AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Ozawa I.’

A revealing dialogue

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

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AS Japan’s lower house election approaches, some affairs are becoming more opaque rather than more lucid. As an example, here’s an excerpt of dialogue at a news conference between Tanaka Ryusaku of the Free Press Association of Japan and Japan Restoration Party standard bearer Ishihara Shintaro.

Tanaka: The election campaign promises of Japan Restoration Party include the relaxation of prohibitions on dismissing employees and the elimination of the minimum wage. Already, more than 30% of workers are not regular employees, and more than half of them make less than JPY two million a year. If Japan Restoration’s policies are implemented, won’t they lose their bread and their homes?

Ishihara: The people in Osaka (Mayor Hashimoto and Gov. Matsui) are thinking very hard, but they are still immature in some areas…They established several categories for the framework of their promises, and then decided to debate them with everyone later.

Tanaka: There’s a limit to naïve innocence.

Ishihara: That’s right. When (Hashimoto) said he would release his political promises in a 10-page document, I told him to stop. “You’ve written a lot of them, but some parts of it are too principled, and they’ll be impossible to achieve. “ It’s just as you (Tanaka) say.

Tanaka: That’s because Takenaka (Heizo) wrote them.

Ishihara: That’s right (nods). I don’t like Takenaka. (Room explodes with laughter.) You can see that he wrote all of them (the promises). He’s just one of the seducers.

Tanaka: Isn’t that just the same as the Koizumi reforms that wrecked Japan?

Ishihara: He trusts Takenaka too much. I’ve told him to stop. He’s like a god to them. Even his advisor Sakaiya Taiichi has his doubts. Maybe they won’t let him speak out. He’s critical of Takenaka.

Tanaka: This will tarnish your twilight years.

Ishihara: I won’t let that happen.

*****
Serious commentary on this excerpt could run much longer than the excerpt itself, but I’ll be concise as possible.

* The rebuttal from some quarters was immediate. They said the idea that Mr. Takenaka wrote all of Japan Restoration’s policies was nonsense. They also said this brought into question the wisdom of installing Mr. Ishihara as party head if he has so little idea of what’s going on within the party.

The Hashimoto-Ishihara merger works only if the Ishihara faction gets out of the way in the next year or two after accelerating the trend to constitutional reform.

* It is true that Mr. Ishihara and his ally Hiranuma Takeo detest the Koizumi reforms, but that is to their detriment. Hashimoto Toru has spoken highly of them.

* If Japan (or any country) were serious about getting their economic house in order, they could choose no better stewards of the process than Mr. Koizumi or Mr. Takenaka. Then again, some people in Britain are still upset that Margaret Thatcher healed the Sick Man of Europe.

* So much of basic economics is counterintuitive. Here’s one example. If Mr. Tanaka were really interested in increasing employment, he would support both the elimination of the minimum wage and make it easier to dismiss employees. Both the minimum wage and restrictions on dismissal prevent people from being employed to begin with. (France is an excellent example of the latter.)

* Mr. Tanaka neglects to provide detailed information on those non-permanent employees making less than JPY two million a year. How many of them are housewives working to supplement the family income? How many are unskilled young adult women living with their parents (while working at a convenience store, for example)? How many are recently divorced unskilled young adult women with a high school education?

* The Free Press Association of Japan was formed with the admirable intent to deregulate the dissemination of information by countering the kisha club system of reporters, which is tantamount to an information cartel. Unfortunately, advocacy journalism by unlettered ideologues incapable of extended linear thought is not the way to achieve that. The behavior of Mr. Tanaka at this news conference more closely resembles a polemicist than a journalist.

The “explosive laughter” recorded after Mr. Ishihara’s comment about Takenaka Heizo tells us all we need to know about the other free pressers in attendance.

* The director of the association is freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi. He was once the go-fer/translator for the New York Times’ correspondent in Tokyo, and later became closely associated with the Democratic Party of Japan. His campaign advertising for the DPJ in 2009 masquerading as journalism for weekly and monthly magazines is still entertaining to read. All the things he said would happen never did.

I haven’t followed the story too closely, but Mr. Uesugi has been savaged on the Japanese Internet for his anti-nuclear power reporting in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Apparently, one of his favorite investigative techniques is “making stuff up”. He will win no plaudits in Japan for impartiality or credibility.

Afterwords:

The most recent Kyodo poll has the LDP in the lead for party preference with 18%, followed by Japan Restoration at 10% and the currently ruling DPJ at 9%. The new Japan Frontier anti-everything party created by Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka and fronted by Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko polls only 3%.

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Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

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

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

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

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

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

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

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

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

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

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

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

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

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

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

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

More Peculiarities

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

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

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

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

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

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

*****

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Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I wonder about these people who would take advantage of Hashimoto Toru’s popularity to win a Diet seat (by joining his party, the Japan Restoration Party).
- Maehara Seiji, head of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Committee

We’ll act in such a way that we don’t become what the Democratic Party is now.
- Matsui Ichiro, Osaka governor and secretary-generation of Japan Restoration, in reply
————-
The key is when and to what extent Mr. Abe approaches the third forces (reform parties). I would really prefer that the electorate votes with that knowledge. But considering his position, it is probably to his advantage to keep that quiet for now.
- Yamazaki Hajime, journalist on economic matters and a fellow at the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute

THERE are eight million stories in the naked city, intones the narrator at the conclusion of both the film and television version of The Naked City, and this has been one of them. Shifting the dramatist’s eye to Japan’s lower house election scheduled for 16 December, there are what seems like several thousand stories, and the reform/regional parties that are fomenting revolution from the bottom up account for quite a few of them.

Telling some of those stories requires a list of the dramatis personae, however, and that’s where we’ll start.

* Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, who became the nation’s most prominent regional politician to call for the devolution of government authority with stronger power given to local government. That has been an issue for more than two decades here, but he’s the man who achieved ignition and liftoff. He started a local party/movement called One Osaka that is now a national party known as the Japan Restoration Party.

* Watanabe Yoshimi, a former Liberal Democratic Party member and minister in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets with responsibility for governmental reform. A supporter of devolution and radical civil service reform to tame the Japanese bureaucracy and its political influence, he left the LDP when prime ministers Fukuda and Aso abandoned that course. He then created Your Party with independent Diet member and former MITI bureaucrat Eda Kenji.

* Kawamura Takashi, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He ran in several elections for party president, which means he sees a prime minister when he looks in the mirror in the morning. He resigned from the DPJ to run for mayor of Nagoya on a platform of cutting municipal taxes and the remuneration of city council members by half. This is part of an ongoing movement for sub-national governments in Japan. He struggled to get his policy package passed by municipal legislators (natch), and stunned the political world and the country both when he resigned, ran again to make the election a referendum on his policies, and won in a walk. There’s more at this previous post.

He’s formed a local party called Tax Reduction Japan that is now a national party with six five members in the Diet. They want to reduce the number of lower house Diet members by 80 (to 400) and cut their salaries in half.

* Omura Hideaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He forged an alliance with Kawamura Takashi during the latter’s second run for mayor of Nagoya. He was elected governor of Aichi, in which Nagoya is located, on the same day. He shares the same general political principles.

* Ishihara Shintaro, former upper house and lower house MP, and governor of the Tokyo Metro District. Everyone knows who he is.

The stupefying ineptitude of the Democratic Party government, the inability of the Liberal Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a coherent alternative during three years in opposition, the futility of seeking real reform from either of them, years of public dissatisfaction combined with a willingness to support anyone willing to take an axe to the waste and abuse in the public sector, and younger generations reaching middle age, have resulted in the national prominence of Hashimoto Toru. It soon became a question of when, not if, he would establish a national political organization. The answer was soon rather than late — less than a year after winning election as Osaka mayor, after spending three years as governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Here’s what he said at the time:

True reform for Osaka requires further amendments to (national) law. But even when we try to do something locally, we run into the wall of Nagata-cho (a metonym for the Diet) and Kasumigaseki (a metonym for the bureaucracy), who control the mechanism of Japan. We have to change Japan from the roots.

In addition to regional devolution, Mr. Hashimoto’s group also calls for the cutting the membership of the Diet’s lower house in half to 240, and cutting their salaries and publicly funded party subsidies by one-third.

At that point the narrative became one of wondering who would and would not become his political allies. Not only did they need to team with simpatico regional parties, Japan Restoration needed someone or some group with a national reputation. Eliminated right away were the establishment LDP and the labor union-backed DPJ, but everyone had discounted that because both were part of the problem and not part of this solution.

In an intriguing move, the Osaka mayor approached former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in August to ask whether he would be interested in switching from the LDP to Japan Restoration. Mr. Abe expressed a strong desire to form some sort of alliance, particularly because they share an interest in amending the Constitution. But Mr. Abe eventually chose to remain in the LDP and run for party president, a campaign that he won.

While both men would surely like to work together, the LDP is unlikely to support the long-standing Hashimoto proposal to convert the consumption tax into a funding source for local government, and end the current system in which the national government allocates public funds. The shape and nature of any alliance will probably be determined after the election. The results will determine who needs whom, and the extent of that need.

* Hashimoto and Your Party

Speculation on ties with Japan Restoration had always started with Your Party, the first real national reform party. Several of their most important positions meshed, including the creation of a new system of sub-national governments with greater authority and civil service reform. They both also came out for eliminating nuclear power (probably for populist reasons), though Mr. Hashimoto has since backed away from that one. Further, Your Party supported Mr. Hashimoto in the election for Osaka mayor, and they share some of the same advisors.

At one point not long ago, people assumed that there would be a formal alliance. Rumors circulated that they had cut a deal in which Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi would become the first prime minister if they won enough seats in the aggregate to form a government.

But that’s not how it worked out. The reason seems to have been a dispute over who was going to be the boss. Your Party held talks with the people from Osaka before Japan Restoration was formed, and they wanted them to join the existing party before they created their own. Knowing that his poll numbers are better Your Party’s (they can’t seem to hump it into double digits), Mr. Hashimoto refused and suggested that they disband and rearrange themselves.

Relations took a turn for the worse when three Your Party members, said to be unhappy with Watanabe Yoshimi’s leadership, quit and joined Japan Restoration. That caused more than a few unpleasantries to be hurled in the direction of Osaka.

But discussions resumed because an alliance remains in both their interests. They talked about cooperation to implement eight common policies, which at that time included opposition to the consumption tax increase, opposition to nuclear power, support for regional devolution and the state/province system, support for civil service reform, support for constitutional amendments, support for election system reform, economic growth policies, and foreign policy (they both favor participation in TPP).

The calls for a solid alliance seem to have come from Your Party, and Japan Restoration has turned down the offer for now. There was a meeting with Hashimoto Toru, Matsui Ichiro, and Watanabe Yoshimi at which blunt words were spoken.

Mr. Watanabe suggested they jointly offer an “east-west” slate of candidates for the lower house election, with Your Party covering the east (Tokyo and the Kanto region) and Japan Restoration covering the west (Osaka and the Kansai region). Mr. Matsui rejected it, and here was his explanation:

Their policies have not gained ground in the Diet, and they have become a group who can’t achieve them. Politics means taking responsibility for results. That requires a team that can create a decision-making approach.

