AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Nagatsuma A.’

Ichigen koji (244)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

* You didn’t keep your promise to abolish the healthcare system for the late-stage elderly (put in place by the Liberal Democratic Party), and you increased the consumption tax after you said you wouldn’t. No one’s going to trust you when you don’t keep your promises and do things you promised not to do.

- Someone identified as a person affiliated with a hospital at a public meeting attended by former DPJ Health Minister Nagatsuma Akira.

* That was an extremely accurate, or perhaps I should say, harsh question.

- Nagatsuma Akira’s answer

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

Perverting the popular will

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 22, 2009

THE CONTINUING TURMOIL within the Cabinet of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party over the funding sources for their campaign pledge to provide annual subsidies to families with children threatens to confirm the electorate’s worst pre-election fears about the party. Those fears included:

1. A lack of competence in governance
2. The absence of party unity
3. An inability to keep their word
4. Giving priority to political crises over policy
5. Their true intentions

The DPJ translated their platform into English and placed it on their website, which is linked on the right sidebar. Here’s what it says about the child allowance:

“We will pay a child allowance of JPY 312,000 per annum (about $US 3,450) for all children until they finish junior high school.”

According to their platform, this will require an outlay of JPY 5.5 trillion annually. Critics both outside and in the party have insisted for more than a year they wouldn’t be able to fund the plank in the manner they propose. (Some said they could only come up with half of it that way, and only for the first year.) Now the new Government is admitting what everyone else had known all along.

<em>L-R</em>: Hatoyama, Kumagai, Hirano

L-R: Hatoyama, Kumagai, Hirano

Bedlam erupted when some in the Cabinet suggested that local governments and private-sector businesses be made to foot part of the bill. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro objected that this contradicted their platform promises and would require holding a new election to gain public support.

Those who would make local governments and businesses pay tried to justify their proposal by claiming that the party platform did not specifically state that the national government would be liable for all expenses.

One of them, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi, said this at a press conference on the 19th:

“The choice of cooperation from local government is possible.”

Note the use of the word cooperation as a euphemism for coercion. Note also that the stratagem itself is the essence of duplicity.

Responded Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio during a speech on the 20th in Yokohama:

“’Local government liability’ is not what I have in mind…Of course the national government will bear the full liability. The nation’s finances are very tight, so the Finance Ministry had the idea of having local government be partially liable. That’s too cold-hearted. I will definitely build a consensus in this direction (i.e., national government) as the prime minister.”

Note that Mr. Hatoyama tries to shift the blame on the Finance Ministry, the most powerful of the bureaucracies and the primary offender among those in Kasumigaseki that would usurp political authority.

But if the Finance Ministry hasn’t changed its ways, why has the new government outsourced the compilation of the new budget to them, as this otherwise fawning editorial from the Mainichi suggests? The DPJ also promised in their platform to make sure politicians handled these matters in the future.

At a press conference that same evening, Mr. Hirano retorted:

“The (prime minister’s) statement carries weight, but we must decide on a specific proposal that includes the prime minister’s opinion.”

Just who’s in charge around here? Are we to believe the prime minister does not set the policy for his own Government? That he has to spend the time to create a consensus for an issue that no one thought existed two weeks ago? Why is the Chief Cabinet Secretary contradicting the prime minister–his boss–within a matter of hours?

For another example of the inscrutability of Japanese politics, Mr. Hirano was selected because he was considered a Hatoyama ally and confidante.

This brought an immediate response from Mr. Haraguchi:

“Once the national government makes a decision, the automatic assumption that local governments should also bear financial liability calls into question our qualifications to promote devolution and reform.”

Mr. Haraguchi is taking an admirable stand on principle, and he’s right to tie the financing issue to the platform promises of greater regional autonomy.

Unless they’re going to try to weasel out of that promise, too.

As inevitable as death, taxes, and duplicitous politicos was the explosive response from Osaka Prefecture Gov. Hashimoto Toru. The wildly popular Mr. Hashimoto was the most prominent of the nation’s governors who spent the spring and summer preaching the gospel of the decentralization of the national government, the devolution of authority, and the end to unfunded mandates. He’s already declared that his prefecture would no longer pay the personnel expenditures for those national civil servants working in Osaka.

The DPJ had to have known he would be livid. Several members of the party’s leadership visited Osaka during the summer specifically to win his endorsement. The party even humiliated itself by retracting and amending its platform after a highly publicized presentation because the governor thought it wasn’t tough enough on the issue of devolution.

Here’s what Mr. Hashimoto said:

“It’s dictatorial politics for the DPJ to arbitrarily decide something and then tell the regions to put up the money. It’s a Communist state. (The use of the expression) ‘Local authority’ (in their platform) was a disguise.”

After the party’s landslide victory at the end of August, some members now apparently assume they can dispense with Mr. Hashimoto and other local reformers and do as they please. Then again, it’s not as if the DPJ was fond of the governor to begin with. The photo above shows Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Hirano with Kumagai Sadatoshi, the candidate they endorsed in the Osaka election that Mr. Hashimoto won.

A sign of what’s to come?

Will the party continue to come up with excuses to do as it likes regardless of the popular will? There already have been some troubling signs.

