How about if the government allows them to conduct their business of generating power and gets out of the way?

The slogan of Kan Naoto’s Democratic Party of Japan is “Putting People First”. The words might change, but the sentiment is the same for left-of-center parties everywhere. So are the results when they are allowed to try their ideas in the real world: Putting it to the People First.

That slogan and others like it are the ultimate in spin doctoring. The message is only the medium for seizing power. The motivating spirit is vindictiveness, and you can see it in their eyes: Kan Naoto, Fukushima Mizuho, and the other people for whom voting is an act of revenge.

They’re the people who don’t know who built what because they’ve never built anything themselves and wouldn’t know where to start. Their instincts run to tearing things down.

A clean, bright, healthy future for our children?

Not if you replace the rose-colored glasses with a green eyeshade and do the arithmetic.

Some people actually prefer the Dark Ages:

Who are the politicians that these people support, and who are the politicians that would speak for them?

Who are the real enemies of the people, comrades?

All you have to do is look.

*****
Moriya Hideo wrote and performs on this piece called Kan-Non Power. Twenty years down the road, only the hyphen has moved.

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

Ichigen koji (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

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

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

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

Posted in Language, Politics, Quotations | 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 »

Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

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

I want you to visualize the face of Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Hatoyama administration). His face looks as if it were drawn with a crayon, and it’s not possible to trust it at all. It’s the face of a person everyone would warn you about if he lived in the same neighborhood.

Base people have base faces. Villains have the faces of villains. Yamaoka Kenji (Ozawa Ichiro’s closest political associate) has the face of a con man. From Koshi’ishi Azuma to Sengoku Yoshito and Kan Naoto, the people in the Democratic Party look perfectly suited for those prisoner’s uniforms with the horizontal stripes.

- Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

*****
The following short video has a clip recalling that Hatoyama Yukio said he would retire from politics after the next election, and then abruptly changed his mind. After the scenes with Mr. Hatoyama, it contains two quotes by Haraguchi Kazuhiro. The first is:

It’s heart-rending for us to vote aye on a motion of no-confidence from the opposition, but it is the best way now to prevent 100 years of regret.

The second is from a day later:

To begin with, casting a vote for a motion of no-confidence from the opposition is heresy, and that way no longer exists.

A man I knew well, now deceased, was one of those who encouraged Mr. Haraguchi to pursue a political career. Had he been buried instead of cremated, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave.

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

Found in translation

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It’s morning, and with it comes the nonsensical battle in which the anti-anti-nuclear energy forces defend the crude tactics of the Sankei Shimbun’s editorial page, which is feverishly mocking the anti-nuclear energy forces, who are feverishly defending the idiot Sakamoto Ryuichi. So good morning and how are you today?

- The Tweeter known as 4269 Jijitsujo no Chikuwa

THE lack of Japanese language ability is no impediment to understanding either the content or the tone of the disputatious uproar touched off by the Fukushima nuclear accident and Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Oi plants in Fukui.

That uproar, which has frothed over into large demonstrations in front of the Kantei, has the identical characteristics of what passes for political and social debate in the West. One side is inebriate of the righteous high fueled by vibratory emotionalism, and no fact, argument, or person is about to kill their buzz. Were it not for the absence of trashing, smashing, burning, violence, looting, defecating, sexual assault, and squatting on property both public and private — this is Japan, remember — the anti-nuclear power advocates are an analogue of their brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. They share the aerated craniums and the solidarity of show business personalities and the radical leftists delighted to find a new outlet for their destructive impulses.

The anti-anti-nuclear power advocates have their Western analogues as well. They alternate between the presentation of fact-based argument that points out the Fukushima cancer fears are absurd, and showers of ridicule and scorn when they realize that they too are only preaching to the converted.

Novelist and Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo has made a predictable appearance, and just as predictably, unloaded one of his freakish fantasies that the media found the space to print before it forgot about him again:

“Fukushima is the greatest crime against the world that Japan has committed…We must end this (situation) in which all Japanese benefit from atomic energy, and which will make children the victims of the future.”

But the anti-anti-nuclear power forces stopped paying attention to him long ago. Shooting the intellectual equivalent of dead fish floating at the top of the barrel is much too easy to be any fun.

Then there are the zombie politicians anxious to seize the moment and apply it as a defibrillator to the ribcage of their careers. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio beamed down in front of the Kantei at the large demonstration last Friday in a sapless attempt to recover his irrecoverable relevance. He grabbed a microphone, stood before the cameras, and told the media within earshot:

“We must place the utmost importance on this new trend of democracy that all of you have created. I am the same. I want to perform a role that changes the trend. The walls of the Kantei have become so thick, they can’t hear… I too am seriously reflecting on my past mistakes.”

By past mistakes, Mr. Hatoyama means his previous call to increase to 50% the amount of power produced by nuclear energy in Japan as a means to ameliorate “global warming”, with all the new plants to be built underground.

Copping a lick from the Gesture Politics songbook, he then entered the Kantei and declared he would deliver the protestors’ message to Prime Minister Noda himself, who was in Kyushu at the time. (The prime minister’s daily schedule is printed in the newspapers every morning.) Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu had 15 minutes to spare for the man he once helped vote into office.

Mr. Hatoyama is so inspired, he says he will run against Mr. Noda in the DPJ presidential election in September. That will be just about the time his party privileges, suspended after his vote against the consumption tax bill, are reinstated. One of his aides, speaking anonymously to the press, said, “I have no idea what he’s doing now.”

Neither the public nor the anti-anti-nuclear power advocates had as much time to spare on the bandwagoner as Mr. Fujimura. Ikeda Nobuo summed it up and moved on:

“This is symbolic of the ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ Hatoyama. (That’s a reference to the Futenma air base in Okinawa.) It is just like Japan’s peace activists, free riders who make other people do the dirty work of the military while keeping their own hands clean…Many people damaged their lives by withdrawing from university after being arrested in demonstrations (in the 60s). Now they’ve gotten old, gotten mixed up in politics, and are getting their revenge. That is Mr. Hatoyama’s DPJ.”

That description would have worked just as well for Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, had she not stayed in school, become an attorney, and defended those dropouts in court. She’s the Japanese version of the beady-eyed, punitive left who clad their intrinsic unpleasantness and in the boilerplate of high-minded idealism. You can see it in her face in the photo at the top, where she is standing to the left of Hatoyama Yukio.

Kan Naoto also created a brief ripple earlier this week when he publicly addressed Prime Minister Noda: “You have become the object of the people’s anger. Do you even understand this?” That statement, which would be serviceable as the Kan political epitaph, was sloughed off after a brief snort. Everyone saw through the undead’s transparent attempt at self-resuscitation by trying to hang his legacy on his successor.

Is that not a fitting requiem for the DPJ? Their first two prime ministers, the most unpopular national leaders in postwar history, think that soiling their successor is a purification ritual.

The serious ammo was saved for musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, the technopop pioneer and Academy Award winner who used his celebrity status to squeeze past the velvet rope lines and bouncers to claim a spot at the front of the protests. That celebrity cachet provides encouragement to the anti-nuclear power faction and the excuse to unleash a fusillade of rotten tomatoes by the anti-anti-nuclear power faction. The signal for the start of the barrage was this statement in particular:

“We should not place in danger the lives of children, who are the future of this beautiful Japan, for what is, after all, only electricity”.

Had Mr. Technopop a sense of proportion and shame, he would never live down that last clause. He might as well have written the script for his critics himself — he’s the man who used electricity to become rich and famous, moved to luxury digs in Manhattan, and paid taxes to the United States instead of Japan. Here’s one of them:

“Sakamoto lives 60 kilometers from Indian Point, which provides 30% of New York’s electricity and is said to be most dangerous nuclear power plant in the U.S. It’s time to let the ‘it’s only electricity’ New York royalty live the life of a peasant.”

And another from Tweeter Oda Masahiko:

“After all, it’s only music, so he should perform that technopop outdoors during the day with a flute and taiko drum.”