Gov. Matsui also told Mr. Watanabe in so many words to come down off his high horse: “It was our idea to create a new type of political organization.” The Your Party boss responded that they’ve been calling for political reorganization from the day they formed the party (which is true). He asked again for an equal merger, and again he was rejected.

Mr. Matsui later said they will continue to talk to avoid running candidates in the same election districts, but it will be unavoidable, and they will try to minimize it.

Perhaps Japan Restoration has some foresight about Your Party’s fortunes. Mr. Watanabe campaigned several times for a Your Party candidate in a local election last weekend in his home district in Tochigi, but the candidate lost to one backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

Affairs are still in flux, however. Just yesterday Hashimoto Toru said Japan Restoration would probably be able to field only 100 candidates in time for the election. (One reason the major parties want an earlier election is to prevent the smaller parties from building a full candidate list.) He made a reference to working with Your Party if they also ran 100 candidates — in other words, supporting the east-west alliance he rejected a few weeks ago. Watanabe Yoshimi also gave a campaign speech today calling for the support of Japan Restoration.

Whatever is going on here, you won’t be able to read a reliable account of it in either the Yomiuri Shimbun or the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s two largest newspapers. The Asahi is opposed to Mr. Hashimoto because they’re of the left, and the Yomiuri is opposed to him because he’s anti-establishment.

* Omura and Kawamura

As the story at the link above shows, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki formed a regional alliance for the Triple Election in February last year. Both also organized political seminars this year to train people who supported their ideas for elective office.

Mr. Kawamura was the first to create a political party: Tax Reduction Japan. Mr. Omura followed by creating the Aichi is Top of Japan Party. The trouble started when he converted that party into the Chukyo Ishin no Kai, or the Chukyo Restoration Group, in August. The name is intentionally modeled on that of the Japan Restoration Party. His group was formed specifically to align with the Hashimoto group and fulfill the conditions for becoming a national party.

That cheesed off Mr. Kawamura, who was on an overseas trip at the time. He was miffed because the Aichi governor told Mr. Hashimoto about his plans, but didn’t tell him. The Nagoya mayor flew off the handle, saying their relationship of trust was broken and they couldn’t work together any more.

Some people saw it as a deliberate snub by Mr. Omura to break off ties with Mr. Kawamura. The former (at the left in the photo) is the straight-arrow policy type, while the latter (at the right) is the unkempt populist with a desire to be a major player. For example, he wondered if the Chukyo region would be relegated to being the subcontractor for Osaka.

Hashimoto Toru encouraged both of them to patch up their differences, because working together is would benefit everyone, and the policies were more similar than different.

And that’s just what the two men seem to have done while the media spotlight was pointed in a different direction. They announced an agreement to work together for the coming election after discussions that lasted late into the night of the 19th.

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

During the Triple Election campaign in Nagoya and Aichi, volunteers from the Osaka group went to the region to help both candidates because of their general agreement on devolution. Since then, however, it’s been a long strange trip that keeps getting stranger.

When Omura Hideaki created the Chukyo Restoration Group, Hashimoto Toru said that despite the name, they were unrelated to the Osaka group. They were independent and they hadn’t thought about an alliance for the national election. He added that Aichi support for their positions would be the condition for any alliance.

But then in October, a group from Osaka went to Aichi for a conference with letter from Hashimoto Toru asking Mr. Omura to form an Aichi Restoration Party. The alliance seemed like a natural: Not only are their policies similar, but they share policy advisors in journalist Tahara Soichiro, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s jack of all trades, Takenaka Heizo.

The Aichi governor said that an alliance would take time, however, because he was still working with Kawamura Takashi. A blurb of two or three sentences appeared in one newspaper earlier this week announcing that Aichi and Osaka had worked out an agreement. In fact, Mr. Omura would be given the leeway to choose the candidate for one of the Aichi Diet districts in the election.

But just this morning, Mr. Omura announced that he would resign his position as advisor to the Osaka party to focus on his ties with Kawamura Takashi.

Your guess is as good as mine about this one. The best I can come up with is that working with Mr. Kawahara is a better way to solidify his position in Aichi.

—–
Meanwhile, Kawahara Takashi’s attitude toward an agreement with Hashimoto Toru was 180° in the opposite direction. He was so anxious to create an alliance that a hand was coming out of his throat, as an old Japanese expression has it.

He’s long been friendly with Ozawa Ichiro, but when he spoke at a political seminar for the People First Party, the new Ozawa Ichiro vehicle, he said his priority was working with Hashimoto Toru and former Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro. (That might also have been a function of his assessment of the extent of Ozawa Ichiro’s political influence in the future; i.e., not very much.)

The problem, however, is that both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Matsui have been giving the Nagoya mayor their cold shoulders. Mr. Kawamura thought a merger with Japan Restoration was going to happen when he reached an agreement to do just that with Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party, but no one else thought so. Mr. Ishimura thought it might be a problem with the tax reduction name in his party, and Mr. Kawamura obligingly offered to change it.

But Hashimoto Toru said the name had nothing to do with it: it was all content. He also said, however, that “In today’s circumstances, tax reduction is the wrong message.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the Osaka mayor is a tax hiker; rather, his position has always been that there should be a public debate and a consensus formed about what public services people want to receive. After reaching that consensus, it will then be time to figure out how to pay for them.

Mr. Kawamura, on the other hand, seems to favor the Starve the Beast approach: Don’t give the public sector the money to begin with. It isn’t widely known, but he also favors establishing neighborhood citizens’ councils to determine how public funds will be spent. In other words, his approach is the reverse of Mr. Hashimoto’s.

The Nagoya mayor is also opposed to TPP participation, while the Osaka mayor favors it. They were both anti-nuclear power, but Mr. Hashimoto has since modified that stance. Also, two of the five Diet members in Mr. Kawamura’s national party, which was formed at end of October, were LDP postal privatization rebels that former Prime Minister Koizumi threw out of the party. Hashimoto Toru supports the privatization of Japan Post.

Another reason Mr. Hashimoto cited for being unwilling to work with Tax Cut Japan is that another one of their Diet members, Kumada Atsushi, a lower house MP from Osaka, switched his party affiliation from the DPJ, but not before he accepted JPY 3 million to offset his campaign expenses. That’s not the sort of person he wants to work with.

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

It’s not possible as of now. We haven’t had any policy discussions. There’s not enough time.

But wait!

After weeks of letting his tongue hang out in the national media, insisting that it would be easy to overcome the differences with Japan Reform, Mr. Kawamura announced today that he — he! — was rejecting an alliance with them. He’ll work with Aichi Gov. Omura instead.

But wait again!

Lower House MP Kobayashi Koki, Tax Reduction Japan’s acting president, said the whole point of the party going national was to work with people like Japan Restoration. After Mr. Kawamura’s announcement, he said he wanted to leave the party and join Japan Restoration. He got approval for both of his requests.

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

That brings us to strangest story of them all — the merger of Japan Restoration with Ishihara Shintaro’s four-day-old Sun Party and the appointment of Mr. Ishihara as the head of the party.

It was strange because Hashimoto Toru insisted that it wouldn’t happen, for several reasons. The first was policy differences — Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party support nuclear power and oppose participation in TPP. Those positions are the opposite of those of Japan Restoration. The second was outlook. Mr. Hashimoto said an alliance was out of the question if the members of the Sunrise Japan party, the group that the Tokyo governor formed two years ago, joined the Sun Party. He explained that there would be no union with “pure conservatives”. (By that he means paleo-cultural conservatives.)

Another factor is that Your Party wants no part of Ishihara Shintaro at all. An alliance would threaten any cooperation with them.

The Osaka mayor said talks would get nowhere unless they changed their policies. What happened is that he changed his, even after Sunrise Japan joined the Sun Party. Here’s the list of common policies they agreed on:

1. Convert the consumption tax to a regional tax and cap the rate at 11%.

Making the consumption tax a regional tax will make a close relationship with the LDP difficult.

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

4. Social welfare funding sources: Eliminate the portion of central government tax revenues allocated to local governments, optimize social insurance premiums, reexamine benefit levels, and supplement the funding with revenues from the income tax and asset tax.

5. Take a positive attitude toward TPP negotiations but will oppose them if they’re not in national interest.

This is a compromise for both men.

6. Create rules and other safety standards for nuclear power.

Not only has is that a reversal of the Hashimoto position, it just might end opposition to nuclear power as a political issue. An NHK poll taken this week found that only 9% of the electorate considers it to be their most important issue.

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

[[UPDATE: Yankdownunder sent in this link showing #8 is now inoperable.]]

Mr. Ishihara suggested that he and Mr. Hashimoto share the party presidency, but the younger man declined and took the de facto number two position. His thinking was that he still has a job to do in Osaka, and Osakans would be displeased if he gave up his position a year into his term for a Diet seat.

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

The popular will is filled with fluffy ideas, such as ‘nuclear power is frightening’. Populism is flattering those ideas….The largest, most definite segment of the popular will, however, is ‘This country is in trouble. Do something!’ We must change the structure of governance by the central bureaucracy…

…People talk about a ‘third force’, but we have to become the second force. We have to discard our minor disagreements in favor of our greater agreements and fight together. I’ll be the one to die first, so I’ll pass on the baton later to Mr. Hashimoto. There’s no other politician who acts as if his life depends on it.

Putting aside the question of whether this merger pays off in votes and Diet seats, there are advantages for both parties. Don’t forget that Ishihara Shintaro was the co-author of the Japan That Can Say No. He now is allied with a popular and adroit younger politician who can create the environment in which public figures will stand up for Japan, rather than truckle to other countries. He’s also popular enough to drive the issue of Constitutional reform — and several other previously taboo issues besides.

For example, this week Ishihara Shintaro said this week that Japan should conduct a simulation of the use of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. He added that he was not calling for a public discussion of whether Japan should now make nuclear weapons, but that it was only his personal opinion.

It might be only his personal opinion, but it has now been broached for public discussion. He added:

Saying that you won’t have nuclear weapons means that your voice in world affairs carries absolutely no weight. Even the US gets all wobbly when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program.

There will also be no sucking air through the teeth and saying so sorry to China:

It would be desirable if Japan-China relations were friendly, but it would not be desirable at all if Japan became a second Tibet due to Chinese hegemonism.

For his part, Mr. Hashimoto is now allied with someone who has a power base in Tokyo/Kanto, giving the party a real east-west presence. That ally also has a national presence, which Mr. Hashimoto is still developing. It should not be overlooked that the most popular politicians in the country’s two largest cities are now allies working to reduce the power of the central government. (And Nagoya is the third-largest city; even without a formal alliance, Kawamura Takashi is likely to work with them more often than not.)

The drawback is that this merger creates a political party with as much internal incompatibility as the Democratic Party of Japan. One of Hashimoto Toru’s most prominent advisors and supporters is Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru. Also in the party by way of Sunrise Japan is that most paleo of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo. Here’s what Mr. Hiranuma thinks of the Koizumi/Takenaka policies.

Perhaps it is the hope of the folks in Osaka that they’ll have outlived the paleos when the time comes they are no longer of use to each other.