Here’s Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Nagatsuma Akira speaking to ministry employees on 17 September:

“The party platform (contains) our orders from the people.”

And Education Minister Kawabata Tatsuo speaking to his employees the same day:

“The party platform is not a promise. It is something that has weight, instructions that the people said we must carry out. The people have mandated that I implement it as quickly as possible.”

This is, of course, arrant nonsense. The DPJ is in power because they are not the LDP, and for no other reason. Most voters didn’t bother to read their platform, and few could even say what’s in it other than the two or three planks most commonly discussed on television.

Then again, the party didn’t make all of it easy to read either, as a look at the printed version makes clear. They put all the grass for the goats in large print and color up front. Then, starting on page 16, in print small enough for an insurance policy, they advance a different agenda. For example:

“Establish an institution for the relief of the infringement of human rights, and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”

That protocol gives individuals the right to complain to a UN body after they’ve exhausted legal procedures in their home country;. i.e., they can’t win their case. It is designed to address individual violations of human rights in the more benighted parts of the world of which Japan is not a part. To cite one example, South Africa in the apartheid era made all its civil servants speak to citizens in Afrikaans only. An appeal based on the use of that protocol ended that policy.

It should go without saying that Japan has no problems of the sort. Unless, of course, one thinks that private sector public baths banning foreigners in some Hokkaido towns after drunken Russian sailors urinated in the shared tubs constitutes an infringement of human rights requiring UN attention. The objective of the leftist elements in the DPJ is to enable the creation of a cottage industry of rights hustlers similar to the shakedown operations run by Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others in the U.S.

Other countries that have not signed the Optional Protocol include the United States, Great Britain, India, and China.

Also lurking in the fine print is a proposal to provide public support to non-profit organizations. Gee, do we have to ask who the beneficiaries of that one will be?

Does anyone really think it is the people’s mandate for these parts of the platform to be implemented as quickly as possible? A better question would be whether as many as 1% of the electorate has even heard of those planks.

Bait and switch, deceit, and a manifesto that contains stealth provisions and disposable policies–those weren’t part of the people’s mandate either.

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

Bait and switch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 19, 2009

NOW THAT the Japanese electorate has unwittingly jumped from the frying pan into the fire by selecting the country’s Democratic Party to lead a government, people are starting to get scorched. Everyone knew before the election that the DPJ’s principal talents were obstructionism and harangues more suited for postgraduate seminars and smoky union halls than a legislature, but people held their noses and voted for them anyway. Entropy had finally had its way with the Liberal Democratic Party, and that party’s mudboat wing stepped up to the challenge by committing the de facto equivalent of hara-kiri.

By trying to implement a platform whose individual provisions never polled all that well and won’t work well at all, the new government is making manifest its shallowness, petit authoritarianism, and disregard of anything outside its self-interest.

From the Mainichi Shimbun

The vernacular edition of the newspaper carried a story that described a chilly conversation last week between Sengoku Yoshito, the Minister of State for Administrative Reform, and Nagatsuma Akira, the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Mr. Sengoku initiated the conversation about the JPY 12.4 billion-program for one-time payments of JPY 36,000 to parents of children aged 3-5. That program was started by the Aso Administration at the behest of its New Komeito coalition partners. The payments were supposed to have been made by the end of the year.

The Mainichi quoted Mr. Sengoku as telling Mr. Nagatsuma:

“The special child support allowance was begun by New Komeito, so it has to be cut”.

He also said this was a “Cabinet decision”, though why Mr. Nagatsuma—a Cabinet member—was not present when the decision was made was not explained.

The program was a likely candidate for the axe anyway, because it was adopted to please the former government’s junior coalition partner and to deflect attention from the DPJ’s more extensive child subsidy proposal before the election. That alone doesn’t explain the antagonism, however.

What does? Despite sharing a similar political outlook, the DPJ has shown no interest in bringing New Komeito into their ruling coalition. Indeed, they’ve gone out of their way to harass them in the Diet. They’d rather try to reconcile the irreconcilable paleo-old guard of the PNP and the viperous left of the Social Democrats and govern as if they were in a four-legged race.

That’s because the DPJ’s Shadow Shogun, Ozawa Ichiro, has detested New Komeito for years. If the Mainichi report that this was a Cabinet decision is true, now we know who’s making decisions for the Cabinet.

For an insight into the inscrutability of Japanese politics, by the way, Mr. Sengoku is considered to be an Ozawa opponent within the party.

In the end, the Government canceled the program and held a press conference to “apologize to the people and local governments.”

No one was mollified.

From the Asahi Shimbun

The Aichi Prefecture Mayors’ Conference was held last week in Nagoya, their first meeting since the new government took office. All but one of the prefecture’s 35 mayors attended. The mayors passed a resolution asking the Government to assume full financial liability for the DPJ’s own child allowance proposal, as per their political platform, instead of sticking local governments and the private sector with part of the bill. Some participants complained that the DPJ’s ineptitude is causing turmoil in local government.

Said Inuyama Mayor Tanaka Yukinori (affiliated with the opposition LDP):

“The ministers just jump the gun with these statements, without specifying what is wasteful and what was wrong about the previous expenditures.”

