AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Okada K.’

Shimojo Masao (18): Excerpts from a panel discussion

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

Ikeda: What?

Katayama: No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

Middling

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We must have people who can carry the country on their back, who have the vision for domestic and foreign affairs. We also must create a network of people who can implement that vision. I want to start getting ready… It isn’t that I think I have to be prime minister, but this country will be in real trouble unless there are several people like me. Look at Nagata-cho: Few politicians are preparing themselves to govern the nation.

- Hosono Goshi, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party Policy Bureau, 12 November

The Kyodo poll released in first week of November showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at 17.7%, down 11.5 points from previous month. It was the first time that Mr. Noda came in below 20% — representing the electorate’s utter rejection — in the Kyodo poll. That’s even lower than Hatoyama Yukio went. Those who don’t support the Cabinet totaled 66.1%, up 10.8 points. The plunge from an already unsustainable low level is attributed to the reaction to Mr. Noda’s poorly conceived Cabinet reshuffle and the continued defection of MPs leaving the party.

One report had an internal DPJ poll also showing that an election would turn their offices in the Diet into a charnel house. During their three years in government, their prime ministers and Cabinets have lurched from one dismal failure to the next. Their term in office has exposed their incompetence both as individuals and as a group. The MPs realize they won’t be successful if their campaign message consists of apologies. They have to rebrand themselves and stand for something.

Prime Minister Noda is set to call for an election this week, apparently having decided he can’t put it off any longer. He seems disposed to contest the next lower house election on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he favors. Others in his party, however, have a different idea. Some in the DPJ — whose center of gravity is social democracy and which has more than a few ex-Socialists — wants to run under the banner of moderation.

That faction also wants to run on the issue of national security, which is strange considering all they’ve done to mishandle security issues. It is a deliberate choice to rebrand and differentiate themselves from opposition LDP President Abe Shinzo and the former governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Ishihara Shintaro, who is forming a new party that he will call the Sun Party. Not mentioned by the DPJ, but just as much a factor, is Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his Japan Restoration Party.

During Question Time in the Diet on 31 October, Mr. Abe said:

We should recognize the execution of the collective right to self-defense. We must change the interpretation of the Constitution.

The current interpretation of the Constitution is a peculiar one. It permits collective self-defense, but successive governments have said they will not exercise it.

Another peculiar one is that Prime Minister Noda said the interpretation will not change, though his personal view on this matter is identical to that of Mr. Abe’s.

Hosono Goshi spoke of Ishihara Shintaro’s wish to discard the Constitution altogether and start from scratch:

That will be a point at issue in the next election. Will we uphold the history of the postwar period in which he have thought prudently about security, or will we reject it like Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe? That is our basic stance…they seem a little dangerous.

Said Acting DPJ Secretary General Azumi Jun:

There will be no change in the fundamental principle of pacifism….Some are of the opinion that we should take the plunge and change it, but we will not go down that road as long as I am in a position of responsibility.

That naturally leads to the following charge Mr. Hosono made during a debate with Hashimoto Toru on a television program:

Amending the Constitution would result in the elimination of the regulations of authority. Selecting Abe’s LDP and Ishihara’s new party contains the danger that war might break out.

The objective of this faction in the party is to define themselves as middle-of-the-road (中道). Again from Mr. Azumi:

LDP President Abe is more right-wing than anyone in the LDP has been before…we will uphold the good postwar tradition of being smack in the middle of the middle of the road.

Remember that for this faction, smack in the middle of the middle of the road is pacifism. One wonders what there is to the left of that.

Abe Shinzo charged that the new cleavage to the center represented the DPJ’s “fallen spirit”, and that it was “an ugly attempt to pander to the public”.

Of course, Sengoku Yoshito, one of the party’s several vice presidents and a former member of the Socialist Party, couldn’t let that stand:

Let’s have a public debate about our beliefs, philosophies, policies… Abe Shinzo is a third-generation politician, and he’s about reached his limit.

Mr. Abe replied by saying he had no time to respond to all Diet members, though he later offered to hold a written debate with Mr. Sengoku on his Facebook page. (That’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s the easiest way to ensure the largest possible audience.)

There are two problems with the DPJ’s rebranding, however. The first is that the party doesn’t have a clear definition of what middle-of-the-road means. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya took a stab when he elaborated on the phrase “middle-of-the-road democracy” that was included in the party’s basic principles when they were founded in 1998:

It indicates the range from middle-of-the-road liberals to moderate conservatives.

That will leave out many in the DPJ if they decide to tell the truth about their beliefs.

Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji is another who thinks it’s not clear what middle of the road is supposed to mean. He’s coming out with a book soon — he still wants to be prime minister — that says his party, the DPJ, has a problem with governance, and they’ve shaken the people’s trust. His idea is that the party should reorganize and retain the conservatives who share the same concepts and directions.

The second problem is that Prime Minister Noda doesn’t consider himself middle-of-the-road. During a meeting with Mr. Azumi and Mr. Hosono last month at the Kantei, he told them:

“I’m conservative. You can’t use the term middle of the road.”

Instead of that expression, he prefers chuyo (中庸), or moderate.

But why stop now that we’ve started talking about peculiar definitions of words? Here’s some more on Noda Yoshihiko’s political philosophy, as expressed last November during the upper house debate on the consumption tax increase.

Mr. Noda was asked by MP Kawasaki Minoru, who is in the same party:

I do not understand the basis of your economic policy. Do you intend to reduce the role of government and move from the bureaucracy to the people, or will you have a big government with enhanced social welfare?

Mr. Noda’s answer:

I do not think in terms of a binomial opposition of big government and small government.