And the Tweeter Suimasenga ocha o ippai kudasai:

“Sakamoto Ryuichi asks why there should be any problem if the shift from nuclear energy to renewable energy means our electric bills will be a little higher.‏ Rich people sure talk differently than the rest of us…”

The quotation at the top of the page charges the Sankei Shimbun with crude tactics, but one of their ripostes was all the more devastating for its deftness.

They ran an essay written by Mr. Sakamoto in the culture section of their Saturday edition, the day after the Friday demonstration. Here’s the first part of it:

“As soon as you get off the airplane in any airport in the world, the distinctive culture of that country is revealed. People often mention soy sauce and miso for Japan, kimchee for South Korea, and curry for India. Perhaps that is a problem of preconceived images.

“What do you think it is for the US? I think it is air conditioners. You can hear their rumble and smell them as soon as you reach the airport. I remember that well from the time I came to New York. I’ve gotten completely accustomed to both the sound and the smell.

“Air conditioners were invented in the U.S. in the first part of the 20th century, and now they are an indispensable part of our lives. Perhaps it is because of the ”let it all hang out” attitude (おおらかさ) of Americans, but air conditioners in that country are noisy. No one asks that they be made quieter.

“Lately, however, that has begun to change. If you go to quality restaurants, cafes, or hair salons, you notice that they’ve gotten quieter. When you look closely, you see that’s because most of them are Japanese-made.”

All of this is to be expected by the mountebanks of the political class and the show business personalities motivated by the desire for publicity. That desire is particularly manifest among the once-prominent, still uncomfortable with being remaindered after their sell-by date. The idealism, to the extent that it exists, is appreciated only by their fellow travelers. Those of a different denomination discount it as soon as they hear it.

The attitude of those who are more often taken seriously as opinion leaders, however, has the potential to create greater mischief. Here’s Fujiwara Akio writing the Yurakucho (憂楽帳) op-ed for the 23 July edition of the Mainichi Shimbun:

“Just as I turned on the air conditioner in the kitchen because it was so hot, my 21-year-old son came home covered in sweat. While he expressed his appreciation for the cool air, he added, ‘Dad, you’re opposed to atomic energy. Isn’t it a contradiction to be using the air conditioner?’

“If that’s a contradiction, then contradiction is fine. You can still call for the abandonment of nuclear energy regardless of how much energy you use. It’s the same if you work for nuclear power-related companies or government agencies. The question is whether the contamination from radioactivity that occurred at Fukushima will never happen again for all of eternity, or whether you will entrust the disposal of nuclear waste to the people of the future whom you don’t know, when the final disposal sites have yet to be determined. The question is an individual’s ethics, not their energy policy.

“Opinions on any matter, and ethical matters in particular, should always be free, regardless of the consistency with one’s status, career background, standpoint, behavior, or history. That’s why criticism of the sort such as ‘How can Sakamoto Ryuichi talk about abandoning nuclear energy when he appeared in a commercial for electric cars?’, or ‘He used a lot of electricity in his technopop days’, only obscures the essence of the problem.

This in a country where everyone is being asked to cut back by 10% on electricity usage this summer. Those familiar with the decades’ worth of “do as I say, not as I do” editorializing by the self-congratulatariat in the West will recognize Mr. Fujiwara as a member of the same tribe.

The Mainichi’s just full of ‘em. Here’s another one that appeared earlier this week:

“The claim that we will suffer even worse disasters if we don’t resume nuclear power generation transcends common sense. I question the belief that money solves all, but the sense that there is no happiness without growth is the true belief of the establishment in all economic superpowers.

“Many people have offered opinions conflicting with that view of happiness. A Tokyo University student expressed the following opinion in Nagoya and was met with a wave of applause:

“‘Why is the premise economic growth? Even though the population is declining and the productive population is declining even faster, is it necessary to increase domestic goods and services? Is a society of mass consumption and mass production, in which we can get whatever we want anywhere, whenever we want it, truly a society of spiritual affluence?’

“Will we give priority to abandoning nuclear power over the economy, or vice-versa? Does success in the world depend on money, or not? The debate over the conditions of happiness will undoubtedly become the demand of history”.

Chances are the student will someday grow up and answer his own questions, unlike the author of the piece, though both have pitched their tents for now on Straw Man Island. In the meantime, chances are neither one will be sweating indoors this summer.

Here’s one reason the tone of the debate matters just as much as the content: The National Police Agency is now beefing up their defense of nuclear power plants and rethinking their anti-terrorist strategies, both for the plants themselves and the cooling facilities. They stationed personnel permanently at the plants shortly after 11 September 2001, and have had squads on 24-hour alert armed with submachine guns and sniper rifles since May 2002. The same sort of people who flew commercial airliners into office buildings have found in the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants the chance to restart their own mojo.

Sakamoto Ryuichi was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred. More than the attacks themselves, the American response troubled him. He thought the terrorism was a natural consequence of American behavior.

Extensive coverage was given to a report released last week that predicted perhaps 130 deaths would occur in the future from the Fukushima accident. Given less coverage was the fact that, assuming the number is correct, the total corresponds to 30 people per TWh generated. That’s much fewer than the 138 deaths per TWh that result from the electric power generated by fossil fuels, and not nearly as many as the almost 600 elderly people from Fukushima who have died, in part, due to the evacuations.

But if the professionally or avocationally outraged people mentioned in this post care about that, it would only be to resume their call to end fossil fuel generation too.

After all, it’s only electricity.

Posted in Politics, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Further adventures in East Asian hegemonism

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 20, 2012

Either the Japanese ambassador to China, or the Chinese ambassador to Japan

MOST news outlets reported last week that the Japanese called their ambassador to China, Niwa Uichiro, back to Tokyo for a few days to give him instructions on the message they want him to deliver to Beijing on the games the Chinese are playing in the Senkakus. The news media reminded its readers that moves of this sort are often used in diplomacy to convey one nation’s displeasure with another, though the Foreign Ministry denied that was their intent. Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro said the summons was to ensure he would “properly explain Japan’s stance to China”. But that might mean something other than what you think it means.

His Excellency the Messenger returned to Beijing on Monday. What those news outlets didn’t report was that his Tokyo trip might have been to guarantee that he delivered the message the government wanted delivered instead of the one Mr. Niwa thinks should be delivered. In fact, many people were upset that he returned to Beijing at all — they thought he should have been sacked and someone else sent in his place.

To start at the beginning: Niwa Uichiro is the former president and chairman of the large trading company, Itochu Corp. He resigned that position to take the job of ambassador during the Kan administration. Itochu has extensive business interests in China. Mr. Niwa has distinctive opinions about Japanese-Sino relations and is not reticent about expressing them, but then he wasn’t trained as a diplomat.

For example, even though the Chinese economy is now larger than that of Japan, and Japan has serious fiscal problems, Mr. Niwa thinks his government should continue to lavish ODA on the Chinese. Indeed, he thinks the ODA should be increased, rather than cut. He submitted a memorandum to the Foreign Ministry arguing that position, and it contained the sentence:

“Eliminating ODA to China would result in being criticized by China.”

Perish the thought. No one will be surprised to read that that one Foreign Ministry source observed, “It’s impossible for Itochu to tell anything to the Chinese”.

The former Itochu boss has also “donated” (that’s the word the Japanese reports use) money to Chinese government officials. They are viewed as de facto bribes that enable his company to receive orders through ODA business. It has been confirmed through the Osaka Tax Bureau that he “donated” several billion yen to the son of former Premier Li Peng.

The future success of Itochu in China might not be the only reason for Mr. Niwa’s largesse. Author Fukuda Yusuke described a conversation he had with the ambassador in the pages of the monthly magazine Will:

Niwa: The age of Greater China will come in the future.

Fukuda: What will the Japanese position be if that happens?

Niwa: Japan should continue to exist as a Chinese vassal state.

Fukuda: Japan has to become a Chinese vassal state?

Niwa: That is the path for Japan to live in happiness and safety.

He also has strong views on the Senkaku Islets. The magazine quotes him as saying that “The Chinese people aren’t interested in the Senkakus”, and offers a report of a conversation he had with Lower House Speaker Yokomichi Takahiro (former Socialist, now DPJ member) and China’s next boss, Xi Jinping, who might or might not be a former socialist himself. Japan’s official government representative in China thinks Japan should relinquish the islands to China. He is reported to have said at the meeting, “The emotions of the Japanese people are strange,” and “Japan is a weird country”.