*****
I’m no psephologist, and I have no desire to become one, so there will be no predictions from me about this election. You can hear all sorts of wildly varying predictions now anyway. The weekly Sunday Mainichi thinks the LDP and New Komeito combined will win 280 seats, giving them a lower house majority. They project the DPJ will win only 90 seats. The weekly Shukan Gendai, however, wonders if the LDP and New Komeito can reach 200 seats, and they think 75 is a real possibility for Japan Restoration.

The polls are all over the place, and as of this week, close to half the electorate is still undecided. A recent NHK poll found public interest in the election to be very high, and turnout could soar. That means anything in this election is possible, and all sorts of possibilities are flying around. There are now 14 political parties qualified to take part in the election, many of which will not exist at this time next year. One of them is a two-man party formed by a DPJ renegade and ex-People’s New Party head (and before that, ex-LDP honcho) Kamei Shizuka. Mr. Kamei formed his old party as a receptacle for the vested interests of Japan Post after he was dumped from the LDP for opposing privatization. He was a junior coalition partner of the DPJ for the specific purpose of allowing the DPJ to pass legislation in the upper house, and his reward was a Cabinet ministry. The party name for this dynamic duo is The Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. (Oh, yes it is!)

The cement in Japanese politics is now wet. The political realignment that people have been waiting for has arrived, or at least the first phase of it. The Big Bang election that just as many people have been waiting for has also arrived, or at least the first in a series of large bangs. If nothing else, the political class will finally learn what they can expect from the voters for betraying their trust and expectations after three years with the DPJ in charge. If they don’t now, they never will.

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

On the other hand, he has no choice, whatever it is he really believes.

Roughly 40% of the current DPJ MPs have close labor union ties, and the party’s largest source of organizational support is labor unions.

* During a 15 November TV broadcast, DPJ lower house MP and member of the Noda faction/group, said: “Noda’s attitude changed after he made the deal with Abe. He dissolved the Diet because Abe could put him in the Cabinet — particularly because the Finance Ministry wants him to see the consumption tax through.”

Sitting next to him was former agriculture minister, former DPJ member, and for another month anyway, lower house MP Yamada Masahiko. He heard this and marveled, “Oh, of course that’s what must have happened!” The announcer changed the subject.

Some people expect an LDP-DPJ-New Komeito coalition based on the consumption tax increase passage. Perhaps this has all been a chaban geki designed to stifle the local parties while the stifling’s still possible.

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

The LDP’s biggest foe is the LDP from three years ago, not the DPJ.

He’s right.

* Prime Minister Noda is demanding that all candidates sign a loyalty oath to the party’s policies. That was the excuse Hatoyama Yukio was looking for to retire from politics. It will save him the embarrassment of losing his Hokkaido seat outright, which was a real possibility.

* Former TV comedian and popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo, who palled around a lot with Hashimoto Toru in 2008, is mulling a run as a PR representative for Japan Restoration in either the Tokyo or Kyushu bloc.

He considered running again for Tokyo Metro District governor — he lost to Ishihara Shintaro last year — but decided against it.

But that was earlier this week. Today he said he was still thinking about which he would do.

* Only the old-line journalists are talking much about Ozawa Ichiro in this election. I suspect he is a man whose time has come and gone, and people see him as holding a losing hand. Both Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro have said they weren’t interested in any arrangement with him. One reason is that his unpopularity would wound Mr. Hashimoto in the same way that Abe Shinzo’s decision to readmit the Japan Post rebels to the LDP wounded him.

* There are other local Restoration parties in addition to the ones discussed here. Three of them are in Ehime: One for the prefecture itself, with four prefecture council members, one for the city of Matsuyama, with 13 city council members (29% of the council), and one for the city of Seiyo, with seven council members (one-third of the total). They’re all working together.

*****
Everybody needs to go to the same karaoke box and belt this out:

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

No cigar

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 1, 2012

TAKENAKA Heizo, the man responsible for cleaning up the post-bubble banking problem and launching the privatization of Japan Post, and Nakada Hiroshi, former Diet member and Yokohama mayor, serve as advisors to the most important politician in Japan today: Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru.

The two men published a collection of dialogues last fall called Nippon on Daimondai 30 (The 30 Major Issues Facing Japan). Here’s Mr. Nakada speaking about one aspect of the post-earthquake/tsunami Tohoku restoration:

The land that was covered in water and thoroughly ruined as a result of the earthquake and tsunami will require an enormous amount of money to be restored for agricultural use. I helped clean up the land at Rikuzentakata (Iwate) recently. At a glance, it looks like all the rubble has been cleared away, but that’s because all the large debris, such as collapsed houses, cars, and logs, have been removed. But up to 20-30 centimeters below the surface of the farmland, there’s an enormous amount of glass and plastic shards and other material buried there. It was also covered in salt (from the seawater), so the soil needs to be improved. The radioactivity has to be removed in some places too. The state of the land means that it isn’t possible for individual farmers to clean up their fields, even if they spent the rest of their lives doing it. It would be the height of stupidity to tell the small farmers, who are aging, to stick with agriculture.

At any rate, it would take an immense amount of money to provide assistance to the individual farmers, so the state should look after their interests, sovereignty should be restricted, and the land should be nationalized. Then, large agribusiness companies should be created to conduct agriculture on a large scale. They could employ the older farmers, who would earn more money than they do now. They also wouldn’t have to worry about who would take over the family farm. This is a major opportunity.

He’s right. It is a major opportunity, and all of his observations and ideas are excellent, with one exception: the first sentence of the second paragraph. Everything he thinks should be done can be done and done better without nationalizing the land and the government getting in the way.

The time for the conversion to large agribusinesses is long overdue, and some large companies are starting to get involved in the sector already. (The railroad company JR Kyushu grows six different crops on leased land.)

The same objectives could be accomplished by facilitating the formation of agribusinesses and letting them purchase the land.

It’s curious that Mr. Nakada would suggest this, because he is seen as an advocate of small government (as is Mr. Takenaka). He also understands the critical importance of limiting the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki. Nationalizing the farmland would increase that power rather than reduce it.

Very close, but no cigar.

Afterwords:

* Rumor has it that both of these men will join the new political party that Mr. Hashimoto and One Osaka are about to create. There are also rumors that Mr. Nakada will run for a Diet seat in the election expected by the end of the year, but he denied it on Twitter yesterday.

*One plank in the One Osaka platform is to make the appointment of deputy ministers (usually bureaucrats) and ministry bureau heads the responsibility of politicians. That might sound geeky to people unfamiliar with the issues, but it is an essential first step in resolving all 30 of the major problems.

* The government of Abe Shinzo backed measures to promote agribusiness, but Ozawa Ichiro saw that as a major opportunity too — to promise the farmers individual government subsidies, roll back the Abe measures, and thereby contribute to a DPJ election victory. Such a farsighted statesman he was.

*****
It’s the weekend, and that means it’s time for some fun. Offbeat Thai rapper Joey Boy knows all about fun. Well, that and how to put pretty girls into his videos. This one is triple fun.

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (10): Decision-making

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 13, 2012

Procedures are governance itself.
- Hashimoto Toru

ONE criticism the Japanese often hurl at Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is that he is a dictator. Cartoons of his likeness graffitied with toothbrush moustaches became hackneyed long ago. This criticism is sometimes parroted by the English-language news media, but they have no more understanding of the nature of the charge than a parrot has of the sounds he is mimicking.

What they fail to see (assuming they’re even looking) is that the behavior some in Japan deem dictatorial would not only be unexceptional for a Western politician, but in fact be considered praiseworthy and an essential leadership trait.

The criticism should be understood in the context of the current debate in Japan about what leadership requires and how it should be exercised. That might puzzle outside observers, but it’s a matter of serious concern to the Japanese who read and think about public affairs. The mode of leadership exercised in this country for centuries has been culturally specific. The national mindset has changed in the modern era, however, and the change has been so rapid that people are only now beginning to perceive the existence of a new weltanschauung. A reappraisal of the qualities required for decision-making and leadership is underway. The debate includes frequent references to the Edo period and the national leadership in the pre-war and wartime years.

Earlier this week, Mr. Hashimoto fired off a prodigious round of Tweets addressing these matters. I’ve translated a condensed version of some of them here. Decide for yourself if these are the words and thoughts of an autocrat manqué. The emphasis on one sentence is mine.

*****
* Of course there are different opinions on the extent to which an issue should be debated, but democratic politics does not function unless someone makes a decision at some point.

* The concept of procedures is value-neutral, so it can be applied to all issues, no matter what they are.

* In some circumstances, this might lead to a result I would find unsatisfactory. The result might benefit an opponent. But unless we establish fair procedures, we cannot achieve results that we find satisfactory. Recognizing that a chance should be provided to our opponents to bring about a result they find satisfactory so that we can also bring about a result we find satisfactory is (at the heart of) the concept of procedures.

* National government in Japan has been a serious failure. The opposition parties do nothing but oppose. They do not think of what they will do when they become the ruling party. That’s why, when they do become the ruling party, the new opposition party does the same thing the old opposition party did, and nothing is accomplished. Our priority should be to establish fair procedures for the democratic determination of our conduct.

* The procedures are to obtain consent for results obtained in accordance with those procedures, regardless of our own position. That is the greatest deficiency of the current Diet, and it has resulted in indecisive politics. Opposition parties should think of what they would do if they were the ruling party. Opposition to everything for the sake of opposition is unacceptable.

* If I want to achieve a certain result, I have to give my opponents a chance to achieve their result. Creating this environment enables a complete competition with the opponent. In addition, the result that emerges from the process is accepted. This is the great principle of democracy, but it is not taught in Japanese education.

* As soon as someone becomes a part of the intelligentsia, no rules are established for making decisions through debate. This is the cause of the poverty of Japanese politics.

* As typified by the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, the objective for the intelligentsia is debate. They have an extreme dislike for making decisions. This is democracy at its worst. Everyone discussing and reaching agreement (is what should happen instead). It is difficult enough to reach a unanimous agreement in my family of nine. In a unit of several million people…

* There is a tendency in Japan to think decision = discarding minority opinions = dictatorship. Until now, we’ve somehow managed to get by without making difficult political decisions. The primary role of politics in the past was to distribute the benefits of high growth. But from now on, there will be a series of difficult political decisions. It will not be possible to obtain the consent of all the people.

* The present age marks a turning point, and with the issue of the consumption tax increase, the Asahi Shimbun has changed the tenor of its argument. Politics and democracy in Japan today require discussion of procedures that are not bound by policy values. How will the people opposed to a policy assent to a decision? After the Democratic Party took power in 2009, the Diet members should also have keenly sensed this.

* The functioning of politics in Japan requires the establishment of the concept of decision-making, not just policy – who decides what, how, and, in particular, how to accept election results. Though Japan has conventions in legislative conduct that are of piddling value, there are no accepted practices for critically important election results.

* It is a peculiar country indeed in which the legislators do not unite even after election results. Despite that, excessive attention is paid to what are only internal party procedures to create binding party decisions. The mass media argues that the legislators who vote counter to their party’s decisions should be dealt with harshly. If members are going to be bound to party decisions to that extent, legislators must be bound even further to election results.

