AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Sengoku Y.’

Ichigen koji (248)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

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

We can’t be waiting for a hero. The fantasy will disappear and we’ll be left with nothing but despair. The only thing we can do is to create capable people.

- Sengoku Yoshito, former chief cabinet secretary in Kan administration, on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

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

Middling

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Said Acting DPJ Secretary General Azumi Jun:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Noda’s answer:

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

He later added what he does think in terms of:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the fourth:

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

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

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

*****

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

Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

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

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

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

- Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

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

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

The second is from a day later:

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

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

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

Further adventures in East Asian hegemonism

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fukuda: Japan has to become a Chinese vassal state?

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

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

Of course he also has opinions about Taiwan:

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

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

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

Not to mention decades of future Itochu profits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes: 69.6%
No: 23.8%

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, the Financial Times also wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey you! Get off of my cloud!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It stands

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Casanova of the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also claimed:

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

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

That was enough for Judge Miyasaka Masatoshi. He asked:

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

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

He dismissed the lawsuit.

And that brings us to the interesting stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Sengoku Yoshito, Esq.

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

Hashimoto Toru (3): Other policies, other views

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 30, 2012

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

Japan is now in a crisis state, so we have to put it all on the line to make a real change in the form of the country.
- Hashimoto Toru, 24 March

WHILE the centerpiece of Hashimoto Toru’s proposals for Japan is the radical devolution of authority to local government and to cut big national government down to size, his policy menu would be a wonk banquet if he were the sort of mobile mannequin-pol that appeals to most policy wonks. He insists that most of his proposals are starting points for discussion, and that politicians should enter at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. Finally — unlike 99.44% of the world’s politicians — he serves his banquet straight up, with neither the meat nor the words minced.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hashimoto drafted a statement of general principles and guidelines for his One Osaka movement that he titled Ishin Hassaku, or eight policies of renewal. It was a deliberate modification of the title of a similar document called Senchu Hassaku written by Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai/activist in the final days of the Edo period. His “eight shipboard policies” became the basis for the later Meiji-period reforms. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand the reference immediately.

He explained the reason for the document:

“Our work is to determine the course of Japan. We will develop a concrete philosophy for policy, politics, and government administration. The ones who don’t have that are the current political parties. Both the DPJ and the LDP are in a stupor.”

That last sentence is also immediately understood by all Japanese of secondary school age and older.

The mayor sometimes refers to it as the Great Reset. Now here’s his explanation of the basic principle:

“The argument of the Isshin Hassaku is simple. One Osaka will achieve, as the image of the nation for which we strive, a nation of individuals who behave independently, regions that behave independently, and a nation that behaves independently. To achieve that, it is indispensable to establish a democracy and a government mechanism capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility, and to promote the vitalization of the generation active today.”

The mention of decisiveness and responsibility refers to everyone in the legislative and executive branches of the national government in general, and the Democratic Party administration in particular.

The document’s eight sections cover such topics as the restructuring of governing institutions and reforming education. They include the direct election of the prime minister, the institution of the state/province system, the abolition of regional tax distribution, the abolition of education committees (i.e., boards of education), and the integration of pension, welfare, and unemployment programs.

To explain further, the Constitution requires that the prime minister be a sitting member of the Diet elected by the Diet members. That requirement has been abused by decades of passing the washtub, in the Japanese phrase, of the prime minister’s position among the members of the ruling party without voter input. The LDP started it, but the DPJ liked it just fine after they got a taste of their own. Putting it to a popular vote would require a Constitutional amendment, and the public might be up for that. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand that the status quo is untenable.

In fact, his One Osaka ally, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsuo Ichiro, said earlier this week he thought anyone should be able to run for prime minister as long as they had 20 sitting MPs back their candidacy. That immediately generated speculation the intended beneficiary would be Mayor Hashimoto himself (though the process to enable his candidacy would take some time), but the idea has enough merit on its own to warrant serious discussion. What they’ve got now isn’t good enough, and the DPJ has shown everyone that it isn’t going to get better.

The young lawyer makes a television appearance.

The abolition of the regional tax distribution from the national government would mean giving greater authority to the sub-national governments to raise their own revenue. (Where I live the prefectural government now sells advertising on the autos for public sector use.) The abolition of the education committees refers to his effort to make local government executives the final authority for education, rather than professional educators. That issue will be presented in more detail in a later installment of this series.

When Mr. Hashimoto unveiled the Ishin Hassaku, he explained that it contained “guidelines for political thought” for the next lower house election, but that it wasn’t an election manifesto/party platform. “If we submit something like the DPJ manifesto,” he asserted, “it would be a failure.” The document intentionally contains no numerical targets, because it is supposed to be a rough guide for changing the system.

Such is the political discourse in our age that the media and his political opponents immediately called it a manifesto and criticized it for not being more specific in the way manifestoes are supposed to be. Among the newspapers, the Sankei has since dialed back on their language and now call it a “de facto manifesto”.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio observed that Mr. Hashimoto had learned a lesson from the failure of the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. Of course, we’d be here all week if we were to mention all the lessons everyone learned from the failures of the DPJ since 2009. The first would be not to take anything Hatoyama Yukio says seriously.

Mr. Hatoyama forgets that he wasn’t so anxious to call a manifesto a manifesto either in 2009. Just before the election that year, as party president, he rolled out the DPJ manifesto to great fanfare, with banners over the stage heralding the arrival of The Manifesto, a word that was printed in big red letters on the front cover. Then the governor of Osaka prefecture, Hashimoto Toru objected the document was not specific enough about the devolution of authority. Mr. Hashimoto was massively popular even then, so the DPJ rewrote it and resubmitted it a few days later. When the media quite rightly questioned the process, Mr. Hatoyama insisted that the first one wasn’t really a manifesto but a “collection of government policies” instead. (The story is here. I’d congratulate myself for my prescience about what a DPJ government would be like if it hadn’t been so bloody obvious.)

Other policies

We’ve seen before that he’s proposed a two-year national discussion on Article 9 of the Constitution, the inaptly named Peace Clause, followed by a referendum. He thinks it’s time for Article 9 to be history, and recently restated his position:

“Ceaseless efforts are required if you would maintain a tranquil life. The people themselves must do the work. The text (of the Constitution) has caused us to forget that completely.”

Wealth redistribution

In one of his famous daily Tweet-a-thons, the governor wrote:

“There’s the idea of the negative income tax. This is one item for consideration as a way to further develop Basic Income.”

University professor and commentator Ikeda Nobuo, who tends to hold the governor at arm’s length, was impressed. He wrote, “It is unprecedented for this (idea) to emerge in Japanese policy discussions.” Look closer and you’ll see that he’s discussing two social welfare schemes, one from the Right in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax idea, and one from the Left with the Basic Income idea, which Prof. Ikeda attributes to Andre Gorz and others. It’s also important to note that the governor says it is “an item for consideration”, if only because his critics charge him with dictatorial tendencies. Dictators are not usually guys who willingly say, “Let’s talk about it.”

Prof. Ikeda then offers a simple comparison of the basics.

The concept of negative income tax involves the positive taxation of income that exceeds the minimum taxable amount, and negative taxation, or providing some of the funds obtained to people with incomes below the minimum taxable amount.

If the minimum taxable income is set at JPY four million, for example, and the tax rate is 20%, the amount of income exceeding that benchmark would taxed at 20%. People with incomes below that amount would receive 20% of the difference between their actual income and the minimum taxable income. A person whose income is JPY two million would receive a benefit of JPY 400,000 as 20% of the JPY two million difference, giving him a total income of JPY 2.4 million. Based on the same calculation, people who earned nothing would receive JPY 800,000.

Prof. Ikeda goes on to say there are different approaches to Basic Income, and uses one of those approaches as an example. Assuming JPY 800,000 would be distributed to those with no income as the basic income, a person who earned JPY 2 million would have that amount taxed at 20%, resulting in JPY 1.6 million. To that amount would be added the Basic Income of JPY 800,000 to get JPY 2.4 million, or the same amount that person would receive under the negative income concept.

Regardless, he says, the idea is to eliminate conventional social welfare, which is one of Mr. Hashimoto’s key proposals. Prof. Ikeda holds that the current system is unfair because it distributes funds from young people of relatively modest means to older people who are financially better off. Since the issue is income rather than age, the idea is to eliminate public pensions, welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and long-term care insurance (nursing for the old and infirm) and integrate those schemes into either a Basic Income or negative income tax system. He also notes that it would eliminate the vast expenditures for the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Prof. Ikeda admits it would be difficult politically to eliminate the existing substantial benefits under the current system. He also says it would generate concerns of an infringement of property rights, because Japanese pensions are two-tiered and include both corporate payments and personal payments.

Maintaining the status quo, however, means that the current pension system will go bankrupt in 20 years, and enormous taxation would be required to offset a JPY 800 trillion yen shortfall.

That’s the reason the proposed increase of the consumption tax is such a contentious issue in Japan. The Finance Ministry estimates that expenditures for pension, healthcare, long-term care, and “demographic problems” will exceed JPY 40 trillion in 2015. The current 5% consumption tax produces about JPY 13 trillion in revenue, or about or 30% of the amount required for those expenditures. Raising it to 10% would result in JPY 27 trillion of revenue — says the Finance Ministry. Some people are even calling for an increase in the tax to 30% to make up the difference.