Of course he also has opinions about Taiwan:

“Taiwanese independence is out of the question. It is absolutely not possible.”

Those inclined to dismiss these stories because of their source should try this from the Financial Times of Britain on the plan of Tokyo Metro District Governor Ishihara Shintaro to buy the Senkakus:

“If Mr Ishihara’s plans are acted upon, then it will result in an extremely grave crisis in relations between Japan and China,” Mr Niwa told the Financial Times. “We cannot allow decades of past effort to be brought to nothing.”

Not to mention decades of future Itochu profits.

There are several reasons for the absence of a link to the FT article. First, reading it requires registration, and the article itself is otherwise not worth the trouble. Second, this paragraph has been widely quoted elsewhere. Third, the FT follows those two sentences with this:

“Mr Niwa’s remarks are by far the strongest sign of Japanese central government disquiet over Mr Ishihara’s scheme to buy three of the Senkaku islands.”

No links for the bogus. Mr. Niwa does not speak for the Japanese central government, which considers him an embarrassment. Both Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro and Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu have clearly stated that Niwa Uichiro is not expressing the Japanese position. It is almost certainly not the policy of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiro, who is what the industrial media terms a “hawk”. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya said:

“He is not functioning as a Japanese ambassador…it is a cost of the change of government.”

(Mr. Okada is referring to the DPJ policy to deliberately shut out the bureaucracy from policy-making positions when they think they can get away with it.)

His is not the position of the Japanese people, either. The Fuji/Sankei poll of 20 May surveyed the public on what it thought of the possible purchase of the islets by either the Tokyo Metro District or the national government. The answer:

Yes: 69.6%
No: 23.8%

They conducted another survey this month, asking only about a national government purchase:

Yes or leaning that way: 67.2%
No or leaning that way: 26.6%

As of 13 July, the two accounts set up by the Tokyo Metro District government for donations to purchase the islets had received 92,197 donations worth JPY 1,357,453,727, or $US 17,182,300.

If anyone is disquieted by the Ishihara scheme, it is the Chinese. From a Generic Media Report (GMR):

“Nobody is allowed to trade in China’s sacred territory,” the (foreign) ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.

The press outside of Japan can’t publish an article on this subject without referring to Ishihara Shintaro as a nationalist, an ultranationalist, a right-wing nationalist, or an ultranationalist racist right-winger. Funny how little they have to say about the Chinese, other than that they’re the other party in the “dispute”.

In fact, the Financial Times also wrote:

In a sign of the passions being aroused by recent tensions, a Chinese military scholar has called for China’s new aircraft carrier to be named Diaoyu Islands.

In an essay published in the Communist party’s Global Times newspaper on Monday, Major General Luo Yuan, who is known for his hawkish views, suggested China should use areas near the Diaoyu for military exercises including guided missile tests and should make one island an air force live firing range.

Gen. Luo rattles a rack full of sabers in a newspaper affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, yet he only has “hawkish views”.

But back to Mr. Niwa. Here’s a Japanese blogger:

It is impossible to conduct diplomacy or economic activities without understanding the nature of the Chinese people. The reason for Shiseido’s success in China was due to the knowledge of their former chairman, Fukuhara Yoshiharu. He was trained in Confucianism from a young age and was an avid reader of history, so he had a good understanding of their nature. When he opened a plant in China, he regarded bribes within a reasonable level as a “ritual”, but when he received an unreasonable request, he told them he’d shut the factory down right away and leave. As a result, even the Communist Party didn’t interfere with him.

In contrast, some half-baked businessmen and politicians are taken up by the Chinese and used as their puppets. A recent example is perhaps Mr. Niwa, the current ambassador to China. In the past, former Prime Minister Hashimoto’s womanizing got him into trouble with the “pink services” provided to him.

The mention of the Hashimoto Ryutaro scandal refers to the reports that surfaced when he was prime minister in the 1990s. According to those stories, as a Cabinet member in the 1980s, he had Big Fun with a Chinese woman in China who was really a spy. He had to answer to the charges in the Diet. The late Hashimoto wouldn’t talk about how “close” he was with the woman, but he did admit that she had interpreted for him, and that he bought her meals and wrote her letters. Attention on the story was diverted by the collapse of a major bank and securities company in the post-bubble era. (It was also later revealed that Hashimoto had received money from Taiwan’s National Security Bureau.)

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal posted on their pretend blog, Japan Realtime, at the time of the Niwa appointment:

The appointment can be seen as yet another salvo in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s battle with the bureaucracy, who kept a strong grip on the country’s policy-making apparatus for most of the postwar period. “It’s a sign that the government doesn’t trust the bureaucrats,” says Robert Dujarric of Temple University in Tokyo. “They would prefer to have ‘their man” in Beijing.”

This ran about six months after those Japanese who hoped the DPJ would reorient the relationship with Kasumigaseki had already given up on them as hopeless. But in keeping with the J-school template, the WSJ found an academic to say what they wanted to say themselves, even if the info was already past the sell-by date.

In retrospect, the prof might have been more accurate than he knew. Kan Naoto appointed Mr. Niwa, and Sengoku Yoshito was Mr. Kan’s chief cabinet secretary at the time. One of the highlights of his brief term in office was the report by another Diet member that Mr. Sengoku told him Japan was already a Chinese vassal. Maybe Niwa Uichiro was their man in Beijing after all.

It was typical of Mr. Kan, by the way, to make a point of asserting the authority of politicians by selecting a non-bureaucrat who turned out to be even worse than a bureaucrat would have been. It is also typical that he assumed this bold stance for the appointment of an ambassador, a position given to people who communicate policy rather than formulate it.

Was Mr. Niwa on to something when he said Japan was a weird country? He might have been the Kan-Sengoku man in Beijing, but what other country would retain someone like him in that position?

Then again, it isn’t the country. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party wants to give him the boot. It’s the Democratic Party government that thinks he’s just the man for the job.

Hey you! Get off of my cloud!

While the collegiate spitball artists of the Western media amuse themselves by using the Senkakus story as target practice, they’re missing another story perfectly suited to their talents.

China and South Korea also have a dispute about some isolated bit of maritime territory, this one in the East China Sea. It’s so isolated, in fact, it’s 4.6 meters below sea level. That’s the sunken reef known as Ieodo, Parangdo, Suyan Rock, Socotra Rock, or That Thing Down There, depending on your perspective.

Located 150 kilometers southeast of Jeju, the Underwater Treasure is closer to Japanese territory than to Chinese territory. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that no country can claim submerged reefs, but that hasn’t stopped these two. In fact, the Koreans did what they do best in situations of this sort — they built a pointless facility on the rock. You don’t have to read Korean to get the picture. That’s a platform for helicopter landings.

Here’s some more serious journalism if you can handle it, this time from the Korea Times:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) plans to call in senior diplomats of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul today to protest Beijing’s claims of jurisdiction over Korea’s southern reef territory Ieodo, a ministry spokesman said Sunday

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state has the rights to claim an EEZ that stretches up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from its shore, except where there is an overlap with a neighboring country’s claims.

There is no word on what the Men from U.N.C.L.O.S. have to say about the KT’s interpretation of the UN convention. My guess is that they’re laughing so hard, they’re boiling tea in their navels.

In their perpetual quest to keep up with the Japanese Joneses, the South Koreans have even created a controversy that has the residents of their outlying islands upset about the placement of a military base. The Japanese have Okinawa, and now the South Koreans have a problem in Jeju. The government built a base there that enables the Navy to reduce by 15 hours the time it would take to send combat troops to a “target site in the East China Sea”.

“It will be a key buttress enabling Korea to maintain its territorial claim on the nation’s southernmost island of Ieodo by force,” said Lee Choon-Kun, a security expert and vice president of the Seoul-based think tank, the Center for Free Enterprise.

But the construction of that Navy base on the island displeased more than a few Jejuans.