He later added what he does think in terms of:

The values that humankind has risked its life to obtain are liberty and equality. Both of these are essential. When a socialistic outlook is strong, we come out with our right foot of liberty. When the gaps among members of society grow, we must put out our left foot of equality. The policy judgment differs with the age.

During the consumption tax debate he said it was time for the left foot.

In other words, the man who objects to the use of middle-of-the-road and calls himself a conservative is actually a proponent of the Third Way. That’s not even on the same continent as conservatism. Seldom will you hear a self-described conservative find ways to argue for a compromise on liberty.

But while the DPJ is arguing what words mean, with some presenting party dissolution scenarios and some staying true to middle-of-the-road pacifism to keep the fire-breathers from starting a war, other people with less interest in semantics might make up their minds for them.

Ye Xiaowen, a member of the China-Japan Friendship 21st Century Committee, wrote an article that appeared on Japanese-language Searchina site that focuses on China. The title of the article, which isn’t very friendly to Japan, is, “Four things Noda doesn’t understand” .

Here’s the fourth:

He doesn’t understand that America can stick its nose into the Senkaku islets dispute, but can they be expected to help Japan if something happens there?

It sounds like he thinks he knows the answer, doesn’t it?

One thing a lot of other people don’t understand is how middle-of-the-road pacifism would be an acceptable response. You have to be in the DPJ to figure that one out.

*****

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

Ichigen koji? (225)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 10, 2012

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

In those days, a senior member of the Foreign Ministry told me, “We have received no explanation whatsoever of the East Asian entity concept (i.e., an East Asian EU) from either (Prime Minister) Hatoyama or (Foreign Minister) Okada. When governments overseas ask us about it, there’s nothing else we can do except paste together the various statements Mr. Hatoyama has made on the subject and tell them, ‘It’s something like this.’”

- Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun

Posted in International relations, Quotations | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (74)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 12, 2012

The citizens of Guangdong express their patriotism at the local Jusco store during the spontaneous national eruption of patriotic sentiment last month.

The Jusco chain is primarily owned by the family of Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya. His brother is the president. The company conducts a worldwide program of tree-planting, and they have planted hundreds of thousand of trees in China alone.

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

Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An explosion less destructive than loud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only fruit on this tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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

One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru and others, won a landslide victory in the Osaka double election. That shows the voters are an active volcano, and that they haven’t given up on reform.
- Nogata Tadaoki

IT’S tempting to say that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is the change Japan has been waiting for, but prudence and the corruption of that phrase by the hope and change hucksters demand that we resist the temptation. This much, however, is true: Mr. Hashimoto is today the most visible manifestation of the hope for change the Japanese electorate has long demanded and voted for, but seldom gotten.

Open fires of non-violent rebellion have been burning at the local level for years, but now there is a viable receptacle for the nationwide malcontent with the malefactors of not-so-great government. Not since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, has there been a figure as important, and Mr. Hashimoto has the potential to surpass the pioneer. The difference is that Mr. Koizumi worked from the top down, but the Osaka mayor also works from the bottom up. His message is simple: power to the people. Not the people in the imagination of those who wear raised fist tee-shirts, but real people in the real world.

The mugshot of Public Enemy Number One is identical to those on the wall in the United States and Europe — a glossy PR photo of that congeries of political, bureaucratic, and academic elites grown torpid from their confiscation of public funds and their lazy, inbred assumption that they rule through the divine right of secular kings; the big business interests that go along to get along very handsomely indeed; their wingmen in the international jet set of NGO doo-gooders; and their enabler/cheerleaders of the industrial media. The default mode of operation is a slouch toward the Gomorrah of tax-and-sloth social democracy and global governance. One of the many boons of the Information Age has been the broad exposure of their “insolence of office”, in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, and the contempt the public servants have for their servants in the private sector.

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

Owing to the nature and speed of their post-Meiji and postwar development, the Japanese might be ahead of the international curve in recognizing the face of the enemy and in trying to use the means of democracy to do something about it. The response of the local mugs to the Tohoku triple disaster seems to have amplified an already present trend and created a greater urgency for action. The aim of this reform wave is not mere reorganization, but resuscitation. The woolgatherers who doubt that the country is capable of it need only to look at the relatively recent example of the heady atmosphere of change that occurred during the Meiji period after more than 250 years of isolation — a period as familiar to the Japanese as the Civil War is to Americans. The Silent Majority in this country broke their silence long ago, but it is in the mugs’ self-interest to play deaf and ignore the popular will. Now, it is at last beginning to look as if, soon or late, they will pay for their hearing disability in the way that the Liberal Democratic Party part of the problem paid in 2009.

That the eyes and ears of the nation are on Mr. Hashimoto is undeniable. He is now the most followed person on Twitter Japan, and, as the first national politician since Mr. Koizumi capable of speaking directly to the people over the heads of the know-it-alls, he is worth following for the entertainment alone. He is not the blow-dried, focus-group tested, oatmeal-mouthed, and teleprompter-fed Oz Wizard-machine politico that has been the professional ideal since JFK. Nearly every day, he fires all of his guns at once on any and every issue, explaining his ideas and his positions with lucidty, hammering his critics unmercifully with a barrage of machine-gun Tweets, so relentless that one wonders if he will explode into space. He is an attorney in a country that requires extraordinary intelligence and effort to pass the bar, so few of his foes can out-argue him, and most are left impotently spluttering. Every major newspaper carries an article about him every day, and the Sankei Shimbun and the J-Cast website make a point of featuring his continuing adventures. We’ve all heard the tired old Japan hand pseudo-wisdom that the nail that sticks out gets hammered in. Hashimoto Toru is the ultimate protruding nail, but he’s the man swinging the hammer, and the nation is spellbound.