* Japan takes elections lightly, and that is the responsibility of the politicians. Previous elections have come across to the electorate merely as ceremonies that enable politicians to capture Diet seats. Even when elections have had consequences, the legislators ignore the results by saying those results aren’t everything, and behave as they wish. This is not how democracy develops.

* Election results are the instructions given to government on the operating program. The politicians do not create this program themselves. In any other sphere of activity, people have to accept the consequences of defeat. But defeat can be ignored in the (Japanese) political world. That’s why elections don’t determine anything.

* What is required for democracy now is the process of decision-making by the majority which the minority has no choice but to accept. Total unanimity is a farce.

On the One Osaka Eight Policy Statements

* They are points for discussion in which everyone must be involved to make a decision on the direction. They are points for discussion for moving in the direction in which the country should proceed. If these decisions are taken, we will likely move in the same direction for the individual items that remain. The Policy Statements are different from a political manifesto, which is a list of policies that the party says it will implement.

*****
Not everyone recognizes the need for change, however. According to the Sankei Shimbun, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma will examine the possibility of a decision-making approach for the party using as a reference the LDP General Council, in which total unanimity is the rule. The LDP General Council is often cited as an example of a decision-making approach based on a “village get-together”.

Noted one Japanese commentator:

Is even the DPJ returning to the Edo period? One reason Japanese organizations cannot make decisions is the principle of total unanimity. In reality, there is almost never a case in which everyone’s opinions are in accord on a political decision.

This from a party that couldn’t reach agreement on a common statement of principles even before Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party joined.

Today, by the way, Prime Minister Noda told the Diet that any DPJ member who wasn’t on board with a consumption tax increase in the next general election risked losing their party affiliation for the next general election.

They’ve already reduced former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s suspension from six month to three for his failure to follow the party line on the consumption tax increase. Some suspect that was to allow him to run as a DPJ candidate in the next lower house election.

We’ll see if they maintain the double standard, or if Mr. Hatoyama takes his money and goes elsewhere.

Head ‘em off at the pass, continued

Speaking of the next general election, the National Political Establishment is ramping up its efforts to derail Mr. Hashimoto, One Osaka, and the regional rebels.

Recall that immediately before the Osaka mayoral election, two weekly magazines ran the information that Mr. Hashimoto’s late father was a gangster (of a now defunct gang) and probably of the burakumin caste. (Just coincidence, you understand.) The people didn’t care; he won in a walk. The extreme voter dissatisfaction with the NPE has to be apparent even to them, but that hasn’t prompted any behavior modification. It isn’t part of the thought process in oligarchies.

A week ago, another weekly magazine published the rumor (labeled as such) that the mayor had a secret love child. (He already has a wife and seven children.) Mr. Hashimoto denied it and said he would resign immediately if the existence of any such child could be verified. He was also philosophical about the issue — he knows what the deal is — but he didn’t enjoy having to explain it to his junior high school daughter before she heard of it from another source. He also said his wife was quite angry about it.

The weekly Shukan Post said the rumor was started by an unnamed prominent LDP politician who once headed a government. If true, my money’s on Mori Yoshiro.

The Post also pointed out the motivation behind certain provisions in the ruling Democratic Party’s proposal to modify the national election districts. The Supreme Court ruled that the apportionment of seats for the lower house is unconstitutional because the discrepancy is too large between different districts in the population represented by each seat. The DPJ’s bill would rectify that problem.

From the NPE perspective, it would also help rectify another problem. The proportional representation seats in the lower house are allocated by party list based on the vote totals in 11 blocs nationwide. The PR seats in the upper house, however, are allocated based on national vote totals. The new DPJ plan would convert the lower house PR system into the same system used by the upper house.

The regional parties, specifically the ones in Osaka, Nagoya, and Aichi, would clean the clocks of the NPE in a lower house election today in the areas where they entered candidates. It is possible that One Osaka could receive more votes in the Kansai bloc than the three parties of the NPE combined.

Apportioning seats based on the nationwide vote, however, would dilute their totals and reduce the number of PR seats awarded to them. This might also affect the New Ozawa Party, because they are expected to be relatively stronger in the Tohoku region, Mr. Ozawa’s home grounds.

Jiggering the national electoral system to deprive the voters of a voice and maintain their power, perquisites, and authority?

And to think some people — including some Westerners — were thrilled at the DPJ “revolution” in 2009.

Well, it certainly has been revolting.

Afterwords

* On more than one occasion, my wife has listened to a news report on a debate in the Diet, and commented in exasperation about the opposition: “Hantai! Hantai! (We’re opposed). That’s all they say!”

* Perhaps it’s my American background, but part of the problem seems to me to be derived from the combination of the traditional Japanese approach to consensus with the worst aspects of the Westminster system.

I do not understand the demand in that system for rigid party unanimity for votes in the national legislature. It reminds me of the old geezers rising as one in the legislatures of People’s Republics to hold up their party ID badges when “voting” on a proposal.

Party primaries end that practice. Your Party has already offered legislation requiring that.

* Hashimoto Toru writes an enormous amount of material for Twitter nearly every day, explaining his views in detail. I can think of no politician anywhere who has made such an effort to present directly to the people, unfiltered, his own opinions in his own words. The Tweets could easily be edited into a book, which would probably become a best seller.

And he uses no ghostwriters (for the Tweets, at any rate), much less teleprompters. Other than a very recent book that discusses Mr. Hashimoto’s use of Twitter, most Japanese take it in stride.

Is that not an interesting contrast to a famous politician in another country? His confirmed writings demonstrate an appalling grasp of English grammar (such as noun-verb agreement), while the bibliolaters in his amen corner hold up his ghost-written works as evidence of his luminous brilliance.

UPDATE:
Jiji has released the results of its latest monthly poll, conducted last week. Theirs is not an RDD poll, so it is widely assumed to be the most accurate of the media polls.

Noda Cabinet support rate: 21.3%, down 3 points from June
Noda Cabinet disapproval rate: 60.3%, + 5.5 points
DPJ generic support rate: 6.7%, – 1.4 points, third straight record low since they become the governing party. It’s roughly 20% of the 29.4% rate in October 2009, when they officially took control.
Self-identified independents: 71.4%, another record high. Jiji has consistently shown this to be more than 50% since 2005, except for the periods immediately preceding and after national elections.

****
Making decisions can be a problem for anybody. I got distracted by an older sister once myself.

Posted in Government, History, Politics, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (117)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 13, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

Ultimately, the only reason Mr. Ozawa bolted the Liberal-Democratic Party five years ago was because he was the loser in the intra-party factional struggle. He raised the banner of “political reform” only to prevent the people from realizing that fact.

- former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, in his column in the daily Yukan Fuji, in February 1999. He could have written the same thing this week, substituting the name of his own Democratic Party. But then he chose to allow Mr. Ozawa into the DPJ and to later become his ally in their internal factional struggles.

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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The) next (lower house election) will be the last chance to change Japan…We must sweep away the old politics of Japan and create the new…If there is a call for what is happening in Osaka to be extended throughout Japan, One Osaka will answer the call.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

SOME people say that governments at the subnational level make the best public sector laboratories. Groups and politicians at that level in Japan are beavering away at the lab workbench to produce useful new devices. The National Political Establishment (NPE) is at work in their own lab, but they’ve spent their time creating mini-monsters which they proclaim to be beautiful in form and function.

Here’s a look at some of the beauties and the beasts.

Vouchers

The Osaka City government under Mayor Hashimoto Toru will implement a program to provide vouchers to low-income parents in Nishinari Ward, enabling them to send their children to private-sector, extra-curricular educational institutes. Not only did the magician pull the voucher rabbit out of his hat, he kept the rabbit invisible from the teachers’ unions until the measure was adopted.

Roughly one in four people in the Airin district in the ward receive public assistance. The voucher program will begin in September and be extended throughout the city starting with the new school year in April. There are about 950 eligible junior high school students in the ward. Up to about 70% of junior high school students in the city will be eligible for a JPY 10,000 voucher every month to use both at juku (supplementary educational institutes mistakenly referred to as cram schools) and other institutions. The reports mentioned sports instruction; one example might be swimming schools for children, of which there are many in Japan. (This probably also applies to small classrooms offering lessons in calligraphy and other such pursuits.) They will not be used for regular private schools. The institutions offering the instruction must register with the city.

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

“The amount of work he (Hashimoto) has accomplished in six months as mayor is more than four years’ worth of work for an ordinary mayor. Most of it involves intricate problems local to Osaka, so the Tokyo media doesn’t cover it, but the real Hashimoto can be seen in those local policies. I understood what he was doing when I spoke with him on a debate program in Osaka.”

The praise from Mr. Ikeda is noteworthy because he is pro-nuclear power and had a short but intense Tweet battle with the mayor over that issue. Mr. Ikeda was stunned because this is the first educational voucher program in Japan, and it has received next to no publicity. He says it resembles the system first proposed by Milton Friedman 50 years ago of supplementing tuition costs by giving vouchers to parents, rather than giving public funds to public schools.

“This, in effect, will privatize public schools, which will arouse strong opposition from public school teachers. That’s why no country has ever done it. Some American states have voucher programs, but the federal government does not. President Bush proposed something similar in 2002, but it was buried by the intense Democratic Party and labor union opposition. It was brought up as a topic in the Abe administration, but seldom discussed. During a conference with DPJ officials, I suggested they quit their giveaways such as the child support allowance and implement educational vouchers. They told me: ‘As soon as they hear the word voucher, the Japan Teachers’ Union says they will never permit it’.”

Teachers’ unions: God love ‘em. What would education be without them?

Mr. Ikeda adds that unions might have withheld their opposition because the vouchers are not for regular education, and thinks they are unlikely to be adopted at the national level. He hopes the program becomes so successful that other local governments will adopt it in their regions. He notes that the OECD has come out in favor of a switch to a “rational system” of vouchers for nursery schools, but Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry ignores that.

Finally, he says the important aspect to consider is that public subsidies are being provided to consumers, similar to Mr. Hashimoto’s negative income tax proposal, which redistributes income directly to individuals without passing through intermediate companies or other organizations. It is a significant change in Japan’s welfare and education policies.

“The opposition to Mr. Hashimoto’s policy of introducing competitive principles in education is strong, but parents will not accept the argument of maintaining the current system under the guise of neutrality in education, when students cannot even speak English properly.”

There are reports the local Kansai media has started with the sob stories, however: The heartless Hashimoto reforms are depriving the poor children of places to go to.

It’s a waste of time to get aroused by the news media any longer. They’re only fulfilling their primary function — to entertain. Expecting them to do anything else is pointless.

Personnel expenses

The mayor proposed sharp cuts in expenditures for the municipal transportation bureau earlier this year. The city’s bus drivers in particular receive a salary 38% higher than their private sector counterparts in Osaka, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. The bus operations alone have been in the red for 29 straight years. He was able to coax out JPY 4.2 billion in cuts from the bureau this year after four bargaining sessions that ended on the night of the 10th. This includes a 20% across-the-board cut of management salaries, and a 3%-19% reduction for regular employees. The new, lower salaries take effect in August. Nakamura Yoshio, the head of the city’s transport workers’ union, said the primary concern of the union was to protect jobs.