Here’s Toyota Mayor Suzuki Kohei on the work his his city already performed for the Aso Administration policy:

“Our efforts wound up being a waste of time and money. (Some municipalities had to hire temporary employees.) When (the Government) says, ‘We’re a new administration,’ some local governments think that’s an insufficient reason or explanation.”

The sentiments were echoed by Aichi Gov. Kanda Masaaki, a guest at the meeting:

“There is uneasiness and turmoil in the communities. I’m going to do everything I can to hold local conferences to convey our concerns to the government.”

From the Nihonkai Shimbun

Tottori Gov. Hirai Shinji was even more scathing. At a press conference on the 15th, he said:

“The people ordered kabayaki (grilled eel), but they were served up something already eaten alive by a viper.”

In reference to the new Government’s inability to deal with the Finance Ministry bureaucrats, Mr. Hirai noted:

“Whenever the Finance Ministry says anything, they just swallow it whole and keep putting it on the tab of local government. Nothing at all has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.”

It might be that local governments could be a more effective check than the nominal opposition party, the LDP, which seems to be missing in action at the national level.

Then again, the Hatoyama Administration isn’t in the mood to listen, regardless of the number of conferences Aichi Gov. Kanda holds.

On television

On the 18th, Deputy Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko reiterated that the Government is still considering having local governments and businesses cough up some of the money for their child allowance scheme.

Bait-and-switch, inflexibility, and policies that smack of Mussolini-style corporative fascism are no way to run a government, son.

Let’s reduce reliance on the bureaucracy by expanding it!

Back to Sengoku Yoshito, the Minister for Administrative Reform, who also appeared on TV on the 18th touting his latest reform idea. He wants to reorganize Mr. Nagatsuma’s MHLW:

“Its jurisdiction is so broad in scope that the problems arising there every day come up nowhere else.”

The Aso Administration was also interested in reorganizing the ministry last May, but, as with the Aso Administration itself, nothing came of it.

His proposal would seem to be hypocritical for a party that co-opted local reformers by promising to disassociate from the bureaucracy, and then changed its tune to disassociating from a reliance on the bureaucracy once they took office.

Instead, he suggests creating three new Cabinet ministries, each with a name that only the left could dream up:

  • The Ministry of Children and Families
  • The Ministry of Education and Employment
  • The Ministry of Social Insurance

The LDP had the capital idea of privatizing the Social Insurance Agency, but the agency itself torpedoed that plan by leaking the news of the colossal, decade-long foul-up of pension records. (All the more reason to privatize, is it not?) Then-DPJ-head Ozawa Ichiro said it should be merged with the National Tax Agency.

But now the DPJ is the party in power. Now they want to make it into a ministry of its own.

The idea behind coupling education with employment was that the Education Ministry, which also includes culture, sports, science, technology, and God knows what-all, was another candidate for reorganization. Mr. Sengoku did not explain why there was a need to end one Rube Goldberg bureaucracy just to create another. Nor was any justification provided for the existence of full-fledged Cabinet ministries focusing on labor, children, or families; it was as if no justification were needed.

In other words, Mr. Sengoku’s idea of governmental reform is to create three useless ministries where one existed and none are needed. Yes, let’s not rely on bureaucrats any more. As if that weren’t enough, he also said he was going to think of other ways to efficiently reorganize the central government.

Well, what sort of administrative reform can one expect from a former labor lawyer who was first elected to the Diet as a member of the Socialist Party? Did anyone really think he was going to consider central government downsizing?

Here’s another one on the inscrutability of Japanese politics: Mr. Sengoku is affiliated with the DPJ’s Maehara-Edano group/faction, which is considered to be on the Right within the party.

Meanwhile…

People outside of Japan are starting to draw conclusions about the new government, particularly those in financial circles.

Phill Tomlinson thinks stagflation will continue:

Many Keynesian economists are still baffled by Japan. Over the years, policy after policy has been proposed by their school of thought, all of which involve some form of government action, but time and time again they all seem to fail. The classic Keynesian rebuttal whenever these policies fail is “Well, the authorities didn’t do enough”. Just like they apparently didn’t do enough during the Great Depression.

And:

The reason why they never recovered to their previous highs was exactly what the Government did, they took over and tried the command economy approach. Roads to nowhere, propping up banks that were insolvent, not allowing private enterprise to take over the means of production. Rather than money going into the private sector, Japanese savings that were accrued during their economic miracle were funneled into Government bonds, wasteful Government consumption. It was quite simply a classic stagflation that is still ongoing.

That was published on the same day it was reported the Government would try to prop up debt-ridden Japan Airlines by putting its ownership in the hands of a quasi-public corporation without having it go through bankruptcy.

Meet the new boss.

Even worse than the old boss.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

From the frying pan into the fire

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 17, 2009

Politicians are interested in signaling goodness, but not interested in doing good.
- Roger Koppl

SOME WESTERN ACADEMICS and commentators have recently wondered in print why Japan doesn’t “punch above its weight” in international affairs, and then did their readers a favor by answering their own question. While the conclusions resonate nicely inside the Ivory Tower, the inaccurate assumptions or pre-existing biases on which most are based render them useless. They should try a close shave with Occam’s razor instead.

The Japanese political class is incapable of punching above its weight in international—or domestic—affairs, because its members are ignorant of the realities of the world outside Nagata-cho and the world outside Japan, are self-satisfied in that ignorance, and are loathe to learn or do anything that would jeopardize their status.

