AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Nakagawa H.’

Ichigen koji (173)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 16, 2012

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

In a column in the Sankei Shimbun, Yayama Taro calls for a political reorganization based on a decoupling from the bureaucracy. He concludes, “In domestic affairs, the question is whether or not politicians are capable of the persistence for a decoupling from the bureaucracy. As (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto has shown, it is possible if the political will is there.” His argument is correct.

The reason 60% of the public has a positive view of the entry of One Osaka, the group he leads, into national politics, is that he has conducted governmental reform for five years in Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. He has been persistent in his efforts to achieve a decoupling from the bureaucracy.

In contrast, the Democratic Party of Japan was able win public support and take control of the government by promising a decoupling from the bureaucracy. But their efforts to make the National Strategy Bureau the control tower for reform were a failure, they were unable to create a basic program that would be a blueprint for reform, they deboned initiatives to decouple from the bureaucracy, and the moves to eradicate amakudari, reform civil service, and promote regional devolution were all aborted. In the end, all they accomplished was a consumption tax increase, breaking their promise not to do so.

For three years, the DPJ government has been unable to decouple from the bureaucracy. Rather, it has become a bureaucracy-led government. That’s why the public is showing the DPJ government the red card, and 60% of them are supporting the entry of One Osaka into national politics.

The problem is the Liberal-Democratic Party. It is the LDP that should form the framework for a government to transcend the bureaucracy-led politics of the DPJ. From 2003 to 2007, the Koizumi and Abe governments established the Council on Fiscal and Economic Policy as the control tower of reform, created a basic reform policy, and in accordance with that, delivered a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”.

The question that must be asked in the LDP presidential election is whether the party will proceed on the Koizumi – Abe course, or whether it will repudiate that course.

Some members of the Kasumigaseki Bureaucracy do not seem to look kindly on the LDP pursuing the Koizumi – Abe course and the idea of a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”. I’ve heard rumors that they’re starting their information war. When the LDP becomes incapable of reform, I think we all know what will happen in politics.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, former secretary-general of the LDP

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Teamwork

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

CREATING a consensus for sustaining and expanding the administrative state requires teamwork among the major national political parties in Japan as their leaders heave-ho together on the rope of a consumption tax increase. Despite their protestations to the contrary and the intramural sabotage, however, one question has been settled: Regardless of the name stamped on their party ID card, they’re all on the same team wearing the uniform of the National Political Establishment, and the squad they’re playing against is The Public.

The NPE side creates its own capricious rules, acts as the referees, and has the discretion to let the match drag on for a year or to end it tomorrow by dissolving the lower house and calling an election.

But while people have kept their eye on the play-by-play over the past month, they’ve missed the greater import: The outcome could be among the most significant of all the political games of the past quarter-century. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s embrace of the ruling Democratic Party looks from one angle as if they are helping extend their rivals’ government, and from another angle as if it were a chokehold manipulated to love them to death. They both would consider it a boon if their pas de deus ex machina would settle the accounts for two decades’ worth of political intrigues by body slamming Ozawa Ichiro out of national politics. Further, it is a tossup whether the LDP hammerlock or the one the DPJ has on itself will prove to be the fatal hold for the ruling party. Other questions to be answered are whether they have cut a deal with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, AKA The National Sparkler, co-opted him, or have been played for suckers by him.

The Jiji news agency, whose political polls are thought to be the most accurate of the media surveys, recently released the results of their June 8-11 canvassing regarding the public’s opinions of the national parties.

The rate of support for the Noda Cabinet was 24.3% and those in opposition were at 54.8%. These are gallows numbers for a Japanese Cabinet. The support rate actually rose by one percentage point over the last poll, and it is the second nominal month-on-month increase, but in real terms they’re flatlining.

Generic support for the DPJ is at 8.1%, the lowest since the party took office. That is little solace for the LDP, whose numbers stand at 13.1%. Most important, the independent/unaffiliated voters are at 69%, which is also probably a record high. In other words, the favorite of seven out of ten Japanese is “None of the above”.

In addition, the Japan Association for Public Opinion Research conducted a poll that found 73% of those surveyed disapproved of the DPJ’s conduct of foreign affairs.

Viewed from that perspective, it is entirely possible the NPE understands their fate will be that of the team of mice in the photograph and are delaying it as long as they can. In the meantime, they will arrange to make their afterlife as comfortable as they can before The Public forces them to forfeit.

Profile in Courage

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has staked his political life (not his Diet seat, just the premiership) on passing legislation to increase the consumption tax in two steps from 5% to 10%. This is nominally to pay for the rising social welfare expenses, though the bulk of the increased revenue is to be allocated at first to public works projects rather than welfare benefits.

The additional revenue will do little to improve the nation’s fiscal problems — only serious government downsizing will do that — and the tax itself will likely depress economic activity to the extent that other tax revenues will fall. That’s what happened the last time it was raised.

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

“The entire national debate has split into two camps. Indeed, those in the opposition (to his Cabinet’s policies) are larger…When they truly think of the nation, the citizens, and the next generation, most people know what we must do. The politics I want to achieve is to decide what should be taken as a matter of course as if it were a matter of course.”

What he means by “matter of course” is hypertrophied social democratic Big Government limping under the banner of The Third Way. Any other course is off-the-wall eccentricity.

As for what “most people know what we must do”, we have data:

“Only 17 percent of voters want the Diet to pass tax hike legislation during the current session, a goal on which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has staked his political life, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.”

And that’s from a newspaper predisposed to support the DPJ government. A 4 June op-ed from the same newspaper offers all the reasons we’ll ever need to understand the strange growths in the Dismal Swamp:

“The essence of the Democratic Party of Japan is that of a mutual assistance organization which passes around the party name to help individuals win elections. The party is very loosely bound. After the DPJ became Japan’s leading party, the ties between the beliefs of each individual MP and the party have become frayed, and there has been gridlock between the lower and upper houses. Japanese politics is still in an extreme period of lethargy.”

Left unsaid (because everyone knows) was this: the DPJ contains within its ranks its own opposition party. A political divorce means the DPJ loses the house, or more specifically, its lower house majority.
The party was formed with the intent of bringing serious two-party rule to Japan and ending the LDP’s government monopoly. By extension, that meant dismantling the Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business, and the money politics that kept it welded together.

Their objective was achieved on the day the DPJ took office in 2009, which was also the day their usefulness ended. (The similarities with the Obama administration are uncanny.) Rather than dismantling the Iron Triangle, they were delighted to become accepted into the fraternity. Any political group that hangs together despite unimaginable internal contradictions is in it for the power and the perks.

Their membership ranges from people who claim Margaret Thatcher as their primary influence (Matsubara Jin) to ex-Socialists who joined the party when their charter contained favorable references to Karl Marx. They’re fleshed out by the usual caravan of status whores, time-servers, and the milquetoast social democrats who delight in playing Little Jack Horner but lack the inclination or the intellect to understand what happens to the pie after all the plums are pulled out.

Their singular achievement has been to reorient the political consciousness of the public, and now all that awaits them is the massacre of the next election. The public might get fooled again, but the DPJ won’t be the ones doing the fooling.

The internal opposition

Emblematic of their internal contradiction is that ascension to the party of government was made possible by their merger with Ozawa Ichiro and his allies, who have become the internal opposition party that will tear them apart. The merger was engineered when Kan Naoto was the DPJ president, and he and Mr. Ozawa appeared together after the merger to discuss it on a television program hosted by veteran journalist Tahara Soichiro. Mr. Tahara said it was one of his most difficult interviews because the two men refused to speak directly to each other.

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

Opinions about Mr. Ozawa over the past 20 years have ranged from Savior to Destroyer, but now the bulk of the hourglass sand has fallen to the lower bulb. Most Japanese would be hard pressed to describe what, if any, political convictions he holds. The electorate holds him in less regard than it does his party. He came to prominence in the LDP in 1986 for his ability to persuade the opposition to pass the original consumption tax. (It took two years because the media was against it. Now their positions have reversed.)

After losing a power struggle with Hashimoto Ryutaro, he bolted the LDP and eventually became the backroom manipulator of the eight-party coalition government that ended the LDP monopoly. During that Hosokawa administration in 1984, he pushed the idea of a 7% “welfare tax” to replace the consumption tax, an idea that was later withdrawn.

Since then, he has formed and folded several new parties, entered and left a coalition with the LDP government, merged the same party with the DPJ, started several power struggles with other leaders (winning a few and losing the most recent string) and supported an opposition-led no confidence motion against Kan Naoto that was foiled at the last minute. (That’s apart from creating a substantial real estate portfolio for his political funds committee.)

If reports this week are to be believed, he is now preparing to leave the DPJ and form a new party with 50 or 60 MPs. (A Kyodo news agency survey counted up to 60 heads, but the Sankei Shimbun isn’t sure how much past 45 it will go.) The Asahi Shimbun reports that about 50 Ozawa-affiliated members have already submitted their resignations to the DPJ. If more than 54 head south, the DPJ’s lower house majority goes with them. It is estimated to take about JPY three billion yen to start a new party, and there is speculation that Mr. Ozawa will fund it by selling the real estate his political finance committee owns.

The nominal reason is that Ozawa the Opportunist is now opposed to an increase in the consumption tax he once supported because it breaks a promise made in the party manifesto to maintain the tax rate for four years. He is also using the excuse that regional devolution should come first, and that will take time. He showed little interest in that issue until Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka group started leading all the national polls.

He’s announced that he will vote against the bill when it comes before the Diet on Tuesday, so all that remains to be seen is how many people go along with him. In Japan’s Westminster system, MPs who flout the party line are subject to penalties and sometimes thrown out of the party. Sources within the Ozawa camp say they will split even if the DPJ leadership chooses to administer the lightest of taps on the wrist. On the evening of the 21st, he held a meeting of like-minded DPJ MPs, and 50 showed up, counting him. It’s worth noting that 30 of those attending are in their first term, which means they were elected in 2009 through his assistance.

This is the same man who was celebrated in the West almost 20 years ago for his book, Blueprint for a New Japan, which argued that Japan should become a normal nation. Considering current conditions in the United States and Europe, he may have succeeded.

Not only is Mr. Noda ready for this to happen, he is encouraging it to happen. According to one reporter, he has told people that the legislation hiking the tax should pass even if it splits the party. Late last month, Mr. Noda and Mr. Ozawa met twice. The prime minister tried unsuccessfully to get Mr. Ozawa to back the tax hike, and it was at that point the bridges were burned. His negotiations with the opposition LDP and New Komeito went more smoothly; they’ll vote to pass the bill. Then again, the prime minister was more amenable to compromising with them.

Ozawa Ichiro will not be able to stop the tax increase because most of the DPJ MPs want to put off a general election until the last possible moment. But if the Ozawa group leaves in strength, the survival of the Noda Cabinet depends on the goodwill of the LDP and New Komeito. That would also leave enough votes for a no-confidence motion, which, if it passes, means a new election or a new Cabinet. The second of those two choices is the more likely, and that would mean a new caretaker prime minister until next summer, when a new election must be held for both houses. One psephologist working on the assumption of a 70-member Ozawa Party thinks only five from that group would be guaranteed to hold their seats, with another 18 favored. In short, the outlook is as bleak for the rest of that group as it is for the NPE as a whole.

Recall that last summer, Mr. Ozawa and former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio were ready to form a new party with the Hatoyama family money after supporting an opposition no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto. That was averted only because the DPJ leadership came up with a transparent fiction that fooled Mr. Hatoyama the night before the vote.

Speaking of Little Boy Lost, Mr. Hatoyama understands the possibility that the party his mother’s money bought and paid for will disintegrate. In Hokkaido, he said:

“If the prime minister pushes this (tax bill) through, there is an extremely high danger that the party will split.”

But perhaps he isn’t so worried about it. On 6 June he said:

“As one of the people who created the DPJ, I would normally do whatever it took to avoid talking about breaking up the party. But now we are at a point at which we must think about what we should do from the perspective that the peoples’ lives are more important than the DPJ.”

For the nonce, he is said to be thinking of abstaining from the vote next Tuesday, or not showing up at all on principle, because it is the opposite of what he campaigned for.