Arts subsidies

We’ve seen before that Hashimoto Toru was able to eliminate subsidies to musical groups as governor of Osaka Prefecture, and is now involved in debates to rethink the local subsidies to the traditional art of bunraku. He’s also made an issue out of the public funds the city gives to the Osaka Philharmonic.

After much discussion, the city has decided to cut 10% of the orchestra’s subsidy in the upcoming fiscal year, and continue the reductions in subsequent years. Said the mayor:

“The Osaka Philharmonic now recognizes they have to move in the direction of self-sufficiency. I have some respect (for the person assigned) to create a course toward self-sufficiency in four years, with a three-year preparatory period in the interval. That differs from unthinkingly providing operating subsidies, as has been the case until now.”

Here’s why he thinks the subsidies should be reduced or eliminated:

“The Osaka Philharmonic has completely forgotten their work of attracting an audience. They do not hesitate at all to demand that a certain amount of their income be guaranteed, regardless of the amount of audience revenue or whether or not an audience comes, just because they practice a sophisticated art.”

The city will establish an Arts Council of third party evaluators in August to handle the subject of all subsidies to the arts.

The political class

Reporter to Mr. Hashimoto: When working to achieve an Osaka Metropolitan District, should the number of city council delegate be reduced?

Hashimoto: Politics now should be conducted without excuses. If the Democratic Party of Japan had cut civil service expenses by 20% and the number of Diet members by 180 when their coalition had a majority in both houses, their support rate would have stayed 90% forever. Things have come to this pass because they failed to use their opportunity. Whether or not the Osaka Metro District becomes a reality, it is the mission of politics to show the direction toward reduction if there are too many legislators.

The point he makes in the second sentence is a point I’ve made many times: Japan’s electorate has demonstrated time and again what it wants and the type of politicians it wants to support, but other than Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the NPE time and again ignores them.

Speaking of expense cutting, One Osaka will introduce legislation to reduce from JPY 510,000 to JPY 420,000 the research allowances city legislators receive in addition to their salaries. These allowances have been a point at issue at the sub-national government level throughout the country for the past few years. Local governments have found they can save money simply by requiring receipts and expense accounts for these allowances. When that happens, more unused funds are returned to the treasury every year.

Ward officers

There is a definite sense of a “Go West, young man” phenomenon in Osaka for people wishing to take an active part in the political experimentation. After his election as mayor, Hashimoto Toru solicited applications from around the country for people to serve as the chief executive officer of the city’s 24 wards. They came, they applied, and the hirings were recently announced.

The youngest new ward chief is a 27-year-old former NHK reporter, and the oldest, at 60, is the former head of the prefectural labor committee office in Iwate. One is a former Kansai Electric Power company employee, and another was the mayor of Kasai in Hyogo. The man selected for the post in Nishinari, where the educational voucher program has begun, was the former chief municipal officer of Nakagawa-cho in Tokushima.

Eighteen of the 24 now live outside Osaka. The other six are incumbents already on the job. The 18 new ward chiefs will start work in August — except for the two who now live overseas.

One Osaka is also taking on the issue of government involvement in social welfare expenditures. That story requires a post of its own, however.

Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet, spoke to the students of the One Osaka political juku earlier this week. He commented:

“After the discussion with the class was over, I talked with Mayor Hashimoto, Gov. Matsui, and One Osaka Policy Chief Asada. I honestly hope their aspirations and energy will be the savior of Japanese politics, where ugly battles over political advantage continue keep progress at a standstill.”

Perhaps this phenomenon might be best understood as the Koizumi Reforms V.2.

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

Your Party is the sole ally of One Osaka among the national parties. Last month, the party submitted a bill to the Diet to convert the national pension system to a pay-as-you-go scheme. The objective is to ameliorate the problem of a younger working population growing progressively smaller transferring its income to an older retired population growing progressively larger. Their plan was devised by first term upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who is said to be an expert on accounting.

The party also submitted a bill that would require party primaries to select candidates for Diet seats. Officials in all parties now select their candidates. By making the candidates responsible primarily to the voters rather than to the party, it would go a long way toward ending the nonsense of an insistence on straight party line votes in the Diet, with punishments for those who buck the bosses, either through conscience or personal interest.

Neither bill will be approved, but it is a glimpse of coming attractions in the event the regional rebels and their allies take control of the national government.

Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka recently issued a revised version of its eight statements of principle for the next lower house election. It too included a passage calling for a pay-as-you-go pension. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi read the document and said, “It’s difficult to find any (policy) areas that differ from Your Party.”

He added:

“If Mr. Hashimoto himself decides to run in a general election, the impact would be tremendous. Then, each of the political forces would not have to fight separately, but work together in accord on policy and principle to stop higher taxes, prevent the resumption of nuclear power generation, and achieve regional sovereignty. Conditions could be created for a decisive battle with the tax increase coalition of the DPJ and LDP that defend groups with vested interests, starting with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

“In that event, there would be no meaning in contesting 100 or 150 seats. We must put up candidates in all 300 election districts and win a majority.”

Maybe he won’t run, but from a media report on the 28th last month:

Mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group will assist candidates nationwide in the next Lower House election who favor fundamental tax reforms that would greatly reduce the central government’s power of the purse.

Hashimoto made the announcement at an Osaka Ishin no Kai fundraiser Thursday night that was attended by 1,500 people, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close Hashimoto supporter who is expected to field his own candidates in the next Lower House election.

The Osaka mayor criticized the way the Diet handled the recent passage of legislation to raise the consumption tax, and said changing the structure of the tax system to give local authorities more control over how the money is spent will now be the major campaign issue.

“We can change Japan by simply making the consumption tax a local tax and abolishing the system whereby the central government allocates a portion of tax money to localities. Financially, this will allow local governments to become more independent from the central government,” Hashimoto said.

Head ‘em off at the pass

The Democratic Party, their coalition partner the People’s New Party (yes, they’re still around), the Liberal Democrats, their New Komeito partners, and Your Party have reached agreement to reconcile their separate bills to create an Osaka Metro District, the signature issue of Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. (The three bills were those submitted by #1+#2, #3+#4, and #5 respectively.) It will allow the creation of special districts resembling the 23 wards of Tokyo, which Mr. Hashimoto wants to provide with more autonomy. The chief executive officers of the wards would be chosen by election. The new bill, which will be submitted by all five parties this Diet session, will enable any specially designated city (which has authority resembling that of a prefecture) to merge with surrounding local governments if there is an aggregate population of two million.

Your Party has favored such a plan since the party’s inception, and they also propose an administrative reorganization of prefecture-level governments into a state/province system.

Mr. Watanabe again:

“Looking back on the course of events, this groundbreaking plan was created with One Osaka, and it overturns existing national law based on Your Party’s regional initiatives. The LDP and New Komeito have come closer to our position. DPJ had various (internal) issues, but they’ve compiled a plan that moves in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it is the first step in changing Japan’s governance mechanisms.”

The other four parties, however, are backing the legislation because they think it’s an inexpensive way to co-opt the mayor and his movement, and thereby protect their seats against a local party revolt.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that, even after the bill passes. For the NPE to give in a little to the regional rebels might have the same effect of implementing glasnost and perestroika during the Soviet endgame — hastening the process of change, rather than preventing it.

Nagoya

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi might be one of the first to take advantage of that new law in addition to One Osaka. He’s proposed a new twist to the Chukyo Metro District concept that would encompass both Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, governed by ally Omura Hideaki, another local rebel. Mr. Kawamura calls it the Owari Nagoya Republic (Owari being the name of an ancient settlement and later a domain in western Aichi), which would have a population of four million. He’s anxious to discuss it with Mr. Omura.

Gov. Omura, however, was initially lukewarm and said the republic was a different concept than the idea they both ran on in the February 2011 election they won by landslides, and they shouldn’t change.

“I don’t know whether he wants a merger with the surrounding municipalities or a regional alliance. This won’t turn out to be anything but talk unless the details are ironed out.”

Other Nagoya city officials said they understood the city and the prefecture had different ideas, but the city should keep the republic concept in mind. Mr. Omura said that Nagoya City Hall should put some more thought into the matter to determine what they want to do.

They’ll probably find common ground. They’ve got the wind at their back, and they realize it’s in their interests to work together.

Mr. Omura isn’t impressed with the NPE either, by the way:

“Moving toward a tax increase without governmental reform and without a growth strategy is nonsense. The discussions between the DPJ and the LDP were just to rig the game.”

And Mr. Kawamura opened an office for his local Tax Reduction Japan party in Tokyo on Monday. Another of his money-saving ideas is eliminating the pensions of national and local legislators. Your Party lower house member Kakizawa Mito attended the opening ceremony, but said he felt a bit out of place because Ozawa Ichiro was there as well.

The beasts

The NPE is offering new ideas of their own, and the one thing they have in common is that all of them are bad. Start with this from the Nikkei Shimbun to see what I mean:

Allowing company employees to retire at age 40 would give Japan’s labor market a much-needed churn, according to a government report outlining a long-term vision for the nation.

The “Frontier” report, issued Friday by a National Policy Unit subcommittee, recommends polices for maximizing individual and corporate productivity, with the aim of transforming Japan by 2050.

Employment policy holds prominent place in the vision. Blaming the current retirement age of 60 for hindering job turnover, the report calls for loosening employment rules to allow people to retire at 40, an age when many workers reach management positions. Companies choosing this option would be required to provide income assistance to early retirees for one to two years.

What the Nikkei article doesn’t mention, but a Japanese-language article in the Mainichi Shimbun did, is that the proposed system would allow people to work to age 75 if they want to. The idea is to create a mechanism enabling people to leave at age 40 after grinding away for some monolith, and then switch to a small, vibrant growth company.

It is not the business of government to decide when a company should let a person retire, much less act as if it were a vision for transforming the nation. Nor is it their business to require a company to pay a stipend to a person who decides to take a hike at 40 and get retraining to work somewhere else.

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki recommends the government go first and put it in practice themselves, seeing as how they’ve come up with other ideas that are a model for the private sector. She cited the 20-day paid work furloughs and extending maternity leave for teachers from one year to three.

The report also recommends creating worker retraining programs, placing term limits on all employment agreements and eliminating the distinction between full-time and temporary workers.

That’s another step closer to the fascisto-progressive ideal of the corporative state. The private sector is allowed to retain ownership of the company as long as they do what the public sector wants them to do.

The proposals are certain to meet with stiff resistance from workers opposed to being pushed into early retirement, and from firms who see training young employees as an upfront investment to be recouped later.

As well as from those who realize that no one in any government anywhere has the capacity to dictate how a company should run its affairs. Had they the capacity to do so, they’d be running companies themselves.

Then again, some governments in Japan do. About 20 years ago, there was a boom in what was called the Third Sector, or in the United States, public-private sector partnerships. Companies and local governments found ways to go into business together for some do-gooder reason or another. More than 70% of them are in the red. One mini-shopping mall in my city went bankrupt within two years.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Hashimoto in Osaka has an idea how to deal with the Third Sector, too. The city and prefecture of Osaka, in partnership with another local city and a quasi-government agency, had a 70% stake in the Osaka Textile Resource Center, which was capitalized (excessively) at JPY 2.75 billion. The private sector ownership included the chamber of commerce and industry, a few companies in the textile industry, and some trading companies.