At this rate, how long will it before it occurs to the Koreans to petition the International Hydrographic Organization to change the name of the East China Sea to the Sea of Korea? After all, the French called it the Mer de Corée in the 19th century.

That isn’t the only territorial dispute between the two countries, by the way. Since 2003, the Chinese have taken to referring to the history of the ancient Goguryeo kingdom and its successor Balhae as “Chinese regional history”, which is partially true. The Koreans consider those kingdoms to be the geographical roots of the Korean people, which means they’ve already written enough on the topic to fill a small library. A good bit of contemporary North Korean territory lies in what was the sphere of both kingdoms, though they extended further northward.

The Chinese have also been finding ways to double the length of the Great Wall, which they now claim originally extended onto the Korean Peninsula. Some suspect the Chinese are preparing themselves for the day that North Korea falls apart.

Then again, it could just be the Chinese doing what comes naturally.

Afterwords:

* Is not Niwa Uichiro an extreme example of the businessman who goes along to get along? Be that as it may, it is not necessarily the case he shouldn’t be in government. He might have made an excellent Agriculture Minister, assuming one of those is necessary.

But Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko appointed people to that position instead who are opposed to Japanese membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, though they themselves support it. Those ministers are Diet members widely assumed to be allies of the agriculture ministry.

I wonder if this is another example of how the DPJ government is putting their own men in positions of authority because they don’t trust the bureaucracy.

* Mr. Niwa has a kindred spirit in Magosaki Ukeru, a former diplomat and instructor at Japan’s National Defense Academy. He is one of the few Japanese who thinks the Senkakus are historically Chinese territory. Folks on the Chinese net love him: “There seem to be some Japanese who can listen to reason. Respecting history is respecting the facts,” ran one comment.

Little do they know that he has a reputation as an eccentric among the few Japanese who know who he is. A book written by a former diplomat contains the story that Mr. Magosaki once briefed Prime Minister Hashimoto while wearing two neckties, though he apparently wasn’t doing it on purpose.

* Do yourself a favor and try this report on Ieodo in the Dokdo Times, a satirical site focusing on Korean issues. Those guys are good.

*****
UPDATE:
The Sankei is now reporting Mr. Niwa will be removed from his post in September when the current Diet session adjourns.

*****
Now, here are The Subs, the voice of young China. It is perhaps appropriate that young China expresses itself in the voice of punk rock. The name of the song is We Don’t Have to Wait Someday.

Of course not. They want the world and they want it now.

Posted in China, Government, History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

None of this is worth critiquing. It’s just like a comic book. It’s not possible to say that those who would leave everything up to Mr. Ozawa are “representatives of the people”.
– Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister and LDP policy chief

TELL it as a generic story and the citizenry would rise as one with a hearty cheer, carry the protagonist on their shoulders, and storm the seat of government to take control.

A national legislator with a knack for retail politics turns his back on the monolithic party that nurtured him and strikes out on his own. He publishes a book with his vision for the country. The introduction has such an arresting image that people are still moved by it 20 years later. He forges a coalition of eight small parties that brings down the monolith, which brings down his coalition the following year. He forms a new party and joins the monolith in another coalition, but leaves again when he sees he can’t change them from the inside out. He merges his party with the primary opposition party, molds them into a credible force, and teaches them how to win elections.

Three years after that opposition party has taken control of government in a landslide victory, most people either dismiss them as incompetent amateurs or despise them. Now coopted by the establishment, the party leaders decide to break one of their critical primary election promises and join forces with the other establishmentarians, including the remnants of the monolith, to force through an unpopular piece of legislation.

The protagonist strives to change their minds. When that proves impossible, he leaves the party before it can punish him for the crime of insisting they keep the promise they’ve broken, taking about 50 allies with him. He reads a statement to a news conference with a declaration of principle so clear that even his enemies cannot object to the integrity of its content. It says, in part:

The people who lay aside their promises with the public are trashing the people who would defend those promises. When the former punish the latter, they have it all backwards.

Now tell the same story and insert the name of Ozawa Ichiro as the protagonist and listen to the cheers turn to jeers. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that only 17% of the public supported the passage of the consumption tax increase during this Diet session, yet an FNN poll revealed that only 11.1% of those surveyed had any expectations for the new party Mr. Ozawa is expected to form as a result of his opposition to the hike. (It will be the fourth new party he has created.) More telling is that 73.2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Mr. Ozawa is opposed to the consumption tax increase because he’s putting people’s lives first — the slogan of the DPJ, the party that’s doubling their tax rate.

After 20 years of Ozawa observation, people have concluded that for him the word “principle” is code for finding an excuse to amass power and money. Some remember that he was all in on a bureaucracy-inspired consumption tax increase during the Hosokawa administration when he floated a plan to raise it to 7% and allocate it to welfare expenditures. Some remember that he was also all in on breaking the political promise to prevent a different tax increase at the end of 2009. The DPJ said it would abolish the “provisional” gasoline surtax (it had been provisional for more than 30 years), thereby reducing taxes by JPY 2.5 trillion. When the Hatoyama government compiled its first budget that fall, Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general insisted that the tax be maintained and the revenue diverted to the general account. In those days, his demand was their command.

Finally, some people remember that 19 years ago to the month, Mr. Ozawa led another 50 Diet members out of a different ruling party, that one the LDP. (It was 54, to be exact.)

If anyone in Japan is saying anything positive about these Ozawa-events and those to come in the foreseeable future, they’ve been drowned out by the Tokyo equivalent of Bronx cheers.

An explosion less destructive than loud

It hasn’t helped that Mr. Ozawa can’t get his own ducks in a row. Neither could the New York Times, as they wrote incorrectly:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suffered another setback on Monday when the largest faction of his governing Democratic Party quit in protest over a proposed tax increase.

The Ozawa faction might have been the party’s largest with an estimated 100 members, but only 52 of them volunteered to jump ship, two of those changed their minds at the last minute, and one more won’t join the new Ozawa party. Some of his allies abstained from voting and stayed in the party, while a third element actually voted for the bill.

As one Twitter wag put it: “That group is nothing more than a party at a karaoke box.” The numbers are short of the total needed to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house, even with the support of his allies from different parties.

Rather than serve out front and take the heat as prime minister himself, Ozawa Ichiro prefers to establish in that position metrosexual figureheads whom the female public is more likely to find appealing. His first was Hosokawa Morihiro (whose reputation in the Diet derived from his blue blood, family wealth, and perpetual quest to shag yet another staffer), and his last was Hatoyama Yukio, the man who reminded Nakasone Yasuhiro of melted ice cream.

Mr. Ozawa seemed to be grooming Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the internal affairs minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, for that role in the future, and told him he would be a key man in a new party. Mr. Haraguchi was quite the toady two years ago, frequently stopping by the great man’s office to lick his boots and receive political instruction. He also fired an early shot at Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s back from within the party just before the Tohoku disaster extended the latter’s political life by three or four months.

But understanding that it won’t be easy to win election as a DPJ member the next time around, and next to impossible as a member of the New Ozawans, Mr. Haraguchi not only refused the offer, he dissuaded other people from bolting the party. In their gratitude, the DPJ “severely cautioned” him for abstaining from the consumption tax vote, rather than vote against it. Meanwhile, they threw out 37 members who voted against the bill and resigned from the party (you can’t quit, we cast you into the wilderness!), suspended for two months the party privileges of 18 people who voted against the bill but stayed in the party, and suspended for six months the privileges of former Prime Minister and party founder/bankroller Hatoyama Yukio, who also cast a nay vote. (Mr. Hatoyama’s explanation for his decision captured the absurdity of the situation. He said he couldn’t vote for the bill because “my face is on the cover” of the party’s manifesto that contained the promise not to raise the tax for four years.)

Mr. Ozawa is telling people that his current objective is to put together a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition of smaller parties to create a Third Force in politics. The original Olive Tree ruled Italy on and off from 1995-2001 and consisted mostly of various shades from the sinister side of the political spectrum, including social democrats, communists, and greens. The term was coined by Romano Prodi, a former “leftist Christian Democrat” who became prime minister. In 2001, the Olive Tree’s only self-identified centrist party was known as “Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy”.