That description could be worn by the slobbering, snorting, overfed cattle that constitute the political class everywhere, but it fits the average Japanese pol like a bespoke suit from a Ginza haberdasher.

Some have been gushing on the web about how the Japanese election was a mandate for change in the same way Americans voted for change and Barack Obama last November. While it is true that the Japanese voted for change, it wasn’t because they were enthralled by the teleprompter-dependent speechery of a man now shown to be dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes. Rather, their choice was determined by the wish to avoid the black hole of the Liberal Democratic Party’s anti-charisma combined with a national sense of faute de mieux.

Where has that leap of faith landed them? From the frying pan into the fire.

Exhibit A

From the Asahi:

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he will compile a new supplementary budget centered on economic stimulus and employment measures to prevent the economy from faltering again.

“We have to do everything possible to bolster employment,” Hatoyama told reporters during a trip to Beijing. “We also have to allocate money to improve the safety net and stimulate the economy. We’ll need economic measures that double as job measures.”

Mr. Hatoyama has thus declared to the world that he is a receptacle of received misunderstanding—of the nature of economies, governmental stimulus, and the failure of those policies overseas.

The government is expected to finalize the list of programs to be canceled out of the 14 trillion yen first fiscal 2009 extra budget, compiled by the Aso administration, by the end of this week.

All the better to redistribute the pork in ways that fits the cut of the new administration’s jib. To wit:

On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said the government plans to begin handing out a child allowance in June.

Where will that money come from?

Well, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji is cancelling more than just dam projects. In Kyushu alone, he nixed the plan to widen to four lanes the Nagasaki Expressway from Nagasaki to Tarami, eliminated the funds for surveying obstacles at the Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, and Kagoshima airports, stopped the earthquake proofing of buildings at the Civil Aviation College in Miyazaki City, and cut from JPY 10 billion yen to JPY 4.9 billion the expenditures for land preparation to extend the runway at the Kitakyushu Airport.

There doesn’t seem to be any Bridges to Nowhere on that list. Absent expert testimony, some of those projects seem reasonable.

In addition to the Nagasaki expressway, the Government plans to axe all the projects to widen highways in the supplementary budget. There was no word on how the Government plans to deal with the anticipated extra traffic if they ever deliver on their promise to eliminate highway tolls.

The Government also expects recover about JPY 300 billion by cancelling a fund to promote the integration of farmland, but that won’t reduce outlays. They’re just going to shuffle the money from one pile to another by giving it to inefficient individual farmers instead.

The impact of the recession is such that tax revenue for the current fiscal year is forecast to be far below initial expectations.

So don’t spend money you don’t have!

How much don’t they have? The Government expects about JPY 40 trillion in tax revenue, but admits that it might be even less. Meanwhile, the preliminary budget of the party that was going to cut the waste out of government spending comes in at more than JPY 93 trillion–the highest in Japanese history. And a different Asahi report states that the actual amount will rise to as much as JPY 97 trillion due to “unspecified itemized requests” from each ministry.

Who knew double-talk could be so expensive?

Another way they could pry loose some funds is to live up to their platform plank of reducing civil service expenditures by 20%, and do so in a way that doesn’t force local governments to hire the personnel dumped from the national bureaucracy.

But since local government workers’ unions constitute a large part of the party’s campaign foot soldiers, that’s another promise they’re unlikely to keep.

Were the Government’s priority a sound Japanese economy instead of legal vote-buying schemes, it wouldn’t be shifting the money of the mind dreamt up for the previous administration’s stimulus from its left hand to its right, printing it up at the Treasury, or creating it through government debt instruments.

Moreover, the government faces a daunting challenge in its bid to prop up the economy without adding significantly to the country’s huge debt levels.

Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii said Friday the amount of new government bonds to be issued this fiscal year will be kept at 44 trillion yen–the sum envisioned by the previous government–or lower. But a large second extra budget would make that pledge difficult to honor.

That pledge lasted as long as the fireflies in summer. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi admitted that deficit-financing bonds were a possibility for the 2010 budget if there were revenue shortfalls. He was seconded by the prime minister:

Pre-election Hatoyama

“If we increase (the issue of those bonds) we will not be able to maintain the state.”

Post-election Hatoyama

“I don’t think we should issue (those bonds) to begin with, but it is necessary to determine whether or not an unavoidable situation will emerge, while considering a situation in which tax revenues plunge.”

He was right the first time.

These were the same people who thought it would be easy to shake JPY 20 trillion loose from wasteful government spending. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lotta shaking goin’ on, does there?

Incidentally, until Japan Post is fully privatized, all the money in their savings accounts and insurance policies—20% of the nation’s personal financial assets—can only be invested in government bonds, rather than the other instruments private sector banks can invest in.

Is the opposition to Japan Post privatization by the DPJ and the People’s New Party starting to make sense now?

For all their talk about putting the lives of the people first, the DPJ—as well as the LDP mudboat wing—doesn’t seem to care about economic policies that would enrich the lives of the people over the long term. They would rather signal goodness than do good.

Well, then what?