Meanwhile, DPJ Supreme Advisor Watanabe Kozo (yes, that’s his title) publicly asked Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio (another Supreme Advisor) to please oppose the legislation so they could leave the party once and for all.

Not every DPJ solon thinks an election should be put off, however. Policy Research Committee Chairman and former party head Maehara Seiji suspects the party will have its back broken in a double election held next year. (He’s right about that.) He thinks it would be better for the party to take its lumps now and regroup for the upper house election next year.

And just to make things really crazy, some charge that the national media are trying to cast the disagreement as Ozawa against the party on purpose, when in fact many younger DPJ Diet members unaffiliated with Mr. Ozawa have been complaining about the tax increase to party leaders. One member estimated that 90% of the party’s Diet members do not want to pass the bill if it means splitting the party, and that not all of the senior members are interested in the de facto coalition with the opposition that passage of the bill means.

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

No country on earth has as many astonishing political coincidences as Japan. Another one occurred last week, just when political speculation was gusting, with the publication of the 21 June edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshu. It contained the text of what the magazine said was a letter from Ozawa Ichiro’s wife Kazuko to his supporters in his home district of Iwate explaining why she had decided to divorce him. It wasn’t because of the two mistresses or the child born to another woman; that’s why they’ve been separated. No, the reason was something else:

“A large and unprecedented natural disaster such as this (the Tohoku disaster) demands that a politician take action immediately. In fact, however, Ozawa and his aide were afraid of radiation and ran away. Looking at Ozawa, who cast aside during their hour of need the people of Iwate, who had supported him for many years, I understood that this was not a person who would serve for the benefit of Iwate and Japan, and so divorced him.”

By running away, she means that he flipped out after the Fukushima accident, told his aide to buy a large supply of salt, locked the doors to his house in Tokyo, and refused to leave. (She says the aide fled to the Kansai area, but he says it was on previously scheduled business.) He used water purchased commercially for food and washing and didn’t visit his home district in Iwate, one of the three prefectures most seriously damaged by the disaster, from 28 March to 1 December. That would also explain why it took him more than two weeks after the 11 March incident to get himself to Iwate begin with.

The website J-cast interviewed a member of his support group in Iwate after the news broke:

“We would have been thrilled if he had visited to raise our spirits and said, leave it to me, or do your best, but it’s too bad he didn’t do that. That’s what everyone around here is saying. That’s also what I thought when I read the Bunshun article. The first generation (Ozawa’s father, also a Diet member) really worked hard, but the second generation is just the second generation, I guess.”

In other words, whenever Mr. Ozawa appears in public in the future, the electorate will visualize in their minds’ eye the phrase National Wuss on his forehead.

Ozawa Kazuko, by the way, should not be perceived merely as the stay-at-home wife. She was the daughter of one of the executives of former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakei’s Iwate support group, and Tanaka is said to have encouraged the match. Mr. Ozawa won his first election to the Diet four years later with considerable assistance from his wife and father-in-law. Thus, she was always more the political wife in a semi-arranged marriage than just a homemaker.

The external opposition

Knowing that he would have trouble passing the tax increase through both houses against the wishes of his internal opposition, Mr. Noda has made arrangements to pass the bill with the help of the external opposition. After his meetings with Ozawa Ichiro, he replaced two Cabinet members that the opposition-controlled upper house censured. One of them was Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki, the son-in-law of Mr. Ozawa’s political mentor Tanaka Kakuei. His wife, Tanaka Makiko, and Mr. Ozawa remain close allies.

The prime minister first insisted that he would ignore the censures and keep them in the Cabinet — the Churchill imitation again — but he threw them overboard as a gift to bring to the opposition for discussions. Observed Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi cabinets:

“I look forward to the participation of Mr. Moriyama, the private sector minister (of defense). Be that as it may, of the five new members, one was from the private sector, two were former LDP Japan Post rebels, and two were from the upper house. There are no pure DPJ lower house members. Are they having that much trouble finding qualified personnel?”

He had to ask?

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru looked that gift horse in the mouth:

“It’s been more than 40 days since the upper house passed the censure motions against the two ministers. It’s too late.”

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki was thrilled with the present of a pony, however, and said that was a good sign for starting discussions.

Well, at least they didn’t have to discuss raising the consumption tax; they had already agreed to that. The subject at hand was what the DPJ would agree to in exchange for the votes of the LDP and New Komeito to create what some have called the Tax Increase Coalition.

The terms included the DPJ renunciation of a guaranteed minimum pension, and their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration in which the late stage elderly (age 75 and over) who are financially better off pay more for their health care. Both of those policies are in the DPJ 2009 election manifesto.

Some in the DPJ objected to reneging on their manifesto, but everyone else horse-laughed. These discussions are being held in the context of raising the consumption tax, which the DPJ manifesto promised not to do.

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

Maehara Seiji called for withdrawing some of the platform planks, including that for the guaranteed minimum pension. Former LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei said the LDP demand wasn’t necessary because the issues in question weren’t actually law. Other long-in-the-tooth types in the party agreed, including former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and former Secretary General Makoto Koga. Rather than disavowing the two policies, the DPJ offered to shelve them without introducing them as legislation in the Diet, and the LDP thought that was sufficient to strike a bargain.

Some LDP members objected because the DPJ couldn’t be trusted: They reneged on their manifesto, after all. Others in the LDP crowed that they succeeded in getting the ruling party to withdraw their manifesto pledges. That upset many in the DPJ, who remember that the LDP opposed a cigarette tax increase behind the claim that it would be bad for the economy (to hide the reality that it would be bad for the tobacco growers who back the LDP), and eventually backtracked on their own decision to privatize Japan Post.

The DPJ finally had to eat a beggar’s banquet of crow. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya started the first course by bringing up his party’s approach to pension system reform when it was in the opposition:

“Sincerely speaking, we have no excuse. There is no question that we went too far.”

He’s referring to a bill they submitted when in opposition to reform the pension system that was nearly identical to the LDP/New Komeito bill unifying private and public sector pensions. They opposed the government’s bill because it didn’t include the national pensions. Said Mr. Okada:

“It takes time to achieve sweeping reform, so we should have adopted the realistic method of starting by doing that which we could do…If we assume that most people thought we wouldn’t have to make a decision about it during this term, I am extremely sorry.”

The party nearly gagged on his discussion of their manifesto the following day:

“Rather than our manifesto, we won (the election) due to the large trend among the people looking for a change of government…If you ask whether the JPY 26,000 yen monthly children’s allowance was excessive, I think it was excessive…Most people voted with the idea that there should be a change of government.”

That had to be hard for Mr. Okada to digest: His reputation is that of a man who believes the party should always uphold the manifesto, and indeed, as one of the most prominent among those calling for manifesto-based elections to begin with. In January 2004, he said:

“Irresponsible Diet members who take actions other than those in the manifesto are not in this party.”

They are now, and he’s one of their leaders.

Takenaka Heizo understands the core problem with all of this behavior:

“The DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito are holding discussions about social security and tax reform. We have absolutely no understanding of what sort of negotiations went on, what the results of the negotiations were, and the process involved. Questioning the ministers in the Diet yields only in the superficial response that talks are underway. Some Diet members themselves say they don’t understand it. Blatant backroom politics such as this is unprecedented.”

Not unprecedented, perhaps, but not healthy for the body politic.

One of the last of the Koizumians in the LDP, former Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, put it in context:

“The DPJ says it has not withdrawn its pork barrel manifesto. Regardless of how often the LDP says that the DPJ withdrew the manifesto, the DPJ says they haven’t, so it hasn’t been withdrawn. The LDP withdrew its request to withdraw the manifesto…

“Finally, we’ve got something like an answer. Today, some of the people promoting the sales tax increase began to make reference to either a tax increase grand coalition, or a tax increase political reorganization after the legislation passes, in which members of both the ruling and opposition parties who support the tax increase will join forces.”

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

“The political party-cabinet structure collapsed in the 1930s during quasi-wartime conditions, and the bureaucracy-cabinet system began, in which no one had to undergo the trial of elections. An atmosphere formed in which it became difficult to object. Later the Imperial Rule Assistance Association was created (and political parties dissolved), and the legislature became a rubber stamp institution. Now, with the great collusion of the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito, the Diet has devolved into a mere tax increase rubber stamp institution.”

This is what politicians do to keep from admitting that they spend too much of other people’s money rather than complain that they have too little of it.

Speaking of Mr. Nakagawa, it is also possible that he and the Koizumians will vote against the tax bill, though everyone is being vague. He formed a group of about 20 people that has been meeting to discuss the issue since May. They face some problems of their own: Vote on principle and they associate themselves with Ozawa or Hatoyama, which they don’t want to do. Vote the party line and they open themselves to attack from the real opposition in the next election.

The Real Opposition

While entropy has its way with the politicians at the national level, the rebel/reformers at the local level continue to consolidate their energy and their position. When Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru relented and approved the restart of the Oi nuclear power plants, reversing his initially intense opposition, some wondered if that would harm him among his supporters. The results of a JNN poll taken of Osaka voters after his switch answered that question:

Q: Do you support Mayor Hashimoto?
Yes: 54%
No: 38%

Q: Do you support the resumption of nuclear power generation at the Oi plant?
Yes: 49%
No: 31%

During the first week of June, the Mainichi Shimbun conducted a poll of voters asking for which party they would cast proportional representation ballots:

One Osaka (Hashimoto): 37%
DPJ: 7%
LDP: 10%

If you can’t beat ‘em, co-opt ‘em, is a classic political strategy. The DPJ seemed to have adopted that strategy when they came up with a new legislative proposal out of the ether that addressed the issue on which Mr. Hashimoto campaigned for mayor: Merging the city and prefecture of Osaka to create an administrative district similar to that of Tokyo. All of a sudden it was announced that a DPJ working team had put together legislation that would allow the Osaka Metro District to be created, and the government would submit it to the Diet during the current term. That was superb timing for a party that had paid little attention to the issue before and whose reputation as the head of government is an inability to present coherent legislation in a timely manner.

Hashimoto Toru explains

The bill would allow areas of specially designated cities and local municipalities with an aggregate population of more than 2 million people to merge, eliminate the surrounding municipalities, and create special internal districts. It would require the municipalities to submit a report on their plan to the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, who would study the plan (well, the bureaucrats would) and render an opinion. It would also retain some national government involvement at the local level, including that for the distribution of tax resources and some authority, which is not what the local movements are seeking.

The original bill required consultation with the national government for approval of the full plan, but the Asahi Shimbun said the DPJ scaled back the involvement of the national government as a kiss blown in Mr. Hashimoto’s direction. The government will now discuss their bill with other parties, who have introduced similar bills of their own.

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

“If the future form of the nation is given priority to the consumption tax issue, the metro district concept bill will be of exceptional historical significance. The consumption tax should be considered after indicating the direction in which the form of the nation will be changed.”

In fact, Mr. Hashimoto said that if the bill passed during the current Diet session, his One Osaka group might not run candidates in the next lower house election, after vowing to take the government down.

Eyebrows raised immediately throughout the archipelago. People first suspected the NPE might be trying to co-opt his primary issue. After he acquiesced to the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, some thought he had used the nuclear power issue as a weapon to prod the national government in the direction he wanted. (Mr. Hashimoto does not pussyfoot.) Others wondered what would happen to the political juku he is sponsoring to cultivate candidates to run in the next lower house election.

But most people — especially those in the media — missed what he said after that:

“I did not consult with One Osaka (before saying) there is no need for One Osaka to go into national politics absent a great cause…I will not run in a national election. I am not suited to be a member of the national Diet. My position is one in which I have been directly selected by the voters, such as mayor or governor, and I am doing that job now. While it’s not impossible, I am not the type of person who can work under the British system of a cabinet of legislators.

That wasn’t the whole story, either. Here’s Osaka Governor and One Osaka Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

“If the Diet members do not fulfill their promise to reform government finances, we must go into national politics.”

He does not mean that a consumption tax increase is a reform of government finances, by the way. He added:

“Even if an Osaka Metro District is created, Osaka would not float by itself if japan sinks. We hope all the Diet members move forward based on a clear consensus in this Diet session that the ship of Japan does not sink.”

And:

“We (he and Mr. Hashimoto) are in complete agreement on our goal, and the speed at which we are heading there. There is just some difference in our wording. That’s about it.”

One Osaka policy chief Asada Hitoshi gave a speech to Tokyo reporters on the 12th and was asked about the Hashimoto statement:

“The bill (creating an Osaka Metro District) hasn’t passed yet, and our primary goal of getting involved with national politics has not ended….After the completion of the metro district concept, the second stage is to ask the residents and the chief municipal officers in the surrounding area whether they will become special districts within the metro district or merge with other cities to create core cities.“

The political juku is still operating (and the students were addressed by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro today). The student body was reduced from 2,000 to 915. Mr. Matsui said that preference in the cull was given to members of the national reform party Your Party currently serving as delegates in subnational government legislatures.

That dovetails with stories that One Osaka would support Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi for prime minister if they and their allies gained control of the Diet. Mr. Hashimoto would have a major voice in national affairs in such an arrangement, even if he stayed in Osaka. He’s also young enough that he could eventually benefit from a constitutional change permitting the direct election of prime ministers, which One Osaka favors. There are also stories that One Osaka is sounding out Diet members about switching parties, particularly those in the DPJ.

Some in the English-language media are calling this a flip-flop, but they’re forgetting Hashimoto Toru’s declaration in 2008 that it was “2000% impossible” he would run for governor of Osaka that year. He ran for governor of Osaka that year and his margin of victory demonstrated that the voters didn’t care what he said first.

If the DPJ thought they would co-opt him, Mr. Hashimoto’s Twitter barrage yesterday on current events in Tokyo should disabuse them of that notion:

“If this behavior (of the DPJ government) is allowed to stand, the next general election will have nothing to do with manifestoes or policies. That’s because politicians will be capable of doing exactly the opposite of what they said they wouldn’t do…As regards manifestoes, Japanese politics is immature. To what extent can the political promises with the people be modified? The media (in supporting the tax increase) are absolutely mistaken. If they say the last part of the process is for the voters to render a decision in an election, then that is just a complete rubber-stamping of the process. If what politicians say before an election can be repudiated and that is deemed acceptable if ratified through a national election, pre-election policy debate is meaningless.

“If this process for raising the consumption tax is permitted, no one will trust politics. Everyone understands the reason for raising the consumption tax. Everyone knows the government doesn’t have enough money…The DPJ would find the revenue source equal to the tax increase if they withdrew all of the policies they adopted that require greater expenditures. But they do what is not written in the manifesto just for taxes without withdrawing their policies. This process is not acceptable. ..It is the mission and the obligation of the politicians to ask for ratification through an election. If they proceed with Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki logic without doing that, the people will not follow.”

Who’d have guessed that The Dictator insists on proper democratic procedures for determining and implementing policy? Not the people who enjoy the Hashimoto as Hitler narrative, because that would force them to take facts into account. Griping about Hashism for as long as he stays a national figure is a cheap way to demonstrate how marvelous and progressive and well-behaved they are.

Phoning it in

Prime Minister Noda is said to be threatening potential DPJ rebels and supporters of what is being termed an Ozawa political coup d’etat with a dissolution of the lower house and a general election, though he also supposedly promised other party elders he wouldn’t do that. Mr. Ozawa is warning against that course of action, for excellent reasons. We’ve seen all of them in the poll results at the beginning of this piece.

Meanwhile, after Mr. Noda announced his decision to restart the nuclear reactors at Oi, one western media outlet observed that he risked a voter backlash at the polls.

You mean something other than the voter backlash that the party’s been flogged with since January 2010? The decision of Hashimoto Toru to go along with the resumption of generation hasn’t hurt him in the polls.

This isn’t simply a matter of the eternal journo ignorance and their laziness to conduct ABC research. These people have space to fill, and they think they can fill it by presenting something superficially plausible to satisfy their equally ignorant editors and unsuspecting readers.

When the reformers ride into Tokyo to dispose of the corpses from the team of dead NPE mice — and that day is drawing closer — they’ll still be in the dark. But they’ll make up something or other and find a few college professors to say it for them. They always do.

UPDATE: Hatoyama Yukio has changed his mind again and now wants to delay a vote on the tax bill to prevent a party split. (He didn’t see this coming?) He also wants a confirmation that the lower house will not be dissolved. As for a new Ozawa party, however, he would only say that he would not be interested “immediately”.

It’s hard to stay relevant when you’re so irrelevant.

Handicappers seem to think as many as 70 DPJ members will vote against the bill, abstain from voting, or not show up to vote. That’s roughly 25% of the party membership in the lower house. Not all of them are expected to leave the party, however.

*****
Speaking of public opinion surveys, Yomiuri conducted one last year asking people to name their favorite song of the Showa era (25 December 1925 – 7 January 1989). The public selected Misora Hibari’s version of Kawa no Nagare no Yo ni (Like the Flow of a River), which is cutting the timing close: It was released on an album in December 1988, but not released as a single until 11 January 1989, four days into the Heisei era. Misora Hibari died in June that year. Here she is performing it in January…during the Heisei era.

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The end of the LDP

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When your ideology has become rigid, you have checked your brains at the door. If you want proof of that, just look at today’s liberals. Their ideology has been extinct for years and they are walking around like the living dead, trying to preserve the welfare state and the vision of Lord Keynes while the whole world crumbles around them.
– Former leftist/liberal Roger L. Simon

SOME people are born with numb skulls, while other people have to shovel away at the irrigation ditches for years to get all that water onto the brain. No one works longer or more assiduously to obtain a black belt in cretinhood than the world’s political class, as a glance at any newspaper on any day in any country will demonstrate. Japanese politicos share the same defective DNA, but only their parents know whether the members of the established political parties here are congenital lackwits or shed all those IQ points after years of keeping their foreheads to the whetstone.

During his 5.5 years in office, Koizumi Jun’ichiro led the politicos by their nose on The Shining Path to landslide elections and real structural reform of government. A lower house election called specifically as a referendum on privatizing Japan Post rewarded his government with a historical mandate and solidified the prime minister’s poll ratings at 70%. It was one of those happy but rare occasions when the popular will intersected with sensible reform to exclude the entrenched parasitic interests. It should all be as obvious as a wet mackerel in the face.

There is never a reason for a government to own a bank or an insurance company, and there is no longer a reason for them to own post offices in the age of e-mail and private sector express delivery companies, and everyone knows it. To be sure, it’s possible that the victory was due in part to a gratitude vote: Sheer delight by the electorate because a politician actually asked for their opinion and staked his career on it. From the time he stepped down in 2006 until he left politics in 2009, Mr. Koizumi consistently topped the list of polls asking the public who they thought would make the most suitable prime minister. That’s too long to be called an afterglow.

The Democratic Party ran the classic bait-and-switch scam when they promised reform pre-election to gain control of government. One of their “reforms” was to stick a finger in the electorate’s eye and roll back the changes at Japan Post. While the DPJ couldn’t be expected to catch the plot if they ran that finger over the pages and mouthed the words, some members of Mr. Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party should have been unwilling to step into the mudboat. It turns out there are — three.

The LDP held a general meeting on the 27th and gave their formal approval to a proposal they worked out with New Komeito to amend the Japan Post law, thus neutering their signal policy achievement of the past decade. They and the DPJ will submit that proposal to the Diet. Instead of forcing the government to divest itself of Japan Post stock by 2017, the new law requires the government to “endeavor” to sell the stock “quickly”. There you have the perfect example of how reform is deboned by the butchers in the government and bureaucracy. If the law stands, they’ll still be “endeavoring” to sell the stock when all the girls of AKB48 are grandmas.

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu signed the original Cabinet resolution calling for privatization in 2004, so he was for it before he was against it. Last week, however, he said:

“The DPJ continues their indecisive politics, but we will present a serious resolution.”

That’s not inbred stupidity. He had to cultivate it.

Koizumi Shinjiro, the former prime minister’s son and successor to his Kanagawa Diet seat, was one of the three people to object to the party’s decision. He objected in particular to Mr. Tanigaki’s…statement, for lack of a better term:

“To say that (the DPJ’s) indecision is unacceptable, but that this proposal is decisive, is irrational.”

Suga Yoshihide was more statesmanlike:

“(Seven years ago) we had a great debate in the party and concluded that this country will be in trouble without structural reform. We won a major election victory on the Japan Post issue. Retreating from this principle is unacceptable.”

But more to the point was the party’s former secretary-general, Nakagawa Hidenao:

“It is the beginning of the end of the party.”

LDP General Council Chairman Shionoya Ryu seems to have a hearing disability in addition to being beef-witted. After the meeting voted to accept the proposal, he declared:

“It’s unanimous.”

But it wasn’t, and the opponents threatened to vote nay when it comes to the Diet floor. In a post-conference briefing, Mr. Nakagawa blasted the party for changing a policy ratified by popular mandate without another election. “If that’s how we’ll do it,” he said, “we’re the same as the DPJ.”

Now that’s a low blow.

The interview continued:

Q: The people supporting the amendment said, “The Koizumi reform era is over,” and “Times have changed.” What do you think?

Nakagawa: I don’t know who said that, but the recent history of our party includes an extremely important administration that lasted five years. After that, we had a series of very short administrations, and then became the opposition party. In that sense, we brought about today’s circumstances because we didn’t value our first principles, so we will continue to bring about the same circumstances in the future.

On the outside looking in, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji didn’t say it was the end of the party, but he did say the party’s reversion is complete. The word he used for reversion was “atavism”.

Mr. Eda’s objections were practical as well as philosophical, noting that the problems were the obligation for JP’s financial companies to provide universal service and the government’s financial stake. He said that any attempt by the companies to enter new business sectors before the stock is sold would violate most financial regulations around the world, and the governments of those countries would object. (Good luck in the TPP negotiations.) He stated the obvious when he said that government ownership means fair competition in the banking and life insurance sectors is unlikely. He also knows the shares are unlikely to be sold. Where else is the government going to come up with the domestic cash to buy those deficit financing bonds?

He concluded:

“Your Party is of course opposed to this bill, which is a change for the worse.”

More than being the beginning of the end or a textbook example of political atavism, however, it would be more accurate to say that the three parties have now congealed into a largely indistinguishable mass of foul-smelling sludge that fills the moat around the Castle of Vested Interests. When the people leading the revolution of the regions against the center blast the “existing parties”, they’re talking about those three.

It is as if they were 18th-century barbers drilling holes into their own skulls to release the vapors. Now hear this: LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru announced the LDP would consider voting for the DPJ’s consumption tax increase if the DPJ dumped Ozawa Ichiro. In a rare display of common sense, Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya told him to mind his own business.

Taxation is a policy matter, and a politician has to look at the numbers — all the numbers, including the Finance Ministry’s secret money stash — to decide. The membership standards of a political party, no matter how lax, are unrelated to policy issues, and should not be a factor in another party’s collective position on any policy issue.

The three political stooges will eventually run the Nagata-cho Choo Choo off the rails, soon or late. The only solution is for the passengers to detach as many of the cars from the locomotive as possible before that happens. It’s a matter of life and death.

Afterwords:

One month after the DPJ formed a government, then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio appointed Saito Jiro to head Japan Post. Mr. Saito is a veteran of the Finance Ministry, and was his era’s equivalent to Katsu Eijiro today.

Mr. Katsu was sent over by the Finance Ministry to serve as an aide to Prime Minister Noda. Many consider him to be the PM’s puppeteer and the man brainwashing the Cabinet into ever-escalating consumption tax increases. The size of the government doesn’t matter to the ministry as long as the size of the tax revenue is to their satisfaction. His fellows in the Finance Ministry hail him as a star bureaucrat of exceptional skill and talent.

Mr. Saito served in a similar capacity during the first non-LDP administration of Hosokawa Morihiro. He teamed with another backroom string-puller: Ozawa Ichiro, the man Mr. Ishihara wants the DPJ to dump. In those days, Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Saito came up with a scheme to introduce a 7% social welfare tax. The public didn’t like that either.

When Mr. Hatoyama appointed Mr. Saito to serve as Japan Post head several years after he had left the Finance Ministry, the prime minister tried to deflect the outrage by saying he had been out of the public sector so long his perspective had changed. With Mr. Hatoyama, there were so many eye-rolling moments the nation turned swivel-eyed.

Eighteen years later, Ozawa Ichiro is trying to bring down the Noda government for doing the same thing, with the same sort of Finance Ministry allies, that he himself tried do during the Hosokawa government.

The person who recommended Mr. Saito to Mr. Hatoyama was Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party, then the DPJ’s junior coalition partner. The PNP is a single-issue party formed to turn back the Japan Post privatization. Mr. Kamei tapped Mr. Saito because he thought it would please Ozawa Ichiro.

Mr. Kamei used to be one of the bigger enchiladas in the LDP. He is said to have been the ringleader of the LDP machinations to bring down the Hosokawa administration, which was a coalition of eight small parties. He coaxed the Socialist Party to leave and join an LDP coalition by playing on their dislike of Mr. Ozawa’s dictatorial habits. He disliked them too, and he sometimes referred to Mr. Ozawa as a “fascist bastard”.

Kamei Shizuka last week left the governing coalition because he’s opposed to the tax increase. He’s conferring with Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro and others about forming a new old guy party. Earlier this week he talked about working out a cooperative arrangement between the new party and the fascist bastard himself, Ozawa Ichiro.

If Japan weren’t a civilized country, these people would wind up hanging from meathooks.

UPDATE: When China moves in the right direction, and that direction is the opposite of yours, that’s a sure sign you’re in trouble with a capital T.

China’s state banks make money “too easily” and their monopoly on financial services has to be broken if cash-starved private enterprises are to get access to capital when they need it, state media cited Premier Wen Jiabao as saying on Tuesday.

Wen’s comments, carried on China National Radio, come days after Beijing gave the go-ahead for financial reforms in Wenzhou — known as the country’s cradle of private enterprise — that will encourage private investment in local banks…

Private investors in Wenzhou will be encouraged to buy into local banks and to set up financial institutions such as loan companies and rural community banks, the State Council said in a statement posted on the government’s website last week.

*****
Then again, Sakamoto Ryuichi composed The End of Asia more than 30 years ago, and that hasn’t happened yet. Recreations of renaissance music haven’t ended after several centuries, either.

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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

**This is the second of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here.**

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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Ichigen koji (87)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 31, 2011

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

(The Democratic Party) has betrayed both their promise and the cause of replacing bureaucratic leadership with political leadership, which has lead to the strengthening of bureaucratic leadership. The result of that is the consumption tax increase. Popular will has slapped a big NO on the Democratic party for breaking its promise and trying to force through a consumption tax increase that they did not promise.

The problem is that the public does not want to entrust the government again to the Liberal Democratic Party. The latest public opinion polls regarding the rates of support for the political parties show that the LDP and the DPJ are about even. That’s because the public views the LDP as having reverted to the LDP of old. Now, more than ever, the LDP should return to the starting point of its promise with the people in 2005. That is the course of small government with the privatization of Japan Post as the entrance. Clearly showing their opposition to the DPJ will strengthen the public’s sense of expectation for a return to LDP rule.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, former LDP secretary-general

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Ichigen koji (62)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 20, 2011

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

It has been reported that the Noda administration is now working to extend the original 10-year period for higher income taxes to fund (Tohoku) reconstruction to 15-20 years. In contrast, the Liberal Democratic Party insists the period should correspond to the 60-year term for government construction bonds.

During a news conference on the 17th, Prime Minister Noda said, “I think the 60 years as proposed by the LDP is a mistake.” As a matter of principle, however, the mistake is the idea of having one generation assume the liability for funding the reconstruction of social capital.

What principle is it that would have only today’s generation assume the liability for funding reconstruction after the events of 11 March, a once-in-a-thousand-years event?

The fiscal principle is that the next generation, which will use that infrastructure, should also assume the liability. A 60-year period with the next generation also sharing the burden makes sense.

The LDP should steadfastly maintain a policy of a term (for the tax increases) corresponding to the 60-year period for government construction bonds.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, LDP Diet member and former party secretary-general.

One assumes that the party wants to extend the term as a way to minimize the tax increase (this is the first mention I’ve seen of it), but it’s never safe to assume anything but the worst when it comes to politicians and taxes. One thing it is safe to assume is that neither the DPJ nor the LDP as presently constituted intends to rescind those taxes after 10, 15, 20, or 60 years.

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The gaffe overlooked

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ichigen koji  (54)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 4, 2011

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

The new Noda Cabinet has taken office. On the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the decline in the Nikkei accelerated on the news of the Cabinet composition and closed at 8950, down 110 from the previous day. One can only say that, rather than celebrating, the market rendered a harsh judgment.

…(The Chinese) are said have a dish called niqiuzhandoufu, which combines dojo (the fish to which Mr. Noda compared himself) and tofu. Live dojo are placed in the pot, and the water is brought to a boil. The tofu is then added. The dojo cannot withstand the heat, so they flee into the cold tofu. They are then boiled together with the tofu.

If they are subjected to the fierce, concentrated fire of the mass media and the opposition parties, none of the dojo ministers will be able to endure it. They will likely flee into the cold tofu of the bureaucracy.

The governmental concept of the Democratic Party of Japan two years ago was the bolting together of “disassociation from the bureaucracy”, “political leadership”, and “no tax increases for four years”. It seems this bolt has already been loosened. Thus, there is no means to prevent the DPJ Cabinet from assimilating with the cold tofu — the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

When former Prime Minister Ohira Masashige proposed the introduction of a general consumption tax, he boldly dissolved the Diet and took the question to the people. If Prime Minister Noda is truly convinced of the necessity for a tax increase, he should immerse himself in the people, not in the cold tofu. Without that resolve, Prime Minister Noda should be fully aware that he will be unable to create a consensus for a tax increase.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, lower house member from the LDP, and former party secretary-general

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Observations on the road to Götterdämmerung

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 8, 2011

WITH the prime minister steering the ship of state in the general direction of Götterdämmerung — either his own or the nation’s — I’m working on a post that requires more translation, editing, and organizing. Until then, here’s a sampling of what some people are saying.

For the sake of the people, for the sake of the disaster-stricken area, for the sake of the Democratic Party, I want the prime minister to resign quickly, by even a minute or even a second.

- Watanabe Kozo, Democratic Party Supreme Advisor

The politics of toadying to voters to win votes in elections is the source of our current confusion.

- Gemba Koichiro, Democratic Party Policy Research Committee Chairman

In general, Kan Naoto does not see politics as a battle over policy, but as a fight between stray dogs. He is a politician of whom it is rather difficult to say that he is normal.

- A Democratic Party senior official who wished to remain anonymous

Even the Democratic Party is unable to prevent Prime Minister Kan from turning power into his personal possession.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, Liberal Democratic Party lower house MP

Show business has the actor Gekidan Hitori (literally, one-man drama troupe), and now we’ve got a prime minister who is a Naikaku Hitori (one-man Cabinet).

- Koike Yuriko, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party General Council

Looking at the situation makes me think there’s a systemic inadequacy, because there’s no system for the recall of the prime minister (and Diet members). Considering the national interest, don’t we need a mechanism for recall?

- Takenaka Heizo

Executives from the government and the Democratic Party come (to the devastated area) one after another, but they never do anything for us.

- A chief municipal officer in Miyagi, quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun

They talk about a tax increase, but you can’t bring up water by lowering a bucket into a broken well where water doesn’t collect.

- Kamei Shizuka, head of junior coalition member People’s New Party

We’ll be in trouble if the Kansai region isn’t revitalized (by turning it into a subsidiary capital). Greater centralization (in Tokyo) would not be welcome. There’s no other city whose daytime population increases (over the night time population) by four million people.

- Ishihara Shintaro, Governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District

*****
Azumi Jun edition

There is no other way to pass difficult legislation than by discussion, including with the LDP and New Komeito. It is truly regrettable that (Prime Minister Kan) has created a situation in which we are unable to negotiate with either of them.

- Azumi Jun, Democratic Party Diet Affairs Committee Chairman

I hope he (the prime minister) leaves quickly. This situation is embarassing and I can’t go home to Ishinomaki.

- Azumi Jun to reporters, after he was told that he had been considered to replace Matsumoto Ryu as Reconstruction and Recovery Minister because he was from Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Mr. Azumi, a Kan opponent, viewed his consideration for the post only as a Kan strategy to extend the life of his administration.

This is truly a despicable Cabinet. Is there any value in supporting it as a party? I am truly angry. That’s all.

- Azumi Jun again, before storming out of a meeting of the Democratic Party’s executive council.

We should make preparations to hold an election for party leader (to replace Kan Naoto) in August.

- Kawakami Yoshihiro, Democratic Party upper house member, after Mr. Azumi left the meeting.

If we decide to hold an election, the prime minister will become a lame duck.

- Okada Katsuya, Democratic Party secretary-general, objecting to the idea

The Kan administration is already a lame duck. At this rate, the entire Democratic Party will become a lame duck.

- Kawakami Yoshihiro’s reply

This is even worse than the power struggles among the extreme leftists. At least the extreme leftists had principles.

- Kamei Shizuka again, criticizing Azumi Jun’s criticism

That is his failure as the (DPJ) Diet Affairs head. What sort of guy would complain about the head of the house to outsiders? He should think about how people will view this.

- Ishii Hajime, Democratic Party vice-president, criticizing Mr. Azumi’s criticism. Both Mr. Kamei and Mr. Ishii were originally in the Liberal Democratic Party. Readers will note the irony of the unfavorable comparison to the far left with the demand that he follow the party line and not criticize the Dear Leader in public. I used the English “guy” to translate Mr. Ishii’s yatsu, which in this case has a derogatory connotation.

*****
A couple of weeks ago we had a video from Thailand that I thought should rank in the global top ten of unusual music videos. Here’s one to make the other look tame by comparison.

It’s called The Art of Self Defense by Josie Ho, a singer, actress, movie producer, and daughter of casino tycoon Stanley Ho, one of the richest men in Macau.

That means she can afford a plane ticket to Tokyo, where she should try that cake treatment on a certain politician there.

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Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
– DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

*****
Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

*****
The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.

Quitting

It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”

But:

“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

*******
Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

*****
Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

*****
You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Stayin’ alive

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 21, 2011

One of the themes of the play was that the country itself is much too good for politics, especially when politicians seek to govern it by serving their own selfish ends.
– Andrew Ferguson on the David Mamet play, November

It would require more than one person to count the reasons most of Japan wishes Prime Minister Kan would curl up into a ball and roll under the couch. Ten fingers on two hands are just not enough. A consensus has rapidly developed, however, that the prime minister’s most serious offense has been to ignore his party’s slogan of putting people’s lives first by putting his Cabinet’s life first instead.

It would also require more than ten fingers to count the specific examples of that behavior, but the most recent and the most egregious is Mr. Kan’s decision to end the current Diet session on 22 June without addressing the second supplementary budget for the reconstruction of the Tohoku area and the relief of those displaced by the earthquake/tsunami. He now thinks it will be August before his government can get around to it. Everyone else thinks that he knows the longer the Diet is in session, the more quickly he’ll fulfill his manifest destiny of becoming a footnote to history.

And yes, consensus is the right word. One of the prime minister’s most prominent defenders, the Asahi Shimbun, stuck this headline above an article that appeared on page 4 of their print edition on 17 May:

PM hints at postponement of second supplementary budget; will adjourn the session to outrun the Diet

Then there was the Jiji news agency this week:

Adjourning the Diet session, even to the extent of postponing the disposition of important matters, also has the objective of nipping in the bud factors that create instability for the government, such as the Dump Kan movement.

And the funky downmarket ZakZak:

To stifle the simmering Dump Kan movement in Nagata-cho, Prime Minister Kan Naoto postponed the submission of the second supplementary budget for Tohoku earthquake relief until August, and plans to adjourn the current session early on 22 June.

During Question Time in the Diet, LDP MP Shiozaki Yasuhisa, the chief cabinet secretary in the first Abe cabinet, asked:

“Do you think the first supplementary budget is sufficient?”

The prime minister answered:

“The local governments in the affected area will submit reconstruction budgets in July or August. It is necessary to incorporate local opinion (in the budget). Next, I envision a large supplementary budget for reconstruction. I want to think of the Diet’s approach, keeping in mind that local discussion is necessary. We must be careful not to be too hasty with the major enterprise of reconstruction.”

Mr. Shiozaki followed that up with the charge that ending the Diet session on 22 June was an affront to the affected area, but Mr. Kan only repeated that local discussion was necessary.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP has an aide who is perhaps the best blogger in Japan. The aide wonders why local opinion is needed to provide for the living expenses of the people in the shelters, who now will have to stay there through the summer. He also remarked that the prime minister’s interest in ‘the major enterprise of reconstruction’ sounds more like a developer than someone concerned with the people still living in shelters. Finally, he speculated that Mr. Kan is holding the people in the shelters hostage to buy time for a tax increase.

The prime minister’s attitude was the tipping point for LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu. He said the primary opposition party will submit a no-confidence motion if the government doesn’t submit a second supplementary budget during this Diet session.

Incidentally, the early adjournment of the Diet will also prevent the passage of legislation enabling the government to issue the debt instruments for this year’s budget, assuming they can get the bills through the upper house.

Speaking of the upper house, the chamber’s president Nishioka Takeo reached his tipping point long ago. We’ve already seen that Mr. Nishioka called for Kan Naoto’s resignation, an unprecedented step for a man in his position, not to mention a man with the same party affiliation. He said:

“When I look at his response to the Tohoku earthquake, I wonder what Prime Minister Kan is thinking. It is not a question of whether I like him or dislike him. Now, I am unable to see any sign at all that he knows what he must say or do as a prime minister.”

Mr. Nishioka wrote an op-ed for the Yomiuri Shimbun that again calls on Mr. Kan to resign, and offers six reasons why he should do so. It serves as a representative expression for the national dissatisfaction with Mr. Kan’s conduct of affairs, so here’s a quick and dirty translation of some excerpts.

*****
“Prime Minister Kan, you should resign immediately. There are many people who agree with my opinion: the people who suffered in the Tohoku earthquake, the people who had to be evacuated due to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, many citizens, all the opposition parties, and even Diet members of the ruling party. In addition, the chief executives and assembly members of local governments both distrust you and are uneasy about you.

“There’s a reason there have been few overt calls for your resignation. When serious problems arise that are beyond the scope of the administration of national government, and events proceed from there, it is generally agreed that replacing the person with the ultimate responsibility would be an extraordinary step. But after the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March, you have continued to abdicate your duties as prime minister. That is what is extraordinary.

“In fact, you abdicated your responsibilities during the incident with the Chinese fishing boat in the Senkakus last year. From that we can see you have no awareness of the prime minister’s duties for the conduct of the national business.

“There is a Japanese expression that serves as a counterargument to the anger I feel toward you: Don’t change horses in a swift current. I agree with those sentiments. That assumes, however, that the horse is valiantly striving in a desperate effort to overcome and move beyond the rapid currents.

“But you have no sense of crisis, no resolve, and no means to deal with the problems. In my judgment, the current dangers are greater than that of changing the horse in a rapid current.”

Here are the six problems he cites:

1. “Why did you not immediately declare a national emergency after 11 March and pass the relevant legislation? Instead, you created a lot of councils and brought confusion to the chain of command.”

He adds that the mobilization of 100,000 Self-Defense Forces without convening the national Security Council, established to deliberate responses to national emergencies in addition to national defense issues, ignored the law.

2. “The nuclear accident is a matter of great international interest. It was a serious error in judgment for you to have refused to ask for help from the American military during the initial stages. As it stands now, there is no prospect for you to finish the job of dealing with the accident.”

3. “The urgent business now is to provide any means of finding places for the people in the shelters to live, including temporary structures and vacant public housing or rental units, as well as setting up a system for their medical care. It’s not for you to say that you’ll put it off until early August.”

4. “Cleaning up the unimaginable wreckage is a greater task than anticipated, but the rainy season will soon complicate matters. With that as a deadline, your government should already have developed the blueprints for a new national land plan, an urban plan, a forestry and fisheries plan, a plan for rebuilding MSBEs and microenterprises, and a new educational environment.”

5. “You should have swallowed hard and given everyone in the country accurate and truthful information. I suspect both Tokyo Electric and you knew that a meltdown had occurred, which was to be expected.”

6. “Your political method is to put everything off until later. You have offered no deadlines for dealing with most of the issues I cited above. You hastily came out with a new schedule when criticism mounted, but it lacks a budgetary basis.”

“If these problems are beyond the capabilities of your government, you should depart immediately. At this rate, it is no longer possible to explain your behavior by regarding it as the means for your government to continue. Rather, is it not the manner of someone who would ‘clean his own wounds with the blood of other people’? Our country is facing an enormous amount of problems both in foreign affairs, and in domestic affairs, such as pensions. I do not think you have the ability to deal with them.

“In view of my long political experience I am heartbroken over my responsibility in having created the Kan administration.”

(End translation)

*****
This article appeared in the 19 May edition of the Yomiuri — on Page 6 in the international news section. Some people are wondering why the Yomiuri chose to put it there, instead of in the national news section. Itagaki Eiken, a somewhat eccentric commentator who once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, thinks that the Americans are still meddling in Japanese domestic politics. He writes that the Yomiuri’s placement of the article suggests they have caught on to the wish of the American government that Mr. Kan be replaced.

Of course that’s childish conspiracy mongering and couldn’t possibly have any basis in the real world. Why, just this Tuesday, playwright Hirata Oriza was in Seoul to deliver a speech at the request of the Japanese embassy. Mr. Hirata is employed at the Chief Cabinet Secretariat and was Hatoyama Yukio’s primary speechwriter when the latter was prime minister.

The embassy wanted him to downplay Korean fears of radiation and help boost tourism. The South Koreans had to deal with some problems of their own as the result of global hysteria. Buyers in The Netherlands, for example, demanded that three exporting agricultural companies in Gyeongsangbuk Province conduct tests of three types of mushrooms to verify they weren’t contaminated by radiation. Those companies exported mushrooms to 17 countries in 2010 and earned $US 9.4 million. The ‘shrooms were expected to pass with flying colors, but it required an unnecessary expenditure of time and money. Other mushroom exporters from Gyeonggi Province had to deal with similar demands from the Dutch and the Germans. Why?

Because they were “close to Japan”.

The South Koreans criticized the Japanese government for releasing water contaminated by radiation into the sea without any advance notice. (The Japanese Foreign Ministry gave three hours notice to foreign embassies at a news briefing, but the ambassadors from South Korea and Russia were unable to attend.) Mr. Hirata explained that the release was made “at the strong request of the US government”.

Oh.

When reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio to confirm the story, he replied that he didn’t know exactly what Mr. Hirata said. He would have to talk to Mr. Hirata first and find out. Translated into normal speech from the cant of the flybait class, that means, “Couldn’t Hirata keep his mouth shut? How the hell do we spin our way out of this one?”

*****
Speaking of Hatoyama Yukio, the media’s curiosity was piqued when he returned a day early this week from a climate change conference in Finland. Mr. Hatoyama has let it be known that he’s quite unhappy indeed with the behavior of his successor. He’s said that he can no longer have a conversation with Mr. Kan, and that the DPJ is no longer the party that he bought and paid for with his mother’s money he created.

Mr. Hatoyama may no longer have much sway in his own party, but he still has plenty of money. He and his brother, who is almost as fabulously well-to-do, are said to have held a meeting at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo late last month for younger Diet members allied with Ozawa Ichiro. The latter group thought Mr. Hatoyama invited them to discuss strategies for dealing with the prime minister, but shortly after the affair began, it was hey, how about that! My brother Kunio just happened to be here in the same restaurant! In the room next door! What a coincidence!

Factoring in the consideration that Hatoyama Kunio left the LDP and is now a free political agent — yeah, I forgot too — a columnist for Gendai Business Online wonders if the Brothers Hatoyama are itching to start a new party. They certainly can afford it. This is more than a case of bullshit walking and money talking. Every politician knows that the brothers have enough money to start a school for training bullshit to walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time if it struck their fancy. If any of the younger DPJ members were tossed out of the party because they voted aye for a no confidence motion…

A few weeks ago, someone writing in The Economist become indignant that Mr. Hatoyama, a colossus as a failed prime minister, would cooperate with Ozawa Ichiro in a Dump Kan movement. That’s not how the columnist for Gendai Business saw it. He considered it an act of repentance for betraying the people’s hopes in voting for a change of government.

And speaking of Mr. Ozawa, the latest rumor has him allowing Mr. Kan to attend the G8 summit later this month as a hanamichi, literally a flowered path. That’s a show business term for an elevated walkway from the stage to the rear of the theater through the audience, but it’s often used as a metaphor to represent a sop to adorn the end of someone’s political career. The Dump Kan moves supposedly begin in earnest when the prime minister returns from the summit.

Let’s hope he doesn’t fall on his face in the petunias. During a lunch at last year’s summit, he suggested inviting the Chinese next time. The other leaders feigned deafness, but their ears will be wide open this time when they ask him to explain just what the deuce his government’s being doing at Fukushima for the past three months.

They’re going to wonder why he permitted work to continue that led to the creation of large amounts of contaminated water, even though he knew the fuel rods might have melted. They’ll also wonder why he concealed the initial radiation contamination data. After all, as he boasted immediately after the problems at Fukushima emerged, he knows more about nuclear power than other politicians.

Those members of the Anglosphere commentariat who assured their readers that Mr. Kan and the DPJ government were a significant upgrade in accountability and competence from previous LDP governments are now pretending they don’t smell their own flatulence. That is unlikely to work for the prime minister in Deauville next week. It certainly hasn’t worked for the commentators. One of them described the Murayama administration’s response to the Hanshin earthquake in 1995 as hapless. Yet that government, led by a Socialist no less, was able to pass 16 separate bills in the Diet dealing with local reconstruction within 40 days of the event. In the same amount of time, Mr. Kan’s government had passed none.

*****
What did the bien-pensants of the West see in Mr. Kan that the Japanese themselves missed? One media outlet polled the nation’s governors late last month on their opinion of his post-earthquake performance in office. One of the 47 governors failed to respond. Of the remaining 46, 25 rated his performance as “poor”.

After last month’s local elections, the assemblies of the 23 wards in Tokyo have begun new sessions, many with considerably fewer DPJ members than before. No fools they, the survivors among the DPJ-affiliated factions in several wards have changed the name of their groups. The name changes had one thing in common — the word minshu was replaced with something else. Minshu-to is the name of the Democratic Party of Japan in Japanese. The first to do so was the group in Minato Ward, whose members explained they wanted to make a distinction between themselves and the DPJ in the national government.

When you think it can’t get worse, that’s when you can be sure it already has. For the politicos, Mr. Kan has become a punching bag, but for some in the media, he has become waraigusa – literally laughing grass, or a laughingstock. My local newspaper usually runs political cartoons in black and white. Recently, however, it featured one in color, which allowed them to portray Prime Minister Kan with a prominent red nose.

No, it wasn’t because it’s hay fever season.

Meanwhile, the 28 April edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun ran a strange picture of Mr. Kan sitting in the Diet. He looks as if he might be biting one of his fingernails, but it also appears as if he’s making an unpleasant expression as he’s sniffing them.

The text beneath the photo reminds readers of an old Japanese saying that exhorts people to boil in water the dirt under the fingernails of the people they wish to emulate and drink it. The author wonders what would happen if people drank such a concoction from those they didn’t want to emulate. Would they become like the man in the photograph, he asks?

*****
With his survival on the line, Prime Minister Kan has allowed that he might consider rethinking his positions. For example, he said he would be willing to discuss new configurations for the power companies.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji, however, says that idea has been floating around for awhile. Mr. Eda’s career started in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and he remembers that it was discussed as long as 25 years ago. In fact, he thought something might come of the suggestion about a decade ago, but senior members of the ministry killed it. They told their subordinates it was a reform aimed at their lives, and that they had to protect their own lives themselves.

Both the Hatoyama and Kan governments are notorious for having truckled under to the bureaucracy within weeks of taking office. No one who’s been paying attention is sanguine about the likelihood of a meaningful reform of the power companies during the Kan administration.

Mr. Kan also said he would consider adding JPY one trillion to the supplementary budget for the relief efforts before adjourning the Diet.

That tipped the balance for LDP MP Nakagawa Hidenao. The time for “thinking about it” is over, he said. Now it’s time to do something about it.

Who knows? Perhaps the prime minister will do something about it, if he can keep his government afloat long enough. First things first.

Afterwords:

The government on 18 May agreed on legislation to reform the national civil service system. It will include the right of public employees to conclude agreements, such as those for salary levels in management-labor negotiations. Public opposition to the right of public employees to strike was so strong, however, they did not include it in the bill.

Many Americans would be very envious of Japan, if they only knew.

*****
When it was revealed in 2004 that Mr. Kan had problems with unpaid contributions to the national pension fund, he resigned as DPJ party head and, as a publicity stunt, shaved his head, dressed as a mendicant priest, and made a traditional pilgrimage to 88 temples in Shikoku.

Perhaps he should listen to Uttara-kuru and try the mendicant priest shtick again. That’s the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra they’re chanting:

“Further, if a person who is about to be harmed calls out the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, the knives and staves of the attackers will break into pieces and he will be saved.”

It would be the answer to Kan Naoto’s prayers.

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Putting peoples’ lives first

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 5, 2011

…(I)ncestuous relations between corporations and governments are fascistic. The problem comes when you claim that such arrangements are inherently right-wing.
– Jonah Goldberg

The type of businessmen who seek special advantages by government action (are the) actual war profiteers of all mixed economies.
– Ayn Rand

PEOPLE have been complaining since the 19th century about a type of government/corporate collusion that has come to be known as the socialization of risk and the privatization of profit.

Risk is inherent in any commercial enterprise, and profits are an enterprise’s reward for successfully avoiding or negating those risks. Too often, however, Big Business colludes with Big Government (of either party) to create ways to keep the profits for themselves while making the public pay for risks gone sour. “Too big to fail” is one of the most common, as well as the one of the most stupid, justifications.

Now here comes the Japanese version, proposed as a way to keep Tokyo Electric Power Co. afloat while it deals with what are likely to be enormous compensation payments resulting from the problems with the Fukushima power plant. We already know who’s going to get stuck with the tab.

Both the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun are reporting that either the Democratic Party of Japan, or the DPJ-led government — keeping track of the more than 20 bodies Prime Minister Kan created to deal with the earthquake/tsunami makes it difficult to pin down — is discussing a new mechanism that will allow Tokyo Electric Power to raise rates to defray the compensation costs for Fukushima. No one knows the final bill for that compensation, but one initial estimate suggests it could be JPY one trillion a year for four years.

If the nation’s other power companies are asked to contribute to the compensation, the mechanism will allow them to raise their rates, too. Of course, say the proponents, the government will monitor the rates to make sure the increase is not excessive — doesn’t that allay your concerns? — but the average household will be on the hook for several hundred yen more a month in utility bills.

Their excuse reasoning is that it will be difficult for Tokyo Electric to maintain its operations absent a raise in rates. Therefore, investors will dump their bonds, which therefore will roil the commercial bond market, which therefore could cause problems for Japanese government bonds.

In short: TEPCO and its shareholders, primarily the big financial institutions, have been the ones to make the profits. By rights, they should also be liable for the risk. But when a natural disaster, exacerbated by power company and government mismanagement, requires the people who made the profits to assume the risk — you know, the free market mechanism — they want to socialize that risk by having those with no responsibility for the problem pay for it.

Access the website of the Democratic Party of Japan and the first thing you see is their slogan: “Putting Peoples’ Lives First”.

More than a half-century ago, Alfred Jay Nock wrote: “Professional politicians…are known of all men to be pliant mountebanks when they are not time-serving scoundrels, and are usually both.” Still true after all these years.

*****
It’s encouraging that several people unleashed a barrage at that trial balloon as soon as it hove into view. Kono Taro of the LDP, who claims (sometimes believably) to champion small government, asks why everyone else should pay to clean up the TEPCO mess just to keep stock prices stable for the banks.

Mr. Kono notes that the power companies already have a reserve fund of JPY 2.4 trillion for reprocessing, which is derived from user fees. He suggests dipping into that fund before anyone talks about rate increases. He further suggests that TEPCO should sell its assets (some of which are ownership stakes in affiliated companies) and apply the proceeds to the compensation.

He puts his finger on the problem that the DPJ promised to solve, but perpetuated instead:

“Bureaucrats from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and representatives of Tokyo Electric and the Federation of Electric Power Companies circulate through the Diet office building every day, buttonholing individual MPs and promoting their different agendas, (including) ‘Forcing Tokyo Electric to pay their claims could result in a financial crisis’.”

Are those quotes at the top of the post beginning to make sense?

Mr. Kono is one of those who offers another alternative: Spin off TEPCO’s atomic power division and split the parts of the company responsible for power generation and power transmission into separate entities. His version is a bit dodgy because he calls for the utility to be nationalized first, and then selling the individual units after it’s been split up. (His small government rhetoric does have some holes.) But he’s well aware that the LDP Diet members aligned with power company interests will also need to be squelched.

Earlier this week, Koga Shigeaki took that idea one step further on the Asahi TV program Morning Bird. Mr. Koga is a rara avis in Japan — a METI bureaucrat with an impressive resume in government service who favors radical civil service reforms to restrict the power of Kasumigaseki. Before raising rates, he argues, the utility should first make provisional compensation payments and limit cash outflow. Then, there should be a national debate about Tokyo Electric’s restructuring and the liability of stock and bond holders. (They are the company’s owners and creditors, after all.) He calls for the separation of the generation and transmission units as a way to shift to the use of smart grids.

The Japanese edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that Tokyo Electric earned JPY 1.34 trillion in consolidated net profit in FY 2010. Total consolidated assets stood at JPY 13.2039 trillion.

Takahashi Yoichi, formerly of the Finance Ministry and a reform bird of Mr. Koga’s feather, also argues that this is an excellent opportunity to separate the units and incorporate smart grids, with the proviso that the supply network be completely open. That would allow individual households and companies to generate and sell electricity, though large companies would still have to operate the grids. Mr. Takahashi uses the analogy of telephone company deregulation; the Internet might work as an analogy as well.

The LDP’s leading Koizumian, Nakagawa Hidenao, says that any trouble in the bond market could be forestalled by having the Bank of Japan buy either TEPCO or Japanese government bonds. He admits that solution is “non-traditional”, but he also says these are exceptional circumstances.

Finally, Yamaguchi Iwao at the Agora website points out that businesses account for 70% of Japanese power consumption and individual households 30%. Raising the rates will cause some companies to shift manufacturing overseas, or to incline them in that direction. Those who stay will be more likely to investigate ways to generate power on their own. That might be a good idea, but it also means that households will be forced to bear a large part of the liability.

So to sum up, the people with the most reactionary and hidebound approach to this problem, the ones who would use the power of government to protect the vested interests at the expense of the public, are the Democratic Party of Japan.

But then classical fascism has always been a phenomenon of the progressive left.

*****
I’ve mentioned before the rumors that Mr. Kan pressured the executives of Tokyo Electric Power into cutting a deal: They start making substantial financial contributions to the DPJ, and he’ll make sure they don’t get in any serious trouble because of Fukushima.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see some behavior that would reveal those rumors to be groundless?

*****
Also on the DPJ English-language website is a section that presents their political philosophy. One paragraph is titled Our Political Standpoint and includes the following:

“We stand for those who have been excluded by the structure of vested interests, those who work hard and pay taxes, and for people who strive for independence despite difficult circumstances. In other words, we represent citizens, taxpayers, and consumers.”

There’s yet another reason why the Japanese public no longer takes the DPJ seriously.

*****
Those with long memories might remember that Koga Shigeaki was on the receiving end of the gangsterish threats of then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito last fall when the former testified in the Diet against the DPJ civil service reform proposals. Mr. Koga didn’t think they were real reforms at all. He’s due to publish a book on 20 May called 日本中枢の崩壊. I’m already standing in line at the bookstore.

*****
For those interested in more detail about smart grids, here’s an explanation from the Center for Progress, which favors “progressive ideas for a strong, just, and free America”.

That’s my only problem with smart grids at this point. The people most excited by the idea are the people least likely to favor anything progressive with a lower-case P that would foster strength, justice, and freedom anywhere.

Les Routledge at this site understands the objections and insists that smart grids must be completely open, transparent, and competitive. Unfortunately, the first words out of his mouth about the advantages of smart grids are that they would be a more efficient way to ration supply.

With friends like these, the idea of free market competition for smart grids doesn’t need any enemies.

*****
I never cared for hip-hop music until I saw this video of Neba Solo.

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Heaven sent

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 24, 2011

Amakudari refers to golden parachuting, i.e., the placement of civil servants in post-retirement jobs within entities their former government ministries supervise.
– Hatoyama Yukio, prime minister’s e-mail magazine, 2 April 2010

Hypocrisy is a sort of homage that vice pays to virtue.
– La Rochefoucauld

A CLEVER definition of the term regulatory capture is the capture of the regulators by the regulated. It’s endemic to every country, but it’s a particular problem in Japan because of the practice of amakudari, which former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio defined not as cleverly in the passage cited above. (The word itself means “descending from heaven” in English.)

The Tohoku earthquake has offered the political class the opportunity to again demonstrate their inability to control the practice. Oversight of the nuclear power industry is the responsibility of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry; and the Nuclear Safety Commission, affiliated with the Cabinet Office. Another government body affiliated with METI is the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which also has authority over power companies, and which has promoted the use of nuclear power.

Tokyo Electric Power hired Ishida Toru, the former head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as an advisor this January just four months after he left the agency. The third person to slide from a position at METI or its predecessor to a position at TEPCO, Mr. Ishida was to be named a director in June. The utility said it hired him because the Democratic Party-led government is interested in promoting emissions trading, and they wanted someone who had close ties to the ministry.

One reason the DPJ finally unseated the LDP after decades of nearly uninterrupted rule is that the LDP had turned its back on reform in the post-Koizumi/Abe period. As prime minister, Aso Taro ceded too much control to the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. In their manifesto for the 2009 lower house election campaign, the DPJ promised to “eradicate amakudari”.

Eradication did not include objecting to Mr. Ishida’s employment with Tokyo Electric, however. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio was asked about that at a news conference in February. He said it wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t illegal under current law. Mr. Edano added that TEPCO hired Mr. Ishida on their own initiative, rather than through the recommendation of a bureaucrat or agency. During his term in office, Mr. Hatoyama had banned only that amakudari which involved offering employment based on such recommendations.

Others were not so forgiving, even though Mr. Ishida was not directly responsible for dealing with the problems at the Fukushima power plant. One LDP member said that even they wouldn’t have allowed that appointment. While admitting that his party had a problem with accepting amakudari, he claimed they at least made people wait two years before taking a position of that sort.

It soon became apparent that the explanation wasn’t holding and that the government would have to do something to quiet the objections. Mr. Edano appeared at a news conference on the morning of the 18th to call for “self-restraint” in reemployment. He said the government would:

“…devise a mechanism for self-restraint for the time being for the reemployment at TEPCO of former METI executives, including those from NISA, NSC, and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, so as not to create mistrust among the people…We plan to make other power companies aware of this mechanism and will ask them to cooperate.”

Thus, it would seem the DPJ’s promise to “eradicate amakudari” means asking the bureaucrats to lay low for the time being to prevent the natives from growing restless.

Ignoring the request will result in no penalties, and there is no indication how long “for the time being” will last. Further, the rationale of “not creating mistrust among the people” suggests the government thinks there’s nothing wrong with the practice. It just doesn’t look good.

Mr. Edano also said he hoped Ishida Toru would take it upon himself to resign, but repeated the assertion that there was nothing improper about him taking the position to begin with. He did allow that a sense of mistrust could arise among the people, so stronger measures were needed to deal with situations that weren’t strictly illegal. He added that the government would come up with some ideas in a couple of weeks. These would be added to the government’s proposed public employee reemployment reforms announced on 5 April. They plan to create a new organization for oversight based on the idea of prohibiting reemployment on the recommendation of bureaucrats.

METI played along by saying they would investigate the accident at Fukushima, and that until they reached their conclusions, they had devised the following mechanism for reemployment at power companies “so as not to create mistrust among the people”. (The wording was identical to Mr. Edano’s.) The mechanism has three parts:

1. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of administrative deputy ministers, METI deputy ministers, deputy ministers for policy coordination, and secretariat heads from the three organizations as officers.

2. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people in other designated positions as officers for a maximum of three years.

3. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people serving as department heads or in higher positions at the three organizations for a maximum of two years.

Restraining oneself from jumping into a golden parachute and floating down for a landing in the gravy train might be difficult under normal circumstances, but in this case the can got kicked down the road for just two or three years. Surely the mouth-breathers will have forgotten about it by then.

METI Minister Kaieda Banri also appeared at a news conference to announce that Mr. Ishida had resigned all by himself. He denied the government had anything to do with it. This is the same government, you’ll remember, that denied involvement with the decision not to prosecute the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japanese ships in the Senkakus last September. (A review panel in Okinawa last week concluded the decision to release the captain was inappropriate and that he should have been prosecuted, but we knew that last year.)

Mr. Kaieda was asked about the practice of amakudari for former METI employees at other power companies. He said the “circumstances are different” for utilities other than Tokyo Electric. Reporters also asked him if the new guidelines meant that other METI veterans employed at TEPCO don’t have to quit. His answer: “I didn’t say that.”

Though Edano Yukio said on the 18th that the government’s proposal to limit amakudari had to be beefed up, Nakano Kansei, the minister in charge of civil service reform, revealed at a news conference a day later there were no plans to add stronger measures to the reform bill they planned on presenting during this Diet session. According to the Jiji news agency, he said he had received instructions from Mr. Edano just that morning to continue work on the legislation “in accordance with the original overall conception”, and that he agreed with those instructions.

*****
What happened to the DPJ’s claim that they would “exterminate amakudari”? Following this sequence of events will aid in understanding.

October 2009

One month after the DPJ government took power, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio—whose father began his career as a Finance Ministry bureaucrat—defined amakudari down by saying it referred to former bureaucrats hired by an organization receiving public funds, but who performed no real work.

The Hatoyama Cabinet submitted a definition to a Diet committee stating that if a former civil servant was rehired by a government agency without a specific recommendation it was not amakudari, but rather good employment practices.

The same month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi said that restrictions on amakudari would not apply to cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, administrative secretaries, or bureaucrats. He added that if former bureaucrats employed at independent administrative corporations (amakudari hotbeds) recommended junior members of their former ministry or agency for employment at those same corporations, it would not be considered amakudari.

27 October 2009

Kyodo obtained documents circulated the previous week instructing ministries and agencies to create answers for Messrs. Hatoyama and Hirano to use at Question Time in the fall session of the Diet, shortly after party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro proposed banning bureaucrats from offering Diet testimony. Critics charged that the request contradicted the new government’s assertion it would disassociate from the bureaucracy and that politicians would lead the government.

The documents asked “for the same cooperation of the ministries and agencies as had been extended in the past,” i.e., the Aso administration. They also asked that “the wording have an elevated tone suitable for the prime minister” and the memos have “simple content in consideration of the content of the question”

28 October 2009

Mr. Hatoyama answered his first questions in the Diet and was seen reading directly from memos in his hand.

He insisted it was actually political leadership:

“It is a fact that I have received cooperation for data collection (from the bureaucracy). But I evaluated the information with my own eyes, and assumed a major role in writing the memos.”

One senior member of a ministry told a reporter:

“The content of our work has not changed since the days of the LDP administrations.”

November 2009

The General Insurance Association of Japan, which has 27 non-life insurers as members, appointed Makino Jiro, the former head of the National Tax Agency and an ex-Finance Ministry employee, as vice chairman. He replaced another Finance Ministry veteran who had been appointed vice president of Japan Post.

The association denied that this constituted amakudari. They had simply appointed the person most suitable for the job.

The majority of association vice-chairmen have been Finance Ministry veterans.

February 2010

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported the results of its survey that showed Japan Post—whose privatization was stalled by the DPJ government—had 157 affiliated corporations in the JP “family”, and that 63 of them had 654 amakudari appointments.

In 2007, the LDP government proposed consolidating or eliminating them as part of the privatization process. The organization with the most amakudari employees was the Kanyo Hoken Kanyusha Kyokai, an association for people with Japan Post insurance. It’s also involved in promoting NHK’s radio exercises. 45% of their employees are former bureaucrats.

Early 2010

During the second DPJ policy review, then-Reform Minister Edano Yukio recommended returning the National Printing Bureau to the control of the Finance Ministry. He explained his reasons in a speech:

“There are about four former Finance Ministry officials there receiving high salaries. It functioned well in the past as a bureau in the old Finance Ministry, so we think that’s the most economical (way).”

Jiji pointed out that the LDP wanted to privatize the bureau, and that the DPJ 2009 election manifesto called for the “sweeping review” of such bodies, including elimination.

Others pointed out that the 4,600 members of the bureau’s enterprise union would now become government employees. The DPJ’s largest organizational support comes from labor unions.

The opposition wondered if by exterminating amakudari, the DPJ really meant everyone would go to work for the government.

It had already been revealed after the first policy review that the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau had scripted the entire process.

—————–
At about the same time, Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP reform wing challenged Prime Minister Hatoyama during Question Time in the Diet. He charged that the DJP had narrowed the definition of amakudari, and that they had essentially taken credit for exterminating it by eliminating only those practices that applied to their definition, though the practices for the most part remained the same.

Mr. Hatoyama responded:

“Of the organizational posts you are asking about, I think the state ministers in charge are appointing the most suitable personnel. I hope to appropriately respond so that the problem of veterans of those ministries who were public employees being appointed to such posts despite a lack of knowledge or ability doesn’t occur.”

19 March 2010

The weekly Shukan Post for this date reported that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport intended to launch a nationwide taxicab service rating system that began in Tokyo at the end of February. Taxi service would be rated by customers according to three grades: AA, A, and none. The rating is to be placed on a sticker that must be displayed near the door.

Supervising the rating system in Tokyo is a foundation called the Tokyo Taxi Center, formerly known as the Tokyo Taxi Modernization Center. The managing director was once the head of the Administrative Division in the Kanto District Transport Bureau of the same ministry. The executive director is the former head of the National Police Agency’s Drivers License Division.

These amakudari positions for mid-tier bureaucrats pay JPY 10 million a year.

Each taxi company must fork over JPY 35,500 per cab to pay for the operation of the rating system, which would mean JPY 1.4 billion overall. The ministry says the objective is to enable passengers to choose good taxis and drivers.

Groups with amakudari employees in cities and prefectures around the country have begun registering drivers for the rating system. The Kanagawa Taxi Center—with three former employees of the Kanto District Transport Bureau—is getting JPY 22,200 for each cab.

Drivers don’t like the system, but have no outlet for their complaints. There are an estimated 360,000 cab drivers nationwide, and they work on a system of splitting their revenue 50/50 with the company. Male drivers averaged JPY 3.26 million in income in 2008, less than two-thirds that of the average laborer in industry. Half of the drivers in Tokyo averaged less than JPY three million, and 20% less than JPY two million.

The ministry relaxed the rules to allow more taxis on the street during the economic downturn as an employment measure. Under this system, however, more taxis mean more income for the quangos.

April 2010

Sengoku Yoshito, who had taken over as reform minister, testified in the Diet that the government intended to abolish the post of jimujikan (administrative secretary, or aide), and replace it with jimukakari fukudaijin, or administrative vice-ministers.

Critics claimed this was another instance of the DPJ government caving in to the bureaucracy. The jobs won’t disappear; rather, the people who fill them will receive a different title at a higher rank and salary. If the duties of these people were necessary, critics insisted, they could be assigned to the heads of the ministry secretariats. The objective was to expand the government.

*****
This is the practical definition of “exterminating amakudari” in the DPJ lexicon.

Writing about American political campaigns in 1940, H.L. Mencken knew exactly what was going on:

“They will all promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They will all be curing warts by saying words over them, and paying off the national debt with money no one will have to earn. When one of them demonstrates that twice two is five, another will prove that it is six, six and a half, ten, twenty, n. In brief, they will divest themselves from their character as sensible, candid and truthful men, and simply become candidates for office, bent only on collaring votes.”

The second round of sub-national elections is being held throughout the country today. The results are expected to be as dismal for the DPJ as those of the other elections since they formed a government. The Japanese electorate has come to understand the party can’t be counted on to fulfill promises they never intended to keep. That explains why so many voters say they feel betrayed, rather than disappointed.

To be sure, it takes cojones for Japanese politicians to tackle Kasumigaseki. The bureaucrats had a hand in bringing down the Hashimoto and Abe administrations, and Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi said they threatened him with a “coup d’etat” if he pursued his civil service reforms when he was still in the LDP.

That won’t absolve the DPJ, however. The nation is tired of waiting for their testicles to descend.

******
This week has been dandelion season for political rumors. If they’re true, Mr. Kan is about to be sent to the killing floor. They should have quit him a long time ago.

The Wolf wasn’t there, but his guitarist was.

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Disappointment

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THE RECENT promotion of Xi Jinping as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in China has led most observers to assume he will replace President Hu Jintao in March 2012. The Jiji news agency today published a brief examination of what course Mr. Xi might pursue in foreign policy.

They quote a Chinese Communist Party source as saying that Mr. Xi indicated his eagerness to be involved with party foreign policy, but hinted that he would have to maneuver carefully to formulate his own approach. He is assumed to have the strong support of the military, and their hardboiled attitude toward Japan is likely to continue. Yet Mr. Xi said he also wanted to uphold the tradition built by former Vice President Zeng Qinghong to expand Sino-Japanese relations. The CCP source said he is seen by some as “not necessarily” hard-line anti-Japanese.

Mr. Zeng, who retired in 2008, is one of the “princelings”, or sons of veterans of the revolution, who have formed their own grouping in the party. Mr. Xi is a pal of the princelings, and Zeng was responsible for his selection to the Politburo Central Committee.

He is also a close ally of former President Jiang Zemin (with whom Mr. Xi is also aligned), but is thought to be more amenable to closer relations with Japan than is Mr. Jiang. He is also known for having led the call to crack down on Falun Gong.

More interesting, however, was what the source said about internal party sentiment about Japan in the wake of the Senkakus incident:

“A sense of disappointment toward the Democratic Party of Japan is growing (in the CCP).”

Also, because it is necessary to rework their Japan strategy:

“Leadership has ordered the party research organ to conduct research into the DPJ.”

The Chinese are disappointed in the DPJ?

Several DPJ leaders have called for the creation of an “equilateral triangle” relationship between Japan, China, and the United States, in which Japan would tilt towards the former and away from the latter.

The DPJ folded like a pup tent under Chinese pressure and had the Okinawa prosecutors release the Chinese fishing boat captain without prosecuting him.

The DPJ has continued to rebuff opposition calls to show the video of the incident to the public, claiming that its screening would harm relations with China. (Even Fukushima Mizuho and the Social Democrats want to see it, though New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party are more cautious.)

After learning that the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Prime Minister Kan Naoto would say only that he “noted” the decision. (The Americans, Germans, French, and British all hailed the selection.)

The Germans, French, and British also reiterated their call for Mr. Liu’s immediate release (though Mr. Obama called for his release “as soon as possible”. Typical.) On the other hand, Mr. Kan would only use the Milquetoast wording that his release was “desirable”.

And the Chinese Communist Party is disappointed in the DPJ?

What do they expect? The annual dispatch of envoys to Beijing to pay tribute?

One wonders what the DPJ government was telling the Chinese in private before the incident occurred.

Afterwords:

Nakagawa Hidenao of the Liberal Democratic Party is considered to be the most prominent of those in the LDP still supporting Koizumian economic policies. His criticism of the DPJ governments after being relegated to the opposition has been relentless, not only in economic matters, but also regarding foreign policy.

It was no surprise, therefore, that he harshly criticized Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito for his comments in a telephone conversation revealed by LDP upper house member Maruyama Kazuya. But Mr. Nakagawa’s criticism centered on Mr. Sengoku’s actions that stemmed from a concern the Chinese might have been a no-show at next month’s APEC summit in Yokohoma. He said very little about the chief cabinet secretary’s controversial remarks suggesting that Japan had become China’s vassal.

In his 2008 book, Kanryo Kokka no Hokai (The Collapse of the Bureaucratic State), Mr. Nakagawa spent several pages arguing that Japan needed to admit 10 million immigrants by 2050. Though he specified no country as the potential source of those immigrants, which of Japan’s neighbors has surplus population and could be expected to be the prime candidate?

How curious.

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Campaign shouting in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 11, 2010

IF YOUR KNOWLEDGE of Japanese political campaigns is limited to the hyper-amplified blandness of the candidates’ “greetings” broadcast as they’re chauffeured through your neighborhood, then you’re missing most of the fun. The barbs are just as sharp and the elbows dig just as deep here as anywhere else.

Here’s a sample of the slings and arrows that filled the air of the political battlefield during the upper house election campaign, which ends today.

Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party

On the Democratic Party of Japan’s government:

A coalition (with the DPJ after the election) is impossible because we have completely different agendas….The DPJ favors big government and is on a high tax course led by the bureaucracy. Your Party favors small government and is on a growth course led by the private sector…As long as the DPJ is supported by public sector unions, the only reform they’re capable of is creating alibis.

On Prime Minister Kan Naoto:

His flip-flopping (on the consumption tax) is really terrible. It’s obvious that he hasn’t done his homework before speaking. He’s just been brainwashed by bureaucrats and going off half-cocked.

His claim of flip-flopping refers to remarks Mr. Kan made when it was suggested that boosting the consumption tax to 10% would cause problems for lower-income people. He immediately responded that he would exempt people earning less than JPY two million a year (roughly $US 22,560). A few hours later on the same day, he upped that to JPY three million. A few hours after that, he again raised the floor to JPY four million. Exempting those with a salary of less than JPY four million would cut by half the projected revenue from the consumption tax increase. Going, going, gone!

Back to Mr. Watanabe. When DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio suggested a possible coalition with Your Party:

Go wash your face and come back again.

And:

As long as they receive support from public sector labor unions, they’ll remain the party of big government…Their offer of a coalition partnership was just to burnish their image as reformers and pull away our support.

Regarding the Cabinet’s agreement on a Basic Policy for Managing the Retirement of National Civil Servants:

This amakudari system is stronger than that of the LDP. They don’t even treat current bureaucrats hired by amakudari public corporations as amakudari….If you want to work with us (in a coalition), rescind this decision, cut your ties with public sector unions, and cut your ties with candidates from labor unions.

There are 14 candidates in this election who were once officials of labor unions, and all of them are members of the DPJ.

In the current issue of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

If they want us to join a coalition, they’ll have to cut their ties to the unions before they come to the table.

No pussyfooting with Mr. Watanabe, is there? Everyone knows that unions constitute the DPJ’s primary organizational support, which intensifies the impact.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has said that to enter a coalition with the DPJ would be political suicide. He’s right. No one would ever let them forget these and dozens of other equally explicit statements.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto

On Watanabe Yoshimi:

A rather energetic man has been trashing both the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, but I ask you—why couldn’t he accomplish anything when he was in the LDP?

As everyone paying attention to politics knows, Mr. Watanabe left the LDP and formed Your Party because the Aso Cabinet in particular deboned the reforms he sought. Why would the prime minister think this is a convincing charge?

Watanabe Yoshimi is saying that the DPJ has been hijacked by the bureaucrats before anyone realized it, but that’s not so. I’m brainwashing the Finance Ministry! Do not fall for his line!

Mr. Watanabe said during a televised debate among nine party leaders that the Finance Ministry had brainwashed the prime minister. The shot must have struck home for the prime minister to use a comeback that borders on the eccentric.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito

On Your Party:

Watch television and you’ll see that people from parties calling for reform have really been mouthing off. But what they’re saying is to fire civil servants right and left. They say we should give all the proceeds from the consumption tax to local government. This kind of extreme language might be impressive during elections, but it is not real reform.

Mr. Sengoku is also the head of a Diet group promoting cooperation with Jichiro, the national union for local government employees.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary might also be referring to the Spirit of Japan Party, a new group that doesn’t have any Diet seats yet. Their program calls for raising the consumption tax to 10%, but giving all the revenue to local government and using it exclusively for social welfare expenses. They also favor small national government and support the idea of a sub-national redistricting into a state/province system..

Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho

On Your Party:

Your Party (and its policies) are Koizumi’s structural reforms. It will destroy everyone’s life. If the people unhappy with the DPJ cast their votes for Your Party, their lives will crumble. That’s why I’m calling on you to vote for the SDPJ instead.

If I had a vote, this alone would convince me to vote for Your Party.

Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Japan Party

Former Finance Minister Mr. Yosano delivered a campaign speech in front of the Odakyu Department Store near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Appearances by political parties at busy locations during election season are choreographed by agreement among all the parties. His speech followed those of candidates from New Komeito.

At the same time, however, Haku Shinkun, a proportional representation delegate from the DPJ (who pronounced his name Baek Jin-hoon when he was head of the Japan branch of Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper), parked his campaign car fewer than 100 meters away in front of the Keio Department Store. Deputy Education Minister Suzuki Kan and other DPJ members used it to give speeches.

Angered at this violation of their common agreement, Mr. Yosano approached them after his speech and told them not to encroach on the space agreed to by all the political parties. The DPJ candidates stopped speaking for a few minutes, but resumed soon afterwards. Said Mr. Suzuki:

This is a public road, so we’re free to do what we want.

Mr. Yosano blew up, telling a news conference it was the first time he’d seen anything like it (he’s over 70), and that it demonstrated the character of the DPJ.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP

On the same incident:

Out of the way, out of the way, the DPJ is coming! The DPJ is speaking!

That is a take-off on the Kobayashi Issa haiku, “Out of the way, out of the way, a great horse is coming”. Eda Kenji has already used it to describe the DPJ’s conduct of Diet affairs.

Koike Yuriko of the LDP

Mr. Nakagawa isn’t the only one who can wrap political shots in poetic elegance. Rather than a steel magnolia, steel lily might be a better way to describe former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko. Here’s how she went after Kan Naoto:

Perhaps the white lily of Nagata-cho shouldn’t be saying this, but Mr. Kan is a rengeso (Chinese milk vetch). Taki Hyosui wrote the verse:

Pick not the rengeso
Better to leave it in the field

During television debates and street corner speeches, he is truly an exceptional leader, but he is a leader of the opposition party. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else when criticizing and complaining, but just where does he want to take this country?

To unpack that:

* Taki Hyosui was a haiku poet who lived from 1684 to 1762. In the verse cited above, he uses the flower as a metaphor for geishas, recommending that a man not marry them.

* Ms. Koike is using her own name to make a play on words. (Yuri is the Japanese word for lily.)

* The word for opposition party in Japan is yato, which literally means “field party”. That’s why she says it’s best to leave him in the field.

* She’s playing off a common complaint about the DPJ in general, and Mr. Kan in particular, that when they were in the opposition all they did was kvetch without offering constructive ideas.

* One of the weapons used to attack Mr. Kan in this campaign is that his mindset is that of an opposition member rather than a leader in government.

Shiokawa Masajuro of the LDP

Speaking in Fukuoka, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first finance minister said:

It would be safer for the people to have Diet gridlock after the election.

In other words, he wants to prevent the DPJ from winning an outright majority in the upper house.

He elaborated by saying that the LDP distributed party posts as a reward for support, but “the adjustments among the factions gave the party the ability to control itself. The DPJ does not have the ability to make internal adjustments. If they win an upper house majority, their dictatorial tendencies will grow stronger.”

‘Twas ever thus. The DPJ is a party of the left.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro

No summary of this type is complete without a few contributions from Mr. Koizumi, a master political swordsman.

On the DPJ:

I had hoped they would be able to eliminate the government waste we couldn’t, but I never thought they would go out of control and stampede this wildly.

On the highway-related public corporations:

We created a system that would have required no public funds (for highways) whatsoever, but by eliminating expressway tolls (the DPJ) will have to use public funds. We campaigned on moving from the public sector to the private sector, but under Kan, the party’s moved from the public sector to the public sector.

On Japan Post:

We spent more than a month debating our privatization plan in the Diet, but they wrapped it up in six hours. We reformed Japan Post, which requires trillions of yen in government expenditures, and the public highway corporations, but they’re going backwards.

On “trillions”:

Even if you use JPY 100 million every day for a year, you spend a total of JPY 36.5 billion. No matter how profligate a person’s spending is, no one can use JPY 100 million every day. You won’t reach a trillion unless you do it every day for about 30 years.

In their election platform last year, the DPJ promised to find JPY 16.8 trillion in government waste. In other words, they would have had to find JPY 10 billion every day to hit their target during a four-year term.

On internal criticism in the DPJ:

They were full of criticism when they were in the opposition, but the DPJ MPs fell silent in the face of Hatoyama Yukio, who could never have been prime minister or secretary general for the LDP, and Ozawa Ichiro. The LDP has the freedom, but the DPJ doesn’t.

His recommendation:

This time, let’s have the DPJ stay in office a little while longer and let them experience the difficulties of being the ruling party.

Afterwords:

The print media can be wickedly clever at this game. For example, the pronunciation of Mr. Kan’s family name is the same as that for a tin can, and they’ve taken to calling it the aki-kan naikaku, or the Empty Can Cabinet. That blade has a double edge—an empty can has no content and little weight.

They’ve also been creating visual puns, which is a national talent. The Kan family name is written with one kanji: 菅. The part of the top that looks like two plus signs side by side (++) is one of the classifiers in the writing system called a kusa kanmuri, or “grass crown”. The prime minister started his political career as a “grass-roots activitist”. The wags are now saying he’s removed the grass, leaving this: 官. That’s the first kanji in the word kanryo, or bureaucracy, and can mean the public sector when used by itself.

Mr. Kan also said:

This is a truly historic election that will determine whether or not a two-party system takes hold.

It is unlikely to be historic short of a massive DPJ defeat or victory, and it won’t contribute to the creation of a two-party system. A two-party system is not possible in Japan as long as it maintains proportional representation voting. The Social Democrats, the Communists, and New Komeito naturally view proposals to ditch PR as a threat to their survival, and fight accordingly. One of their favorite complaints is that a winner-take-all system is “undemocratic”. (Is one therefore to infer that democracy doesn’t exist in the United States or Great Britain?)

What I think would be more likely is a vague, three-way system of the type described by Friedrich Hayek. The three groupings are:

1. Socialists, i.e., statists: That would include the DPJ, Social Democrats, and Communists. Hayek also properly included the fascists of his era.

2. Conservatives, including social conservatives: Though he called conservatism a “necessary element in every society”, Hayek thought it was paternalistic, nationalistic, and had a tendency to “adore power”. “By its very nature, (it) is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.” Therefore, he thought conservatives were prone to accept the premises of the socialists. That describes to a T such people as Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party and Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise Japan Party, social conservatives who left the LDP during the Koizumi era because they wanted to maintain government ownership of Japan Post.

When people in Japan talk about forming or leading a “true conservative” group, this is what they mean. Mr. Hiranuma used that as a justification for forming his own party, and Aso Taro said that was his qualification for leading the LDP.

3. True liberals / Neo-liberals / Small-government advocates: Hayek called the essence of this position the denial of all privilege, to be understood as the state granting and protecting rights to some that are not available on equal terms to others. That means privileges to Big Labor as well as to Big Business, to people of lower income as well as to people of higher income, to ethnic, racial, and religious groups, and to genders.

In Japan, this category would include the Koizumians, the Nakagawa Hidenao “rising tide” wing of the LDP, and, to a certain extent, Your Party and the smaller Spirit of Japan Party.

In such an arrangement, the Conservatives can hold the balance of power, shifting their support to one of the other two groups. Mr. Kamei allied with the DPJ and the SDPJ to renationalize Japan Post, but he wants no part of their social programs or their proposals to allow non-citizens the right to vote and to allow women to keep their maiden names after marriage.

Some people also combine aspects of more than one group. Matsubara Jin of the DPJ views such issues as Nanjing and the comfort women in a way similar to that of Mr. Hiranuma. Abe Shinzo is a social conservative who tried to implement small government reforms more far-reaching in some ways than Mr. Koizumi. The Spirit of Japan Party supports small government and devolution, but has also formed an alliance with the Sunrise Japan Party.

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