It is not clear why Mr. Ozawa describes the goal in terms of the Italian group, considering that his coalition of eight parties with Hosokawa Morihiro as prime minister predated the Olive Tree by a year.

Barren

Be that as it may, that tree will produce little, if any, fruit. Instead of creating and leading a bandwagon of his own, he’s jumping on an existing one that doesn’t want him aboard. The parties he wants to aggregate into a coalition are the regional groups that have captivated the popular imagination and — the part Mr. Ozawa likes —- win elections by large margins. They include Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan, and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki’s Aichi is Top of Japan (yes, I typed that properly). Others mentioned as partners are a possible new party created by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro and the vanity New Party Daiichi of Suzuki Muneo, known primarily for holding the record for days spent behind bars by a Diet member. That Mr. Suzuki is the only one who might be interested captures the absurdity of this situation.

From Matsui Ichiro, the One Osaka secretary general and Osaka governor:

“There are many areas of incompatibility with their manifesto and our policies, so we will not join with people in a political group who would implement that manifesto.”

He’s referring to the DPJ manifesto and the DPJ’s failure to adhere to it, which is the nominal reason for the Ozawa revolt.

Kawamura Takashi and Omura Hideaki are thought by some to be likely recruits. Mr. Kawamura is on good terms with Mr. Ozawa, and the three met publicly in Tokyo one day after the stunning Kawamura/Omura election victories in February 2011. Mr. Kawamura was sympathetic (he also left the Democratic Party), but said he has no plans to form an alliance now.

“He had no choice, because the DPJ broke its election promise. ..I would like to talk with them about their thoughts on tax reduction and eliminating nuclear power, but first we’ll work together with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Hashimoto.”

Ishihara Shintaro was more direct. Here he’s quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Ishihara also said Thursday in a radio program of Nippon Broadcasting System: “Nobody expects anything of Mr. Ozawa’s new party. I’d never [tie up with it] even if I had to die.”

And Omura Hideaki hasn’t said anything in public about Mr. Ozawa that I could find. He’s limited himself to criticizing the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito “collusion” to increase taxes. “I hate that kind of practice,” he said. Mr. Omura much prefers an alliance with One Osaka, and said their respective platforms are “80%-90% identical”.

The natural alliance for these groups is with the Watanabe/Eda-led Your Party, whose views on an Ozawa alliance are similar to those of Ishihara Shintaro.

But one of the national parties is interested in working with the New Ozawans: the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the flannel-headed death spiral left who’d have had their own perch in the Italian Olive Tree house. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:

“The Noda Cabinet has ignored the people and ignored voices within the DPJ, so the bill has come due with a large defection. I’d like to form a policy alliance with Mr. Ozawa and the others based on opposition to the consumption tax increase and nuclear power, if we can.”

All of this is an excellent illustration of the Japanese proverb Taizan meido shite, nezumi ippiki 大山鳴動して鼠一匹 (The mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse.)

When a political mountain rumbles and produces a litter of mice that consists of a handful of long-time loyalists, first-termers beholden to the mount for their seat, and the likes of Suzuki Muneo and Fukushima Mizuho, it is proof that the mountain has been downgraded to a molehill.

The only fruit on this tree.

The political platypus that is the Democratic Party is splitting up into something that will be more internally manageable. Most of the remnants will resemble the American Democrats — Third Wayers at the moderate end, and people who realize that being part of a smaller, more openly leftist party isn’t a viable career option at the other. But as the weekly Shukan Bunshun suggests, it will be hell to join the new Ozawa party, and hell to stay in the DPJ. Many of the splitters and splittees both will be looking for work after the next election.

*****
This Ozawa-DPJ timeline from the Jiji news agency might help put the recent events into focus.

2003
September: Dissolves Liberal Party into the Democratic Party
December: Becomes acting president of the Democratic Party
2004
May: Withdraws candidacy just before the election for DPJ president after the resignation of Kan Naoto, as well as other offices within the party.
June: Forms the Isshinkai study group in the party
November: Assumes role of deputy party president at the request of party president Okada Katsuya. (He or his acolytes later conducted an anonymous note/backstabbing campaign against Mr. Okada in the 2009 party presidential election that Hatoyama Yukio won.)
2005
September: Refused request of party president Maehara to become acting party president. (Ozawa = oil, Maehara = water. They mix just as well.)
2006
April: Wins election for party presidency after resignation of Maehara Seiji.
2007
November: Cuts a deal with LDP Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a coalition government (reportedly because he thinks the DPJ has no one capable of serving in government and they need the training). The pre-Ozawa DPJ leadership rejected the deal. He quits the party presidency in a tear-stained press conference and returned three days later. Now, four years later, the same people who rejected the idea of a coalition government have entered a de facto coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax legislation, an arrangement that Mr. Ozawa objected to.
2009
March: Aide arrested in connection with violation of political funds law involving money from Nishimatsu Construction. The DPJ had just taken the lead in national polls for the first time ever in January. They lost the lead immediately after the arrest.
May: Resigns party presidency, becomes acting party president
September: Becomes party secretary-general when the Hatoyama administration took office.
2010
September: Loses to Kan Naoto in party presidential election.
November: Forms Hokushinkai for young party members.
2011
January: Indicted for violation of political funds law.
February: Party membership suspended; stories circulate that he will be thrown out if convicted.
June: Does not appear in Diet to vote for no-confidence motion the opposition submitted against Kan Naoto, after he encouraged it. It was likely to pass until what is now the core DPJ leadership cooked up an arrangement the night before to keep Hatoyama Yukio on board.
August: Supported Kaieda Banri for party president after Mr. Kan resigned. Mr. Kaieda lost.
December: Starts new policy study group
2012
April: Acquitted of political funds law violation.
May: Ruling appealed.
June: Votes against consumption tax increase.
July: Leaves party

*****
Some politicians write their own books (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson), and some just put their name on the cover. We now know that Profiles in Courage was written by a committee chaired by JFK. Ted Sorenson did most of the actual work, but didn’t receive the Pulitzer Prize. Both Bill Ayers and Michelle Obama have said that Ayers wrote the first Obama book. (His speechwriter wrote the second.) Now we find that other than the famous introduction, Ozawa Ichiro’s Blueprint for a New Japan was also written by committee. One of the authors was a then-unknown Takenaka Heizo, later to become the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet.

*****
Here’s a blast from the past, written in 2008:

An extremely influential LDP politician who headed the party’s upper house members, Murakami Masakuni was one of the Gang of Five who controversially selected Mori Yoshiro in secret to replace Obuchi Keizo as prime minister after the latter’s stroke. Though he resigned due to a financial scandal (and is now in jail), Mr. Murakami is said to still wield significant influence behind the scenes.

The Sunday Mainichi (weekly) attached a brief interview with Mr. Murakami to the end of its piece about Hiranuma Takeo, in which the former “upper house don” gave his predictions for the next two years. Here they are:

“In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.”

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

There you have one of the few political predictions I’ve ever made on this site: The DPJ would break up as a unit two years after taking power.

And so it has. I was off by nine months.

Not that it was particularly prescient. It was obvious. All anyone had to do was look.

*****
Only one musical performance could serve as a theme to this sequence of events, and that’s Sakata Akira’s version of Summertime. (It’s seasonal, too!) It also might wake Gershwin from the dead. Watanabe Kazumi, who has made many discs of his own, is playing guitar. I have an old Sakata comedy/music LP on cassette tape. This video offers but the merest glimpse of his strangeness in all its over-the-top glory.

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

Whackers

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roh Moo-hyon meets someone who agrees with him.

The great thing about baseball is that there’s a crisis every day.
– Gabe Paul, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees

THERE’S also a crisis every day in politics, but that’s not a great thing at all. Baseball has two redeeming factors that come immediately to mind. The first is that baseball always has a definite result at the end of the day, love it or hate it. The second is that it charges a fee only to those interested enough to travel to the park to watch it in person. In contrast, nothing is ever permanent in politics, and at the end of the day the players will take your money whether you show up or not.