When still an attorney/television personality before launching his political career, Mr. Hashimoto wrote a book called “Negotiating Techniques”. The publicity blurb read, “You’ll never lose the psychological war with these negotiating tactics.” When published in 2005, it sold for JPY 1,000. Now out of print, it is selling on the web for as much as JPY 24,570 per copy, with others changing hands on auction sites for JPY 20,000 and 18,000.

The start

The political attention began four years ago when he was elected to the governor of Osaka Prefecture in a walk. His approval ratings throughout his term hovered at the 70% level, and he resigned a few months before his term was to end to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (more on why later). Inspired by the simultaneous election victories of Kawamura Takashi as mayor of Nagoya and Omura Hideaki of Aichi Prefecture in that region’s triple election of February 2011, he ran as a team with Matsui Ichiro, a fellow member of his One Osaka group, who stood as the candidate to replace him as governor. Mr. Matsui, formerly of the Liberal-Democratic Party, was in his third term as a prefectural council member, and is the son of the man who was once head of the chamber.

Mr. Hashimoto took on the incumbent Osaka mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, while Mr. Matsui’s primary challenger was Kurata Kaoru, the mayor of Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mr. Hiramatsu and Mr. Kurata were officially backed by nearly everyone in established politics: the local chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. (New Komeito stayed out of it because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Hashimoto.)

It was open warfare. Hashimoto Toru said the elections were “a battle between citizens who favor change and those who have benefitted from the status quo.” Hiramatsu Kunio said the elections were “a battle to crush Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).” Kurata Kaoru didn’t know exactly what to say, so he emphasized cooperation within the existing structure. The Communists, always outspoken opponents of Mr. Hashimoto, charged a Hashimoto win would make Osaka “a bastion for dictatorship”. (Pots call kettles black in Japan too.) They went so far as to withdraw their own candidate in the mayor’s race to help Mr. Hiramatsu. It didn’t help.

There are roughly seven million registered voters in greater Osaka, and the turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92%, up 17.31 percentage points from the 2007 election and more than 60 percent for the first time since 1971, the last time a double election was held in the region. Turnout is usually at the 30% level. In the election for governor, 52.8% of the eligible voters showed up, 3.93 percentage points higher than in the previous election (when Mr. Hashimoto was elected).

Public interest was so great that the NHK television stations in the six prefectures of the region rescheduled for an earlier time the final segment of a popular drama series to present live election coverage as soon as the polls closed.

The identity of the winners was clear at 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the NHK live coverage started. Mr. Hashimoto wound up with roughly 750,000 votes, about 58% of the total and almost a quarter of a million more than Mr. Hiramatsu.

Mr. Matsui won election as the Osaka governor with roughly two million votes, almost double the total of Mr. Kurata, his closest opponent. He received 54% of the total vote in a field of six candidates.

The Asahi Shimbun (a Hashimoto opponent) said that nonaligned voters accounted for 36% of the total, and their exit polls showed that Mr. Hashimoto won almost all of them.

Though Mr. Hashimoto has an outspoken opinion on everything under the sun, moon, and stars, the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor was a proposal to combine and reorganize the separate city and prefecture of Osaka into a single administrative unit similar to that of the Tokyo Metro District to end the duplication of government services. It is part of a larger vision to eliminate Japan’s prefectures and create what is known as a state/province system, the elements of which would assume greater authority over local affairs from the national government, and would pass some of that authority down to smaller administrative units within the state/province. They would resemble Tokyo’s wards, but have more autonomy and fund procurement ability. Since the November election, the Osaka City Council solicited essay applications from people interested in becoming the chief executive officers of those wards and received 1,460. Mr. Hashimoto was pleased:

“They’ve passionately communicated their desire to make changes and take part in the great current of the age.”

Though the issue might sound dry to people outside Japan, the idea is to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire national government and bureaucracy, and deprive them of what most of the public perceives as their excessive authority. This is the vehicle to neutralize the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki through the devolution of authority. It would also have the salubrious effect of reducing the size of the national government.

Power to the people, right on!

The idea has been floating around for decades and started to gain traction in the early 90s, even among some politicians and bureaucrats at the national level. In 1996, Tajima Yoshitsuke published a book called Chiho Bunkengotohajime, or The Start of Regional Devolution, which describes the efforts at the local level nationwide and at the national level to achieve just that. One chapter, which outlines the official policy of the Murayama Tomi’ichi Cabinet in 1995 on the issue, could have been written yesterday. Plans were afoot even then to devolve authority to local governments, reform the unneeded “independent administrative agencies” that suck up public funds to serve as the receptacles for post-retirement bureaucrat employment, rethink the system in which the national government returns to local governments the taxes it collects in the form of grants (a system Mr. Hashimoto would abolish), and offer legislation allowing local governments to issue bonds. Those measures, like so many other reform proposals, were deboned, as the Japanese expression has it, by national civil servants and their allies in the political class.

For Mr. Hashimoto and other advocates to realize the plan, however, requires a substantial amount of legislation to amend existing laws and create new ones in the Diet. That in turn requires allies in the Diet, and the establishment realizes the reforms now championed by Mr. Hashimoto are an existential threat. The mayor’s solution is to get a slate of One Osaka-backed candidates ready to run in the next lower house election. He is not merely offering the nation an alternative, however. He’s declared war on the national government, just as he declared war on the old Osaka leadership.