Those who insist that government spending is as good as private sector spending for sustained economic growth and long-term employment increases fail to understand efficient resource allocation. The government is incapable of determining the best way to use capital goods and other resources. Only the market, consisting of millions of independent actors, works that out, over time.

Rather, it spends to salvage inefficient sectors and prevent politically painful economic adjustments. If the sectors receiving the stimulus funds were producing what the consumers want at prices they were willing to pay, a stimulus wouldn’t be necessary.

A government stimulus will not generate the tax revenue needed to pay down the national debt either, if only because the stimulus is just a money reshuffle. No new wealth will be created. To be blunt, it’s just another form of central economic planning, but some people would rather believe their fantasies than their lying eyes.

What to do instead? That question was answered long ago.

  • During the first two years of his term, U.S. President Warren Harding nearly halved federal spending and cut taxes by one-third. Those policies continued under Calvin Coolidge and unemployment fell to 1.6% by 1926. The resulting economic growth from 1920-1929 was phenomenal.
  • Despite the laissez-faire label, Herbert Hoover was a believer in strong federal intervention. During his four-year term, real per capita federal spending rose 82%, falling to 74% during the Roosevelt administration from 1933 to 1940. Unemployment rose sharply after the 1929 stock market crash, but six months later was nearly back to pre-crash levels. It skyrocketed after Hoover’s interventions, and Roosevelt’s policies kept it at that level, including during the double-dip depression of 1937.
  • U.S. President Ronald Reagan cut taxes, spending, and unnecessary regulation and intervention without reshuffling the money, and created a quarter-century of stout economic growth.

It is as if the DPJ believes that national wealth is created by parthenogenesis.

That would be understandable in the case of Hatoyama Yukio, once you’ve seen the family mansion.

Hatoyama family mansion

But neither he nor his party as a group have given the slightest indication that they’ve spent any time thinking about the creation of national wealth.

Exhibit B

The hard-bitten ex-cop and current Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka came of age when no one much cared about the Japanese economy other than the Japanese, and the Japanese only cared about achieving First World levels of prosperity even if it took collusion between big business, government, and the bureaucracy to get there.

Life imitates art

Life imitates art

Mr. Kamei has now bitten hard into a philosophy of debt moratorium that calls for a debt repayment holiday for SMEs and injecting public funds into any financial institutions that would suffer as a result. The minister might have had his arm twisted to come up with that last proviso. He’s already said that any banks requiring financial assistance during a debt repayment moratorium are too weak to survive.

Some speculate this grim nonsense stems from a desire for revenge for the bankruptcies of some of his corporate financial backers after last year’s financial crash. Others think he’s doing it just to raise the profile of his splinter party among small businesses.

When he defends these policies, he comes across as a 3-D version of the cartoon character Yosemite Sam plugging away at a room full of varmints:

“There are few people in the LDP now who sing the praises of market fundamentalism…(if) their thinking doesn’t change, it’s possible that one mega-party will be formed in the future.”

He added that this “might take some time”, perhaps after next summer’s upper house election.

While today’s LDP may now know as little as the DPJ about how to lay the tarmac for future prosperity, that’s not the most interesting part of his statement.

In October 1940, the Japanese government sponsored the creation of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. Many of the organizers intended that it become—well, a mega-party—and some political organizations voluntarily disbanded to join. The objective was to create a “new political structure”. It included the bureaucracy and the military in addition to political parties. The prime minister was automatically the head of the association, which had a nationwide branch network. From June 1942, it assumed control of local governmental units from the national bureaucracy. Weakened by a lack of autonomy, the association was dissolved in June 1945.

In other words, Mr. Kamei looks forward to a political realignment resembling the configuration in place in Imperial Japan during the height of the Second World War.

The minister is also rather spry for a man in his 70s, which is perhaps due to his sixth-dan ranking in aikido. Watch him stoop to sixth-rate demagoguery in this recent conversation with Keidanren head Mitarai Fujio:

“The increase in murders among family members is because (big business) does not treat people as people.”

He also complained that the heads of big businesses no longer share their earnings with small businesses during good economic times, but retain those funds as internal reserves. When Mr. Mitarai asked if he thought that was their responsibility, the minister replied, “You must feel responsible,” in the same language a primary school teacher would use to scold children for a cafeteria food fight.

For his part, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was nonchalant about his Cabinet minister shooting from the lip. He observed, “That sounds like something Mr. Kamei might say…perhaps he was extreme in has language, and was impolite.”

That also sounds like something a prime minister might say when he realizes he stepped in it by choosing that man as a coalition partner and it’s now stuck to his shoe. Then again, Mr. Kamei has been seated prominently at Mr. Hatoyama’s right hand during Cabinet meeting photo ops.

The rebuttal

People here used to say that the most effective political opposition in Japan was the United States government. Now it seems as if the only people willing to put Mr. Kamei in his place are in the overseas media. For a taste of that, plus a devastating critique of Japan’s political class, try this article in the Wall Street Journal:

(A) proposed loan repayment moratorium for small- and medium-sized businesses…is the brainchild of Shizuka Kamei, the new banking and postal-services minister. Mr. Kamei thinks SMEs, the engine of employment for developed economies, need help in the downturn, but not the tough love of competition or—perish the thought—bankruptcy. So he commissioned Kohei Otsuka, a senior vice minister at the Financial Services Agency, to study how the government might force lenders to forgive SME debts. Financial-sector stocks promptly tanked.