Europe, the United States, and Japan have been in a semi-crisis state for so long it’s hard to remember the last placid day. After reading the Japanese-language news summaries of events in the world of South Korean politics yesterday, it’s clear the same can be said about the peninsula. Last Friday, the South Korean government chickened out of signing an agreement with Japan to share military intelligence 20 minutes before the ceremony. The politicians are in crisis mode heaven, losing their heads and blaming it on everyone else but themselves. The ruling party and the bureaucratic supporters of the agreement wave their fingers madly in the air, looking for someone to point to and single out for censure. The opposition is just behaving madly:

We will never accept this proposal that runs counter to history.

Speaking of madness, another fascinating bit of news emerged from South Korea yesterday. The Joongang Ilbo published an interview with Saenuri Party member and presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon. Here’s what he said:

“During the previous Roh Moo-hyon administration, the South Korean government made a proposal to the United States government to define Japan as a ‘hypothetical enemy’ common to both countries. He did not use the expression ‘primary enemy’ from the perspective of military strategy, but it was a de facto proposal that Japan be made the primary enemy.

Mr. Chung noted that this information has never been reported, and that the proposal arose in a conference of senior government officials (identified elsewhere as “Cabinet level”).

“He made the proposal because the citizens’ anti-Japanese sentiment is not good, and the Dokdo (Takeshima) issue always creates problems. Both South Korea and Japan are liberal democracies, and the Americans, who would like to see us join hands against states that are not, were baffled….so they probably did not inform Japan. How did the US view South Korea after that? The proposal was so biased.”

What to make of this? From one perspective, the reputation of Roh — dubbed by some in Japan as the NGO president — is such that the tale could well be true. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo met with Roh during his term and found the lecturing so tiresome he tuned him out and eliminated the possibility of ever working together for mutual benefit.

From another perspective, there is the Chung history. The sixth son of the Hyundai conglomerate founder and at one time the seventh-richest man in the country, Mr. Chung turned to politics after a successful term as president of the Korean Football Association and vice-president of FIFA. He ran in the primary against Roh Moo-hyun to be their party’s candidate in the 2002 presidential election. Roh won the primary, and Mr. Chung supported him in the campaign — until he changed his mind the day before the election and defected to the opposition Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party of President Lee Myung-bak). Roh won anyway.

Mr. Chung is running for president again this year as a Saenuri candidate. Unlike Roh, he is what the soft-horn unicornian wing of the mass media refer to as a “hawk”, and what everyone else refers to as a proponent of effective national defense.

If elected president, Mr. Chung said he would discard the planned transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops to South Korea from the U.S. He called the move to transfer that power, made by liberal president Roh Moo-hyun, a “political decision” that’s out of step with the threat posed by North Korea and the fundamentals of leading an army. Under Mr. Roh, South Korea agreed to take that control this year. President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, delayed the change until 2015.

Under the plan, wartime operations of South Korean, U.S. and other allied forces would be controlled by a “cooperation committee” rather than a combined force command as is now structured.

“Do you think a cooperation committee can be effective in a war?” Mr. Chung asked. “I do not.”

One of the few Japanese media members to comment — Japan is having its own crisis du jour — was Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun, who turned it into a blog post. He said the stories he heard in those days confirm Mr. Chung’s account. In fact, his information came from Washington and not Seoul.

According to his story, Roh was meeting in the United States with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and running down his list of historical agonies and antagonisms when Mr. Rumsfeld suddenly turned to his aides and asked, “What is this fool talking about?”

There’s the answer to Mr. Chung’s question about how the United States viewed South Korea after the Roh proposal. (It’s not possible to know what word Mr. Rumsfeld actually used, as it was translated into Japanese as baka.)

This isn’t a case of Abiru Korea-bashing, by the way. He concluded his post by passing on another bit of information he received from his Washington sources. It seems that quite a few people in the American government considered Kan Naoto to be “worse than Roh”.

That should be consolation for those devotees of the eternal Joseon ideal of coming up with new ways to put down the Japanese as a way to demonstrate their own superiority. There you go: Their whacked leftist president wasn’t as whacked as Japan’s whacked leftist prime minister.
*****
Addendum: They can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Koreans cavalierly do this sort of thing all the time, but turn enuretic when someone does it to them. It’s a stretch to call Mr. Suzuki a “politician”, however. He’s the head of a party that no one’s ever heard of.

*****
Going down the path of the whacked is so much better when you have fellow travelers. My favorite whacko is the dancer.

Posted in Government, International relations, Military affairs, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

It stands

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 16, 2012

THE easily flabbergasted who are always surprised that a powerful politician would risk everything by trying to pull a woman half or one-third his age make me wonder about the planet of their origins. The lessons of evolutionary biology suggest that the reason men get into politics in the first place (or seek any kind of power) is the excellent opportunities it presents to engage younger women at close quarters. The flabbergasted have it backwards. An idealistic desire to serve the public? Well sure — Youth must be served, right?

Biological imperatives override age and presumed wisdom, and the process of riding often results in peculiar behavior. Take the recent example of Sengoku Yoshito.

The only position Mr. Sengoku now holds in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is the acting chairman of the Policy Research Committee. Officially, he is subordinate to Chairman Maehara Seiji, who is also co-leader of the party faction to which the former belongs. Most political observers assume, however, that he is one of the most influential and powerful men in the party (or at least his wing of it), and shapes policy and events from behind the scenes.

He began his professional career as an attorney specializing in human rights cases. Before he turned to politics, he turned to defending people with yakuza connections. Among its other attractions, money sometimes compensates quite nicely for a shortage of masculine appeal.

When Kan Naoto became prime minister, he appointed Mr. Sengoku to be his chief cabinet secretary. The duties of that position change with each prime minister, but in most cases he is the second most important person in the Cabinet.

The combination of his unpleasant behavior when dealing with the political opposition and the Kan Cabinet’s conversion of the Senkakus Incident into a colossal cockup led to his censure by the upper house. That led to his replacement in January 2011, just seven months into the job.

The Casanova of the East

One month before that, a reception was held at the Kantei  (Japan’s White House or 10 Downing St.) for reporters covering the prime minister. As the story was later told, Mr. Sengoku stood next to a female reporter for the Nikkei Shimbun during the reception, and gave her a rub from her neck to the small of her back and a running account of his reactions: “I’m old, but I think (it) will still stand. Oh, it stands, it stands. I’m still fine.”

The verb to stand (tatsu) in Japanese is a common euphemism for an erection.

It didn’t take long for the story to circulate, and it was published in the 13 January 2011 editions of the Shukan Bunshun and the Shukan Shincho, both weeklies. A week or so before that, one of those magazines had already brushed aside the threat of a Sengoku lawsuit by publishing a story about his business connections with people associated with the yakuza, some of whom were zainichi Koreans.

He apparently thought the second charge was the more detrimental to his reputation than the first, so he sued them both for defamation of character and sought JPY 10 million yen in damages from each. He went so far as to say their stories represented a “crisis for journalism”, but then again, he is a lawyer. The print media talked to the woman in question before the case went to court, and she confirmed the story.

At first, Mr. Sengoku denied everything in the magazine articles and said he brought suit because the main points of the stories were incorrect. But his description of events took on greater nuance as the trial progressed. He finally allowed as how it was partially true, but that he wasn’t speaking to the female reporter exclusively. He was talking to all the people within earshot.

“There were a lot of female reporters there. I wasn’t addressing one specific reporter.”

He also claimed:

“I remember saying ‘(It) won’t stand’, but I did not say ‘(It) will stand’…I regularly use the expression ‘(It) will not stand’ on a daily basis.

One reporter present said there was laughter in the courtroom after this remark.

That was enough for Judge Miyasaka Masatoshi. He asked:

“If you did say that much, why didn’t you put it in your brief?“

Judge Miyasaka found that Mr. Sengoku did rub the woman’s back and used an expression clearly related to his “male function”. His Honor held that the magazines got some of the details wrong, but in the main, Mr. Sengoku’s “words and actions” were such that they could be perceived as sexual harassment. He added that even though the plaintiff thought he was offering banter with sparkle and wit from a male perspective, many women would not agree.