That explanation is what makes opponents so livid. The Finance Ministry ignores that a tax increase of that size will depress consumption, which will depress the economy, resulting in lower-than-projected revenues. That’s exactly what happened when the tax was raised from 3% to 5% during the Hashimoto Ryutaro administration. (To be accurate, the tax revenues that fell were those from the income tax and corporate taxes. Consumption tax revenue rose.) Current deflationary conditions would make the impact worse today.

The assumption that the status quo of the system should be maintained regardless of the impact on the finances of both the nation and the individual households also angers people. (This is what people mean when they say we’re witnessing the collapse of social democracy.)

So — Mr. Hashimoto jumps on the third rail of politics everywhere and insists that changes have to be made because the current system is untenable and the government/bureaucracy’s solution is unworkable. He then offers in a public forum possible solutions for the problem, one from the left and one from the right, neither of which is well known in Japan, and suggests that everyone mull them over.

Combine that with his communication skills and ability to win big in elections, and now you know why he scares the vested interests of the national political and bureaucratic class, as well everyone on the Left.

North Korea

Mr. Hashimoto spoke to a group of family members of North Korean abductees in early February. He told them:

“The national government must express its thinking more clearly. I have no idea what they want to do….Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka will not permit the abduction problem (to continue). I want to clearly express the view that we will have no relations whatsoever with the outlaw state of North Korea until they become a normal country.”

He also said he would tighten the government’s requirements on providing public (financial) assistance to schools in Japan operated by Chongryeon, the North Korean citizens’ association:

“All the local governments throughout the country can do that if they want. Why is it that the national government cannot issue this sort of directive?”

Energy

He serves the chair of a Kansai area federation of local government heads. At their last meeting, he suggested that the mayors of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe should use their cities’ stock holdings in Kansai Electric Power to create a new, non-nuclear energy strategy, though he didn’t offer specifics. The governor of Nara is generally opposed to Mr. Hashimoto’s schemes, so he does not participate in the group. That might explain why the group decided to back a proposed route through Kyoto instead of one through Nara for a maglev train line.

Governmental systems

One Osaka wants to create a system that allows the prime minister to leave when required to attend to business overseas. This week, the debate over the budget started in the Diet just as the leaders of the U.S., China, and South Korea were meeting to discuss ways to handle North Korea. Asks Mr. Hashimoto:

“What about Japan? As usual, the prime minister is chained to the Diet.”

While recognizing that Diet debate is one means of democracy, he suggests it is not an absolute that requires the prime minister’s constant presence. Just as a company president doesn’t have to do everything himself, he wrote, there are questions the prime minister doesn’t need to answer in person, and these should be delegated to his representatives. He tips his hat to Ozawa Ichiro by repeating the latter’s charge that out-of-control bureaucrats in the past appeared in the Diet and gave whatever answers they liked, but says it is the job of the leading “politicians’ group” (he didn’t call it a party) to control the bureaucrats’ answers.

As for what being chained in the Diet meant in practical terms on this occasion, here’s a report from Kyodo:

“With Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch looming over East Asia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had the perfect opportunity at this week’s global nuclear summit in Seoul to raise Japan’s presence in dealing with North Korea.

“But Noda missed out on the chance as he arrived in Seoul only on Monday evening, skipping a working dinner that officially kicked off the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, and barely engaged in substantive bilateral talks….

“The prime minister was instead preoccupied with his key domestic task — pushing the consumption tax hike on which he has said he is “staking my political career.”

“Prior to his trip to South Korea, Noda had been tied up with Diet deliberations on the tax hike, with his Cabinet aiming to approve the key bill Friday.”

Kyodo doesn’t tell us that Mr. Noda is preoccupied about a lot more than the tax increase. There is also the possibility that the issue will splinter his party and force either an immediate election or an alliance of the tax hikers in the DPJ with those in the opposition LDP.

Outside observers, in brief

The 5 February edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi offered some observations of Hashimoto the politician from others in the same business who’ve seen him in action. Here’s one from a member of the Osaka City Council, who chose to remain anonymous.

“One thing he’s got going for him is that he didn’t make the blunder of dashing into national politics right away as soon as he achieved a little popularity. He’ll probably select candidates (for the lower house election) based on the circumstances of each election district and after probing the response of those around him. He’s a very solid strategist.”

A man identified only as a veteran LDP politician said he had exceptional skill at enhancing his presence:

“From the voters’ viewpoint he looks hot-blooded or emotional, but in fact he’s the opposite. He’s cool, settled, very objective, and makes shrewd calculations. He’s very shrewd at sizing up a situation and advancing or withdrawing accordingly…with all the attention on him now, he’s showing interest in national politics, and observing the course of events. Because he always views circumstances with a certain detachment, he can maintain his popularity and increase the level of opinion in his favor. He’s a politician that’s very much his own man, and that can’t be imitated.

“(Former Prime Minister) Koizumi had Iijima Isao to orchestrate his appearances and make sure he wasn’t overexposed, but Mr. Hashimoto seems to have been born with that knack. He might even be better at it than Koizumi.”

The author of the Sunday Mainichi article suggested that his strategy is to hold off on running himself in the next lower house election — he’s 42, so he has plenty of time — but instead place some of his people in the Diet to establish a foothold and form alliances with like-minded people, such as those in Your Party or any other new regional party members that might get elected.

When asked about the possibility of an alliance between One Osaka and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru quite logically observed:

“Mr. Hashimoto is winning acclaim because he’s anti-existing political parties. It would be a difficult decision for them to ally with the LDP, an existing political party.”

Incidentally, Mr. Ishihara supported the creation of an Osaka Metro District during the November election in Osaka.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

That someone as outspoken, specific, and fearless as Mr. Hashimoto will attract critics and enemies is as immutable a principle as Newton’s Third Law. Here’s a brief look at a few:

Sengoku Yoshito, former Chief Cabinet Secretary in Kan Naoto’s first Cabinet, speaking of the Osaka Metro concept:

“The core body of self-government is the basic government of municipalities. The prefecture should leave things up to the city. I wonder how well (his idea) would work.”

Works in Tokyo, doesn’t it? Mr. Sengoku is presenting the DPJ’s vision of decentralization — doing away with prefectures and organizing everything around 300 fiefdom/cities. It makes more sense when you know that Mr. Sengoku (like Kan Naoto) doesn’t believe in nation-states, but rather a worldwide network of communities in a New World Order guided by such bureaucratic globutrons as the UN and the EU.

Anyone could have guessed that Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, the vile body of Japanese politics who’s always up to some black mischief, wouldn’t like Mr. Hashimoto:

“A policy of bringing the principle of competition into education and discarding (teachers) is very dangerous…As for the Osaka Metro concept, I have no idea what they’re talking about with many of the points. I’m going to watch this carefully.”

She knows exactly what he’s talking about. She has to monitor Mr. Hashimoto because he’s orbiting on the other side of the galaxy from social democrats.

Ms. Fukushima used the same I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about line for Abe Shinzo’s vision of a Beautiful Japan, even though he wrote a book about it. She knew what that was all about too. She just finds distasteful the idea that her native country in particular, or any nation-state in general, is beautiful.

Indeed, most commentators pro and con agreed that during the Osaka election, the arguments made for the Osaka Metro plan and those of its opponents were clearly stated and easy to understand.

But here’s my favorite — you can almost see the spit fly. It’s from Ichida Tadayoshi of the Communist Party. A reporter pointed out to Mr. Ichida that some of the One Osaka policies, such as those for nuclear energy, the tax system (i.e., consumption tax) and social welfare were similar to those of Japan’s Reds. He didn’t like that:

“There is absolutely no match at all. Even though in some places it looks like some of the letters in the words are the same, there is no value in critiquing the policies of a person who would trample on the freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.”

Isn’t it entertaining to watch a Marxian fulminate over freedom of thought?

Meanwhile, over in Japan’s English-language press, the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times made a bad Kyodo article worse by trying to convince readers that Kansai political leaders don’t like the Hashimoto plan to reorganize the prefecture/city. Here’s the first paragraph.

“Osaka Mayor-elect Toru Hashimoto’s administrative reform plan has only limited support so far among prominent local leaders, with just six openly backing his proposed bureaucratic shakeup, a survey has found.”

That story falls apart as soon as they fill in the details.

“The survey polled the mayors of Japan’s 18 officially designated major cities, and the governors of the 13 prefectures that host them, excluding Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka.”

Here are the results:

In favor: Four governors (Niigata, Aichi, Kyoto, and Hyogo) and two mayors (Niigata and Nagoya). There’s a similar reorganization proposal being discussed in Niigata, by the way.

Opposed: One governor and three mayors, all unidentified, perhaps to protect them from constituents.

Neutral: 21

So the total is 6-4 in favor and 21 sitting on the fence with their fingers in the wind. Now here’s the headline the Japan Times ran:

Few leaders back Hashimoto’s plan

And you just know the kids are congratulating themselves on their cleverness.

Finally, try the Japanese Wikipedia page on Mr. Hashimoto for the portrait photo. Thousands of photographs have been taken of Mr. Hashimoto since he was elected governor of Osaka five years ago, but this is the one someone thought was representative. Now we know that Wikipediatric immaturity is an international phenomenon.

Coming next: There isn’t room here to describe the policy positions that most upset his enemies, so that will come later in the series. The next installment will present his use of Twitter as a weapon. In the process, the reason he generates such strong opinions will get a lot clearer.

Afterwords:

I make it a matter of principle to forget about links to the Japan Times in the same way it’s a matter of principle not to pay to see an Oliver Stone movie (much less watch one). I made an exception for the Kyodo article about Prime Minister Noda because it is so delicious when the denizens of La Tour D’Ivoire unwittingly reveal their overeducated vacuity. Here’s the end of the article:

“As things stand, political observers already see Japan as having little influence over North Korea, unlike China and the United States.

“Japan is a peripheral player with no significant leverage over Pyongyang” despite its strong interests in changing North Korea’s hostile policy, said Denny Roy, senior fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“According to Roy, who focuses on Asia-Pacific security issues, “Japan is trapped into a noninfluential role unless it gives up its tough position on the abductee issue.”

“Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University, said Japan’s North Korean policies are being held “hostage” by domestic sentiment over the abductions, which has compelled the government to take a hardline stance.”

It isn’t often we see such a short, concentrated burst of willful ignorance from oblivious, self-important people. And then there’s the stupid — there is no other word — attempt of Mr. Soeya to be clever by describing Japanese policy as held hostage because the Japanese public is outraged their citizens were (and might still be) held hostage by an outlaw state.

North Korean agents conducted black ops in Japan by kidnapping innocent civilians — including a mother and her young adult daughter, two young lovers on a moonlit stroll, and a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school — removing them to the Prison Nation, and forcing them to teach the Japanese language and culture to their agents whose assignment was destabilizing Japan.

How unfortunate for Japan that “domestic sentiment” (i.e., they’re so angry they could spit) is tying the hands of the Japanese politicos, when they could be do-goodering for the international community, such as sending food to feed the North Korean army, or money to feed the lifestyles of Pyeongyang’s rich and nefarious.

Denny Roy might ask some of the people on the street outside his Honolulu office what they would think had Cubans done the same to Americans, and never fully ‘fessed up — and even offered fraudulent birth certificates for premature deaths.

Has he read this article, or would he care if he did?

“His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

“Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

“Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him. In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

“The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

People are meeting in South Korea because everyone is concerned of an imminent North Korean missile launch. But just last month:

“A U.S. delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.”

Denny Roy says Japan is “a peripheral player with no significant leverage”.

So, as a missile is being gassed up a month after a deal not to launch one, might we ask just who does have significant leverage? (The Chinese probably do, but they’d rather be part of the problem than be part of the solution.)

And why be a player in a pointless game?

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, International relations, North Korea, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showdown at the hypotenuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiva’s second coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the bad:

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

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

Now for the ugly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

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

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

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

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

Yes, he said kawaii.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International exchange

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

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

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

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

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

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

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

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

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

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

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

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

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

Here’s one Seetell missed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na Nu Na Nu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anachronisms

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

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

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

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

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It’s dango time

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

ONE post yesterday presented journalist Suda Shin’ichiro passing along information that the pro-tax increase faction in the ruling Democratic Party has become taken with the idea of putting off a lower house election over the tax issue — which they’d lose — by raising the problem of the imbalance of voter weighting in individual election districts. A few days before that, we saw that the DPJ has been considering for nearly a year the creation of a grand coalition government following a lower house election unlikely to result in a clear majority for either of the two major parties. Even though many of them would die a gruesome political death, some would still keep the perks of power.

Here it comes!

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary and current backstage DPJ bigwig Sengoku Yoshito appeared on Fuji TV on the morning of the 8th. He suggested a bill to reduce the number of lower house members would be submitted before the legislation for raising the consumption tax.

We have to do “first things first”, and I think that bill (lower house reduction) will come before the other.

Also:

The biggest problem is that politics can’t get anything done. Doesn’t that need to be handled with a grand coalition?

Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi sees what’s going on and doesn’t like it. Asked about Prime Minister Noda’s call to the opposition parties to discuss legislation, he said:

If you want to raise taxes, submit a bill quickly and let’s deal with it in the Diet. We won’t respond to talks for bid-rigging schemes (dango) beforehand.

(Dango is the Japanese term referring to construction companies holding discussions to determine in advance who gets what public works project in advance for how much.)

Mr. Watanabe knows that the Democratic Party, Liberal Democratic Party, and New Komeito will try to work out an arrangement that keeps them at the top of the power structure and protect themselves from the reform parties. They’re particularly worried about the new local parties pushing for major reforms that have been winning sub-national elections handily against the Old Guard.

He also knows that the LDP mudboaters want to restore the old multiple-seat districts that facilitated their political dominance in the second half of the last century, and that New Komeito will fight any reduction of proportional representation seats. That is an existential issue for them.

The DPJ announced it would build a new Japan when it took power in the fall of 2009. Their version of a “new Japan” turns out to be the spitting image of the old Japan with a bigger table to make room for their seats at the banquet of power.

It’s dango time!

*****
If an Argentinian singer, American ukelelean, and Bolivian sanshin player, all of Japanese heritage, can peform La Bomba in a university lounge in Okinawa, those three parties can surely cut a deal they’ll be happy with.

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What goes around

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bullets are flying from all directions. Recently they’ve been coming from behind, from my allies.
- Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

THE Japanese prime minister announces that he wants Japan to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement to “open the country”. A large group in his party immediately declares their opposition. The prime minister also insists on a consumption tax increase as part of a “fiscal reform” program to tie consumption tax receipts to social welfare expenses. A larger segment of his party declares their opposition, remembering how the mere mention of discussing a consumption tax increase turned a potential upper house election victory to defeat in 2010. The legit opposition parties refuse to discuss the bills for the upcoming fiscal year budget if they are premised on a consumption tax increase. The poll numbers for the unpopular prime minister are dropping, and the opposition sees a chance to force an election.

The prime minister has half a mind to do just that, and hints he’ll dissolve the Diet. He knows an election will inflict one of the largest electoral slaughters in Japanese history on his party, but a commanding officer has to ignore his emotions to send his troops into battle. His strategy is based on the belief that the Liberal Democratic Party, the primary opposition, won’t win enough seats to form a government without his party’s help. Even if his party loses and he is ousted as prime minister, he will die a happy man because history will remember him as the man who did what had to be done.

No, that’s not a rehash of the news from the past two weeks, but the summary of the lead article that appeared in the 10 February 2011 edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun. The prime minister was not Noda Yoshihiko, but Kan Naoto.

Yet today circumstances are much the same; only the date is different. Last year, New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo’s opposition to budget negotiations was the factor pushing Mr. Kan into thoughts of an election. He had hoped to convert New Komeito into an ally, if not coalition partner. Mr. Yamaguchi is said to be sympathetic to the DPJ, but the women’s group in the party, a critical element of their election campaigns, actively disliked Kan Naoto.

Prime Minister Kan was also obsessed with his place in history. (He wanted a large bust of himself placed in the prime ministerial pantheon, but all anyone has to do to see one of the largest busts in Japanese history is to look at his photograph. Funny how it works out that way.) Mr. Noda, in contrast, does not seem to share that obsession. Other than that, everyone’s back where they were last winter, just before the Tohoku earthquake.

If our political leaders were accountable the way business leaders are for keeping the books straight, they would all be in jail.
- Phillip K. Howard

When last we saw Noda Yoshihiko, he was promoting Japanese participation in the TPP talks and the doubling — at a minimum — of the consumption tax rate. A large group in his party immediately declared their opposition to both ideas, many of them reprising last winter’s discontent. Former party president and secretary-general Ozawa Ichiro is the most closely watched of those opponents. Though Mr. Ozawa has lost some of his political heft, shown by his failure to unseat Kan Naoto in a party election and in a no-confidence motion in the lower house, he retains the loyalty of many party members.

Late last month, Mr. Ozawa said he opposed the tax increase. The party, he maintained, should first emphasize the reduction of unnecessary expenses and government reform.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, and now one of the party leaders, said, Bah, Humbug! on national TV:

No matter how many reforms we carry out now, we’d still get only about two or three trillion yen.

That’s one of the leaders of a party that two years ago claimed during their successful election campaign they could conjure up JPY 16.8 trillion through reform and budget revisions alone. Mr. Sengoku used on Mr. Ozawa the charge that others used on the DPJ: all that hooey was just political pie in the sky fed to the voters:

It’s (his) experience that simplification and sloganeering wins elections.

During the same broadcast, he also suggested the country would fall apart in five years unless the consumption tax was raised to 15%. Such are the threats of those for whom a reduction in the size of government would be a denial of their life’s work.

For now, the Noda government chose the moderate, prudent, let’s-not-scare-anybody approach by adopting a plan to increase the consumption tax to 10% in 2014, while promising to attach a clause to the tax bills stating that the government is preparing for “the next reform”. Translation: We’re planning to raise the tax still further to 15% or 20%. For some reason, the media falls for the Newspeak that higher taxes = “reforms”.

They’re not likely to stop there, either. Takenaka Heizo, former Prime Minister Koizumi’s privatization guru and man of many Cabinet portfolios, thinks they’ll have to up the bidding to 25% or higher.

And not a bit of this will do any good. From university professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo:

The government has finally settled on a draft of legislation to combine the tax systems and social security, and increase the consumption tax to 10% by October 2015. There was strong opposition within the party, and the plan was finally approved after a lot of slapstick, including a kerfuffle about members bolting the party. Can this result in the reconstruction of the nation’s finances?

The answer is no. The reform to unify taxes and social security is expected to increase income by 13.5 trillion yen, while simultaneously increasing social security expenditures by 15 trillion yen. Thus the budget deficit will only increase. Taking so much trouble to create this reform that isn’t a reform means it is just a matter of time before the financial debacle occurs.

Speaking of slapstick, the Finance Ministry floated a plan on the 26th last month to return a portion of the consumption tax increase on food to those who make JPY 5.5 million or less a year. They project a revenue increase of JPY 13.5 trillion from the tax increase, less JPY one trillion for the refunds.

Now for the punch lines: The ministry made no distinctions for a person’s marital status or number of children, which means 60% of the nation’s households qualify for rebates. After realizing they resembled the kid in the joke who smacks the ice cream cone into his forehead, they announced they were rethinking the problem to lower the income level of those eligible and insert family size into the equation.

They still refused to consider exemptions in the tax increase for food items of the type applied in other countries. Nope, that just won’t do. The people have to understand they’re entitled to receiving payments of other people’s money from the government. How else can they make the country safe for social democracy?

Government spending does not ‘spur growth’. If it did, Japan would have been the world’s growth engine for the past two decades.
- Peter Tenebrarum

Mr. Noda’s Cabinet has also finalized a budget for 2012 that increases the national debt, though it supposedly reduced outlays by JPY two trillion from the previous year. This was achieved by the magical political technique of book cooking and the idea that saying it makes it so. For the third straight year, the government will issue more debt than it will recoup in tax revenues. The upcoming year’s spending for rebuilding the Tohoku region (JPY 3.7 trillion) is tucked away in a different account over there somewhere. In other words, they’re saying it doesn’t really count because they put it in a different pile.

The government will also make another pretend pile and offset half of next year’s pension benefit expenditures by issuing JPY 2.6 trillion in so-called special bonds that aren’t going to be counted as expenditures. They’re going to wait until the consumption tax increase brings in more money before they start pretending to count it. This invisible shell game to bring in a budget lower than the previous year will fool those who limit their intake of information on current events to reading the Headline News. Kiuchi Takahide, chief economist at Nomura Securities, can see the pea under the shell:

The government is trying to maintain surface appearances by playing with the numbers…This budget clearly shows Japan’s fiscal situation is worsening.

More comical than the attempt to hide fiscal baldness with a comb-over was this comment from The Japan Times:

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, a fiscal hawk and former finance minister, said earlier this month that it was imperative to get the country’s public finances back on track.

That’s some more of what Prof. Ikeda termed slapstick. Most Japanese “finance ministers” know nothing about financial affairs; their job is to be the media spokesmen for the Finance Ministry. In addition to Mr. Noda in the DPJ governments, that includes ex-political agitator Kan Naoto and ex-newscaster Azumi Jun.

Whenever any media source uncritcally parrots the the ministry line that these people are “fiscal hawks”, it is a signal for the reader to find new information sources.

That phrase was never part of the public discourse until it became necessary to convince the gullible that a left-of-center party really and Honest to God truly was serious about reducing government expenditures. The truly serious, however, did the math. The average annual government expenditures from 2001 to 2008 under the Koizumi, Abe, and Fukuda (LDP) administrations were JPY 83.6 trillion. The budget deficits fell. So did the bond issues, for all but the Fukuda administration. The similar figures from 2010 to 2012 for the Hatoyama, Kan, and Noda (DPJ) administrations was/will be JPY 94.3 trillion. The budget deficits rose. So did the bond issues.

(That omits the outlier, Aso Taro (LDP) for the FY 2009 budget, whose government boosted government outlays in the name of stimulus when the United States and other countries were doing the same.)

This tax and social security “reform” misses the point, as securities analyst Kondo Shunsuke points out:

The government plan positions the social security system as “the shared asset of the people”. They say that a consumption tax increase will be necessary to offset the continuing rise in expenditures. They say they have hammered out a policy to secure a stable revenue source for the social security system and achieve fiscal soundness at the same time. The plan also responds to changes in society, such as the globalization of the economy and the widening income gaps.

The view that the social security system is “the shared asset of society” is only one aspect of the thing. The problem with the social security system begins with the aspect that it is a liability of the state. This perspective is essential. As long as the public is brainwashed that the problem of the social security system is a problem of “the shared asset of society”, the problem that it is a liability of the state will continue to be hidden, and there should be no hope a real discussion will be conducted for the benefit of the nation and the people.

The sooner we recognize the 20th century entitlement state is over, the sooner we can ring in something new. The longer we delay ringing out the old, the worse it will be.
- Mark Steyn

In addition to the consumption tax, which is inherently flat and therefore considered “regressive” in some quarters, the DPJ plans on doing what governments of it type always do. They will take proportionally more money from the people who have proportionally more of it. Starting next fiscal year, they will reduce income tax deductions for those making more than JPY 15 million in salary, raising the income tax on those making JPY 50 million from 40% to 45%, and boosting the maximum inheritance tax rate from 50% to 55%. How effective that last measure will be after they get done cutting the gift tax to children and grandchildren — another DPJ plan — is not apparent.

Yet another bright idea is raising the tax on the new ersatz beers to the same level as regular beer. This will be successful — in killing off the market, because the only reason those beers were created was to beat the higher tax rates on real beer.

What can be said about a government that thinks the solution to the governmental failure to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities is to confiscate 45% of anyone’s income, 55% (or even 50%) of anyone’s assets on death, and eliminating profitable business sectors? Here’s one thing that can be said: Those are not ideas from a government interested in the well-being of its citizens or the economic growth of the nation as a whole.

The real opposition?

Some people realize there are better ways to address the problem. As usual in the post-Koizumi era, the ideas are coming from sub-national governments, where voters have better luck installing politicians willing to walk the walk. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, elected at the end of November, is showing signs that he might be a real fiscal raptor rather than a media throwaway line. He’s already announced that he will scrutinize municipal subsidies with the intent of eliminating as many of them as he can. These outlays total JPY 32.124 billion, and it’s not entirely clear yet who gets what. What is known is that JPY 110 million goes to the Osaka Philharmonic Association, which operates the local symphony, and JPY 139 million is handed out to the group that operates the Kids Plaza Osaka museum, which seems to be a glorified playground. Says Mr. Hashimoto:

I don’t understand the meaning of a lot of these subsidies.

Oh, it’s not that hard to understand. What politicians can resist playing Sugar Daddy Warbucks, or the temptation to spend public funds as a way to justify their jobs?

Japan’s second- and third-largest cities (Osaka and Nagoya) are now being run by mayors with an approach diametrically opposite to that of the national parties. They claim to be interested in reducing the size of government. (Nagoya’s Mayor Kawamura Takashi just announced plans to introduce a bill to cut municipal taxes by 10%.) Both trounced their opponents last year, indicating where popular sentiment lies.

A few at the national level are finally seeing the light. Ten DPJ Diet members recently quit the party, and nine of them cited the Noda government’s tax increases as their reason. They’ve formed a new party called Kizuna. The name means “ties”, as in ties of friendship or blood, and it became the buzzword for 2010 in the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster. (Some politicians criticized the name selection as a cheap ploy, but what would politics be without cheap ploys?)

Their slogan is “autonomy and self-reliance”, a capital idea if they’re interested in seeing it through to the end. In addition to opposing the tax increases, they’re also part of the anti-TPP crowd.

How interested they are in real autonomy and self-reliance remains to be seen. Some view them merely as a receptacle for Ozawa-Hatoyama allies. They’re also positioning themselves to stay viable for a lower house election widely expected this year.

Snap goes the Diet

Prime Minister Noda said that if his tax increase and budget-related bills don’t pass the Diet, he will dissolve the lower house and call for an election.

He has therefore guaranteed that the bills won’t pass the Diet, forcing his hand on an election. It might be difficult to get them through the lower house, where the Ozawa-Hatoyama allies could try to derail the train, but it will be even more difficult to get them through the opposition-controlled upper house.

Thus, into the Valley of Death marches the DPJ. The current issue of the weekly Shukan Post features a simulation of the election results. The authors are the first to admit their projections could vary widely depending on a number of factors, but every projection assumes there will be bucketfuls of DPJ blood in the water. As a mid-line forecast, the Shukan Post calls for the DPJ strength to plummet from its current total of 301 seats to roughly 160. In contrast, the magazine looks for the LDP to climb from 118 to 195 and their New Komeito allies to move from 21 to 31. That will not be enough to form a government on their own, however. Recall that last year, Kan Naoto planned on both a DPJ defeat and an opposition whose lack of seats required DPJ cooperation to rule. Then again, this time last year Mr. Kan was unconcerned about Mr. Ozawa starting a new party. A report this weekend says he’ll do just that by March or April and take 70 people with him.

Another factor has changed since then. The magazine also projects the seats for the reform Your Party to climb from five to 38. They also expect the local parties of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto and Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi to run candidates, and think the former might win as many as 18 seats and the latter as many as 12. That would an aggregate of 68 seats for the three reformers, which could enable them to exert real influence on the direction of national affairs.

That would suit the public just fine. Public opinion polls show that from 60% to 70% of the voters prefer a complete political realignment rather than a government centered either on the DPJ or the LDP. In many ways, the Japanese public has been years ahead of their counterparts in the West in consistently choosing to cast their votes for real change.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda chose to demonstrate his determination by quoting Winston Churchill in English in his first speech of the New Year. He said he would “never, never, never give up”. (There might have been more nevers, but I lost count.)

That would usually be an admirable approach for a political leader guiding his nation in difficult circumstances, albeit self-imposed, but one wonders just whom Mr. Noda thought he would impress with a backbone fashioned from hot air. He wants to rally the nation by demonstrating his resolve to gun the engine of government and drive the nation off the cliff?

For years, people both in Japan and the West have criticized Japan’s politicians as being inferior to those paragons of wisdom and practicality in the United States and Europe. I most strongly disagree, however. I maintain that Japanese politicians are truly world-class.

They are just as myopic, stupid, and absorbed by self–interest as any group of the bunkum peddlers anywhere.

Consider: It’s been 11 months since the political situation was as described in the first paragraph. After all the sound, fury, earth quaking, big wave crashing, and the subsequent aftermath, they’re finally back where they were in February 2011.

Afterwords:

The tenth DPJ refugee said he left the party for personal reasons, but he wound up in a new vanity party of ex-LDP mini-baron and jailbird Suzuki Muneo with a few other DPJ bolters close to Ozawa. That allowed them to reach the minimum number of members for political parties to receive public funds for their operations.

*****
Will Mr. Noda and his government be successful in getting what they want? Maybe not at all.

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Colorization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 16, 2011

Politicians these days are the kind of people that make me want to bang my forehead against the desk.
- Roger L. Simon, novelist, screenwriter, and blogger

HERE’S a quick sketch penciled on a leaf from a notepad:

Last week, the upper house of the Diet, effectively controlled by the opposition parties, censured two members of the Noda Cabinet: Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Consumers Affairs Minister Yamaoka Kenji. Mr. Ichikawa took the hit because a deputy compared Japanese and American policies regarding the Marine air base at Futenma on Okinawa to rape. The defense minister also admitted that he didn’t know the details of a 1995 incident in which three U.S. soldiers raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. He voluntarily reduced his salary in atonement.

Mr. Yamaoka was rebuked because he accepted donations from a health food company accused of running a pyramid scheme. He later returned the donations.

While upper house censures are non-binding, the opposition is unlikely to attend any sessions if the two men remain in office. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said as much.

The response of the English-language media is typified by this sentence in Bloomberg:

The censures, which came on the Diet’s last session of the year, threaten to undercut Noda’s efforts to focus on reviving an economy damaged by the March earthquake and nuclear disaster and burdened by the world’s largest debt.

Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan government, was livid. He said:

Employing this same strategy every year is tantamount to claiming there has been an infringement on supreme authority, and besmirches party politics.

He added:

A system that allows the upper house, which can’t be dissolved, to inflict heavy blows on the Cabinet, is extremely peculiar. Politics will come to a standstill if it becomes normal for the opposition to declare that they won’t attend Diet deliberations (after a censure).

A reasonable person who reads this account with only this information might well assume that the LDP and the other opposition scum were playing politics and blocking the essential work of a nation facing the crisis of a disaster recovery while hobbled by an extreme overhang of debt.

Now here’s a painting with oils on a large canvas to provide a more accurate depiction:

* In 1995, two Marines and a Navy enlisted man rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. They beat her, duct-taped her eyes and mouth shut, tied her hands, and took turns raping in her in the back of the van. The swabbie says he only pretended to do the deed because he was afraid of one of the grunts.

The existing Status-of-Forces-Agreement allowed the Americans to refuse to turn over the three men until they were indicted by a Japanese court. The Japanese, and particularly the Okinawans, were enraged, and with good reason: rapacious American servicemen are not uncommon in the Ryukyus, and the U.S. always protected their own by dragging out the legal process.

The land area of the Okinawan islands totals 877 square miles, on which is based 70% of the American military presence in Japan. American military installations occupy slightly more than 10% of all Okinawan territory. They include one Air Force base, one Navy aviation facility, and two Marine aviation facilities. In comparison, Rhode Island–the smallest of the 50 American states–has nearly twice the land area of Okinawa at 1,545 square miles.

The Americans again took their time before handing over the three men, which resulted in the largest anti-American demonstrations since the security treaty was signed in 1960. The incident was the impetus for the Hashimoto administration and subsequent Japanese governments to negotiate for more than a decade the move of the Futenma base to a different part of the island, with the Japanese picking up most of the tab. Hatoyama Yukio’s hollow unkept promise to move the base either outside the country or outside the prefecture was the final FUBAR that brought down one of the most short-lived Cabinets in Japanese history.

Then-Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke was appalled at the stupidity of the three men, who finally did serve Japanese jail time. For the same price as the van rental, he observed, they could have bought a prostitute instead. That earned him a forced discharge from the service and the removal of two of his four stars, which lightened his monthly retirement check by $US 1,500.

After his release from prison, one of the three rapists complained that he was forced to perform “slave labor” assembling electronics products. That sort of rent-seeking by that sort of person isn’t a winning strategy in this part of the world, and so he was ignored by all except the usual Adullamites with an anti-Nipponism outlook.

Ichikawa Yasuo started his career as an agriculture ministry bureaucrat. He resigned and later won two elections as a delegate in the Ishikawa prefectural assembly. One year after the Okinawa rape, he was elected to the Diet for the first time.

If he is not aware of the details of the case, he’s not qualified to run a pachinko parlor, much less sit in the Diet. That Noda Yoshihiko thought he was qualified to be the defense minister tells you all you need to know about Mr. Noda’s political acumen and qualifications to serve as prime minister.

* During the Fukuda Yasuo administration, when the Democratic Party was in opposition but held the most seats in the upper house, they devoted their energies to obstructing legislation and appointments to bring the government down. Illustrative of the party’s tactics, and indeed, the party itself, was their response to Mr. Fukuda’s appointment of Watanabe Hiroshi as deputy governor of the Bank of Japan. Hatoyama Yukio was DPJ secretary-general at the time, and he thought Mr. Watanabe was an excellent appointment. His view was echoed by Maehara Seiji, former party president and later defense minister, and the aforementioned Sengoku Yoshito.

Yamaoka Kenji

But Party President Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds, saw this as another excellent opportunity to create a crisis. His political torpedo, Yamaoka Kenji, left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s answering machine telling him that “the party” was opposed to his appointment, with the unstated suggestion to take a hike. He never spoke to Mr. Watanabe directly.

The party’s initial acceptance of the Watanabe appointment notwithstanding, Mr. Ozawa imposed his will, the party then imposed its will in the upper house, and Mr. Watanabe did not get the job. In other words, he was subjected to a Japanese-style Borking.

Mr. Yamaoka has never served as a Cabinet minister, but after all these years of loyal service to Mr. Ozawa, he decided his CV needed some ornamentation. The extra salary and the perks were also probably an attraction. He was pacified with the consumer affairs portfolio, which is a Cabinet-level ministry only because of an ill-advised Aso Taro attempt to sell himself as a man of the people. He also is the minister for North Korean abduction issues, which shows how seriously the DPJ government views that problem. Now that Mr. Yamaoka was at last in an exposed position, the opposition saw their chance to use some of the dirt they’ve collected on the Ozawa crew. He was really censured for playing the role of a Democratic Party slimeball and for his Ozawa connection, thus reinforcing the linkage of Ozawa and dirty money politics in the popular imagination.

* Sengoku Yoshito’s comparison of the censures to “an infringement on supreme authority” loses quite a bit in translation. The Japanese phrase he used was 統帥権干犯, the identical expression critics in the Imperial Army used when Japan signed the 1930 naval arms limitation treaty. The treaty balanced the capital ship ratio for Britain, the U.S. and Japan at 5:5:3, while many in Japan wanted it set at 10:10:7. The essence of Japanese phrase is that the treaty was an infringement on the Emperor’s (then) supreme authority over the military, rather than the Cabinet.

In other words, by comparing the upper house opposition to pre-war military imperialists, Mr. Sengoku shows that Godwin’s Law is also applicable in Japan.

Then again, Sengoku Yoshito knows quite a bit about political standstills resulting from upper house censures. On 11 June 2008, the upper house, let by the DPJ and its allies, filed and passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda. It was the first censure of a prime minister under the current postwar constitution. It was passed just before the G8 summit with the intention of (a) humiliating him, and (b) forcing him to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. (He resigned instead and was succeeded by Aso Taro).

The ostensible reason for the censure was Mr. Fukuda’s handling of domestic issues, but that was just a convenient excuse. Seven months before, Ozawa Ichiro had hammered out a deal with Mr. Fukuda for a grand coalition government, a plan that was shot down by the non-Ozawa leadership in the DPJ. That led to a three-day minidrama in which Mr. Ozawa stalked off in a huff and returned in tears.

The same forces came together to censure Prime Minister Aso Taro in July 2009 and began to boycott Diet proceedings. The DPJ had filed a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet in the lower house, but it was voted down by the LDP majority. The point of this chabangeki was not that Mr. Aso had done something inexcusable; rather, it was to force the LDP to rally to his support instead of switching to a different prime minister for the lower house election that was due before the end of the summer anyway.

Indeed, it has only been a year since the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku himself, but unlike the excuses offered by the DPJ when they were in opposition, the LDP, New Komeito, and Your Party had plenty of good reasons: He takes pride in his obnoxious and belligerent behavior to the opposition; before taking office he bragged about how he would deliberately use lawyerly obfuscation to deflect questions on the Diet floor. There was also his responsibility for the Kan Cabinet’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with the Chinese, in which the government tried slough off responsibility on the Naha prosecutors and refused to release videos to the public showing the behavior of the Chinese “fishing boat” skipper.

So, now that the precedent they created for frivolous hack attacks and besmirching party politics has come back to bite them for their own incompetence and venality, the Democratic Party has finally located the high road of statesmanship on their map. In fact, Mr. Sengoku even wonders if there’s any real reason to have an upper house to begin with.

To be sure, there is one important political element behind the censures. The Democratic Party is an inherently dysfunctional organization consisting of socialists/social democrats in one wing and the modern equivalent of the LDP’s Tanaka Kakuei (i.e., Boss Tweed) faction on the other, leavened by some Third Way types from Hosokawa Morihiro’s old New Party (Noda Yoshihiko, Maehara Seiji). Both Mr. Ichikawa and Mr. Yamaoka are Ozawa allies, which is the only reason Mr. Noda recruited them to begin with. The semi-constant threats of Drama Queen Ichiro and his minions to split the party if they don’t get their way create an inherent instability. The censure forces the socialist/social democrat wing of the party to back them, even though they can’t stand Ozawa and whatever it is he pretends to stand for these days, or finally get off the pot and dump them.

In addition to plain old incompetence, that instability is one of the primary reasons the DPJ government’s handling of the Tohoku recovery has been so catastrophic, surpassing even their failures to deal with the economy, Futenma, and Chinese hegemonism. The upper house censures have no bearing on the ability of the government to proceed with recovery and reconstruction — they showed months ago they lack even the most rudimentary of administrative abilities. A censure is a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserve. The sooner the Democratic Party ceases to exist in its present form, the better off everyone will be.

If Mr. Simon is anxious to deliver himself from the temptation of serious forehead banging, he should postpone any plans he might have to visit to Japan. After observing the local political fauna, he’d return home with welts from temple to temple.

****
Time to chase the crazy baldheads out of town.

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Takahashi and Hasegawa on the real Japanese prime minister

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 13, 2011

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
- G.K. Chesterton

THE focus of the primary political articles in the 8 October edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai is on the influence of Finance Ministry bureaucrat Katsu Eijiro on the Noda administration. The headline on the front cover just below the logo dubs him “the real prime minister who is manipulating the dojo (fish) Noda”. Following the lead story is a dialogue between Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board, and Takahashi Yoichi, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, official in the Koizumi administration, college professor, and author. They are perhaps the foremost advocates in Japan for curbing the influence of the bureaucracy, and both have been frequently cited here.

Their dialogue is an excellent précis of the issue, both in general and how it involves the Noda administration. The amount of detail in the complete dialogue is overwhelming, so I’ve excerpted the important points in English.

*****
Hasegawa: A look at the personnel appointments of the Noda Yoshihiko administration shows a clear shift to a policy of tax increases. Also, the consensus of opinion is that Katsu Eijiro, the administrative vice-minister for the Finance Ministry, is the producer and scriptwriter for this administration that’s making a beeline to tax increases.

Takahashi: In short, he’s the backstage prime minister (laughs).

Hasegawa: …I’d like to touch on some of the Noda administration personnel appointments. First, priority was clearly given to circumstances in the Democratic Party. Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was named the party’s policy chief, a position that is key for the determination of policy. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito (N.B.: a Maehara ally) was named as the acting policy chief. Finally, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa was appointed the party’s tax policy chief.

The party seems to have been allocated a rather important role during the preliminary spadework of policy formation, but that’s because there are elements within the party that are either opposed to a tax increase or are hesitant about supporting them. The reason for a structure with this depth of personnel is to suppress the anti-tax sentiment (in the party) and achieve a tax increase.

Takahashi: In the normal process of policy determination, the government first creates a proposal, the (ruling) party massages it, and then it is submitted to the Diet. Absent Diet gridlock, the primary emphasis is on either the government or the ruling party.

We have Diet gridlock now, however, and the (primary opposition) LDP is in agreement with higher taxes to begin with. Therefore, for the Finance Ministry, the ideal tax increase proposals will be raised by the government, and they will be leveled down to a certain extent by the party. Then, in the Diet, they’ll get the LDP involved and make the tax increase a reality. The script has already been written. In short, the key is how to weaken the anti-tax elements in the party. That’s why the priority in the selection of the personnel appointments was placed on the party rather than the government.

Hasegawa: They certainly picked some lightweights for the Cabinet considering how much emphasis they placed on the party. There’s Azumi Jun as Finance Minister, who knows very little about financial policy, and there’s the former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Furukawa Motohisa, as the Minister for National Policy. (N.B.: Also Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister for Total Reform of Social Security and Tax) The Finance Ministry can completely control these two. Also key is the appointment of Katsu Eijiro as administrative vice-minister.

Takahashi: That’s right. The Cabinet itself consists of lightweights, but the Finance Ministry bureaucrats that were sent over are all heavyweights….

Hasegawa: Tango Yasutake as a deputy Finance Minister is a dead giveaway of Finance Ministry control….

Takahashi: …Also surprising was that a Finance Ministry bureaucrat (a former division head of mid-level seniority), was appointed as the parliamentary secretary for Ren Ho, the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Usually, that sort of post is given to the aides of division heads at the end of their career, but the Finance Ministry sent over Yoshii Hiroshi, who joined the ministry in 1988.

Hasegawa: The portfolios of government revitalization and civil service reform given to Ren Ho are important for the bureaucracy, so it’s clear their objective is to keep a lid on it. In addition, she has some star appeal for the DPJ, is a capable speaker, and attracts a lot of attention.

Takahashi: Actually, Mr. Katsu sent Mr. Yoshii over to be her secretary when she was a minister in the Kan Cabinet. He kept his post as her advisor even after she was downgraded to the job of special advisor to the prime minister, and he’s been with her ever since. Mr. Katsu has perceived the value of using Ren Ho and so is keeping her marked.

Hasegawa: 1988 is also the year that Furukawa Motohisa entered the Finance Ministry. Another member of that class is Ito Hideki, the parliamentary secretary for Minister of Financial Services Jimi Shozaburo.

Takahashi: That’s because Mr. Furukawa combines the functions of Cabinet minister and parliamentary secretary (laughs). These three men are a powerful trio. In addition to the normal orientation that all new employees are given when they enter a government ministry, the Finance Ministry has its own three week intensive “boot camp”. This cements the ties between the people who were hired at the same time, which results in a personnel network unlike that at any other ministry.

Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu’s personnel choices were well thought out, weren’t they?

Takahashi:…With Ota Mitsuru of the class of 1983 as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, and the number of parliamentary secretaries they’ve had assigned, the Finance Ministry can pretty much run the Cabinet. To be blunt, they don’t care who the ministers are…

*****
Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu has engineered a complete shift toward a tax increase both within the Cabinet and in the ministry…the question is now whether he’ll make a headlong rush toward a tax increase.

Takahashi: That question was already answered by Prime Minister Noda during Question Time in the Diet. He was asked by the opposition whether he should take the issue to the people (in a general election) before increasing the consumption tax. The prime minister answered, “We will ask for their trust before it goes into effect.” That seemed to satisfy both the public and the mass media, but there’s no question that’s a trap laid by the Finance Ministry. “Asking for their trust before the tax is raised” usually means holding a lower house election on that issue, but “asking for their trust before it goes into effect” means they’ll hold the election after the bill for the tax increase has passed and before it is implemented. In other words, they’ll submit and force through an increase in the consumption tax during the regular session of the Diet next year, as is already planned. After that, they will hold an election at what they consider to be a suitable time. That way, because the bill has passed, the consumption tax will be raised whether or not the ruling party wins the election. That is the Katsu/Finance Ministry scenario.

Hasegawa: The tax increase could be stopped by legislation freezing it before it goes into effect.

Takahashi: Not possible. Not possible. If they hold a general election just before taxes are raised, there won’t be enough time to submit a bill freezing the implementation. That sort of schedule management is the forté of the Finance Ministry, and that’s why they sent all those accomplished people over to the Cabinet as parliamentary secretaries. They’ll also have no compunction at all over threatening the politicians by telling them that freezing the tax increase will cause a major disruption in the economy…
…One more thing we shouldn’t forget is the use of the media to brainwash the public.

Hasegawa: The problem of the pet reporters who cozy up to the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. If you dig just a little deeply, you find that the Finance Ministry is really driving the government. A reporter antagonistic to their bureaucrats gets cut out of the loop. That’s why the reporters themselves cozy up to the bureaucrats. Nearly every day you can pick up the newspaper and read stories about the need for all sorts of taxes — income taxes, corporate taxes, inheritance taxes, environmental taxes. The Finance Ministry lobs them fat pitches, and they’re more than happy when they get converted into articles. It isn’t long before the people turn numb, and that creates an atmosphere in which everyone believes tax increases are unavoidable. That’s what’s happening now.

Takahashi: People can only think about things based on the information they’re provided. There are other revenue sources besides higher taxes, but people gradually stop looking in that direction. It really is brainwashing.

Hasegawa: That is the Finance Ministry’s strategy for the masses using the media. And the person driving the Finance Ministry now is Katsu Eijiro.

(end excerpts)

*****
Note that Mr. Takahashi said the script was already written. On the morning of the 12th, Finance Minister Azumi Jun read his lines:

“Next year, the bill for the consumption tax (increase) and the reform for integrating the tax with social security will definitely be introduced together.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Finance Minister Igarashi Fumihiko said in a television interview on the 11th that based on his own calculations, a 17% consumption tax rate would be necessary in the intermediate to long-term. That same rate has already been floated by the Japanese Association of Corporate Executives, one of the country’s major business groups.

In short, the problem of the alliance between Big Government and Big Business is just as serious in Japan as it is in the West, if not more so.

*****
The hucksters of the DPJ campaigned on ending the political dependence on the bureaucracy and not raising taxes for four years.

They’ve been in office now just a few days more than two years.

*****
How many more years are we going to have to let them dog us around?

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Atonement

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 7, 2011

Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana!
- The Heart Sutra

FORMER Prime Minister Kan Naoto — you remember him — is bringing back his atonement shtick. Politicians are attention vampires, and the media’s need to fill enormous amounts of space every day, regardless of quality, is just as compelling. That explains the infotainment industry’s interest in the non-story that Mr. Kan has resumed his pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku.

One of these days, he might finish it. He started in 2004, and this is his sixth crack at feigning interest in a life of religious asceticism. On Monday, he showed up at Enmei-ji in Ehime, which is temple #54. The idea behind the pilgrimage, which began more than a millennium ago, is that an earthly desire is eliminated for each temple visited. Hey, who knows — after another 34, Mr. Kan might even wind up on the wagon. Adding to the comic incongruity is the custom of pilgrims to recite several prayers at each temple they visit, including the Heart Sutra twice. If the former prime minister hews to form, he’ll read the sutras from a large-print cheat sheet prepared by a bureaucrat.

He embarked on his first pilgrimage following his first resignation from the Democratic Party presidency to atone for his failure to pay into the pension system. Several photographers from the industrial media happened to be in the area when he showed up in pilgrim duds, making it a fair trade: He gave them content, and they gave him publicity. It later emerged, however, that the Social Insurance Agency canceled his enrollment in the system by mistake, so he was guilty only of exhibitionism and not negligence. In other words, he went on a partial pilgrimage to atone for a sin he didn’t commit. That says more about a politician’s priorities than I ever could.

Come to think of it, that might explain why he’s had so much trouble finishing the tour. It also might provide a hint to the degree of sincerity behind his stated reasons for resuming the pilgrimage this time: to pray for the souls of the Tohoku disaster victims and to resolve the crisis from the nuclear accident. He could do all of that at a temple near his Tokyo residence, assuming he ever goes, but that would have no PR value.

Be that as it may, Mr. Kan has a legitimate reason for visiting the religious institution of his choice, or even all 88 of them in Shikoku, but praying for the repose of the dead isn’t it. Rather, it would be to atone for his sins in office.

To cite one of many, former Cabinet advisor Matsumoto Ken’ichi revealed last week that it was Mr. Kan and Sengoku Yoshito, then the Chief Cabinet Secretary, who decided to release the Chinese fishing trawler captain arrested after ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkakus Islets last September. Both men insisted at the time that they had nothing to do with the decision, and claimed it was the responsibility of the public prosecutors in Okinawa. Mr. Matsumoto didn’t take up his advisory position until the following month, but he later discussed the matter with Mr. Sengoku — an old friend responsible for his appointment — so he was therefore in a position to know. Several Cabinet ministers have said off the record that Mr. Kan ordered the captain’s release, but Mr. Matsumoto is the first government source to go public.

Leave it to the journos to slough off a Richter-scale magnitude abdication of responsibility while enjoying themselves with the pilgrimage story. Then again, none of this would have surprised anyone in Japan who chanced on the report; nearly 80% of those surveyed in opinion polls at the time thought Mr. Kan was lying.

Mr. Matsumoto also explained that a debate was held within the government about how best to dispose of the matter, and that Mr. Kan finally gave the order by telephone to release the captain when he was in New York on 19 September for a meeting of the UN General Assembly. The captain was set free five days later.

Said Mr. Sengoku at the time:

“It’s my understanding that it was the decision of the prosecutors alone.”

Said Mr. Kan at a 25 September news conference in New York:

“The prosecutors involved comprehensively examined the nature of the case and other factors, and the result was a sober decision based on Japanese law.”

According to Mr. Matsumoto, the Kantei justified the decision by saying the video the local prosecutors sent to Tokyo was “defective”. He also pointed out that the prosecutors thought there were no problems with the video at all, and that the Kantei used that excuse to avoid the charge that they were applying pressure. In fact, a panel of prosecutors in Okinawa reviewed the evidence in July, including the video, and determined that the captain should have been prosecuted.

The Naha prosecutors, however, are sticking with the original story. Now who among these people isn’t telling the truth?

Remembering that Matsumoto Ken’ichi has embarrassed the government in public before might help answer that question. After meeting with Prime Minister Kan on 13 April this year, Mr. Matsumoto held a news conference and passed on the information that Mr. Kan told him it would be 10-20 years before people who lived within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima nuclear power plant could return to their homes. He added that the prime minister said those people could be housed in a new Eco-Town, based on the German version of the Garden City concept.

That night, Mr. Kan told reporters he never said any such thing, and he called Mr. Matsumoto and made him walk his previous statement back. The Cabinet advisor called a second news conference to do just that. He also told the press that he explained to the prime minister that people wouldn’t be able to live near the plant for a while. Further, he said he suggested the idea of the Eco-Town, and Mr. Kan liked it.

In August, Mr. Kan traveled to Fukushima to meet with some of the evacuated people. He told them they wouldn’t be able to live in their old homes for 20 years.

Australian television ran an interview with Matsumoto Ken’ichi last week that was dubbed into English. Here’s how they translated one of his statements:

“The cabinet knew right after the disaster that some people would not be able to live in their communities for 10 or 20 years. The Government should have conveyed the truth to the evacuees, but it felt scared. It feared telling the truth to the people.”

When it was revealed that former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan was responsible in part for the Gwangju massacre of 1980, he apologized to the nation in a public address, withdrew from politics, and went to live in Baekdamsa, a Buddhist temple in Gangwon-do, for two years.

The least Kan Naoto can do to atone for his sins is to finally finish his pilgrimage to the 88 temples in Shikoku.

But he won’t.

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Ichigen koji (56)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 9, 2011

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

The destruction in the Tohoku area of Japan, in which a nuclear accident that wasn’t supposed to happen was added to an “unanticipated” large earthquake and tsunami, revealed the exceptional spirit of the Japanese people for self-reliance and mutual cooperation. At the same time, it revealed to the entire world the slovenliness and lack of resourcefulness of the government of this country.

Though hit by a triple disaster, the people are taking their first, steady steps into the future. Meanwhile, the politicians, who should be the ones to take the lead in expressing a vision and a course for the future, are spending their days in idle power struggles while letting the people of the stricken area suffer without help. They are doing nothing at all to fulfill their responsibility. That revolting and heartless approach is nothing less than the Fourth Disaster, and the people’s sense of obstruction and distrust of politics has risen to unprecedented levels.

It is a fact that the politicians are hopeless. One can imagine that anger is the only response of most Japanese to this impotence and irresponsibility.

Behind this, however, are shameless people who have abdicated their responsibility in the same way as the politicians. Moreover, there are people who never tire of devoting all their energy to upholding their interests.

That’s right — They are the bureaucrats who dwell in Kasumigaseki.

- Koga Shigeaki, Kanryo no Sekinin (The Responsibility of the Bureaucracy)

Mr. Koga is a reform-minded official in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He was subjected to a veiled threat by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito during his testimony in the Diet in favor of civil service reform. His superiors in the ministry are trying to force him to resign.

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Sweet dreams

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 27, 2011

ABIRU RUI, who covers the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun, attended Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s news conference announcing his resignation. Here’s an excerpt from the impressions he offered on his website.

*****
When I was taking notes at Prime Minister Kan’s news conference and thinking “Good Grief!” as he went through the usual self-congratulatory “I did what I should have done in the difficult circumstances I was confronted with,” and “I feel a certain sense of accomplishment,” I suddenly noticed that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was clearly napping.

This is the man who slept in front of the Emperor at the traditional poetry reading held at the start of the year. He probably had no intention to start with of listening to some worthless speech from Prime Minister Kan, from whom he had just parted ways.

If you were to ask Mr. Sengoku, I think he’d deny it, but all the people who saw it would say there was no question of it.

Nevertheless, at this juncture, with the deputy chief cabinet secretary asleep during the prime minister’s news conference to announce his resignation, I really wonder just what kind of administration this was. That’s always how they’ve been — a gathering of people who are distinguished from the rest only in their sense of self worth. In that sense, this was a fitting conclusion for the Kan Cabinet.

*****

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Turn out the lights

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 19, 2011

A year ago, (Kan Naoto) wanted to quickly build a society that wasn’t dependent on fossil fuels. When you add to that a society which isn’t dependent on nuclear energy, how are we supposed to obtain energy?
- Sengoku Yoshito, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, on 28 July

IN AN INTERVIEW published last week in the weekly Shukan Asahi, Prime Minister Kan Naoto had this to say about the world’s third-largest economy:

Put in the extreme, we must be able to maintain the survival of the nation even if the energy supply is halved from its present amount.

Yes, that’s the prime minister of Japan speaking.

And people thought Hatoyama Yukio was from outer space.

Now why would Japan wake up one day to a nightmare in which its energy supply is halved? National leaders have to be prepared for every contingency, but Kim Tubby III in Pyeongyang will not be ordering a surgically precise missile attack on the power plants on the far shores of the Sea of Japan anytime soon. The North Koreans would sooner eat the Dogs of War than unleash them.

But Kan Naoto does have a dream, and part of that dream is to end the country’s reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel power generation in Japan. He’d replace that, to the extent it’s replaceable, with the wind power that he “loves”, according to his blog posts of several years ago. He’s also cooked up a cockamamie crony capitalism scheme with Son Masayoshi to cover all the currently unutilized farmland with solar panels and harvest sun power.

But even if the prime minister’s contingency plan resembles the ramblings of a barstool philosopher from the nihilist left, other people are starting to formulate plans of their own premised on a powerless Japan. They can’t afford not to.

Yosano Kaoru, the Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, said this about keeping the nuclear plants idled:

It can easily be envisioned this will have an effect on the Japanese economy.

It can just as easily be envisioned what Mr. Yosano would have said if he wasn’t biting his tongue as a member of the Cabinet.

Yonekura Hiromasa, the chairman of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) predicted that more than 40% of the country’s large corporations would leave Japan if nuclear power generation were ended. Some would suggest that Mr. Yonekura exaggerates because Keidanren represents what the Democratic Party of Japan likes to call Big Capital, and what the rest of the world calls Big Business. In fact, he may be understating the problem.

Earlier this week, the Kyodo news agency released the results of their questionnaire survey of 105 major companies. The survey found that 55 firms, or more than half, said they were accelerating plans to move operations overseas as a way to strengthen the corporate foundation. The general reason they cited was a bad business climate, but the specific reasons were the lack of sufficient electricity over the long term, the high yen, and low stock prices.

Another 47 replied that they’d stay in Japan for the long haul, 17 said they had no other option but to consider such a move, and two said they’d already done it.

An article in the 5 August edition of the weekly Shukan Post provided more specifics.

* Mitsui Mining and Smelting

The company announced in June that it will build a new production line for its primary products, materials used for smartphones, in Malaysia. Their plant in Saitama was idled for a month due to rolling blackouts. They have a market share exceeding 90% for electrolytic copper foil for smartphone use. The company told the magazine that they operate 24 hours a day, so even a two-hour production stoppage has a serious effect.

* Hoya

This major lens manufacturer will build a plant in China’s Shangdong Province for making industrial glass. They plan to begin operation there in December. The company said that a stable power supply was indispensable for melting the glass materials, and that the potential lack of a dependable power supply was the factor that pushed them in that direction.

* Renesas Electronics

The semiconductor giant is considering outsourcing all its production to Taiwan and Singapore.

* U-shin

The auto parts manufacturer has decided to shift all its production from Japan to China.

* Prime Minister Kan called for a 10% reduction in power consumption from all companies in the region supplied by Kansai Electric Power, though it was unaffected by the Tohoku earthquake. Motor manufacturer Nidec of Kyoto realized this would have an impact on their reliability testing, so they’ll move their testing facilities overseas.

* Mitsubishi Chemical has annual revenue of roughly JPY one trillion, and their electric power costs account for 3-4% of that total. This year, however, increases in the already high rates will bump that to 5%. Thus their power bill will climb to more than JPY 10 billion, equivalent to more than one-third of their operating profit.

* The Institute of Energy Economics Japan reported that industrial power fees will rise 36% year-on-year if thermal plants are used to offset the power loss from nuclear plants. The institute adds that if the energy bill Mr. Kan is pushing as a condition for his political withdrawal passes and the mandated costs for purchasing natural energy are transferred to fees, it will further boost the bills to a level 70% above current totals.

* This has the potential to wipe out entire industries. The Japan Soda Industry Association (industrial sodas) says power costs account for 40% of the production costs for the 25 companies and 30 plants in the country. An increase in power costs of just one yen adds JPY 3.8 billion to their production costs.

*****
Why does Mr. Kan dream of everyone else’s nightmare? To cite one reason, this founding member of the Socialist Democratic Federation, who later jumped to larger parties to enhance his political viability, has never cottoned to the bare fact that socialist plans for wealth redistribution require a robust free-market non-socialist economy.

Another is Ikeda Nobuo’s theory that smashing the state is the only objective remaining from Mr. Kan’s pinkoid youth, now that history has dessicated his Italian Communist Party-inspired fantasies. Indeed, as we’ve seen before, he remains a stout devotee of the ideas of Prof. Matsushita Keiichi, which means he dislikes the idea of nation-states altogether. What he does like is community government by NGOs, which in turn would be under the thumb of coordinated by global institutions.

Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro wrote an op-ed published in the Yomiuri Shimbun this week that makes it plain he understands exactly what Mr. Kan was up to (as does the rest of the political class, I suspect). Mr. Nakasone’s critique of the Kan philosophy left the larger issue unstated, however, while dealing with more immediate matters, perhaps to keep the grass where the goats can get at it. Here’s an excerpt in English.

*****
The citizen-centered government (市民主義) championed by the prime minister is a concept of government with local citizen activities at its core. It is a political concept that lacks the spirit to accept the challenge of the future with a sense of ideals…the primary focus of this citizen-centered government is a narrow one, perhaps with a view to pandering and winning elections. Its weakness is the absence of a sense of continuity as a nation with history and culture.

The limits have been exposed of the citizen-centered government of Prime Minister Kan, which incorporates no view of the state. The duty of a Diet member is to be entrusted with the conduct of the affairs of state. Each state has its own distinctive history and traditions, and all states establish their individuality in the world…Those states and ethnic groups must contribute to the prosperity of the world. The citizens who live in a state have no existence isolated from the history or traditions of the state.

The politicians responsible for the affairs of state who declare that their focus is only on citizen activities are derelict in their primary duty because they hold cheaply the state and the people which are its support. There is nothing wrong with using the word citizen in the sense of people who value the region in which they live, but Prime Minister Kan’s words and deeds, unaccompanied by a background of history and culture, lack appeal. A prime minister carries a nation’s history and culture.

The Kan administration has clarified the meaning of citizen-centered government (which should be seen as a so-called historical experiment) in a form that ignores the flow of history of the Japanese people and the state. It has been shown to be insufficient in the extreme as a governing principle of the state. The next government must put this lesson to use.

(N.B.: Mr. Nakasone’s word selection reflects the distinction in Japanese between “national citizen” and the more general “citizen”. The latter implies the resident of a municipality.)

*****
Theories can have consequences, and the consequences of the theories of the lizard-eyed left, in Japan as well as elsewhere, are such that one is left wondering about their emotional equilibrium.

Once in positions of power, these folks always contrive a way to shield themselves from the consequences of their theories. The rest of us would have to live in their world or make decisions accordingly. Financial analyst and blogger Fujisawa Kazuki wrote this week about what his decision might be:

What would I do in the event that Japan idled all its nuclear power plants? It would be time to stiffen my resolve and move.

Mr. Kan wants to conceive of ways to maintain the nation’s survival with only 50% of the energy. He has to be aware that the nation which survived would be an entity far inferior to the Japan of today.

People should be excused for thinking that is the rest of Kan Naoto’s dream.

Afterwords:

It’s not just Japanese private sector corporations that are concerned:

Pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer on Saturday issued a warning that it my leave Germany because of rising electricity prices linked to Germany’s decision to end its nuclear energy program.

Bayer employs 35,000 people in Germany, but CEO Marijn Dekkers told the German weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche that energy prices posed a genuine threat to the company’s manufacturing operations in the country.

—–
Nevin wrote in recently to ask if Kan Naoto was really all that bad. Here are some additional data points to help answer that question.

******
Matsumoto Ken’ichi, a Cabinet Secretariat advisor, gave an interview published in today’s Sankei Shimbun that helps explain the delay in the Tohoku recovery.

Mr. Matsumoto said that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito directed a team that formulated his own proposal for a reconstruction vision, which was finished in March. He says that Prime Minister Kan initially liked it, but wound up “crushing” it.

Mr. Kan later created his own council to draft a redevelopment vision, which was submitted on 25 June (three months later), but in Mr. Matsumoto’s words:

Not one aspect of their proposal exceeded anything in our proposal.

The reason? Kan Naoto didn’t want Mr. Sengoku to get the credit. Explained Mr. Matsumoto:

The prime minister wanted the spotlight on himself and the applause for a job well done. He essentially ignored the people.

Now no one is applauding him for a job well done. Who says there’s no justice in the world?

Mr. Matsumoto added that he argued against a universal tax increase to fund the recovery because it wouldn’t be fair to take funds out of the Tohoku region. He suggested long-term bonds instead. Replied Mr. Kan:

I wonder if the Finance Ministry would go along with that.

The prime minister insisted on a universal tax.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press interviewed retired American diplomat Kevin Maher, who coordinated U.S. assistance after the earthquake. Said Mr. Maher:

Early in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, U.S. officials felt that nobody in Japan’s government was taking charge, and Washington considered evacuating American troops in a worst-case scenario, a retired U.S. envoy said Thursday.

As we’ve since learned, Mr. Kan and his Cabinet did take charge, but the American misperception was understandable. When they take charge, it just looks as if no one’s in charge.

*****
If a no-nuke, wind/solar energy policy is adopted, this will be the last song they play on the radio before the station shuts down.

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