The center was created in 1990 to support and improve the textile business based on the Textile Vision of the old Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988. It was involved with consulting work, research surveys, design development, training, and event planning. It lost JPY 73 million in 2011, and the prefecture covered its liabilities that year with a JPY 1.033 billion loan. Nevertheless, it essentially stopped functioning last summer.

Mr. Hashimoto cut off the city stipend, and it went out of business on 15 June.

Speaking of other operations that are losing money, the Japanese government is 200% in the red. But they want to create a vision to transform Japan by redefining the employer-employee relationship?

The fertility rate would improve if people had more choices for when and where they work, the report contends.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Said Mr. Noda about the report: “We must present a pioneering model for the state to the world.”

What makes politicians and their orbiting bureaucrats and academics think they need to create a model for the state, when it’s beyond their abilities to operate the existing ones? Every modern model created for a state has flopped face down in the mud, often accompanied by industrial-scale deprivation and death.

Some people think government is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s got it backwards. This is as fixed as government ever gets. What we’ve got now needs to be broken, rethought, and reorganized into the smallest possible units that prevent anarchy.

Not working is good for the economy

The government and the DPJ are discussing a plan to create three day weekends by providing a compensatory day off if a national holiday falls on a Saturday. That’s already the case with Sunday holidays. They think this will stimulate domestic tourism.

Don’t laugh — these are the same folks who think raising the consumption tax will encourage people to consume more.

And these are the same people who think they can create a pioneering model for the state.

As the report had it, this will be included in the Cabinet’s Japan Revival Strategy, which will also include sections for the creation of new industries, in light of the Tohoku disaster.

How can they expect to create new industries when they can’t even balance a budget?

They’re also still talking about a long holiday (a week or so) in the fall, similar to the Golden Week holiday in the spring, to be taken in shifts in regional areas. The stimulation of domestic tourism is also the objective with this plan.

It is unlikely to happen, however, because corporations throughout the country realize that a long holiday in one part of the country will be a long semi-holiday everywhere else. Politicians would realize it too, if they had ever spent quality time in the private sector.

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

As of last Sunday, restaurants were prohibited from serving raw beef liver by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which advises heating the liver to its core before serving, especially during summer.

The ministry reviewed the hygiene standards for beef in the wake of a series of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain in spring last year.

The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found to exist in beef liver, and no effective method of disinfecting raw liver has been determined.

The ministry is calling on food and beverage establishments to take such measures as heating liver to its center for at least one minute at 75 C, and using separate tongs, chopsticks and cooking utensils for raw meat.

Restaurants that violate the guidelines will be reprimanded by local governments.

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

“We will make every effort to make sure that (the regulation) is being properly complied with.”

Another source reported that rather than reprimands, those who violate the ban could be sentenced to up to two years in jail or a JPY two million fine.

This from a country that has been eating the poisonous blowfish as haute cuisine for centuries.

Sankei Shimbun journalist Abiru Rui blogged about the subject. He was speaking casually to an aide of an LDP Diet member, and the ban came up in the conversation. She was unhappy:

“I don’t want the government to decide what I can eat! The DPJ government has spent all its time pursuing creepy, wooly-headed ideas, but this is the first time I really hate what they’ve done….”

Mr. Abiru noted that if the LDP were to propose lifting the ban on liver, it would conform to the spirit of self-help, and asked: If you strongly supported lifting the ban on the principle of individual freedom, wouldn’t you risk being branded a neo-liberal?

“Maybe.”

In other words, she was ready for it and didn’t care.

The Japanese left likes to use that expression as if it were a trump card, but they never seem do it in the presence of neo-liberals. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll get stuck with the Old Maid.

Maybe I should have Cafepress print up some neo-liberal t-shirts.

Russell Roberts recently observed that some people would never intervene in the lives of their neighbors, but are anxious to make society at large conform to whatever their cause du jour happens to be.

Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility (of intervening in the lives of strangers). They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well.

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

An army of reserve soldiers that was never mobilized after last year’s disasters has been cited as an example of waste by Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who also called for tighter control of government spending.

Funny how the Seamoon finance minister and his party couldn’t dispose of much waste at all with their policy reviews, even though they and everyone else knows where to find plenty of it. Or that he voted for his party’s three consecutive record-high budgets. Or that this minor example of government waste is the best he can do, when other people suggest that entire agencies and ministries could be eliminated entirely.

But with the likely passage of the consumption tax increase, his programmers in the Finance Ministry want him out in front on “tighter control of government spending”, much in the way they spread the silliness, parroted by the lazy English-language media, that Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko were “fiscal hawks” during their terms as Finance Ministry press secretaries finance ministers. (The fiscal equivalent of wings, talons, and a knowledge of hawk behavior are requirements for fiscal hawk impersonators. They were the fiscal equivalent of wingless birds with webbed feet.)

International edition

From another generic report:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has praise for Japan’s move to raise its sales tax to curb the swollen national debt.

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

Lagarde, 56, receives a pay and benefits package worth more than American president Barack Obama earns from the United States government, and he pays taxes on it…

Officials from the various organisations (IMF, et al.) have long maintained that the high salaries are a way of attracting talent from the private sector. In fact, most senior employees are recruited from government posts.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s political group will seek a referendum apparently with the goal of easing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, policy proposals obtained Thursday that may be part of the group’s campaign platform for the next general election indicate.

Asian neighbors are concerned, due to historical reasons, with Japan’s move to amend its constitution, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The standard Chinese response whenever another nation has an issue with their behavior is to dismiss it by saying it is unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Yet whenever another country does something that rubs their fur the wrong way, such as giving a visa to the Dalai Lama or former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, or arresting fishing boat captains that run amok, they react as if they were a 70-year-old nun who had just received a proposition for anal intercourse from a sake-soaked derelict who’s lived in a cardboard box under a bridge for the past two years.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

*****
Whichever directions become tomorrow’s ephemeral path to the promised land, the double disasters of the Democratic Party government and the Tohoku/Fukushima problems have had the salutory effect of arousing the public, particularly the reading and thinking public. The betrayal by the DPJ and the institutional response to the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami has demonstrated to everyone the necessity for taking the responsibility to take action on their own. That process has started.

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

Just 12 days after another declaration of One Osaka’s readiness to participate in the next national election, Mayor Hashimoto took everyone by surprise yet again on 10 July:

“Prime Minister Noda is amazing (sugoi). He’s worked out an agreement between five parties on a bill to create an Osaka Metro District, he’s raised the consumption tax…he supports the collective right to self-defense, he wants to join the TPP, and is also talking about a state/province system. He has expressed his sense of values and his central beliefs…There are divergent opinions within the party, but he has indicated a specific direction…He is implementing the politics of decisiveness. I think the DPJ rate of support will rapidly recover.”

Remember, two weeks ago he criticized the DPJ handling of the consumption tax and cited it as one of the reasons One Osaka would establish a national presence.

Also:

“There are people in the LDP and DPJ whose thinking is similar. We have hopes for a political reorganization. ..The thinking of many mid-tier and younger members of the LDP is similar to the prime minister’s. If affairs continue to proceed on this course, they could create a new group, and I think their popularity would soar.”

That immediately started speculation of a One Osaka – Noda DPJ alliance, although it might be possible to interpret his transcribed statements as forecasting just a rump DPJ/LDP alliance.

But Mr. Hashimoto also noted the difficulties of working with Mr. Noda as long as the DPJ maintains its ties with the public sector unions, the party’s largest support group. Among the mayor’s principal accomplishments in politics has been his readiness to pick a fight with those unions — and win. He can’t expect, nor does he want, any part of an alliance with them.

Thus, the remnants of the post-Ozawa Democratic Party would have to split further into (a) the labor union left and (b) everyone else. That would leave not so many of everyone else. Further, a realignment with elements of the DPJ and the LDP would cause a split between One Osaka and Your Party, and their members constitute an important part of the One Osaka political juku.

I would not read too much into this, for the nonce anyway. Mr. Hashimoto says all sorts of things. Four years ago, when he was Osaka governor, he said Hatoyama Yukio was sugoi. A few months ago, he said Ozawa-sensei was sugoi. It is unlikely that he takes Mr. Hatoyama seriously, and he had this to say about Mr. Ozawa when talking about Mr. Noda’s sugoi-ness:

“(The new party is) Ozawa-sensei’s idea. There are different ways of thinking, and he chose to take that action.”

You can feel the wet blanket, can’t you?

And speaking of Mr. Hatoyama, his criticism of Noda Yoshihiko on the same day was pertinent to the discussion:

“He can’t even govern the party, so how can he be expected to govern the nation?”

With Hashimoto Toru, actions speak louder than words. He’s a lawyer, after all. Better just to wait and see what he does. It’s impossible to know his strategy. What we do know is that he will do something.

*****
The NPE might be off course, but Off Course never were. This performance of Ai wo Tomenaide (Don’t Stop Love) appeared on their live double LP in the pre-digital age.

I’m knocking on the door to your heart.
And your heart is softly, softly starting to shake.

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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.

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Quick hits on yesterday’s lower house vote

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

JAPAN’S lower house voted yesterday to pass the consumption tax increase and social welfare-related legislation. The implications of that move are as I described in a post last weekend. The basic facts are available everywhere, but other aspects are worth noting.

*57 members of the ruling Democratic Party voted against their government’s bill, and 16 abstained. That’s serious business; 54 is the margin at which the DPJ loses its lower house majority. The Sankei said the total jolted Prime Minister Noda, because he had been working to limit the defections and thought there would be only about 30. The possibilities of a no-confidence vote and a DPJ split are real.

Prime Minister Noda and Deputy Prime Minister Okada are jubilant at the passage of their hallmark legislation

* Despite days of speculation that he would form a new party, rebel chieftain Ozawa Ichiro says he is staying put for now. He asked his allies to leave the handling of the situation up to him. Those with a taste for watching power struggles will appreciate his cleverness. First, he insists that his vote represents the original will of the party as expressed in the 2009 election manifesto. Second, by standing pat, he forces Mr. Noda into taking the destructive step. The prime minister said he would be “strict” with those who didn’t follow the party line, which could include suspension of party privileges or even expulsion. But that’s too many people to expel and survive. The internal opposition lives.

Complicating matters is that Liberal Democratic Party head Tanigaki Sadakazu is demanding that Mr. Noda do something with Ozawa and the rebels. In fact, he said the LDP’s condition for cooperation to pass the bill in the upper house is that he “deal firmly” with those who failed to vote the party line. Yes, he is making the internal affairs of another party his business. Was part of the three-party deal to pass the tax bill an unspoken agreement to strike down Mr. Ozawa?

In short, Mr. Noda is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He has one potential weapon, however: Even though Mr. Ozawa was found not guilty of violating the political funds law earlier this year, that was a function of the legal process. It was not necessarily in accord with the actual facts of the matter. The LDP has demanded that he be questioned in the Diet about the circumstances of all that money. The prime minister might now allow that to happen.

* After the vote, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma said, “The DPJ will absolutely not fall apart.” The man’s wishin’ and hopin’. Maintaining the DPJ as a semi-functional unit has been his priority throughout the whole sequence of events. He represents the nether left of the party, and a viable DPJ is their only means to so much as sniff a position of power or influence in government. That disappears with a DPJ breakup, and many of the rank file would then have a hard time getting reelected, much less listened to.

* Former Prime Minister and DPJ Supreme Advisor Hatoyama Yukio voted against the bill and resigned his position of Supreme Advisor. Still among the party’s Supreme Advisor ranks is Watanabe Kozo. Recall that Mr. Watanabe cordially asked both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama to vote against the bill and leave the party for good.

Yesterday the Sankei Shimbun published one of those “all you have to do is look” photographs. It showed a smiling Ozawa Ichiro walking back to his seat in the chamber after casting his vote. He was enjoying a pleasant chat with another smiling Diet member. The other man was Watanabe Kozo.

That tells you all you need to know about the National Political Establishment (NPE).

* Prof. Ikeda Nobuo recalled an interview he conducted with Ozawa Ichiro about the heavy financial burden placed on the younger generations of those actively working to financially support the growing population of the retired elderly. He quoted the Ozawa answer:

“National pensions are for (the people) to help each other, so that’s part of the system.”

Prof. Ikeda concluded that Mr. Ozawa was not so interested in the votes of the younger demographic.

* Meanwhile, during his 6:00 p.m. news conference, Mr. Noda stressed the importance of the bill for maintaining the social security system. He does not seem to have considered the idea of overhauling the system to add serious reforms to keep it both viable and affordable, nor has he given much thought to serious reforms of government to reduce expenditures. In other words, he is ignoring the global collapse of the social welfare system as we know it.

* The Sankei was struck by the contrast between a subdued Prime Minister Noda and a jaunty Tanigaki Sadakazu. Mr. Noda got what he wanted, but was unhappy. Meanwhile, the Sankei thought Mr. Tanigaki was behaving as if he were the head of government who had just pushed a bill through the Diet. Said the LDP boss:

“The (three-party) agreement that reflected the LPD position in its entirety, and the passage of the bill in the lower house, represent a major advance that has achieved “the politics of decisiveness”.

This is also a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Consider:

“It is clear that (the DPJ) has lost the ability to lead a government, from the perspective of both policy and the basis of government. The necessity for taking their case to the people (i.e., a general election) grows stronger.”

Give him credit: That combines self-congratulation for getting the DPJ to swallow the LDP requests, congratulating the DPJ for passing the bill, criticizing the DPJ for having problems passing the bill, and calling for the prime minister to dissolve the lower house and call for a general election. Not everyone can concentrate the universe of power politics brutality into a few short sentences.

And despite their deal with the DPJ, the LDP could still introduce a no-confidence motion.

* Ozawa Ichiro said yesterday that he thought it wouldn’t be long now before a lower house election was held. Commentator Takahashi Yoichi suspects that the two major parties will replace both Mr. Noda and Mr. Tanigaki as their leaders for an election in the early fall.

* Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was pertinent, as usual:

“Before the change of government, the Democratic Party clearly said it would not raise taxes for four years. If this tax increase is allowed to stand, we will no longer need pre-election policy debate or manifestoes. That sort of situation would allow politics in which anything goes.”

Finally, as Shakespeare said, “The daintiest last, to make the end most sweet,” so here’s the observation of lower house LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro, who inherited both his father’s Diet seat and his verbal skills:

“Isn’t the political muscle causing the revolt of 57 people (of his own party) that of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko? That’s because the Democratic Party did what it said it wouldn’t do. These numbers aren’t the result of Ozawa Ichiro’s influence. Aren’t they due to the strength of Prime Minister Noda?”

And hasn’t all that led to this?

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Teamwork

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile in Courage

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

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

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The internal opposition

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

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The external opposition

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

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

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

He had to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

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

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

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

The Real Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashimoto Toru explains

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

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

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phoning it in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for nothing, Mr. Keynes

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 25, 2012

THE Wall Street Journal has a brief editorial with that title (sort of), emphasizing once again that the experience of Japan should put to rest forever the idea that it is worthwhile for a government to apply the theories of John Maynard Keynes:

But since the 1980s bubble burst, Japan has been closest to a sustainable upturn only when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pursued genuine structural reforms. With his successors backtracking from that agenda, Tokyo is back to its old spend-and-spend ways and all it has to show for it is another debt downgrade.

The world’s formerly second-largest economy stands as a rebuke to those who argue Keynesian sprees help unleash private-sector-led growth down the road. Japan is a long way down that newly built, and rebuilt and rebuilt-again road and, as the latest quarter shows again, the country is still waiting for the private growth to materialize.

Finally, a recognition in the English-language media of the Koizumi contribution, albeit a fleeting one. If the stars align in a once-in-a-millennium phenomenon similar to that which resulted in the eclipse earlier this week, the upcoming meeting of the rehabilitated Ozawa Ichiro with Prime Minister Noda might also be of some assistance. Rumor has it that Mr. Ozawa will agree to accept the Noda tax increase plans on the condition of sharp cutbacks in government spending. There is no word, however, as to what constitutes “sharp”, whether Mr. Noda would be amenable, whether he could convince the rest of the party to go along if he were, or whether any cuts would be vitiated by the famed Japanese bureaucratic rhetoric. That’s why a once in a millennium alignment is required.

The highest hurdle among the potential obstacles might be the prime minister. Noda Yoshihiko has self-identified as a Third Wayer, and has actually said there are times that “equality” (as in equality of economic outcomes) has to be given priority to liberty.

Such is the fascisto-progressive mindset, though Mr. Noda’s is just a slightly more concentrated mix than the diluted variety practiced by the LDP over the years. (The arrogance masquerading as fairness required to even make that claim, and to assume that one is a member of the elite who knows the unknowable and is capable of exercising the authority to decide when, how, and to what extent that equality should be compelled, is stupefying, but not atypical.)

Speaking of the fascisto-progressive mindset brings us back to Keynes. Jeffrey Tucker on the Mises Economics Blog quotes the man himself:

As he wrote in the 1936 foreword to the German edition of The General Theory: “Nevertheless the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of production and distribution of a given output produced under conditions of free competition and a lance measure of laissez-faire.”

Mr. Tucker comments:

I can easily imagine his dispassionately narrating events in a Gulag, justifying every horror with a pseudo-scientific rationale made up on the spot.

Well of course.  Keynes was one of the directors of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, a period that overlaps the rule of some other eugenicists on the European continent. He later said that eugenics was “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.”

The politics, sociology, and economics behind this are all of a piece. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek quotes David Malpass explaining the governing idea behind Friederich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom:

Contrary to much misunderstanding, Hayek never argued that the slightest deviation from laissez-faire capitalism launches a society on an unstoppable march toward tyranny.  Instead, he reasoned that tyranny is the inevitable result of government policies aimed at preventing market competition from ever threatening anyone’s economic prospects.  As long as voters demand that government protect them from all downsides of economic change, governments can oblige them only by shutting down, one after another, all avenues for economic change.  Competition; entrepreneurship; innovation; consumer sovereignty; workers’ freedom to change or to quit their jobs; even changes in demographics.  Government must obliterate these and all other sources of change if no one is to be exposed to the risk of losing a job or of having her wages or benefits cut.

There’s no excuse for prolonging the miserable charade any longer. A century, give or take a decade, is long enough. Japan is an example of the least worst that can happen.

N.B.: WSJ articles have a tendency to disappear quickly behind a paywall. Click quick!

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

Ichigen koji (103)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 20, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

I still clearly remember the words of (then) Democratic Party President Ozawa Ichiro when he proposed a grand coaltion to the Fukuda Yasuo administration (in November 2007). I was LDP secretary-general at the time. “The Democratic Party,” he said, “lacks both the ability and the qualities to lead a government. You must allow them into the Cabinet to study.” The idea of a grand coalition foundered due to Democratic Party internal opposition, but looking at them now as the ruling party, it is just as Mr. Ozawa said.

- Ibuki Bunmei

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Ichigen koji 101

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

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

The important thing about the verdict (of not guilty for Ozawa Ichiro) is that the public now knows the fact that political funds are transferred in units of hundreds of millions of yen, and the fact that statements of income and expeditures for political funds can be made off the books to suit the politicians’ convenience. These facts are indisputable.

Because there was no direct evidence, I did not think it would be possible to prove there was collusion in the false bookkeeping entries. Therefore, the verdict is completely understandable and appropriate. But we can also assume that a report between former DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and his aide about the off-the-books transaction was acknowledged, so it cannot be said that (Mr. Ozawa) was completely innocent…The people will absolutely not view this as having been legal and proper.

- Takamura Kaoru, author and novelist, on last week’s Ozawa Ichiro verdict

Afterwords:

Please excuse my absence for the past week; the PC was on the verge of giving up the ghost, so that meant buying a new one, getting it set up, figuring out where they decided to hide the old familiar functions on the new model, and transferring a lot of files.

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

Hashimoto Toru (6): Hanging out in bad company

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 9, 2012

THERE’S been a slight change of plans: The next phase in the series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was to move on to the controversies that have erupted over his behavior and theories of government administration in Osaka. After last week’s episodes in the daily Hashimoto docu-drama, however, there’ll be a quick detour before getting to the red meat.

Episode #1 featured Mohammad in the form of Tokyo Metro District governor and national curmudgeon-in-chief Ishihara Shintaro traveling to Osaka to visit Mt. Hashimoto for a private discussion that lasted about 90 minutes. Both men were mum on the details of the confab’s contents. That the Tokyo governor, 38 years older, in his fourth term, and a celebrity for more than half a century, would be the one to travel is noteworthy in itself.

Most of the news media is still in the breathless schoolgirl diary phase with Mr. Hashimoto, so speculation over a possible political alliance spun their little hamster wheels even more furiously. Mr. Ishihara, who has been complimentary of the Osaka mayor, is in the process of forming a new political party with his curmudgeons-in-arms.

Mr. Hashimoto has demonstrated sound political instincts to this point, and he certainly knows the polls show the public takes a dim view of the new old guys’ party by a two-to-one margin. That’s the reverse of the two-to-one margin that looks forward to the contribution of regional parties such as the one he leads. Other than budgets, most politicos are clever at basic arithmetic, so if there are any positives to an alliance outweighing the negatives, they’re not easy to see.

One the other hand, Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi took a more relaxed view, suggesting that the two men were just getting a sense for each other.

There were some minor revelations: Mr. Ishihara told Mr. Hashimoto that national politics is a different game altogether from local politics. (He was elected to the upper house of the Diet in 1968, and after four years there spent 23 years in the lower house.) Thus, one possible benefit of a meeting would be for the older man to explain the birds and the bees of Nagata-cho and national celebrity politics.

Episode #2 was much smaller in scale, but much larger in impact. In brief, here’s what happened: The Asahi Shimbun wrote an editorial criticizing Ozawa Ichiro for playing house wrecker again and balking at the DPJ leadership’s insistence on a tax increase. That’s unremarkable in itself; it’s what newspapers do. The Asahi, however, had to get all Asahi-ish about it and criticize Mr. Ozawa for being undemocratic. One of their employees actually wrote the line, “Democracy weeps”.

That pudding’s a bit rich even for left-of-center newspaper platitudinizing — the DPJ leadership forwarded the proposal to the Diet after squelching internal debate on their tax proposal without a vote. Several terms come to mind for describing that behavior, but “democratic” isn’t one of them. (Some party members, such as first-termer Miyazaki Takeshi, claim a majority of the DPJ MPs are opposed to a tax increase.)

In one of his Tweet-a-Ramas, the Osaka mayor stuck up for Mr. Ozawa while sticking it to the Asahi, which also runs editorials calling on Mr. Hashimoto to reconsider his positions. The mayor pointed out that the DPJ leadership’s decision to back a tax increase had nothing to do with democracy, yet his own clearly stated positions won a large electoral mandate in November. He wondered if the Asahi had any idea what they were talking about.

The defense of Mr. Ozawa prompted university professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo to sound off. Here’s what he said in English.

*****
During the next general election, everyone’s eyes will be in the movements of One Osaka rather than those of the Democratic Party or the Liberal Democrats. Ozawa Ichiro has praised Hashimoto Toru as a “comrade in the reform of the governing structure.” Mr. Hashimoto also thinks the consumption tax should be converted to a local tax. In exchange, the regions would eliminate the tax fund allocations from the national government. The insufficient funding sources for local government would be offset by local governments raising the consumption tax on their own responsibility. In addition, project-specific tax revenues, such as those for roads, would be transferred to the regions in addition with the work. He praises “Ozawa Sensei” for supporting these changes in the governing structure.

One can sense Mr. Hashimoto’s intent in using sensei, a term of respect, for Mr. Ozawa, which he uses for no other politician. This is a misapprehension of reality, however. During the election for DPJ party president in 2010, Mr. Ozawa called for incorporating all the subsidies to local government in a lump sum. He said nothing about eliminating the tax grants to local governments and replacing it with the consumption tax.

If the consumption tax were to be converted to a local tax and each prefecture had different tax rates and category exemptions, there would be great confusion. What consumption tax would be levied for companies with branches throughout the nation? Some of the American states have a consumption tax, and there are different VAT rates for each European country, which creates the problem of tax avoidance. If this plan to have different areas in small Japan levy different taxes is not a joke, I can only think it is ignorant.

Mr. Hashimoto has said, “I am not completely opposed to a consumption tax increase, but I am opposed now to a tax increase for the purpose of social welfare expenditures.” Is he unaware that during the Hosokawa administration, Mr. Ozawa proposed raising the consumption tax to 7% and converting it to a national social welfare tax?

This incoherence results from making the decision to defend “Ozawa Sensei” first and then looking for a reason to oppose the consumption tax which conforms to that decision. As might be expected, even Mr. Hashimoto recognizes that he cannot “completely oppose a tax increase” in Japan’s current fiscal state, but says he is opposed to this tax increase proposal. But if he’s opposed to this proposal, he offers no substitute that spells out when and under which circumstances he would increase taxes. He has no plan specifying how he would rebuild the nation’s finances.

Mr. Ozawa was once in the forefront of a move to increase the consumption tax. The reason he opposes that now is clear: He wants to bring down the current anti-Ozawa leadership of the DPJ. That’s what politics is like, and it’s pointless to look for a logical consistency in his assertions. Mr. Hashimoto, who defends this fuzzy logic, has thus become a fomenter of political crises himself.

But I do not think this political crisis-focused intuition is bad. If Mr. Ozawa leaves the DPJ and combines his fund raising and organizational skills with Mr. Hashimoto’s popularity, they could become the strongest party in the next general election. If some of the LDP members join, it could result in a Prime Minister Hashimoto and a party Secretary-General Ozawa, a pattern similar to that of the Hosokawa administration.

The problem, however, is what they would do. Mr. Hashimoto’s policies are off-the-cuff populism, such as his labor union bashing and opposition to nuclear energy. If that is to be his approach to national politics, the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats would make short work of him. Mr. Ozawa’s power has also waned, so there would be serious concerns that this government would be as short-lived as the Hosokawa administration. The only thing to do is look forward to the election after next.

(end translation)

The part pointing out the contradictions is right on, but the rest of it is rather off. Before we get to that, however, here’s what author and commentator Asakawa Hirotada had to say about these episodes:

“It’s a form of lip service, or perhaps camouflage. Based on what I’ve heard from those involved with One Osaka, the people of that organization, which Mr. Hashimoto leads, think it would be a negative for them to work with the old-style politicians such as Mr Ozawa and now former People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka (N.B., a potential Ishihara ally). One Osaka seems to have decided that those are not people they will align with. That one of the elder political statesmen, Mr. Ishihara, took the trouble to go to Osaka to talk with Mr. Hashimoto is very significant. Mr. Ishihara has two sons in the LDP (N.B., one the secretary-general), so he has move with extreme caution in regard to the formation of a new party. He cannot afford a misstep. He almost certainly had Mr. Hashimoto maintain a careful silence. That’s probably the background behind the Hashimoto Tweet.”

First, the obvious: If they handed out trophies for being the most unpopular politician in Japan, Ozawa Ichiro would be awarded enough palms to retire to a coconut plantation. His negatives surpass even those of the DPJ itself. If Hashimoto Toru is foolish enough to form an alliance with Mr. Ozawa, the bloom would go off the rose so fast you’d need time-lapse photography to see it. He would almost certainly be written off by Your Party and many of the people who have come to Osaka from elsewhere to work with him. (If they didn’t, they themselves would be written off by the public.) It would also legitimize the charges that he’s a power-mad despot who would adopt any policy to seize that power.

It’s never possible to rule out anything with politicians, tending as they do toward venal stupidity (or stupid venality), but a Hashimoto – Ozawa alliance does seem unlikely. For one thing, as Prof. Ikeda notes, Mr. Ozawa’s influence has waned. Regardless of the circumstances, the next election for his acolytes in the Diet will be the equivalent of the Light Brigade charging into the Valley of Death at Balaclava, giving One Osaka fewer allies to work with.

Now for the less than superb:

* Saying that Mr. Hashimoto’s anti-nuclear power stance reeks of populism is a legitimate charge, even considering that Prof. Ikeda is staunchly pro-nuke. The Osaka mayor hasn’t come up with anything remotely resembling an alternative energy plan, and his anti-nuclear appeals are based entirely on emotion.

But denigrating Mr. Hashimoto’s union-bashing (if that’s what it is) as populism is ill-considered word-slinging. We’re talking here about public sector union members, not trade unions. As prefectural and municipal employees whose salaries are paid by the citizens, their behavior and on-the-job conduct is Mr. Hashimoto’s responsibility as the chief executive officer of government. Those salaries have been pegged at 40% greater than those of their private sector counterparts, and the only people anywhere who pretend to think they work as hard or harder are the politicians receiving their support.

Having once been a municipal employee, I know that no one employed in the public sector actually thinks that. The opportunity for a paid semi-vacation while showing up at a warm office is the reason many of them got into it to begin with. Co-workers got angry whenever I put forth more than a minimum amount of effort: “What are you trying to do, kill this job?”

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s consistent themes is the necessity for public employees to work as hard as private-sector employees with the same sense of urgency.

And that doesn’t begin to examine the problems with the dark antimatter of Japan’s teachers’ unions in public schools. But we’ll leave all of that for another day.

* Prof. Ikeda thinks small Japan won’t be able to handle different tax rates, but Japan isn’t as small as some Japanese like to think — it’s larger than any European country, unless you count Russia. Mr. Hashimoto also favors a sub-national reorganization of the 47 prefectures into states or provinces, and most of those plans call for nine to 12 entities. Thus, there would be fewer tax differences than the professor suggests.

There’s no confusion over applicable tax rates for companies operating in different areas of the United States, and if the Americans can handle it, the Japanese can. The goal is decentralization and the devolution of authority to local governments. Skillful people in the regional areas can use tax policy to their advantage by enticing companies to relocate. For years, some Japanese have lamented the differences in the economic strength of the regions, and local tax policy is one way to change the balance. Successfully attracting companies would result in higher and better employment, and that would result in lower social welfare expenditures.

True, inept government management could create situations such as that which exists in California, where usurious taxation, over-regulation, and public sector emoluments are driving legitimate businesses and serious people out of the state. Japanese local government is not immune to that disease. For example, Rokkasho-mura in Aomori used tax subsidies from the national government to build an international school for the children of the employees at a local power plant. The construction costs were JPY 400 million, and annual operating costs are roughly JPY 100 million. That’s a splendid edifice for seven foreign children.

But that’s what happens in a free society when people take responsibility for their own affairs — some of them screw up, and they must be held accountable. The paternalist/nanny state alternatives have shown us their inhuman face, and it’s too ugly to contemplate.

* The United States has a sales tax, not a consumption tax. There are differences. Parents who send their children to a juku in Japan have to pay consumption tax, for example. American sales taxes don’t apply in those situations.

* Finally, Prof. Ikeda seems to have it backwards. Mr. Hashimoto opposed the consumption tax increase before he started looking around for reasons to defend Ozawa Ichiro. Criticize the man if he’s got his numbers wrong — and some say he does — but not for having the idea to begin with.

It might be that Mr. Hashimoto is the type of politician who brings out the worst in the prestige commentariat. They prefer to hash things out in salons or seminars, and few have an appreciation for the difficulty of retail politics, much less its necessity. The Osaka mayor is the type of guy who causes their sphincters to clench. Some politicians, such as Barack Obama, have a knack for the reverse. David Brooks, the token non-leftist writing op-eds for the New York Times, met Mr. Obama and gushed: “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

Maybe Hashimoto Toru needs to get his trousers pressed.

Mr. Hashimoto read Prof. Ikeda’s post and countered with a bit of real populism:

“People who haven’t been involved in the actual operation of government shouldn’t make such facile criticisms.”

That’s an excellent rule of thumb, but it’s not applicable this time.

Another contributor to Blogos, the large blog aggregator Prof. Ikeda organized, suggests they cool it. He thinks there’s little difference between the positions of the two men apart from nuclear energy policy, and adds that a Hashimoto-Ozawa alliance is unlikely. What’s more likely are alliances such as this: The first election in Osaka Prefecture since last November’s One Osaka victory was held on Sunday for the mayor of Ibaraki. The winner was Kimoto Yasuhiro, backed by both One Osaka — their first endorsement — and Your Party.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect is Prof. Ikeda’s concluding statement that an alliance would force people to wait for the election after next to get what they want. It bears repeating: The public anger is real, it’s been there for years, it’s growing, and Hashimoto Toru is only the most visible personification of it.

In the comments, reader Tony wonders if the Osaka mayor is flying too close to the sun. I don’t think that’s happened yet, but if the wax in his wings does melt, others will take his place.

As for waiting on an election, we might have a while to go. People are warning that a tax-raising, Ozawa-less DPJ-LDP coalition is not out of the question.

Drunken Sailor Watch

Here’s a sentence from a news item that appeared over the weekend:

“The Japanese government intends to extend support worth about 1 billion yen for ethnic minorities in Myanmar in the form of food aid and contributions to the U.N. refugee office.”

This is what the consumption tax is being raised for? The folks at the Seetell website have it right — perhaps the people of Tohoku should apply to international aid agencies if they want relief. Their own government would rather play rich uncle and spend the money somewhere else.

*****
Here’s another guy who flew too close to the sun

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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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