He dismissed the lawsuit.

And that brings us to the interesting stuff.

* While this story is all over the Internet (starting with some print media outlets), it doesn’t seem to have been reported at all on the television shows that would be expected to fast track a sexual harassment incident with a politician into the lead story. Many of those programs are broadcast on weekdays during the day, so their primary audience is female. In other words, the network execs turned up their nose at a ratings geyser.

Some suspect Mr. Sengoku’s political affiliation is the reason. If he were an LDP pol, they say, the television networks would have been all over him like a politician on a pretty reporter at a reception.

Others suspect a different reason. There are rumors that Mr. Sengoku is himself from a family of a naturalized zainichi Koreans (some say Korean of Chinese descent), and that television avoids stories such as these for the same reason that news outlets in the West can’t bring themselves to mention the ethnic and religious origins of rioting Muslims in Europe.

* In contrast with her Western sisters in similar positions, the woman subjected to Mr. Sengoku’s attention didn’t make an issue of it. She didn’t care for the attention, but limited herself to confirming the stories for reporters when word got out. Her identity has still, as far as I know, not been reported, and she was identified in reports only as “M”. No righteously indignant preening before the cameras, no urge to turn it into a teachable moment, and no use of it as a boost to climb the career ladder.

* Here’s another contrast: J. Strom Thurmond, the late American senator who lived more than a century and served in the Senate into his 90s, was a highly accomplished swordsman of legend. In South Carolina, the story goes, he accompanied a woman to her execution, and while in the back seat of the car, gave her something to remember on her journey to the other side.  (To be sure, he had been involved in the case as a judge/law enforcement officer and was already having an affair with her.) After helping judge a Miss South Carolina contest at the age of 45, he employed the winner as a clerk in his office and married her within the year. After her death, he married again at age 66, this time choosing a 22-year-old aide, with whom he had four children. During his retirement speech from the Senate at age 99, he told the other senators, “I love all of you, especially your wives.”

But Thurmond exercised an hour a day every day, seldom drank, and had strict dietary habits (no beef or pork). He did pushups on the floor of his Senate office for reporters in his 90s to demonstrate that he was up to the physical demands of the job. He also is said to have had the charm and the manners of a Southern gentleman.

Mr. Sengoku, however, is a cancer survivor who no longer has a stomach, still drinks, looks a decade older than his 66 years even after the liberal application of hair dye, and has never been known for his winning personality.

* Sengoku Yoshito is by all accounts an extremely intelligent man, yet he actually thought he couldn’t lose with the stuff he used? Was he reverting to second childhood…using that approach because he doesn’t know any better…or have I been too respectful of Japanese women all these years?

* Speaking of intelligence, Mr. Sengoku was widely rumored to be the real power in the Kan government. Some reports said that he told associates he had no choice because Kan Naoto was so incompetent as to be hopeless.

Well, maybe that’s not a demonstration of Sengoku smarts. It didn’t take long for everyone else to figure that out, either.

*****

Sengoku Yoshito, Esq.

Posted in Mass media, Politics, Popular culture | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Ichigen koji (110)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 12, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

The group opposed to nuclear energy is always sensitive to the tyrannical use of state authority. I cannot forget, however, their applause and cheers at the authoritarian behavior of Mr. Kan when he made the “request” to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, as if it were some emergency prerogative.

Mr. Kan’s shutdown of Hamaoka ignored both the legal basis (for his request) and the process. The government guidance presented as a “request” was in fact coercion.

But the people who were relentless in their criticism of (former Prime Minister) Koizumi and (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto, always shouting, “Down with dictatorship”, were the first to applaud and cheer Mr. Kan’s decision.

For example, though they were strongly opposed to additional discussion on the provisions for a state of emergency declaration after the Tohoku earthquake, both the Social Democrats and the Communist Party welcomed, rather than admonished, Mr. Kan for what was his equivalent to the provisions for a state of emergency.

I suspect their anti-authoritarian stance is a sham. They’d support any type of coercion for a policy in line with their beliefs. I do not think they believe, in their heart of hearts, that dictatorship is bad.

For them, it is simply a matter that both good and bad dictatorships exist, so they approve of those that suit them as good dictatorships. That was exposed by their applause and cheers for the “request” to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant.

In short, they did not apply the opposition to dictatorship that they apply to people with different opinions. They justify their dictatorship as good dictatorship.

We must be careful of the people who go to extremes to camouflage their own ego in this way.

- The blogger known as Ryoko 174. She says she uses a pen name because of her business interests.

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

Civilian control

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 10, 2012

THE insistence of the Japanese political class on civilian control is easy to understand in view of their prewar and wartime experience with a government dominated by the military. Less easy to understand is the extended definition of the term by some to mean “control by elected politicians sitting in the Diet”.

Two applications of that extended definition last week brought its potential drawbacks into focus.

Morimoto Satoshi (Asahi Shimbun photo)

The first was the appointment of Morimoto Satoshi to Defense Minister as part of Prime Minister Noda’s Cabinet rearrangement early last week. Mr. Morimoto is an impeccable choice with extensive experience and expertise in national security issues. He is a 1965 graduate of the National Defense Academy (i.e., Japan’s West Point / Naval Academy) who served in the Air Self-Defense Forces until 1979. That year he joined the Foreign Ministry, where he stayed until 1992. In the meantime, he was awarded a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1980. He left government service in 1992 to join the Nomura Research Institute, where he was employed until 2001. He also began teaching at universities in 1995, and was at Takushoku University when he was appointed last week.

The new defense secretary supports a robust military capability for Japan as one element of its security treaty with the United States.  He wrote a paper in 2003 supporting the American position in Iraq, though he seems to have opposed it at first. He also backs the move of the Futenma air base in Okinawa used by the U.S. Marines to another part of the prefecture, rather than outside the prefecture or the country. He justifies the Marine presence in Japan by insisting their capability to attack is a strong deterrent and therefore a defensive measure. (That ensures his appointment will displease many Okinawans.)

He wrote the following in an op-ed in the 29 May 2010 edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun:

If Prime Minister Hatoyama’s idea of moving the bases outside the country becomes a reality, the foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance built up over successive administrations will crumble. His thinking contains a strong element of unarmed neutrality, and he has no sense of the threat from China….the decisive difference between this government and the LDP governments is the lack of sufficient discussion about Okinawa. It isn’t enough for Prime Minister Hatoyama just to visit there.

The appointment is another clear indication that the foreign policy views of Noda Yoshihiko are quite different from those of his predecessors.  His stated views on domestic affairs are in line with the contemporary version of what is called the Third Way in the West.  In foreign affairs, his two DPJ predecessors were both internationalists with the implicit goal of global governance. (We’ve covered this before and their positions are beyond question.) That’s not Mr. Noda’s stroke, however. Were he a member of the LDP, the English-language media would have already dubbed him a hawk. It would surprise no one if it were his personal, unspoken view to favor ditching Article 9, the peace clause of the Constitution.

Thus, as one Japanese commentator had it, the old LDP governments wished they could have appointed someone like Morimoto Satoshi to head the Defense Ministry or its predecessor agency, but avoided because it would have caused too much controversy.

There was little controversy when a DPJ pol selected him, however. Indeed, the objections that did arise contained a hint of irony. The politicians most vocal in their disagreement with the appointment were members of the LDP. Here’s a condensed version of a series of Tweets from LDP lower house member Sato Yukari. Keep in mind while you’re reading that she has a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia, a Ph.D. in economics from New York University, and worked as an economist at Credit Suisse First Boston before her Diet election in 2005 as one of the Koizumi Children:

I was surprised the instant I saw the report this morning that Morimoto Satoshi has been appointed Defense Minister in the Noda Cabinet reshuffle. There is no precedent for appointing a civilian to be the defense minister or the person responsible for national defense.