The declaration was bound to come before long, but was issued after Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya of the Democratic Party of Japan revealed an inability to read the writing on the wall extreme even for his party and the mudboat wing of the LDP in a speech in Tsu on 28 January. He spoke of the Noda Cabinet’s proposed consumption tax increase:

“A certain percentage of the 5% consumption tax goes to the regions. There’s an argument that the national government must cut out the fat if it is to raise taxes, but local governments also ask the people to share the liability, so they should make the same efforts to cut out the fat.”

This from a party who bequeathed to the nation a legacy of record high national budgets for every one of its three years in power with record high deficit bond floats, that promised to shake out funds by standing the budget on its head until it got a nosebleed (their exact words), who claimed they could shake loose JPY 16 trillion through policy reviews that would slash waste and fat, but whose efforts to do so produced less than 10% of that amount in non-binding recommendations handed down during a series of dog and pony shows that trumpeted the cuts and muted the reinsertion of some into different budget categories weeks later.

That was a bit rich even for a man as wealthy as Mr. Okada, whose father is the head of the Jusco chain of mass merchandise outlets. It was all red meat for Mr. Hashimoto, however:

“Deputy Prime Minister Okada said local governments must also cut the fat. The central government and the regions are in complete opposition. It’s now time to accelerate the trend for recreating the system of the state. The state system of Japan devised during the Meiji restoration had centralized authority. The regions were the arms and legs of the nation…but the chief executives and the assembly members in regional areas are also chosen by election. There’s no justification for binding the nation’s arms and legs. With Okada’s statement, we can expect a great battle between the central government and the regions…

…A clear division will be made between the work of the central government and the work of the regions. Then, there will also be a clear division in the funding sources. The national tax allocations to local governments will be abolished. Then this pitiful consumption tax system, in which the regions would receive the portion that the national government increases, would end. The regions should be able to raise the consumption tax on their own responsibility…Let’s move to a national system in which there is a division of roles between the nation and the regions, with authority and responsibility clearly defined.”

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

“The Diet members are retreating, but the people are telling them what they have to do. The question is whether or not the MPs will get serious. If they don’t, it will lead to a large national war that will be bloodier than the Osaka double election.”

It wasn’t his blood on the floor after that election, either.

How would his allies do in a national election? As that old faux soldier Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general, and currently suspended member of the DPJ, continues to fade away, he told his acolytes the obvious earlier this month:

“While the rate of support for the Cabinet and the DPJ is falling day by day, One Osaka is climbing.”

For data instead of anecdote, the Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a poll on 5 March asking if the respondents had high hopes for the regional parties (a euphemism of Hashimoto’s One Osaka, though others are included).

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

Or, about twice the current public support rate of the Noda Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro (a Hashimoto supporter) is planning to create another old-guy conservative party with Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party. That was a splinter group formed specifically to stop Japan Post privatization and float on the votes of the postal lobby. The same poll asked the public if they had expectations for the codger group:

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

Further, a 16 January survey conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji TV network asked respondents which prominent political figures were most suited to be the national leader. The results:

1. 21.4% Hashimoto Toru
2. 9.6% Ishihara Shintaro
3. 8.3% Okada Katsuya


9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

The result that curdles the innards of the national parties, however, is the one from the 19 March Yomiuri Shimbun survey. In addition to individual candidates, voters in Diet elections also cast ballots for political parties to allocate proportional representation seats. For the Kinki bloc, where Osaka is located, the results were:

One Osaka: 24%
LDP: 18%
DPJ: 10%

Dumb and dumberer

Anyone who’s surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Even after years of clearly expressed popular discontent, the national parties still insist — today — on ignoring the national will. For example:

Koizumi Jun’ichiro won the second largest majority in postwar history when he dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of postal privatization to the people — a plan favored by 70% of the public. The legislation that subsequently passed the Diet called for the creation of four companies (two of which were separate firms for Japan Post’s banking business and life insurance business), and the sale of government stock in the companies by 2017.

But the triple disaster of the DPJ government, the LDP, and New Komeito put their sloping foreheads together and agreed — this week — on legislation to change the privatization framework from four companies to three, and to modify the requirement that the stock be sold by 2017 to a clause stating that the government would make every effort to sell it with the aim of disposing it. The deadline for the sale date was eliminated. In other words, they’ll sell it whenever they feel like it, and they’re unlikely to ever get in the mood. Why would they? When some people say the Japanese don’t have to worry about the deep doo-doo of deficit spending and the bonds floated to pay for it because the bondholders are domestic, they mean that much of those purchases are funded by the captive bank accounts in Japan Post. The change in language is a classic example of how reform is deboned in Japan.

The national government is in the hands of a platypus party whose members can’t agree internally on a common statement of political ideals, much less tax increases. Even many in the political class are calling for the government to reform civil service before trying to raise the consumption tax, so the Noda Cabinet proposed a 7.8% cut in government employee salaries and began discussions for unifying the pension systems of the public and private sector. (The former sector has more benefits, of course).

But that plan got changed by the party. Reform? That’s just campaign boilerplate. The cuts will now be limited to national government civil servants, which results in only JPY 600 billion savings, and will last for only two years. The civil servants working in regional areas have an aggregate salary seven times greater than their national trough lickers, but they were exempted. The butchers handling this deboning were DPJ-affiliated labor union leaders and labor union-affiliated DPJ Diet members, led by party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former Robin Redbreast of the Japan Teachers Union.

Prime Minister Noda this weekend continued his Dark Churchill impersonation by declaring he would stake his political life on passing a tax increase, i.e., maintaining the spendthrift status quo of the administrative state. He also spoke at a Tokyo conference of business executives on the 24th on the subject of Japan’s participation in the TPP trade partnership:

“If Japan is Paul McCartney, then the U.S. is John Lennon. It is not possible to have The Beatles without Paul. The two must be in harmony.”

This brings to mind Juvenal’s observation of two millennia ago that it is difficult not to write satire.

One of the factors driving Hashimoto Toru’s popularity is that nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

*****
The man was born to be wild. So is this pedal-to-the-metal performance. For those unfamiliar with Kuwata Keisuke, he sings the same way in Japanese, and it’s sometimes hard to say just what language he is singing in.

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21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showdown at the hypotenuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiva’s second coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the bad:

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

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

Now for the ugly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

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

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

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

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

Yes, he said kawaii.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International exchange

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

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

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

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

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

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

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

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

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

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

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

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

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

Here’s one Seetell missed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na Nu Na Nu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anachronisms

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

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

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

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

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Ichigen koji (94)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 9, 2012

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

Taxes should not be raised with these economic conditions. If you submit a bill (to raise taxes), you and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will fall into hell.

- Kamei Shizuka, president of the People’s New Party (still in the governing coalition), speaking directly to Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya

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Disorganization men

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ANY politician’s criticism of the behavior of the slugs in a different political party should always be discounted to offset the inherent bias and seeking of competitive advantage. Sometimes, however, that criticism is so apt and insightful it crystallizes and defines serious problems, particularly when something approximating wise policy or urgent action is required.

Eda Kenji, the secretary-general of Your Party, is often apt and insightful, and, somewhat more often than the other seat-warmers, offers criticisms that tend to stem from legitimate concerns rather than advantage-seeking. His criticism of the behavior of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (and the media) last month is one example. It’s unlikely the problems he addresses will ever be succinctly expressed in English by the journalistic or academic seat-warmers, if at all. Here it is.

*****
The Democratic Party of Japan has suddenly come up with a proposal to reduce the number of Diet seats determined by proportional representation by 80, and to reduce the single-seat, direct election districts by five. (They swallowed the Liberal Democratic Party plan whole.)

Eda Kenji

That came despite the decision of Prime Minister Noda (also the DPJ president) and Deputy Prime Minister Okada (Katsuya) to remove the word “proportional” from the plan for the 80 seats to be cut, as was originally presented in the party manifesto, and leave it at just “80 seats”. This was done out of consideration for the smaller parties to facilitate discussions between the ruling and opposition parties. (N.B.: The leverage, if not the survival, of some of the smaller parties depends on PR seats.)

This happens all the time with the DPJ, so it’s probably a waste of time to bring it up again, but this party has no grasp whatsoever of elementary principles, whether for decision-making or organizational management. It’s not the place to use such grand words as “governance”, because anyone ranked number three or below in the party can overturn the statements of those ranked number one or number two.

That’s right — with this DPJ government, we have absolutely no idea who has responsibility, or where and how decisions are made. Indeed, it is an unforgivable organizational collapse, in which the senior party members keep saying whatever they like whenever the mood strikes them, but no one puts it together into something coherent. People on the outside do not know who or what to believe.

Come to think of it, there are people in the party whose job it is just to talk. I recently spoke with a reporter assigned to cover those people. “Really,” he complained to me, beyond disgusted, “all they do is talk. They think if they say something, the people around them will naturally start moving. That’s why all they do is talk and don’t do anything”. In short, they’ve never worked in the real world, so they don’t know the ABCs of how an organization operates.

Another example is the issue of the reduction of Diet members’ salaries. Deputy Prime Minister Okada ostentatiously brought up that possibility soon after he was appointed to his position. It was immediately dismissed by the party’s secretary-general and acting secretary-general as “Mr. Okada’s personal opinion”. Mr. Okada then made a telephone call to the secretary-general to apologize. That goes beyond the question of whether this is a functioning political party or a government. There is no politician in the Democratic Party who understands organizations.

Really, people! Could you please try, just a little, to put yourself in the position of those who are commanded to hold discussions about the policy to unify social welfare and taxes (the tax increase proposal)? Even the DPJ is calling this policy a preliminary proposal, or something like that. The DPJ is presenting uncertain proposals that have yet to be formally approved by the Cabinet — and it’s doubtful they have the resolve to see through even those proposals formally approved by the Cabinet. Are we supposed to take what they say seriously and hold real discussions?

And it’s about time for the mass media to knock it off, stop taking up for the DPJ, and demanding that we at least participate in discussions. Enough! The people we’re dealing with do not have normal feelings or responses. Rather than that, can’t you say something like, “The opening of the Diet session is later than usual this year. Why can’t the DPJ government open the Diet session earlier during this time of national crisis, when we face a mountain of difficulties”? Or, “The ruling and opposition parties should fully discuss social welfare and taxes under the watchful eye of the people”?

The mass media has begun their program of “tax increase mind control”, but they’re attacking the wrong points.

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

Going…going…

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

What, me leave?

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

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

Said the prime minister in the Diet on 19 July:

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

From the opposition benches:

Prime Minister! Give up!

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

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

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

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

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

The Koizumi complex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fury

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 4 August he was saying:

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

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

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

Takenaka Kazuo is a magazine editor in Chiba:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

The political solution

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

One more of the same, my good man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DPJ counterpart, Okada Katsuya: I understand.

Throwing in the spoon

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

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

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

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

Next!

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, the one next to the green bottle of shochu

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

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

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

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

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

On the bright side

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

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

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

Now it has.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Who’s sorry now?

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 5, 2011

HAS THERE ever been a sorrier crew to steer the ship of state than the Kan Cabinet? Besides the Hatoyama Cabinet, I mean.

The Master of Wit and Repartee

Democratic Party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya has now been reduced to apologizing to the opposition for the behavior of Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Mr. Okada understands that’s a thankless task. He’s already said in public that Mr. Kan is “the most difficult man” he’s ever worked with.

He met yesterday with Ishihara Nobuteru and Inoue Yoshihisa, his counterparts in the LDP and New Komeito, and the Diet Affairs chairmen of all three parties. He told them he was sorry that the prime minister picked Hamada Kazuyuki, an obscure LDP upper house member, to serve as the internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of reconstruction. We’ve seen this several times before: It’s the sort of move Mr. Kan thinks is clever, but exasperates everyone else, including his own party.

Mr. Okada asked for their cooperation to resume normal debate in the Diet:

“It is regrettable that (this appointment) severely impaired the relationship of trust. I apologize from my heart.”

Specifically, he hopes to win their cooperation for passing the three bills Kan Naoto cites as his condition for resigning. Could it be that the prime minister has devised a new strategy for dealing with the legislature? Behave so obnoxiously the opposition will give you what you want just to be rid of you.

*******
Speaking of the sorry and the obnoxious, Matsumoto Ryu, the recently appointed minister in charge of rebuilding the Tohoku region, visited the governors of Iwate and Miyagi on Sunday. In a post that same day, I described him as follows:

“…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.”

How’s that for cautious understatement? Mr. Matsumoto was unable to get off on the good foot with the governors because he stuck both of them in his mouth. At the same time. As far as they would go.

All that shoe leather must have made enunciation difficult, but everyone understood what he said to Iwate Gov. Tasso Takuya:

“Temporary housing is your job, and we will conceptualize the sort-of permanent housing to follow, so this will be a battle of wits. What sort of wisdom can you provide? We’ll help those who offer their wisdom, but we won’t help the ones who don’t offer any at all. That’s the sort of emotion you should have. That’s why I’m saying to you, don’t tell us you want this and that. Give us your wisdom.”

Nothing like that old “We’re all in this together” spirit to engender a sense of shared sacrifice and effort to recover from a national disaster, is there?

Mr. Matsumoto is also quite the charmer:

“I’m from Kyushu, so I don’t know what Tohoku city is in which prefecture.”

If someone were of a mind to make excuses for the DPJ, he might suggest that Mr. Matsumoto intended to tell a joke at his own expense to make the inakappei feel at ease in the presence of one of the Big Enchiladas from the national government. That would have to be someone from overseas making the excuses, however. Most of the Japanese have stopped trying.

You’ve heard of people with a tin ear? This guy’s got a tin tongue.

During his eventful Sunday, Mr. Matsumoto also called on Miyagi Gov. Murai Yoshihiro. Scenes of the meeting were broadcast on local television. The ratings must have been stunning. Here’s how the newscaster explained the footage to the viewers:

“You could sense a change in (Matsumoto’s) mood when Gov. Murai did not (immediately) come out to meet him. The governor emerged a few minutes later with a smile on his face, and offered to shake hands, but (Matsumoto) refused. There was tension in the room.”

Of course there was tension. Mr. Murai from the sticks made The Very Important Man From Tokyo wait for a few minutes. Before they started discussing other matters — such as the Tohoku cleanup — Mr. Matsumoto felt compelled to deliver a lecture on behavior:

“When a guest visits, you should call for them after you’re in the room. You were in the Self-Defense Forces, so you should already know this. Behave properly without being told. (To the media) This part is off the record. It will be the end for any company that prints this.” (書いた社はこれで終わりだから)

By the end, he presumably meant the end of access to him. At least I hope that’s what he meant.

His discussion of policy was just as enlightening and entertaining in Miyagi as it was in Iwate:

“You can take advantage of our kindness to the extent that it’s acceptable. We’ll be dumping off on you anything we can.”

On the idea in Miyagi to consolidate coastal fishing ports:

“Properly consolidate your ideas in the prefecture. If you don’t, we won’t do anything.”

After the meeting, he explained to the media the reason for his lesson in etiquette to the governor:

“After I was called and entered, he didn’t arrive for three or four minutes. In Kyushu, when a guest arrives, the host is already there. Whether it’s a matter of discourtesy (or not), one should have a clear understanding that the younger should give preference to the elder.”

The hicks in Miyagi weren’t impressed. The next day, the party caucuses in the Miyagi prefectural assembly held a conference. Shortly thereafter, the assembly passed a resolution formally complaining to the government about the minister’s behavior:

“Those statements applied a great deal of pressure, and he lacks the awareness (required of) someone in his position.”

They also reminded the government that they were not in a master-subordinate relationship with them.

But the minister didn’t understand what the fuss was about. He was asked at a news conference yesterday if he thought his behavior was a problem:

“I don’t think it was a problem. Look at the entire conversation from the time I sat down until the time it was over.”

At the same meeting during which Okada Katsuya apologized to the opposition for Mr. Kan’s Cabinet appointment (no, that was a different guy, remember), the opposition told Mr. Okada that they found Mr. Matsumoto’s behavior unacceptable. The DPJ secretary-general replied:

“I will caution Mr. Matsumoto, and also inform Prime Minister Kan.”

The media also asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio what he thought. He didn’t want any part of an answer:

“Mr. Matsumoto is working with a strong sense of responsibility and mission. It is not for me to confirm what he really meant.”

In other words, ask his boss, and that ain’t me.

They finally did ask his boss, of course, and that was the sorriest part of the entire episode. One reporter brought up the subject of Mr. Matsumoto with the prime minister at a news conference. Mr. Kan ignored the question.

This morning Matsumoto Ryu resigned after nine days on the job. It wasn’t because he realized he had done anything wrong, mind you. He merely said that his comments might cause difficulties in Diet negotiations.

When the Diet agreed to extend their session by 70 instead of 50 days, Mr. Kan excitedly told his aides that anything could happen in that time.

He was right.

Afterwords:

Gov. Murai tried to be graceful about part of the situation. He said he thought the “off-record” comment was a joke. It might have been, but not in the sense that Mr. Murai meant it.

*****
Jean Knight still understands BS when she sees it:

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Posted in Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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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Illicit unions and unholy alliances

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Flickering in and out of sight is that any agreement (between the two parties) will be a way to split the ticket to the interests and rights to be gained from the recovery.
- Onishi Hiroshi, marketing analyst

THE FIX will soon be in — Okada Katsuya and Ishihara Nobuteru, the secretaries-general of the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, trotted round the Sunday television blabathon circuit and agreed to pursue the idea of a Grand Coalition, though Mr. Okada didn’t want to call it that. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio is down with the idea too, thereby signaling that his guru and party heavyweight Sengoku Yoshito is already working behind the scenes to make it happen.

If it does happen, some editorialists in the mainstream news media and commentators in Japan will join the telescopic political philanthropists of the West to sing hymns of praise, behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity, and chide the sinners for waiting so long to take their righteous advice.

Others, however, would rather not stand in the Amen Corner.

Two of them are also secretaries-general of political parties. Inoue Yoshihisa of New Komeito, who are not interested in joining the coalition at present, limited himself to the observation that it will be “Easier said than done.” Shimoji Mikio of the Peoples New Party, already in the governing coalition, doesn’t like the idea at all. He got red in the face as he fulminated against the plan in a TV studio:

“The problem is that Okada, the one who brought about a change of government, is using the phrase “grand coalition”. The problem is that they have to dissolve the Diet and get the people’s verdict in an election (and they won’t).”

Mr. Shimoji sees the failure to call a general election as the problem, but the DPJ sees it as one of the attractions. There was another gubernatorial election on Sunday, this time in Aomori. The incumbent LDP-backed candidate was expected to win, so attention focused on the margin of victory over the DPJ candidate.

He received less than one-fourth of the winner’s vote total.

A third secretary-general, Eda Kenji of Your Party, wrote on his website:

“It’s easy to talk about a coalition, but they’ll have to create a Cabinet together. That means agreement is essential not only for recovery and reconstruction measures, but all affairs of state, including the basic policies of foreign policy, national security, social welfare, and economic and fiscal policy. Otherwise, at Cabinet meetings, where unanimity is the prerequisite, there’ll be a constant uproar over who will or will not sign off on each individual piece of legislation.

“The people want the ruling and opposition party to cooperate for recovery and reconstruction. But a grand coalition with people battling for posts and interests isn’t needed. If that’s what they want, however, go right ahead. That will clearly identify those who want recovery with tax increases and those who want recovery without them.”

During the first go-round for the grand coalition idea two months ago, Mr. Eda explained there would be no need for one if the parties were serious about negotiation. There is already an organization for officials at the ministerial and secretary-general level of all parties to discuss disaster relief and provide input.

Kakizawa Mito of the same party is also unconcerned about being shut out of the coalition because they’ll be one of the few criticizing the government. He wrote:

“What will the DPJ and LDP do in a grand coalition with their overwhelming strength of more than 400 combined Diet members? Won’t they raise the consumption tax in the name of promoting a recovery tax and integrating taxes and social welfare? That’s absolutely the same thing Prime Minister Kan would do. If that’s the case, changing prime ministers is meaningless. It’s like throwing cold water on someone with a low body temperature.”

His follow-up was even better, and the last sentence was the best:

“It won’t make any difference whether it’s Prime Minister Maehara, Prime Minister Edano, or Prime Minister Sengoku. If they form a coalition, those two parties will decide everything out of public view. Real debate will disappear from the Diet. And those who’ll be deciding things out of sight won’t be the prime minister; it will be people like Mr. Sengoku and Oshima Tadamori (LDP vice-president).”

There are also a few apostates in the media. The Ryukyu Shinpo of Okinawa headlined an anti-grand coalition editorial two months ago this way: “Without an election, it’s an unholy alliance”. Here are some excerpts, and again the best comes last:

“For the two major parties with such large policy differences using an emergency to haphazardly jump into a grand coalition is a betrayal of the voters who cast their ballots for both. The formation of a coalition would amplify the mistrust in politics.

“If they’re going to form a grand coalition, the course would be to make that pledge during a lower house election and earn the trust of the voters. But Japan doesn’t have the time now to spend on dissolving the Diet and holding a general election.

“What is required of the ruling and opposition parties is a comprehensive debate on the relief and support of the affected areas and people, and measures to deal with the nuclear power accident. They should strive for cooperation and accord, and start by finding money in the budget.

“We do not think an illicit union resembling bamboo spliced to a tree will function. The issues facing the government are not limited to the earthquake….

“The opposition’s cooperation for the recovery is indispensable, but a recovery plan can be formulated without a coalition. The grand coalition between the two major parties is reminiscent of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association during the Second World War. Nothing is more frightening than politics that would crush minority opinion in the name of national policy and the national interest.”

More than a few people agree with these assessments, and offer several other good reasons. An unidentified source with the LDP said that business and financial circles are the ones who really want this to happen. Sure enough, both Keidanren and Doyukai (The Japan Association of Corporate Executives) support a coalition “as an effective method to resolve the difficulties”. Some people think the LDP wants to get involved because of all the money that will be disbursed for reconstruction, while others suggest the LDP and the DPJ left wing (Edano, Sengoku, Kan) feel threatened by the growing strength of regional parties. LDP President Tankigaki Sadakazu has already come out in favor of a tax increase, and the coalition will likely be a vehicle to both increase the consumption tax and levy a special earthquake recovery tax. Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko admitted as much today.

Speaking of Mr. Kan, he made an offer to the LDP to form a coalition two months ago, and the circumstances of that impromptu offer are a portrait in miniature of the reasons he isn’t prime ministerial caliber, the reasons so many are so anxious to pry him out of office, and the reasons his departure heads the list of LDP conditions for joining.

Prime Minister Kan offered the post of yet-to-be created Deputy Prime Minister for Reconstruction to Mr. Tanigaki over the telephone without telling anyone in his own party first. (Some suspect he didn’t want Sengoku Yoshito to know.) When the LDP chief said he’d take the offer to his party and discuss it, the prime minister shouted at him and accused him of lacking the spirit of cooperation. Mr. Tanigaki repeated his wish to discuss it with party leadership before making a decision, whereupon Mr. Kan said, “OK, that’s a refusal, and I’ll announce to the media that you turned it down.”

And he did, one hour later.

Veteran observers of the class act that is Kan Naoto, the LDP immediately diagnosed the presence of several pathogens. In addition to the seat-of-the-pants policy proposal and an out-of-control temper, there was also the cheap shot for political advantage. No specifics were mentioned in regard to the authority Mr. Sadakazu would have over what would become the most difficult position in the Cabinet and the reconstruction process, or the number of personnel and the budget allocated to the new ministry.

There was also the reappearance of the dullwit trying to be clever combined with the opportunity to indulge in the pastime of blaming other people for his failures — the public would assume the LDP was in charge of the recovery, and the prime minister would attribute the inevitable problems or delays to them. Finally, Mr. Sadakazu would have to work in a Cabinet with people whose primary political skill in the opposition was loudmouth obstructionism and who would seek every opportunity to make him look bad.

The LDP leadership assumed the real intention of the prime minister’s offer was to prolong the life of his Cabinet, yet another Kan trademark. They ratified Mr. Tanigaki’s decision after less than an hour’s worth of discussion.

After the news became public, Linda Seig provided Reuters consumers with the benefit of her years as a foreign correspondent in Japan by offering this informed analysis:

“Japan’s new public mood of togetherness has yet to spread in any real way through the corridors of power.”

Why not?

“Prime Minister Naoto Kan attempted on Saturday to capture the unity spirit when he invited the leader of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to join the cabinet as deputy premier for disaster relief.

“But the offer was swiftly rejected.”

Back in the reality-based community, some LDP elders also counseled against a coalition government. Mr. Taniguchi wholeheartedly agreed when former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro told him, “We should now demonstrate the approach of a sound opposition party.” Former Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki also chimed in: “A coalition isn’t possible unless policies are in accord.”

The LDP chief continues to receive similar advice two months later. Last weekend, he flew to Kyushu to attend a seminar with Kumamoto Gov. Kabashima Ikuo, a former political scientist. (He is also a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.) Mr. Kabashima gave an address in which he emphasized that successful coalition governments were very difficult to pull off. He said there were five conditions for that success. The Asahi Shimbun didn’t see fit to tell its consumers what four of them were, but said the most important was that ample time should remain until the next national election. For example, if an election was one year away, the government would have to do its work in six months.

The next national elections are two years away, when the upper house holds its next regular election and the current term of the lower house expires. There are rumors that the coalition now under discussion would be for two years, which would set up a convenient double election in the summer of 2013.

A coalition government is likely to improve and accelerate the work of reconstruction. After all, the DPJ can’t quite get the hang of this walking while chewing gum business, and shows no signs that it will anytime soon.

We can only hope that if Tanigaki Sadakazu and the LDP ignore the excellent advice they’ve been receiving not to join a coalition, the benefits of this illicit union will outweigh the serious collateral damage likely to occur.

UPDATE:

The Ryukyu Shinpo published another anti-Grand Coaltion editorial today. They made several of the same points they did two months ago. Here’s some of what they added:

“If there were a common recognition of the urgency of reconstruction, the government and the opposition parties could develop a consistent series of policies in the spirit of cooperation. If they were to be part of the same government, however, we are concerned they would degenerate into a struggle for leadership with an eye to the next election. That would have a negative impact on prompt decision making and the implementation of policy…

“The DPJ and LDP are groping toward a time-limited grand coalition for both disaster recovery and the integration of social welfare and taxation. There is an urgent necessity to pass legislation for the second supplementary budget and to allow the government to issue additional bonds. The people are not in agreement, however, on the need to integrate social welfare and taxation, which would include an increase in the consumption tax.

“The LDP demands a reevaluation of the DPJ party platform, including the child allowance. A major reevaluation will inevitably lead to a split of the DPJ, as the Ozawa group will reject such a move. They insist on maintaining the DPJ principles at the time of their 2009 election victory, and their slogan of ‘putting people’s lives first’…”

An Asahi Shimbun editorial is now urging the Kan government to go slow on the idea of a grand coaltion. The gist of their argument seems to be that a coalition would waste all the effort that went into creating a two party system. The Tokyo Shimbun is also saying that a coalition is not required for real cooperation on reconstruction.

*****
Penn and Oldham sing about the site of DPJ/LDP coalition and policy discussions.

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