And:

Japan may not have a state-owned financial system like China, but it is still state-directed. Japan runs an essentially circular financial system where savers deposit money at domestic banks, the banks buy ever-more worthless government debt, and then the Diet shovels that money back out to favored political constituencies and export industries. The current Democratic Party of Japan-led government, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, plans to tweak this model, but not fundamentally change it: rather than redistribute the public’s money to business, the DPJ wants to give it to families.

The minister’s political ideas may date from the 1940s, but his economic ideas are more up-to-date: Japan from the mid-1950s

Mr. Kamei said late last month “financial inspections should aim at turning around struggling corporate borrowers instead of leading them to go bankrupt.” That’s a recipe to paper over a problem, not fix it.

Without a financial system that efficiently channels money from lenders who have it to borrowers who need it, Japan will have a hard time growing its moribund economy…The last time Japan tried to paper over a growing pile of bad loans, bail out failing lenders and businesses and pay off political constituencies, the world’s second-largest economy sunk into a lost decade of growth. Then again, maybe it never really escaped.

Except for skipping over the successes of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and his financial jack-of-all-trades Takenaka Heizo—which the rest of the country’s political class and media are trying to paper over—this brief piece contains more honesty and common sense than anything I’ve run across in the Japanese print media.

Other than Takenaka Heizo’s magazine articles.

Who’s in charge here? (1)

There are enough loose cannons in Fort Kamei to frag an entire platoon of junior officers. The Hatoyama Administration is barely a month old, and already he’s angrily told off the Finance Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and the Internal Affairs Minister for daring to express opinions about policies he considers to be in his bailiwick. Yet he’s not shy about butting into matters that aren’t part of his portfolios. At a press conference earlier this week, he wondered aloud if all the American military forces in Japan were absolutely necessary. He cited as an example the Yokota air base near Tokyo.

At the same press conference, he sounded off about Justice Minister Chiba Keiko’s proposal to allow Japanese women to keep their maiden names after marriage. Said Mr. Kamei:

“I don’t understand the psychology behind the idea that family names must be different. The husband, wife, and children will have different names. That would turn the home into something like an apartment house. Would it be a good idea for all the nameplates (on the front of the house) to be different?”

That was during the afternoon. At another press conference in the same place on the same morning, Fukushima Mizuho, the Minister in Charge of Womanhood, Motherhood, Shop Till You Drop, and Tossing Her Mini-Party a Lollipop—who kept her own maiden name after marriage—supported the same proposal.

Exhibit C

They are the people who believe all conflict stems from avoidable misunderstanding. Who think that the world’s evils spring from technologies, systems, complexes…and everything else except from the hearts of men, where love abides. Who mistake wishes for possibilities. Who put a higher premium on their own moral intentions than on the efficacy of their actions. Who champion education as the solution, whatever the problem. Above all, the Goodists are the people who like to be seen to be good.
- Bret Stephens

Many Japanese metaphorically slapped their heads when they realized that Prime Minister Hatoyama was serious about his goofy vision of yuai (fraternity), more suitable as a topic for a middle school public speaking contest than the pragmatic business of international statecraft.

But he’s not alone. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya—like his boss, a boyish-looking bon-bon from a fabulously well-to-do family rich enough to let its scions play at politics—paid a surprise visit to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in Kabul.

They politely avoided talking about Japan’s looming suspension of its refueling mission for NATO forces in the Indian Ocean. What they discussed instead was the Japanese offer to provide job training for the Taliban—you in the back row, stop that snickering!—as well as their living expenses during the training. Mr. Karzai said it would be difficult but possible. Now why would the president blow his chance at free money from overseas by laughing out loud?

Injecting some adulthood into the discussion was Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta, who asked that Japan continue funding Afghani police salaries because maintaining public safety was also important.

It’s a good thing he didn’t ask for help from the Japanese police. Some in the ruling coalition would have thrown a fit because the policemen would have to behave like policemen and carry weapons.

One wonders, however, what job training—I know, it is hard to keep a straight face—Mr. Okada is talking about. For example, when they were in power, the Taliban banned:

…pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, equipment that produces music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, Christmas cards, employment, education and sports for women, movies, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sports events, kite flying, and beard trimming.

Well, that pretty much leaves out any employment that involves electricity. Unless it’s used to wire the dynamite for blowing up the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan.

It doesn’t seem to have occured to either the prime minister or the foreign minister that the Taliban really aren’t interested in the modern world. From the horse’s mouth:

“(E)lections are incompatible with Sharia and therefore we reject them…We want to live a life like the Prophet lived 1400 years ago and jihad is our right. We want to recreate the time of the Prophet.”

But then a Goodist isn’t going to let practical considerations get in the way of demonstrating his Goodism.

Mr. Okada has also said in regard to Afghanistan:

“I don’t think that support means just sending the military.”

Leaving aside the question of what he would know about military support, he’s right, of course.

The other support becomes effective, however, only when the military goals have mostly been achieved. But understanding that requires an understanding of the objectives and the application of military force.

It also requires the knowledge that the Taliban have become a real danger to the government again. Vocational school is unlikely to solve that problem.

Who’s in charge here? (2)

Mr. Okada later chose to expound on the East Asian rhapsody that Mr. Hatoyama is so enthralled with. He said the entity might include Japan, China, South Korea, the ASEAN nations, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

People noticed that the United States was left off the list. True, it isn’t part of East Asia, but then neither is India. But any move away from the U.S., real or imagined, is exaggerated after the brouhaha that erupted following the appearance in the New York Times of Mr. Hatoyama’s translated magazine article.

When asked his opinion, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi did some paperhanging of his own:

“I haven’t heard yet from the foreign minister whether the U.S. would be included or excluded.”

Mr. Hirano also added that the bilateral relationship is the basis of Japanese foreign policy.

The Japanese media took this to be backtracking from the foreign minister’s comment, and a statement that the government hasn’t made a decision yet. Considering the range of opinions inside the party and the absence of any pressing need to pursue the issue, that decision might get made on the 12th of Never.

Is it too much to ask of this lot to synchronize their policies?

Exhibit D

Who needs an opposition party when anyone in the Cabinet is happy to serve in that role, depending on the issue, the time of day, and the phase of the moon.

One of the main planks of the DPJ election campaign was the payment of a cash allowance to families with children in lieu of a tax deduction. Their platform called for the national government to make all the payments.

After a month in office, it finally dawned on the Government that what everyone—including their supporters—had been saying for the past two years was right on the money: Namely, they didn’t have the money to do it. (It will require JPY 5.3 trillion every year when fully implemented.)

That’s when Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Nagatsuma Akira, who is starting to look as if he’s in over his head on any issue that doesn’t involve national pensions, floated the idea of local governments and private-sector companies kicking in some money too.

It seems as if we’ve got another 21st century supporter of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association here.

Local governments in Japan, already pushed to the point of insolvency, are so inflamed over unfunded mandates and the financial liabilities forced on them by the national government that Mr. Nagatsuma’s idea will be enough to cause serious problems with chief executives and assembly delegates in prefectural capitals around the nation.

And requiring companies to pay? That socialism isn’t creeping—it’s galloping. Then again, some Japanese are already suggesting the DPJ is just a socialist party in everything but name.

Mr. Nagatsuma also wanted to save money by freezing the provisions of the Aso Administration’s supplemental budget that would provide financial support to children aged 3-5.

It didn’t take long for the Cabinet to round the wagons into a circle and start firing on themselves instead of the Indians.

Who’s in charge here? (3)

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was opposed to ditching the Aso plan because the money was already in the pipeline and local governments had made the preparations to spend it.

“This government must not have desktop (i.e., impractical) debates that ignore conditions on the ground.”

But Mr. Nagatsuma ended the measure anyway. They need the money for their other programs.

The Internal Affairs Minister was even blunter when addressing the funding for the family subsidies:

“If we’re going to change the political platform, which says the national government will pay for everything, then we should call another election and ask the people what they think.”

That comment would be praiseworthy under any circumstances, but it’s a doubleplusgood display of spine coming from Mr. Haraguchi, who is viewed by some as having the principles of a weathervane that ends up pointing in whatever direction the Ozawa breeze is blowing.

Exhibit D

Policy for Ozawa is just like candy (for the people).
- Kamei Shizuka

Some are trying to paper over the growing concerns about the coalition government pulling in several directions at once by reassuring everyone that things will change once the DPJ wins an outright majority in the upper house and no longer needs the excess baggage of the SDPJ and the PNP.

But party Secretary-General and Shadow Shogun Ozawa Ichiro has just punched a hole in their paper. Speaking about the next upper house election at a press conference, he said, “Of course the goal of every party is a majority.”

And added:

“The SDPJ and the PNP worked with us during the lower house election and it turned out well, so I want to maintain that cooperative relationship in the future.”

At a meeting before the press conference, he said:

“The DPJ does not have a majority in the upper house. That does not mean we will reject a coalition with the SDPJ and the PNP. They are our compatriots with whom we worked together, so we will continue to work together in the future.”

It looks like we might be stuck with the marginal Mr. Kamei and Ms. Fukushima in government for longer than we hoped.

It’s also time for an encore from the start of this post:

“The Japanese political class is incapable of punching above its weight in international—or domestic—affairs, because its members are ignorant of the realities of the world outside Nagata-cho and the world outside Japan, are self-satisfied in that ignorance, and are loathe to learn or do anything to jeopardize their status.”

That’s not going to change anytime soon. Mr. Ozawa has given instructions to the party’s first-term MPs that their primary job is to get reelected instead of worrying their heads about the workings of government.

I’ve said it before: this has the potential to get really ugly.

We’re starting to get there.

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

Situation vacant

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 28, 2009

ONE FINE DAY, Japan will have a real government at last. Despite a few positive moves in that direction by the recently installed Hatoyama Administration, however, it’s starting to look as if that day isn’t going to dawn anytime soon.

Driving in reverse

People are asking questions about members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s policy study group attending the briefings of various ministry bureaus. The problem is that the party members are not bound to uphold the confidentiality of what they hear.

New Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Nagatsuma Akira discussed the issue with reporters after a Cabinet meeting on the 25th. He said:

“We’re thinking of a method in which we would appoint them as a sort of project team under Cabinet authority and have them work as part-time civil servants, for whom the confidentiality requirement applies.”

The reason the electorate voted in such massive numbers for a change in government was because they thought it was an urgent priority to disconnect the government from bureaucratic control.

How they manage to disconnect themselves from the bureaucracy by becoming part of it remains to be seen.

Legislation?…Oh yeah, that!

Here’s Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio on convening a Diet session in October:

“No decision has been made. We haven’t made a decision yet on what bills we’ll propose. Now we’ll start thinking about whether an extraordinary Diet session is necessary. There are two elections coming up (on 25 October to fill vacant upper house seats in Kanagawa and Shizuoka) and we have to see what happens.”

In other words, the people who’ve been telling us they’re ready to handle the reins of government for the past two years still haven’t got a program ready, though it’s been apparent for most of the year that they’d win the election.

Apparently, by-election campaigns take precedence over the Diet’s business.

The Nikkei points out that Mr. Hatoyama has a full diplomatic schedule next month, including summits with the leaders of China and South Korea. Why summits should be a priority isn’t clear, however. Both countries will be right there where they’ve always been for the foreseeable future, and there are no bilateral problems that either could be or need to be solved right away. That means there’s no real reason for Mr. Hatoyama to give them all his milk and cookies just yet.

As a small-government guy, I think it’s a capital idea for legislatures to meet as infrequently as possible—they only wind up getting into mischief and causing trouble for normal people—but would it have been too much to ask of the DPJ to have settled on what they want to do in Nagata-cho before they got there?

Aren’t they supposed to be the policy wanks, the ones who brought party platforms into Japanese politics?

Then again, if the DPJ wins both of those upper house seats, they might be able to disconnect themselves from one of their useless coalition partners and get to work.

And speaking of useless coalition partners…

More Cowbell from Kamei

It was almost a tradition in Japanese politics for one of the members of a new Liberal-Democratic Party Cabinet to shoot his mouth off within a week of being sworn in and wind up shooting himself and the party in the foot.

Well, the new Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka is an ex-LDP stalwart, so maybe he’s trying to keep the tradition of loose cannon fusillades alive.

Recall that Mr. Kamei recently said he favored a three-year moratorium on bank loan repayments for small businesses and homeowners—including some interest payments—and using public funds to prop up any banks that might have trouble making ends meet by forgoing all that income.

Mr. Kamei fired off several salvos on a TV broadcast yesterday as a counterattack to the legions of those who were appalled at the idea, including members of his coalition.

“Banks that are so weak that their stock would fall because of what I said aren’t qualified to function as banks.”

The Asahi dryly wondered whether a statement that employs “vague standards” to discuss the qualifications of banks is appropriate for a Cabinet minister with such broad oversight over those institutions.

“(If this measure) causes investors and citizens to lose their faith (in the banks) to such an extent, the financial institutions themselves should reflect on the reasons for their problems.”

Oh. It’s all their fault.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa has said neither he nor the Bank of Japan thinks the measure is necessary. You may fire when ready, Kamei:

“We agreed to introduce that as a policy measure (during the negotiations to form a coalition). I don’t know what he’s talking about after all this time, but he’s just talking to himself.”

Meanwhile, overseas institutional investors started looking for the nearest exit.

In other news, he’s converted to the Hatoyama philosophy of high school student government:

“People can’t live under this radical philosophy of market supremacy, in which the strong eat the weak. I’m only trying to implement yuai (fraternal) politics.”

Mr. Kamei is also the Minister in Charge of Bloviating About Japan Post Privatization. Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the new Internal Affairs and Communications minister, has offered a suggestion for Japan Post’s reorganization. Said the Man in Charge Around Here:

“I’m the Minister in charge of Japan Post. It’s not that person’s (Haraguchi’s) position to make characterizations (literally, draw pictures) about matters that are my responsibility.”

I’ve remarked several times on Ozawa Ichiro’s propensity for creating inherently unstable coalitions, but this must be a record. The new Government’s only two weeks old and already one of the Cabinet ministers is telling two of his colleagues where to get off.

Despite the criticism from within the ruling party and business and financial circles, Mr. Kamei thinks he’s sitting in the catbird seat:

“If they’re so (opposed), they might hope that the Prime Minister will replace me. But that’s not possible.”

Here’s the problem–Mr. Kamei is right. During the campaign Candidate Hatoyama also came out in favor of a debt repayment moratorium while stumping for DPJ lower house MP Kawauchi Hiroshi, a member of the Hatoyama group/faction. Mr. Hatoyama said the moratorium was Mr. Kawauchi’s idea, but he also supported it. Though it went unremarked at the time, that part of the speech was filmed and is up on YouTube.

This has the potential to get really ugly.

On second thought, maybe it’s a good idea to put off a new Diet session until the by-elections after all.

UPDATE:

Oh, my. According to the Asahi, at a press conference on the 28th, Mr. Hatoyama now said:

“It’s not the case that (the three coalition partners) agreed to go so far as a moratorium.” (モラトリアムということまで)

You know how they say charity begins at home? Maybe yuai does too–starting with the coalition government. If Mr. Hatoyama can’t sell it there, how can he expect to sell it anywhere else?

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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