The critical decisions related to national defense that a defense minister must make will not be supported by the popular will as expressed through an election when the minister is not a politician. I have no criticism of the person appointed this time, because Mr. Morimoto is a valuable national asset as an expert with a wealth of knowledge and vision about military affairs. The process of personnel selection in a democracy in particular is indispensable for the civilian control that is the foundation of national defense. I don’t understand where the responsibility of the state for national defense is rooted in this appointment. It highlights the problem of the quality of Prime Minister Noda’s appointments.

That last sentence is not all political posturing: Previous defense minister Tanaka Naoki was a noodnik chosen solely to appease the Ozawa wing of the party, Mr. Noda’s finance minister and foreign minister are featherweights, and the pro-TPP Noda appointed an anti-TPP pol as agriculture minister. Nevertheless, Ms. Sato’s primary concern is “civilian control”, which was echoed by LDP lower house member Ishiba Shigeru, himself a former defense minister.

The contrast with what Americans consider civilian control could not be more pronounced. Mr. Morimoto is the sort of man that both Republicans and Democrats have appointed to the position of Defense Secretary to broad approval. (Philosophical differences are another matter, but that’s what elections are for.) In the American sense, civilian control means that military officers do not determine political policy and aren’t independent actors in the field. The corollary is that the politicians do not become actively involved in the particulars of tactics. They don’t stand around a table with generals and push models of tanks and battleships, nor do they plot bombing patterns.

The new defense minister knows the story. When asked whether his appointment was a problem from the standpoint of civilian control, Mr. Morimoto pointed out that he served at the discretion of the prime minister, who holds the ultimate authority. Perhaps a successful term in office by a man of his stature will salve the allergy.

Now for the bad news

Last week’s second example of the application of the Japanese interpretation of civilian control has the potential for more serious negative consequences. In fact, the nation is less than 18 months removed from a demonstration of just how serious those consequences could be.

The DPJ government is sponsoring a bill to create a new organization for the regulation of nuclear safety. The LDP and New Komeito wanted to prevent politicians from making the final technical decisions during nuclear crises, but withdrew this demand to compromise with the DPJ (perhaps to facilitate the restart of the nuclear plants).  A Mainichi article sums up their position:

The LDP-New Komeito alliance argued that a nuclear regulatory commission comprised of experts should be authorized to have control over the response to an accident at a nuclear power station. They pointed out that after the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s intervention caused confusion in workers’ response to the crisis.

The DPJ disagreed:

The government has maintained that the prime minister and environment minister must be given authority to issue orders during emergencies at nuclear plants. “It’s the minimum necessity and the last resort in crisis management,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said…Decisions on nuclear plant accidents, including those covering the release of radioactive substances and the evacuation of residents, can greatly impact local communities around nuclear power stations….Moreover… it is difficult for atomic energy experts to make judgments on the wide range of issues involved — from people’s livelihoods to the economy and diplomacy.

And that means:

Specifically, the prime minister will be allowed to make the final decision on whether to release water contaminated with low levels of radioactive substances into the sea, whether to vent nuclear reactors to lower pressure inside their containment vessels, and whether to inject water into reactors to cool down their cores.

Those aren’t reasons. Those are excuses.  Considering the relative levels of expertise, foresight, and wisdom of the people frequently appointed to Japanese Cabinets — particularly to the position of environment minster — putting responsibility into their hands is playing with atomic fire. Let independent experts make the decisions, and let the politicians handle the ramifications, such as resident evacuation, based on those decisions.

After watching the behavior of Kan Naoto last year post-Fukushima, the idea of giving the prime minister that authority is enough to make a strong man head to the liquor cabinet. The only people who seriously defend Kan Naoto’s behavior in those days are partisan hacks, other Cabinet members trying to deflect the national anger, and a handful of foreigners who got their letters printed in the Japan Times.

Here’s Chuo University Law School professor Nomura Shuya, a member of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission:

A panel investigating Japan’s nuclear disaster said Saturday that the ex-prime minister and his aides caused confusion at the height of last year’s crisis by heavily interfering in the damaged and leaking plant’s operation.

Shuya Nomura, a member of the parliamentary panel, said that Naoto Kan’s aides made numerous calls to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, often asking basic questions and distracting workers, thus causing more confusion. They did not follow the official line of communication – through the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency – under the country’s nuclear disaster management law, he said.

“They asked questions that were often inappropriate and very basic, unnecessarily causing more work in addition to the operation at the site,” he said.

And:

The panel also criticized Kan and his government for not releasing radiation data and other critical information, thereby causing unnecessary exposures and creating widespread distrust of the government.

It is of little consolation that the LDP/New Komeito agreed on the condition that the authority of the politicians will be limited to a yet-unspecified extent.

The practical effect of this measure will be exactly the opposite of the intent of civilian control. It is the functional equivalent of allowing prime ministers to stand around a table with generals to push models of tanks and battleships and plot bombing patterns.  The world has already seen what happens when that responsibility is given to a man with a perpetual hangover, a perpetual grudge against society, and a perpetual ambition to become a Famous Person in History. None of us need to see that again.

In the long term, the decision by the opposition to compromise in this case could be more detrimental to the national safety than the resumption of operations at the nuclear power plants.

*****

It’s nice and hot here in Kyushu today. Makes me feel like getting on a bike and passing out bananas to everyone in the neighborhood. Everybody likes bananas, right?

Posted in Government, Military affairs, Science and technology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

That

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 9, 2012

SINCE coming to this country in 1984, I have never seen a Japanese person spit in public. One man, however, provokes such a negative response you can almost hear them biting their tongues to keep from hawking an oyster. That man would be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto. One newspaper columnist covering the Kantei finds him so detestable that he stopped using his name on his blog (while Mr. Kan was still in office) and referred to him as “that” (are). It is not possible to explain in English the sense of dismissive disgust that conveys in Japanese.

A recent blog post by Mr. Kan has started another round of national throat-clearing. The former prime minister has been anti-nuclear power for many years, and he is now angry that his successor in office, Noda Yoshihiko, is anxious to restart the nation’s reactors idled after the Fukushima accident. He wrote:

It will be quite difficult for the people supplied by Kansai Electric over the short term (if the Oi reactors don’t go back on line), but sharing among the power companies and the people’s understanding and cooperation, such as a concerted effort at energy conservation, will enable us to somehow overcome those difficulties…A response is completely possible over the long term.

He does admit that the issue is primarily an economic one, but adds:

Considering all the costs required of the nation from now into the future of continuing to generate nuclear power, such as the disposition of nuclear wastes in addition to the power company balance sheets and the power tolls, the costs would be lower if we abandoned nuclear power quickly.

He again stated the belief that has already been criticized as resembling the mindset of Imperial Headquarters during the war — take a stand on policy first, no matter how emotional and unrealistic, and everything else will follow:

If we decide to eliminate nuclear power quickly and consider every policy based on that premise, Japan should easily be able to make it through.

While some people agreed with That, some also noted the absence of figures to back up his assertion. He could use a jolt of credibility; according to Ikeda Nobuo, the extra costs that arose from shutting down the nuclear plants have already exceeded the original cost of the destruction caused by the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami.

Here’s something else to consider: The Kansai-based consumer electronics giant Panasonic is served by the Oi nuclear power plants. They’ve already started shifting production overseas to reduce expenses and offset yen appreciation. Higher electricity costs are likely to accelerate that process for them and other companies as well. The diminished tax base would make it that much more difficult for the government to formulate a budget less reliant on debt.

Then again, economics and the free market have never been among Mr. Kan’s interests. His first instincts have always been a combination of semi-radical antiestablishmentarianism and the lust for power.

Others thought his claim was nothing more than intuition or wishful thinking, and still others asked, “This person was really prime minister?”

Yes, That was.

*****

The headline writers at the Belfast Telegraph seem to be under the impression that Japan is about to restart the destroyed and unusable nuclear reactors at Fukushima. That’s what the headline says on this article as of right now:

Japan to restart tsunami-hit reactors at Fukushima – PM Noda appeals to nation

The content of the article has it right (they probably picked it up from a wire service), but the employees responsible for putting it online don’t seem to have actually read it. Or any other article in their newspaper over the past 15 months about one of the biggest news stories in modern times.

*****

Some people pronounce it Dat.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Science and technology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers